The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


The Mineral Well, Near Brinkies Brae, Stromness, Orkney

Road Plan of Stromness (from a drawing by J. R. Baikie, Burgh Surveyor)

   OS Grid Referance: HY 2477 0931. Beside the country lane about ½ a mile to the northwest of Strom-ness, Orkney, and in the valley a short distance to the southwest of Brinkies Brae Hill, can be found the now almost forgotten Mineral Well, which was actually a chalybeate well that had long been used by the good people of Stromness who had a need for its medicinal properties for their ailments; indeed so much so in past times that it was seen as the local “spa”. The well was locally called Haley Hole Well; it was regarded as sacred but probably never a holy well as such. The well is best reached from the south-side of the town of Stromness and, by travelling southwest then northwest along Guardhouse Park, Back Road, Croval Road and Brownstown Road for ½ a mile. Where the lane becomes narrower, and just after the turning called Grieveship Way, the little stone wellhouse can be seen on the right-hand side of the lane where there are open fields and excellent views northeast towards Brinkies Brae Hill and the Ordnance Survey trig column.

   Author J. Gunn in his excellent work ‘Orkney – The Magnetic North’ (1941) says of the well: “if not actually historic, was much used by former generations. It is known as the Mineral Well, and is to be found near the farm-steading in the valley to the south-west of Brinkie’s Brae. The water is strongly minl, and is credited with useful medicinal properties. If the approaches were improved and the qualities of the well made known more widely, this “spa” might be a distinct asset to the town as a health resort.”

   The ‘Stromness Community Garden’ website gives us some interesting information regarding the Mineral Well. It says: “As the ‘Haley Hole’ (hence the present road name ‘Hellihole Road’ leading from the town) it was visited by pilgrims from all over Orkney, who regarded it as a miracle well. The water was famed as a cure for scurvy and similar disorders. The name is undoubtedly from heilagr – Old Norse for holy – so it’s probably been considered sacred for some time.

   The website goes on to say: “Then, in the middle of the 19th century, it was advertised as “‘The Mineral Well’ and had a well house built over it to protect it from birds and animals. The stone built house had a wooden door and a ladle so visitors could drink their fill. By now the water was regarded as a more general tonic which visitors and townsfolk drank frequently.

   “Analysis of the water on Christmas Day 1862 by Dr Murray Thomson, who wrote a book ‘The Mineral Wells of Scotland’, showed it to contain a high percentage of sulphate of lime, chloride of magnesium and sulphate of iron, and a moderate percentage of chloride of sodium. The well was still considered to have health-giving properties in the early 2oth century.” Stromness Community Garden website is worth a visit and there are some photos of the well. See the following website/link: https://stromnesscommunitygarden.wordpress.com/

Sources and related websites:-

Gunn, J., Orkney – The Magnetic North, Thomas Nelson And Sons, Ltd., London, 1941.

https://stromnesscommunitygarden.wordpress.com/

http://www.orkneyjar.com/tradition/sacredwater/haleyhole.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stromness

                                                                               © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2017.

 


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Jacob’s Well, Near Littleborough, Lancashire-Yorkshire Border

Jacob’s Well beside the A58 near Littleborough.

   OS Grid Reference: SD 96381 17068. At the side of the A58 (Halifax Road) close to Blackstone Edge Roman road, near Littleborough, and not far from the Lancashire-Yorkshire border is the now almost forgotten ‘Jacob’s Well’, a sacred spring that is hidden in the grass and fearns at the side of the busy, windswept moorland road that links the two counties. Some 280 metres east of the well is the so-called Roman road that climbs over Blackstone Edge and then heads to the fort at Ilkley. Presumably the Roman soldiers who marched along this Roman road knew of the presence of this ancient spring, which they may have even dedicated to one of their gods and, before that, the Celts would have also recognized it as a sacred spring. In more recent times it has acquired the dedication to Jacob, who might be the biblical prophet of the Old Testament, and is sometimes called St Jacob by Orthodox Churches. The well is to be found about halfway up the A58 road (right-hand side) and just 100m past where a wooden gate and footpath leads off to the east to meet up with the Roman road. At the top of the A58 road, on the opposite side, is the well-known landmark White House public house.

Jacob’s Well (close-up).

   At the front of the well there is a very long sandstone slab that has the inscription ‘Jacob’s Well’ carved onto it and some other letters just below that, but its difficult to tell what this says. It looks as though the inscription was carved in more recent times. The water is held in what looks to be a large and deep stone trough just behind the carved slab, but there is much foliage surrounding the well and so it is difficult to give any measurements. On the day of my visit the water was slimy green in colour and most certainly “not” drinkable.  There doesn’t appear to be any record of this well, whether it be holy or sacred, is not really known and the dedication to Jacob is uncertain. It could perhaps be named after the Biblical Jacob (Yacob) who was the Hebrew prophet and patriarch of the Old Testament. He is venerated as St Jacob by the Orthodox Churches. There are other wells named after Jacob, one at Bradford, west Yorkshire, and another at Matlock Bath, Derbyshire, but there are a few others in England. The name “Jacob” is also “James”, so these wells could be dedicated to a person with that name, perhaps even St James?

    According to tradition Jacob lived in the land called Canaan in Palestine, but died at Goshen in Egypt at a very great age. He was the son of Isaac and Rebecca, grandson of Abraham, twin brother of Esau, and nephew of Ishmael. He had twelve sons and one daughter, called Dinah. This therefore makes his sons (and maybe a grandson) the progenitors of ‘The Twelve Tribes of Israel’. The Bible tells us that God gave Jacob the name “Israel.” It is said [traditionally] that Jacob died in 1,711 BC at the great age of 147, his body brought back to Canaan by his sons or grandsons, and buried in the Cave of Machpelahphet where the Prophet Abraham lay, and also Rebecca, his mother, and Leah, his first wife; his second wife was Rachel. The famous ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ story is often told recalling a dream that he had about a ladder which reached from earth to heaven. Tell Balata 1½ miles southeast of Nablus, Palestine, is the site of the ancient Canaanite city of Shechem (Sichem) and Jacob’s Fountain (Bir Ya’qub). This is perhaps the well where Jesus spoke to a Samaritan women called Photini and drank water to quench his thirst (John’s Gospel). 

Sources and related websites:-

Aid to Bible Understanding, Watchtower Bible And Tract Society of New York, Inc & International Bible Students Association, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A., 1971.

Rogerson, John, Atlas of the Bible, Time-Life Books, Amsterdam, 1993

https://thejournalofantiquities.com/2014/12/07/blackstone-edge-roman-road-littleborough-lancs-yorks-border/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob

https://www.thoughtco.com/jacob-father-of-12-tribes-of-israel-70116

                                                   © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.