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:
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:
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.
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!