“A Tale of Two Wells, a one handed sculptor and a dog” – The Restoration of “The Cross Well”, Linlithgow


Building owner/client:

West Lothian Council

Architect or lead designer:

Ed Kelly of EK: JN Architects LLP, 129 High Street, Linlithgow for WLC

Local Authority Area:

West Lothian

Nominating Body:

Linlithgow and Linlithgow Bridge Town Management Group and Linlithgow Town Centre Business Improvement District (BID).

Project Description

The original Cross Well, at the centre of Linlithgow and at the front of the Burgh Halls on the High Street, was a dipping well and the town water supply and erected c1535, but was then rebuilt in 1628 by John Ritchie of Edinburgh. The structure was damaged during the occupation of Linlithgow by Cromwell’s troops and subsequently repaired after the 1660 restoration of Charles II. Carved figures form the 17th Century well-head are exhibited at the Linlithgow Story Museum in Annet House. In 1807, the Town Council commissioned Robert Grey, a one armed Edinburgh stonemason, who apparently carved by strapping a mallet to the stump of his left handless arm, to build an exact replica of the earlier well. It is now Category B listed. The Cross Well takes the form of an elaborately carved crown well surmounting a stepped base and tall hexagonal plinth with grouped columns at each corner. Above this are two distinct decorative stages; the lower featuring a decorative plinth displaying animal heads and other carving, topped at each corner by stiff flower finials. Smaller grouped columns feature at the inside corners adjacent to the central decorative panels, while cusped flying buttresses extend towards the upper stage where each corner is surmounted by statutes of local figures. Mask gargoyles feature at both stages with leaded downspouts. Finally, cusped flying buttresses extend up to a circular cupola supported by six small single columns upon which sits a unicorn holding a scroll bearing the rampant lion. In Autumn 2011, a technical Conservation Assessment Report was commissioned by the council. It covered the condition of the stone, damages through environmental pollution such as biological growth, bird guano, insect deposits, graffiti as well as scaling, delamination, cracks & pits in the stone, salt efflorescence, ferrous fixings, previous repairs, loss of detail and construction joints. From the Conservation Assessment Report, a specialist conservation architect and quantity surveyor were appointed via the council’s procurement framework. Discussions were held between Planning Services, Construction Services, Street Lighting Unit and Linlithgow Town Centre Management and the specialist consultants about the various options for restoration of the well. After careful consideration of various options, it was proposed to: restore the stone works with minimal cleaning following best practise stone conservation; replace the floodlighting on the structure; and restore the water supply and return the water works to the well. A local Linlithgow company, Architectural Conservation Limited, won the £65k contract and restoration work was undertaken over an 8 week period from September – October 2016. A time capsule was installed in the underground chamber below the well. Local organisations such as the Town Centre Management Group and Town Centre BID who funded the restoration, provided material for the time-capsule but also included other related local groups such as the Deacon’s Court, Community Council, Linlithgow Academy and Low Port Primary School. Copies of the original 1806 contract and correspondence between the Town Council and the stone mason were also included. The sealed canister was lodged under the well by Primary 6 and Primary 7 pupils from Low Port Primary and West Lothian’s Provost at a short ceremony in November 2016. An inscribed lead plug, taken from the stone to determine the stone match, was reinserted and carved to describe when the time capsule was laid and where it is located. A large interpretation board will be installed on the west side of the Cross, similar to the board outside nearby County Buildings, to give further details about the well to locals and visitors.

Supporting Statement

This prominent 210 year old, category B-listed, structure was in need of repair to renew the water supply and floodlight the monument. Petrographic analysis by the British Geological Survey of a small core of original stone allowed for an almost direct match for the most appropriate and available new quarried stone to be identified and ordered for the stone repairs. Research indicates that the Linlithgow Burgh Coat of Arms displaying a black dog facing left was in fact carved the wrong way around in 1807, possibly based on a template taken of similarly incorrect carving on nearby St Michael’s Well along the High Street. The raised stone dog's head had to be re-carved and re-attached to the decorative pedestal at the front of the Cross Well. As part of the listed structure it still faces the wrong way. The Cross Well forms the main focal point at the centre of the Linlithgow in the civic space on the approach, via the Kirk Gate, to Linlithgow Palace.  It forms part of the Linlithgow Heritage Trail. A local conservation architect and local stonemason contractor undertook the work. The Linlithgow and Linlithgow Bridge Town Management Group committed £40k from their Capital Expenditure Programme. Linlithgow Town Centre Business Improvement District were keen to restore important heritage features for towns’ people as well as visitors and therefore funded the revenue costs. The West Lothian Public Art Fund also contributed £20k as the Cross Well is an important heritage feature on the county’s list of public art and heritage structures. Finally, a small local bursary contributed just under £2.5k to the project. Members of the Linlithgow and Linlithgow Bridge Town Management Group will be trained up to inspect and sample the water for any health risk issues and the Linlithgow Town Centre BID will pay for water testing and maintenance. Members of the Linlithgow Civic Trust and a local retired architect researched the history of the Cross Well – a copy of which was lodged within the time capsule placed within the chamber under the well. This is the third time capsule on site. Their research formed the basis of the interpretation board. Pupils from Linlithgow Academy and the nearby Low Port Primary School were involved in a project to provide written material for a time capsule comparing life in the town in 2016 with what they imagined it would be in 2116. The Risk Assessment had determined potential public health risks for re-establishing the fountain water supply which was managed with input from Linlithgow and Linlithgow Bridge Town Management Group and Linlithgow Town Centre BID. The contractors had to work in an extremely confined space in the underground chamber beneath the well to refit the electrics and pump supply for the water and flood lighting. The Cross Well is a focal point in the impressive historic public realm of Linlithgow. The restoration scheme secured the stonework and reintroduced floodlighting and water circulation to the well that will hopefully give it another lease of life for the next 200 years. It is one of a number of ongoing heritage projects in Linlithgow to enhance the former burgh.