A Yorkshire field trip: Conisborough’s two holy wells!

A visit to Conisbrough, noted for its Norman castle should include a visitor to its holy wells. That is holy wells, as the town can claim two sites! Although according to the Conisborough website there appears to be a denial of this.

That which is called the Holywell or rather Holywell spring is found at the edge of Holywell road and the A630 Sheffield Road. It is a spring which appears to arise further up the hill in an area now covered in scrub and inaccessible. However, a very copious spring erupts at the base of the hill and as such has been the subject of various complaints. Despite this it remains and fills a large semi-circular pool surrounded by low walling. The spring was noted for its healthy waters and was used for brewing beer by Nicholsons Bros Brewery and one assumes some of the stone work dates from this. Little else is recorded of the site

Nearer the castle, and although dry it is more substantial is another site variously called the Town well or Well of St Francis.  This is as Innocent (1914) describes it as:

“Covered by a curious little building very medieval-looking with ita  chamfered plinth and steeply slanted roof”

Who the St Francis is, is unclear but Alport ( 1898) records the local tradition which states that he was a local holy man and probably not a true saint and it is interesting that a number of churches are dedicated to a St. Francis in Yorkshire. Interestingly, though the date of creation of the well is recorded and quite late compared to other local saints perhaps. It is said that in 1320 -1321 the village was suffering from a particularly terrible drought and this St. Francis, said to be an old and wise man was sought for his advice. He suggested that the local people cut a willow tree from Willow Vale and then as the people sang psalms and hymns he lead them through the church and priory grounds to the site of the well. At the spot St Francis then struck is and not only did a spring arise and followed for the next 582 years (for its sadly dry now) but the tree took root.

Sadly this tree has either died or was dug up but the well continued under the name of the Town well up until the early 1900s when mains water arrived. It is possible that the legend suggests the holy man may have been, in fact, Clark (1986) believes the story recalls a Pagan priest and that the legend was a legacy of Conisbrough’s pre-Christian past; certainly the reference to a willow indicates a water diviner.

The other area in Conisbrough where St Francis the older man is said to have done a similar ritual and found water is at a place called The Holy Well Spring of St Francis. In 2003 this holy well was restored by historian Bernard Pearson with the aid of Community service and a special service was held at St Peter’s church attended by the High Sheriff of South Yorkshire who than processed to the site, erroneously as it happens in a re-enactment that was associated with the town well. Indeed a plaque at the site makes this error clear.

References:

Allport, C.H., (1898) History of Conisborough

Clark, S., (1986) The Holy well of Conisborough Source Old Series 5.

Innocent, C.F (1914-18) Conisborough and its castle Trans of Hunter Archeaology Society.

http://www.southyorkshiretimes.co.uk/news/local/…/have_your_say_1_613512

on the re-dedication of the well.
Copyright Pixyledpublications

About pixyledpublications

Currently researching calendar customs and folklore of Nottinghamshire

Posted on December 11, 2011, in Well hunting, Yorkshire and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi, great website.

    Are you aware of St. Helens/St. Ellens chapel near Barnburgh – there is a spring just across the path to the west of this small ruin, not sure if it was ever used as a well but worth a look. I went last summer and it is still very much active. There is also a well under St. Johns church in Throapham near the tower.

    • Hi Dave
      Thanks I was aware of the former but thought it was filled in so that’s great news, it was a st Helen’s well. Is the well visible at Throapham, it would be an interesting example, I’ll have to do a visit to south yorks again to record. Thanks again

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