The Physic Well, Corstorphine

This blog opens with a post about the site of Corstorphine’s ancient physic well, and what is – and isn’t – there to see.

My hope is that this site will explore more of these residual ideas in this area and its environs: curiosities etched into stone and memory.

image1The remains of the well are located behind Dunsmuir Court, an unassuming small estate of flatted houses just off Ladywell Road, west of the old High Street of Corstorphine. The lady of Ladywell is undoubtedly connected with this well –  but whether she is the biblical mother of Jesus or some earlier pagan association I’ve not been able to uncover. Sadly, there is no information at the site of the well to set any of this in context.

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We took a walk just after New Year, on a cold bright morning when the grass was just slightly encrusted with frost in places and the sun was dazzling.

The commemorative plaque for the physic well is located at the bottom, northern end of Dunsmuir Court, and is now fenced in with what looks like a relatively new set of metal railings. They are slightly incongruous, but perhaps they  help to protect the stones and plaque from damage. Earlier pictures I’ve seen have the stones open to the edge of the grass. This site and the surrounding area is part of the conversation area covering the old town of Corstorphine, so that might explain why it’s been enclosed in this way.

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The physic well itself isn’t located exactly where these large stones are laid: instead it lies (or rather lay) about 40 yards to the east (in this picture, off to the left beyond the two large trees). The plaque inset into the stones explains this in more detail:

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Up close, you can read: ‘Much prized in the Eighteenth Century for its medicinal waters this well was on the southside of the Stank Burn & some 40 yards east of this spot where its well head was rebuilt in 1972 when the burn was culverted.’

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The well itself has been completely covered over and no doubt destroyed by drainage works in the early 1970s.  The Stank Burn was apparently a drainage ditch, perhaps to take water away from marshy ground in the neighbouring lands. This marshland could be quite treacherous, it seems. I’m reminded of the story about an unusual little niche in the wall of Corstorphine Old Parish Church: above the great east window of the chancel, the niche houses a lamp on the outside of the stone wall. In medieval times the light from this lamp guided travellers along the side of the loch and safely through the marshes to Corstorphine. The light still shines today, guiding revellers home through the graveyard.

According to an entry on the Megalithic Portal site, the medicinal nature of the well’s water ‘was highly reputed in the eighteenth century, so much so that a coach ran 8-9 times each weekday from Edinburgh. The well was to the west of the High Street, on what is now Dunsmuir, and houses were built to accommodate those who came for a course of the waters.’

A large house further along Corstorphine High Street, the Mansion House, built around the middle of the eighteenth century, is said to have been a hotel or lodging house for those who came to the village to take the waters of the Physic Well in the hope their maladies would be cured. The house was demolished in the middle of the twentieth century, to make more room for the local primary school.

Sources and further reading:

The Megalithic Portal [link]
Geoff Holder, The Little Book of Edinburgh (The History Press, 2013)

Author: Brian Lavelle

Wanderer in sound, place and word. Curator of the Edinburgh Drift project. Quite likes cats.

8 thoughts on “The Physic Well, Corstorphine”

  1. I was raised in the house next door to the well.

    Slightly further along the stank was an area of the garden that was never cultivated so was let to grow out for the entire time I lived there and was not damaged when the stank was finally drained.

    Within this unkempt part if the car den were stone slabs laI’d flat on the ground. I’m guessing might have had a well entrance historically.

    Nice article

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I lived in Dunsmuir Court and 1952-1969 and witnessed the well being excavated by two archaeology students from St Andrews (?) university, whose names were Gordon Maxwell from the Glebe and Ian (?) Milne from Hillview Terrace (?). Lisa is correct, the original site of the well was situated on the south side of the Stank, opposite the perimeter wall of the garden belonging to , I think a Mr. Pearson who owned the large house facing onto Ladywell Road.

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  3. The primary school was built in the 1840s I think, not the middle of the twentieth century. Very interesting article about something I had never heard of despite being raised in Corstorphine and remembering the houses in Dunsmuir Court being built.

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    1. Thanks for reading and for your comment, Ray.

      I think it’s just the poor way I expressed that part about the primary school. You’re right that the main school building was built in the middle of the 19th century but I think the big house was demolished allowing more room around it.

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