The History of Leith

August 1, 2012

St. Bernard’s Well

One of the leading features of Stockbridge is St.
Bernard’s Well, of which we find a notice in the
Edinburgh Advertiser for April 27th, 1764, which
states :—” As many people have got benefit from
using of the water of St. Bernard’s Well in the
neighbourhood of this city, there has been such
demand for lodgings this season that there is not
so much as one room to be had either at the Water
of Leith or its neighbourhood.”
In the council-room of Heriot’s Hospital there
is an exquisitely carved mantelpiece, having a circular
compartment, enclosing a painting, which
represents a tradition of the hospital, that three of
its boys, while playing on the bank of the Leith,
discovered the mineral spring now bearing the
name of St. Bernard’s Well.
This was some time before the year 1760, as
the Scots Magazine for that year speaks of the
mineral well ” lately discovered between the Water
of Leith and Stockbridge, which is said to be equal
in quality to any of the most famous in Britain.”
To protect it, a, stone covering of some kind was
proposed, and in that year the foundation thereof
was actually laid by ” Alexander Drummond,
brother of Provost Drummond, lately British Consul
at Aleppo, and Provincial Grand Master of all
the Lodges in Asia and Europe holding of the
Grand Lodge, Scotland.” The brethren in their
insignia were present, the spring was named St.
Bernard’s Well, and the subject inspired the local
muse of Claudero.
A silly legend tells how St. Bernard, being sent
on a mission to the Scottish Court, was met with
so cold a reception that, in chagrin, he came to
this picturesque valley, and occupied a cave in
the vicinity of the well, to which his attention was
attracted by the number of birds that resorted to
it, and ere long he announced its virtues to the
people. There is undoubtedly a cave, and of no
inconsiderable dimensions, in the cliffs to the westward,
and it is now entirely hidden by the boundarywall
at the back of Randolph Cliff; but, unfortunately
for the legend, in the Bollandists there are
at least three St. Bernards, not one of whom ever
was on British soil.
The present well—a handsome Doric temple,
with a dome, designed by Nasmyth, after the Sybils’
Temple at Tivoli—was really founded by Lord
Gardenstone in May, 1789, after he had derived
great benefit from drinking the waters. ” The
foundation stone was laid,” says the Advertiser for
that year, ” in presence of several gentlemen of the
neighbourhood.” A metal plate was sunk into it
with the following inscription :—
” Erected for the benefit of the Public, at the sole expense
of Francis Garden, Esq., of Troupe, one of the senators of
the College of Justice, A.D. 1789. Alexander Nasmyth,
Architect; John Wilson, Builder.”
A fine statue of Hygeia, by Coade of London,
was placed within the pillars of the temple. For
thirty years after its erection it was untouched by
the hand of mischief, but now it is so battered
by stones as to be a perfect wreck. Since the
days of Lord Gardenstone the well has always
been more or less frequented. A careful analysis
of the water by Dr. Stevenson Macadam, showed
that it resembled closely the Harrogate springs.
The morning is the best time for drinking it.
During some recent drainage operations the water
entirely disappeared, and it was thought the public
would lose the benefit of it for ever; but after a
time it returned, with its medicinal virtues stronger
than ever.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

Some Text