Edinburgh World Heritage

St Bernard's Well

An appeal has been launched to help complete the restoration of this picturesque landmark.

The Twelve Monuments Project is a joint initiative of Edinburgh World Heritage and the City of Edinburgh Council, which has restored many of the city’s most important monuments and statues. The planned work to St Bernard’s Well on the Water of Leith near Stockbridge will be the final part of the three year project.

St Bernard’s Well was the idea of the eccentric judge Lord Gardenstone, who commissioned Alexander Nasymth in 1789 to design a new well house for the natural spring. The design was inspired by the Roman Temple of Vesta at Tivoli in Italy, complete with a statue to Hygeia the goddess of health.

The project will include specialist leadwork and re-securing a finial on the roof, stonework repairs and lime mortar re-pointing, conservation of stucco and cement decorations, mosaic work, and restoration of the pump mechanism.

The total costs of the project are estimated to be £232,839, which after contributions from EWH and the City of Edinburgh Council will leave £50,000 to be raised in donations. If you would like to make a donation please contact us on 0131 220 7720 or info@ewht.org.uk.

History of St Bernard’s Well

An old Edinburgh tradition says that a natural spring was discovered there in 1760, by three boys from George Heriot’s school. The well was then named after an old legend that St Bernard of Clairvaux once lived in a cave nearby.

It was soon a visitor attraction as ‘taking the waters’ was thought to be very good for the health. Not everyone was convinced though, with some claiming that the water had the ‘odious twang of hydrogen gas’ or even tasted like ‘the washings from a foul gun barrel’.

The well was bought by Lord Gardenstone, and in 1789 he commissioned the artist Alexander Nasymth to design the circular classical temple you see today. Gardenstone was a judge with a reputation for philanthropy and eccentric behaviour. He had a great fondness for pigs, and even allowed one to share his bed.

Alexander Nasmyth is probably best known as a landscape painter, but he was also a landscape designer, scientist, engineer and scene painter for the theatre.  St Bernard’s Well was his first piece of architecture, and he clearly took inspiration from his travels in Italy.

In 1885 the well and grounds were bought by the publishers Thomas Nelson & Sons, and restored. The pump room was lavishly refurbished with stained glass and a white marble pedestal. The ceiling of the room is a striking blue mosaic dome decorated with stars and a frieze. The restored well and grounds were then given to the City of Edinburgh in 1888, and water from the well was even bottled and sold in chemists for a while.

The well closed to the public in the 1940s, and Edinburgh’s Medical Officer of Health decided against re-opening it. St Bernard’s Well was repaired in the 1960s, but a recent survey has shown that major conservation work is now required.

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