Witches' Well

Venue details
Edinburgh Area
About the venue

Commissioned by Sir Patrick Geddes in 1894, and designed by Geddes' friend John Duncan, the Witches Well is a cast iron, memorial drinking fountain to the thousands of accused witches who were put to death in Scotland. 

The monument is attached to a wall at the lower end of the Esplanade below Edinburgh Castle, not far from where many were burned at the stake and hung. The wall that the well is attached to was the location of the Castlehill reservoir, but is now the Tartan Weaving Mill and Experience building.

The inscription on the plaque, erected in 1912, explains the significance and dualism of the bronze relief which has a foxglove plant, a snake curled around the heads of Hygeia, the Greek goddess of good health, and her father Aesculapius, god of medicine.

"This fountain, designed by John Duncan, R.S.A. is near the site on which many witches were burned at the stake. The wicked head and serene head signify that some used their exceptional knowledge for evil purposes while others were misunderstood and wished their kind nothing but good. The serpent has the dual significance of evil and wisdom. The foxglove spray further emphasises the dual purpose of many common objects."

A hole beneath the snake’s head once spouted water, although it's not operational now. 

The dates 1479 and 1722  (the height of witch hunts in Scotland ) are depicted on the fountain in Roman numerals.

The last prosecution for witchcraft was a mother and daughter in 1727 in Dornoch. Janet Horne was the last person in the British Isles to be executed for witchcraft, but her daughter escaped.

The British parliament repealed the Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563 in 1736, along with the equivalent witchcraft act in England.


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