A Short Poem Inspired by the Leighton Library’s Water Drinkers

This week, we are happy to present another work in our Highly Commended series, which features creative work inspired by the Books and Borrowing materials. Gillian Mellor’s poem, ‘Extracts from the Leighton Library’, was inspired by the Water Drinker’s Register from the Leighton Library in Dunblane.

Leighton Library MS30
This photograph shows a page from the Leighton Library’s ‘Water Drinkers’ borrowers’ register, so-called because those recorded in its pages were temporary visitors to Dunblane who had come to ‘drink the waters’ at the nearby spa of Cromlix. Here we see the borrowings of Miss Dalgleish, in 1815, and Dr Murray, first in 1815, and then in 1817. Both paid the sum of two shillings and sixpence, which gave them borrowing rights for a fortnight.

Our judging panel enjoyed Gillian’s poem, which evokes the colours and chemicals of its source texts, telling a miniature story of discovery in the process. Our judges particularly admired the way in which chemical terminology is made musical through the shaping of the stanzas, and the way in which the physicality of the reader is evoked.

Gillian Mellor

Gillian Mellor lives just outside Moffat and her poems can be found online in The Dangerous Women Project, The Selkie Anthology: Transformation and New Boots and Pantocrasies; and in print inside Poetry Scotland, Gutter, Pushing Out The Boat, The Poets’ Republic, Southlight and the co-authored pamphlet: Compass Points. She was highly commended in the 2022 Liverpool Poetry Prize.

Her poem follows below.


Extracts from Leighton Library

In the quiet of the library
Walter Scott gives light relief for two and six.
Dr Murray slips into St Ronan’s Well.

A professional Water Drinker, he sips
from conical flasks, assesses the taste,
the bitter, metallic, the sweet or the sour.

He notes the clarity, colour
and any pungent odour, but the day-job is chemistry
so he adds a good slug of hydrochloric acid,

concentrates the solution, separates the silicates
and saturates with hydrogen sulfide, determines
each inorganic ion one reaction at a time.

He extracts the green chrome oxide
dissolves the precipitate powder in soda solution,
mixes it with borate and heats it in a flame.

He notes the formation of the grey-yellow pearl,
proclaims the similarity to iron
that stalwart constituent of the blood.

He packs up his chemistry kit, returns
St Ronan’s Well to the shelf – his complexion is rosy
with the glow of discovery, his thirst almost quenched.

Frontispiece and Title Page of 1832 edition of Walter Scott’s St Ronan’s Well (1823)