Posted by: christinelaennec | March 20, 2011

Aberdeen’s Old Wells and Fountains

It’s very easy to walk right by a lot of things from the past.  Especially if they no longer have meaning for us, it’s amazing how selective our vision can be.  Fountains and wells fall into this category.  In past centuries they would have been pivotal to all in the community, gathering places for neighbours to draw water and share news.   And yet now they have become nearly invisible to us.  Here is one of Aberdeen’s old wells:

St. John's Well, Albyn Place, in front of the Albyn Hospital, Aberdeen.

This well was moved at least once, and I don’t know whether it now lies above any natural spring or not.  The smaller plaque at the top reads “St. John’s Well. This well was relocated here in 1955 from St. John’s Croft – part of the lands around Hardweird (Upper Denburn) formerly owned by the Order, when this hospital was in the ownership of the Venerable Order of The Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem.”  The Latin inscription just above the Maltese cross reads “St. John’s Spring, Renovated by the Superintendent of Public Works, 1852” (translation courtesy of British Listed Buildings).  According to the British Listed Buildings website, it was first moved from its original site in 1855, when Rosemount Viaduct was constructed, to the Hardweird (where the playing field of Gilcomstoun School is now, off Skene Street), where it was “fed by the Dee”.  I wonder if that might not have been the Denburn rather than the Dee?  At any rate, its move to Albyn Place was the second time it was relocated.

Here is another fountain from Aberdeen’s past:

Fountain dedicated to Dr. William Guild, Holburn Street, Aberdeen.

It looks more like a bathtub than a fountain, but has basically the same sunken shape as the St. John’s Well.  The inscription on the other side of the lion reads:  “Fountain Hall 1st August 1857.  Water springs for man and beast / at your service I am here / although six thousand years of age / I am caller clean and clear.  Erected for the inhabitants of the world by Alexander Fidler.” (“Caller” means “cool, fresh, refreshing”).

Alexander Fidler erected this well on the 200th anniversary of the death of Dr. William Guild.  Guild was a Presbyterian minister who was Principal of King’s College, Aberdeen until Cromwell’s men came to visit in 1651.  He apparently was well-loved for his benevolence to Aberdeen, and is commemorated by Guild Street and also by the William Guild building at King’s College, now part of the University of Aberdeen.

Inscription on "Fidler's Well" indicating that it was in honour of the 200th anniversary of the death of Dr. William Guild. Lammas is the old name for the 1st of August.

I doubt very much that this well is functional, as it was moved here from the Duthie Park in 2003.  I don’t know whether it was ever located near Fountainhall Street in Aberdeen.

It’s hard to remember that things like running water and sewers were only a Victorian invention.  Yet another reminder that we have a lot to be thankful for!



  1. Thought that you might like to see this article on Kingswells, which confirms your theory about the origins of Fountainhall Road’s name – you’ll find the reference at the foot of the page.

    • Fiona, thanks so much for that interesting link. My daughter went to Gilcomstoun Primary, next to the Denburn, which flooded spectacularly a few years ago. Yet another thing you don’t notice, until something happens! I was really interested to read that it starts in Kingswells and how it makes its way to the sea. There are certain places in Aberdeen where these streams run through – I like to go there to hear the sound of the water.

  2. very interesting blog post. we don’t have wells like that where i live and i enjoyed this information. if i ever make it to Aberdeen, i will have to look out for these. thanks for highlighting things from Aberdeen’s past which are now part of every day life.

    • ajb, there are probably a lot more that I haven’t discovered!

  3. What an interesting post to read.We don’t have fountains or wells like these in Holland, at least I’ve never seen them

    • Erna, it would be funny if you suddenly noticed one in Holland! They must have had them in the past.

  4. Yay, for germ theory, clean water and sewers. The relocation of wells seems odd though.

    • Relocating the fountain makes more sense when it’s still functioning, but I suppose they also became important features of the city in their own right. It made me think of how buildings are now named after the biggest donor – publicity!

  5. Two more things I didn’t know about Aberdeen! Tho I have had an operation in Albyn Hospital when it was still called St John’s. I wonder why they changed the name. I much prefer the traditional lineage of St John’s.
    Poor William Guild – he didn’t get a very bonny building from the University.

    • I hadn’t realised the Albyn had been St. John’s before – another piece of the puzzle. And yes, the William Guild building wouldn’t win a beauty prize, but it does have some nice trees around it!

  6. With all your interest in Wells in Aberdeen, Have you come across a Well Street in Woodside. I cannot locate it.

  7. Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words in your content seem to be running off
    the screen in Firefox. I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know.
    The layout look great though! Hope you get the issue fixed soon.
    Many thanks

  8. Some very interesting facts about Aberdeen’s wells, although there are a few more worthy of inclusion. Fidler’s Well was originally sited in Guild Street near its junction with Market Street and was used regularly by the “trace horses” which were added to horse-drawn carts to assist them in travelling up the fairly steep incline of Market Street. A photo of the well in its original location can be seen below:


    If the attached photo does not display, it can be viewed at:

    • Thank you for that information and link, Brian. I can hardly recognise Guild Street, though the old railway station must be on the left, and the bridge over the tracks straight ahead, with the wee church now housing Musa on the right. I hadn’t thought of how important the wells must have been to the horses. I did a post on “Wordie’s horses” as well. I remember an old lady in Aberdeen saying she didn’t miss having to walk around all the horse droppings!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: