Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Mediaeval Well Stone Deciphered

My previous blog entry on the mediaeval well stone discovered in the area prompted a flurry of communications on the topic, and I have been given an extensive update on the findings of the academics by a Kevin Greig. Kevin, amongst seemingly endless talents, is a local historian whose specialities are Glen Isla and producing beautiful beautiful pen and ink drawings of significant stones in the area. The link is here.

I am indebted to Kevin for bringing all the information together, and I have used his text in the following with only minor edits for clarity. My personal theory that the person whose grave the stone marked then lent their magic to the healing well, is not supported by the archaeological evidence, and in fact the archaeology tells a quite different story! I was amazed that the actual story could be so clearly read from the stone itself, and to find out what this story is, please read on.

St Andrew's Well Update

the recently discovered well stone - the small square hole is modern

The recently discovered stone is the same slab mentioned in 1862 (by the Ordnance Survey) as being over St Andrew's Well: the description and location are too similar for this to be in any doubt. The Ordnance Survey describes the well as being built of stone rather than turf and marked by a cross-inscribed slab.

The geology of the slab is sedimentary and not local so it was worked at some distance from the site, most likely past the highland boundary fault. The stone is accurately dressed flat on the front and on the right edge leading in to a curved top. The left edge being worked but rough and unfinished. The top left has a sheer undulating side profile which is as worn as the rest of the slab but the undulation suggests a natural split in the rock.

The incised cross is thought to be either Cistercian (Cuper Angus Abbey) or Cluniac (Arbroath Abbey). The descending line of the cross was added in a cruder fashion later than the initial square "cross potent", though this is interpreted as a simplified "cross patt√©e".
the cross design was produced in two stages

The square hole incised at the base point of the cross is a modern addition. It started life as a grave slab. The date is unknown principally because it has been removed from its setting both as a worked grave slab and as a well marker but the work is described as an early example. The Cistercian period in Glenisla was circa 1230 - 1550; the Cluniac order was 1197 - 1522.

The associations with the different Abbeys helps no further, though Arbroath is associated with St. Andrew, Cuper is associated with Lintrathen through the Durwards of Peel. Monks from the Abbeys traveled to Glenisla and were accommodated, rather than residing there and the Abbey records have no documented interments in the Glens of Angus. The effort involved in transporting the carved stone a great distance and the cutting and lining of the lade from the Craig of Balloch as well as the religious dedication made the well of some considerable importance in its heyday.

Conjecture Based on the Above

The slab was originally tooled as a grave slab (the right hand edge and curves top and bottom make this likely) and was completed on the face, right edge and top right curve. It was also roughly hewn to shape on the left, but it this process the top left portion split off and was likely abandoned as a grave slab. The red line in the diagram below shows the rough worked left edge when the finished edge is reflected through the middle of the cross.

detailed diagram of well stone

The abandoned worked stone was no longer good enough for the precincts of the Abbey but was deemed appropriate for use in the distant consecrated well. Its unnecessary rounded base being sunk into the shallow water in an upright position at the back of the recess in the embankment setting.

The square hole held a leaded fixture which was nothing to do with its latter use in the sheep dip and is not documented anywhere as a Victorian attraction. This is supported by the 1862 documentation as it being much defaced. This makes it pre-Victorian in period. The slab was a well backdrop and therefore likely that the hole held a chain for a drinking vessel.


The slab was initially hewn beyond the highland boundary fault in one of the monastic orders for use as a grave slab. It was damaged during construction and was re-purposed as a venerated well at Craig of Balloch where it stood till after 1862.

There is one final test to verify that it sandstone, not limestone. A drop of vinegar on the back would fizz if it was limestone. If it is, it would not have survived exposure to the peat acid in the Craig of Balloch spring and would further deepen the conundrum of its origins.

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