“A Tale of Two Wells – linked by a masonic coin” – Restoration of “The Jubilee Well”, Torphichen, West Lothian.


Building owner/client:

West Lothian Council

Architect or lead designer:

Ed Kelly of EK:JN Architects LLP, 129 High Street, Linlithgow for West Lothian Council and Torphichen Community Council

Local Authority Area:

West Lothian

Nominating Body:

Torphichen Community Council

Project Description

Torphichen is perhaps best known for its famous Preceptory related to the Knights Hospitallers of St John. However, with Torphichen Community Council re-stablishing itself in 2014 and through a “Village Improvements Fund” (VIF) provided by West Lothian Council (WLC) for villagers to decide what local environmental priorities they wished to direct this fund towards, the derelict “Jubilee Well”, located at the centre of the village on “The Square”, was chosen by the Community Council as the first heritage project to tackle. The well was originally built in 1852 to supply water to the village, and was renovated for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1896 for a cost of £37.00; when it was given the distinctive name. It was provided for the villagers by Free Kirk Minister Rev John Duns, from the proceeds of a series of lectures on geology by him. The octagonal well was built in red sandstone ashlar blocks with a cast cement roof where a large cast-iron standard pole is fixed at the centre. There is a painted plaque of Queen Victoria fixed and inset into one side and a small painted cast iron lion’s head fountain near the base of an adjacent side. There are also 13, now redundant, painted ferrous fixings at various points on the sides of the well. It was the main source of water for the village. However, over time, it fell into disuse. A technical assessment of the well by Gracellia Ainsworth Associates in 2011 had identified the conservation issues to be addressed and provided some outline costs. After consideration by the WLC Local Area Committee in summer 2015, of a VIF application of £20k this was awarded to the project along with £10k from the WL Public Art Fund. Through the WLC conservation framework, local architects EK:JN of Linlithgow won the tender to undertake the project. They produced measured drawings of the structure and 5 proposals for new finial roof design that was considered by the local community and a Maltese cross, reflecting links to the nearby Preceptory, was selected. A local company, Architectural Conservation Limited, won the contract and restoration work, along with installation of a new burnished steel roof, were undertaken over a 6 week period from September – October 2016. (Both local architect and contractor also won the tenders for the similar Cross Well, Linlithgow restoration project – see separate application). During early work on the bottom of the well, a masonic coin was found and traced to a Linlithgow Lodge from the late 19th century, uniting the two well restoration projects that were underway simultaneously. The coin and an explanation of its history was placed within the time capsule placed within the restored well. All seven classes at Torphichen Primary School were involved in a project to provide written and art material for a time capsule comparing life in the village in 2016 with what they imagined it would be in 2116. The sealed canister was lodged inside the well by pupils from Primary 6 and Primary 7 and West Lothian’s Provost at a short ceremony in November 2016. Design work has been completed for an interpretation board to be erected opposite the well, in The Square, showing photos of the well in use in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Supporting Statement

The repairs to the structure and the new roof were the first Listed Building Consent, submitted, considered and approved electronically by West Lothian Council. A copy of these applications were placed within the time capsule. 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. The architect came up with five original design proposals for a new finial for the new well roof to be considered and voted upon and the most popular design, the Maltese Cross, was selected by the community. The Jubilee Well forms the focal point of “The Square” at the centre of the village, adjacent to the main road through the village. The Community Council decided to use their Village Improvement Fund towards enhancing this prominent feature and an interpretation board has been designed and due on site. The Community Council set up a consultation drop-in session for the village community to choose a new finial design for the new well roof. In addition, the Community Council organised local contributions to the time capsule including; a local photographer to take “before and after” comparison photos of local landmarks in the village. A prominent, but sadly neglected 19th century monument, originally built through a local donation has been restored at the centre of the village with a 21th century roof and time capsule for the 22nd century! An additional grant award from The Heritage Lottery, “Sharing Heritage” scheme for £10k to WLC on behalf of the Community Council towards a “Wells, Water & Walks project”, will see the employment of a water diviner, creative writer and ecologist to work on these three specific aspects with the local primary school and local residents.