Actually, All Carr Furlong isn’t the important bit here, but, just for the record, it was probably the field highlighted in blue on the map below. (Yes, we know it’s not an accurate Ordnance survey map…but we didn’t want to break any copyrights here so we drew up our own.)
No…what we’re interested in is the ‘Keldbreckwell’, which almost certainly got its name from the fact that it was a well and it stood on the breck (the Norse word for hillside) near our potential keeill platform.
That would make it a holy well, because of its connection to the potential keeill, which is where the St. Kilda in the title of this article comes in. You see Keldbreckwell might be a corruption of ‘The Well on Kilda’s Breck’; St. Kilda being the saint to whom the keeill was possibly dedicated…the well bit on the end being…well…the well. So, you’re probably asking: “Who exactly was St. Kilda and what has she/he got to do with the Wyre?”
We’re glad you asked, otherwise this would have been a very short article. (Bet you wish you hadn’t now.)
Here’s what Dr. M. F. Brewster’s informative thesis on ‘Gildas the Wise, St. Kilda, and Dumbarton’s Neglected Saint’ has to say: “Most people in Scotland will tell you that there was no such person and that the name applies only to a remote island group to the northwest of the Outer Hebrides.”
That buggers that up then. However, on closer inspection, there is a connection between St. Kilda (as in the group of Scottish islands at any rate) and the Wyre after all.
This is St. Kilda, the island group:
(Yes…correct again. That’s a drawing, not a photograph. The original photograph we had was taken from some tourist brochure or other, and copyright infringement was rearing its ugly head once again so we had to redraw it.)
Anyhow, at least, that’s a bit of St. Kilda.
Looks like something out of Tolkien, don’t you think? If it seems familiar, then think no further than the delicious Kate Humble and her recent television series about the place. (Yes…I know I’m being a bit sad referring to Kate Humble as delicious…but let’s face it, anybody who sits next to Bill Oddie all day is bound to look attractive by comparison.)
As imposing and uninhabitable as the place appears, believe it or not, St. Kilda was once inhabited.
The first account of the island can be found in 1697, written by Martin Martin (who was obviously christened by a vicar with a stutter) who said that the island was called St. Kilda by the seamen visiting it, but was called Hirt by the residents on it. There was also: a “very large well near the town” which was, of course, called St. Kilder’s well.
Then there’s this description of the island’s lively community, by George Mackenzie in 1675: “The exercise they affect the most is climbing of steep rocks. He is the prettiest man who ventures upon the most inaccessible, though all they gain is the eggs of the fowls and the honour to die, as many of their ancestors, by breaking their necks.
Yes, life on St. Kilda was fun, especially during the Victorian period when the inhabitants were starving to death.
In fact, by 1930 the last of the locals had given up the fight and were evacuated, and the whole place has been a ghost-rock ever since, populated by empty cleits (the stone built cottages) and grateful seabirds.
Which is all well and fine…but what has it got to do with the Wyre? Well, here’s the thing. During those years of habitation, the islands themselves were considered so remote, so dangerous to visit, so destitute and pointless, that nobody, but nobody, ever wanted to go anywhere near the place.
Nobody, that is, apart from Fleetwood trawler men. Fleetwood trawler men are a breed apart. They laugh in the face of danger and tweek the nose of deadly nor’ westers and even deadlier rocks. Besides, there was good hake fishing off St. Kilda, and if there’s something that Fleetwood was good at, it was catching and selling hake.
As a result, our local Fleetwood heroes would deliver letters to the islands, sometimes taking them food parcels and other exciting presents as well (most of which, no doubt, stank of fish, but beggars can’t be choosers).
Before the Fleetwood trawler men took up their delivery positions, the mail at St. Kilda was conducted by considerably more primitive methods. A small, wooden boat (no larger than a toy suitable for bath time really) was attached to a buoy, and then left to drift in the current all the way to the mainland. Exactly how successful this service proved to be it’s hard to tell, but the Fleetwood trawler men probably had a better track record on the whole. Not that the going was easy, of course, as the photograph below, showing one of the many Fleetwood trawlers (on this occasion the Spinningdale) that met their ends on St. Kilda’s rocks, demonstrates:
(Yes, yes, alright, it’s another drawing. More potential copyright problems.) However, as fascinating as all of this no doubt is, we seemed to have wandered from our original point, that being the well at Stalmine and it’s St. Kilda connection.
The local name for St. Kilda, as we mentioned before, was Hirt, which, by a coincidence, is a Norse word, meaning ‘well’. And, apparently (although it’s difficult to see how one could possibly transform into the other, but this is what the experts reckon) the name that the offshore visitors gave the islands (i.e. St. Kilda) is a corruption of said ‘Hirt’. (Yes…we couldn’t figure that one out either, despite putting on our best Scottish accents.)
Therefore, if the well in Stalmine, that is Keldbreckwell, is a corruption of Kilda-breck-well, then the Kilda itself is a corruption of Hirt, which, of course, means ‘well’, so the name of the Stalmine well becomes the well on the breck of the well.
(Actually, there's a much greater chance that Keldreckwell is a corruption of 'Killbreckwell' which means 'the well belonging to the grain drying kiln on the slope of a hill', which, taking into account our current archaeological excavations at the Grange Farm watermill, makes a lot more sense than a keeill standing on the platform.)
Ever get the feeling you’re going round in decreasing circles?
Same here, which might explain why I’m getting dizzy, so I reckon it’s time I stopped.