I recently wrote a blog on the wells of Strathearn which created considerable interest. My good friend Jess Smith – raconteur – singer and author of considerable repute , commented , and I quote , “ as a lassie I knew all these wells because Travelling folk needed precious water en route – when I was caretaker at Knox House in Coldwells Road (Morrison’s Music Dept. ) I was excited to see the “ cold well ” sunk in my laundry outhouse and covered with a thin metal plate . The well in King Street sunk into the wall of the Market Park was the only source of water for the residents prior to piped water --- I always spit through a ring for good luck when passing wells --- the mystical St Bridget ( St Bride ) was seen to visit wells across Ireland sitting on a pure white horse . One day an Irishman saw her watering her horse at Strowan Well ( 2 miles west of Crieff ) . Disturbed by the vision he went home. When there he overheard soldiers talking of burning all the villages on their path . His home was one of them . He managed to alert the inhabitants who fled to the moors . Not one was harmed but sadly all their houses were destroyed .”
As Jess tells us, there were more than those I listed in my other “ blog ” .Prior to the introduction of piped water ,wells abounded in the town - perhaps more so than the average county town elsewhere . I am no geologist but have listened in the past to those who claim more than a little knowledge on the subject . Apparently Crieff below the surface has a number of layers of fragmented strata which cause the water table to fluctuate considerably with heavy rainfall . I recall many years ago being shown the basement or bottling hall of what was Rutherford’s Grocers in Comrie Street ( now McKenzie Strickland Architects ) . There was a large sump or pit in the middle of the room with a ball cock device which ,when the water began to rise ,cut in a pump to drain the area . Apparently so bad was this problem that it was in fairly regular use. Not far away the shops on the south side of West High Street suffered similar problems in their basements when the rains came in torrential downpours ! The quality of the water of course was also reason for the super abundance of breweries and distilleries in the 18th and early 19th centuries .
To obtain an accurate picture of what Crieff was like in those far off days one can utilise a superb digital map of Wood plan of Crieff dated 1822 on the National Library of Scotland ( NLS ) web site http://maps.nls.uk/towns/detail.cfm?id=321 You can enlarge to suit by clacking on the map and navigating about .
A well is located at Coldwells to the rear of the house known as Hawkshaw whilst others are ( with their present day locations) :
1. Comrie Street : Opposite Leven House Hotel ; adjacent to Old Library / Masons’ Hall
2. Burrell Street :Kemps Well at Strathearn Tyres /Garage ; adjacent to WB Dodds Builders
3. McFarlanes Lane / Roy Street : Half way along on north side
4. King Street : Junction with Commissioner Street at Bluebell Flower Shop ; Opposite Boyd’s Newsagents
5. West High Street/High Street / East High Street : Adjacent to Gordon & Durwards; James Square ( Old Square Well ) ; Adjacent to DE Shoes
6. Cornton Place : Tibbertreoch Well
Last ( although I may have missed some ! ) is one that was once rather special but is now totally forgotten about ! It is St Thomas’s Well named after Crieff’s original Patron Saint ( no not St Michael you M & S fanatics ! ) It lies covered over in the garden of the new house being built at the Junction of Ramsay Street and Bank Street about 10 metres south of the Frank Thomson Timber Store in Ramsay Street . My good friend Graham Robertson , local painter and decorator , told me that the old house had been been in his family for generations and he himself was unaware of the Well’s existence !
Our ancestors may not have had piped mains water suitably impregnated with all sorts additives but you will see that there were over a dozen handily located sources where one could fill up your bucket at any time .