Tuesday, October 6, 2009


According to tradition, St. Bernard's Well near Stockbridge in Edinburgh was re-discovered by three Heriot's school boys while fishing in the Water of Leith in 1760. Legend has it that it was originally discovered by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the founder of the Cistercian Order, in the 12th Century. After being poorly received at court, and suffering from a sickness, he went to live in a cave near the Water of Leith. There, he was attracted to the spring by the birds which visited it and he drank its healing waters until his strength returned.

In September 1760 the mineral spring was covered by a small wellhouse. 'Claudero' (James Wilson), the contemporary poet, composed a eulogy for the occasion:

'This water so healthful near Edinburgh doth rise which not only Bath but Moffat outvies. It cleans the intestines and an appetite gives while morbfic matters it quite away drives.'

Chemical analysis revealed that the water was similar to the sulphur springs at Harrogate in Yorkshire. The mineral well soon became a popular resort for those afflicted by the fad for 'taking the waters'. By 1764, the well was so great an attraction that accommodation in the Stockbndge area was at a premium during the summer season. It seems that habitual drinkers of the waters must have had cast iron constitutions, for one later visitor likened the flavour of the water to 'the washings of foul gun barrels'.

In August 1788, the well was bought by Lord Gardenstone, who claimed he had derived great benefit from drinking the waters and, in 1789, the present construction, a circular Roman Temple was commissioned by him. This elegant architectural structure in the form of a Doric rotunda is inspired by the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli in Italy. Under the lead dome stands a marble statue of Hygieia, Goddess of Health.

In 1885, the well and grounds were purchased by the publishers Thomas Nelson & Sons. After restoration, it was left to the City of Edinburgh. The pump-room was refurbished in lavish Victonan style. The interior was designed like a celestial vault sparkling with sequin-like stars when sunlight strikes through the stained glass windows. The white marble pedestal is inscribed BIBENDO VALEBIS (By Drinking You Will Be Well).

The revitalised well remained popular until its closure in 1940, following the outbreak of war. Remarkable claims continued to be made for its medicinal properties, ranging from the efficacy of a regular morning glass as a tonic for the system to a complete cure-all for rheumatism and arthritis. The temple then resembled a continental cafe with 'little tables where regulars chatted with friends'. Aerated water from the well was even bottled and marketed for a short while.

Well set to spring back to new life
Published Date: 07 October 2009
THE striking Roman temple was erected by an eccentric Edinburgh judge with a fondness for pet pigs and a taste for spring water.
Lord Gardenstone was so convinced by the restorative powers of a natural spring discovered by the banks of the Water of Leith in the 18th century that he had a monument built in its honour.

His well, inspired by the Temple of Vista in Tivoli and featuring a statue of Hygeia, the
Greek goddess of health, is believed by experts at Edinburgh council to be the "hidden gem" of the capital's 200 monuments.

That is set to change under plans to open the well to the public properly for the first time in more than 50 years – and even start serving its water again.

It is expected to become the latest of Edinburgh's weather-beaten monuments to receive a makeover, following similar projects involving the likes of the Nelson and Burns monuments on Calton Hill.

The revamp of St Bernard's Well, expected to cost about £100,000, will also see its long history – and the myths it helped inspire – brought to life for a new generation.

The circular temple is currently only opened to the public for occasions such as the Doors Open Day and events organised by the Dean Village Association. It is now hoped that guided tours, storytelling sessions, poetry readings, drama events and even weddings will become regular fixtures. Visitors will hear how three pupils from George Heriot's School discovered the spring in 1760 and how it swiftly became a popular visitor attraction for "taking the waters".

Lord Gardenstone, a wealthy Court of Session judge, commissioned the celebrated artist Alexander Nasymth to design the monument in 1789.

Almost 100 years later, the well and its grounds were bought by the publisher Thomas Nelson & Sons, which paid for a major refurbishment and additions to its striking roof, including a lavish pump room and stained glass windows. It was only closed down at the outbreak of the Second World War.

It is hoped the restoration, being jointly pursued by the city council and Edinburgh World Heritage, will get underway next year, subject to funding being secured. A spokesman for EWH said: "St Bernard's Well is a real treasure of the Water of Leith.

"Given its intricate stone carving and statuary, any conservation work will require specialist craftsmen. We'll be working with the council on a fundraising effort to help preserve this well-loved landmark."

Paul McAuley, keeper of monuments at the council, said: "Although St Bernard's Well is pretty well known to people living in the area, it's the real hidden gem of the city's monuments and few people know about the discovery of the spring, how the temple ended up being built or who was behind it."


No comments:

The Rams Horn

The Rams Horn on Facebook