Religion in Scotland

Leanne McCafferty (RCAHMS) – Renfrewshire

Leanne McCafferty, RCAHMS

Renfrewshire ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Renfrewshire ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

After graduated with an archaeology degree in 2002, I began working at RCAHMS on a partnership project with our Welsh counterparts, RCAHMW. This involved looking at how the two organisations recorded information about the built heritage including archaeology, architecture and marine sites. I  am currently a project manager within the Data and Recording section with a particular interest in the history of recording at RCAHMS and how this is reflected in the information we make available through our Canmore database. In an attempt to illustrate this, I’ve chosen the site of St Fillan’s Well.

The holy well of St Fillan lies to the east of Kilallan, a farm near Kilmacolm in Refrewshire. It is one of 276 holy wells recorded in the Canmore database.

These wells were associated with early medieval saints (although their use could have been much more ancient than this) and were reputed to have healing waters. The holy wells recorded in the Canmore database claim to cure a variety of maladies from deafness to “nervous diseases”. In the case of St Fillan, reputedly an Irish monk, the waters of his well have folk traditions associating it with the curing of rickets in children. Nearby the well are two associated monuments, St Fillan’s Seat and St Fillan’s Church, which is dedicated to the saint.

An engraving of St Anthony’s Well from William Ballingall’s Edinburgh Past and Present. Copyright RCAHMS (SC431735)

An engraving of St Anthony’s Well from William Ballingall’s Edinburgh Past and Present. Copyright RCAHMS (SC431735)

The information RCAHMS holds on the well is taken from the Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division’s record card. The cards were transferred to RCAHMS in 1983 and provided the foundation for what would become the database we use to record monuments today. This information is then available to the public through Canmore. The record cards provided a brief description of the site along with references to relevant publications and a map. They were compiled by the Archaeology Division office-based recorders and then passed to the field staff, who in turn would investigate the monument. The office recorders would assemble the monument descriptions from existing publications such as the RCAHMS County Inventories and Statistical Accounts.

Ordnance Survey record card for St Fillan’s Well. Copyright RCAHMS

Ordnance Survey record card for St Fillan’s Well. Copyright RCAHMS

For St Fillan’s Well, multiple sources have been consulted to construct a concise history and description of the site. The well was first recorded in the Old Statistical Accounts in 1791. The statistical accounts were first collected in the 18th century by Church of Scotland ministers and described the geography, agriculture and culture of their respective parishes. The Reverend John Monteath was responsible for Houston parish in which St Fillan’s Well is located and describes how the well was used for curing “rickety babies” until it was filled in by a local minister at the end of the 18th century. It also records the tradition of leaving cloth as a votive offering which means St Fillan’s was also a rag or ‘clootie’ well. One of the more famous clootie wells is located at Hill O’Hirdie near Munlochy in the Highlands.

The well was mapped by the Ordnance Survey in 1856 and recorded in the Object Name Book. These books were used by the OS staff to record the place names that were used on maps. Ordered by parish, a copy of the Name Books is available for public consultation on microfiche in the RCAHMS Search Room.

 First Edition OS map (Renfrewshire 1863, sheet VII) depicting St Fillan’s Well. ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

First Edition OS map (Renfrewshire 1863, sheet VII) depicting St Fillan’s Well. ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

In 1895 a paper exploring the association of the cult of St Fillan with Kilallan was published by J M Mackinlay in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. More recent publications on the well include Scottish Healing Wells (F and R Morris 1982) and W H Lyle’s The History of Bridge of Weir (1975).

Renfrewshire was not included in the county inventory survey by RCAHMS, but when it was visited by the Ordnance Survey in 1955, it was reported the field investigator that the well was being used as a cattle trough.

To see the Canmore record for St Fillan’s Well, see http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/42246/details/kilallan+st+fillan+s+well/

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.