A Somerset Field Trip
Many years back, when I lived in Bristol, I started working on a book on holy and healing wells of Somerset. I still hope one day to complete it but until then, here are some field notes from some of the sites.
Horne had difficulty in dry weather finding this site and indeed the walk to Childen Polden’s Holy well is probably not worth it, as the well arises in small circular area with some signs of rockwork around it but ruined by rather ugly farm shed. Nothing of any antiquity remains, which is indicated by the blue writing on the current pathfinder. It is said to be a noted sulphur spring, but upon visiting I failed to notice any distinctive features. above it This site is clearly marked on the Landranger map is the Holy Well with the note (Sulphur), and said by Kelly’s Directory to have healing qualities and that people from Bridgewater came to take its waters, and Tongue as an eye well.
Edington’s Holy Well by comparison is far more impressive structure. Indeed it comes as quite a surprise as one takes Holywell Road through the village and come across it at the corner of this road protected by a clump of trees. Unfortunately the source of water has now dried or else seasonal ( although this may have been the result of a summer drought ). The first mention is by Collinson (1791) describes this as a
‘perpetual spring, which contains sulphur and steel, and stains silver yellow in two hours… It has been found efficacious in scorbutick cases’
He interestingly fails to call it a holy well and it was until Phelps (1836–9) would the name holy well be applied to the site so perhaps it is his invention, the name being immortalised for good on the 1886 OS map. Phelps notes that the spring was the same quality as a holy well at Shapwick but contained less sulphuretted hydrogen. Horne ( 1923 ) states :
“ ..water gathers in a well-made stone tank about three feet square, the top of which is level with the surrounding ground. It is covered with two stone slabs, one of which at the date of visit in April 1915 had been removed, and the tank was half full of decaying leaves as a consequence. The water was three feet in depth and ran through a stone spout. The flow was slight, and the water of a greenish milky colour, with a strong and horrible smell of sulphur.”
As I noted, the well appears to be dry although the structure is still in good condition consisting of seats set around a stone forecourt. This structure was restored in as a stone plaque recalls :
“Edington Holy Well was renovated in 1937 in the memory of Margaret Charlotte Fownes Luttrell”
It is an interesting well to discover, but in the nearby village of
One of my favourite villages, with its delightful church full of hidden treasures including a plesiosaur, the overly picturesque castle ruins and St Andrew’s Well, one of the largest in the county. Down this side lane one is greeted with the most impressive structure surrounding a Holy Well in Somerset. One enters a large archway into a forecourt where two small ‘brick huts’ are apparent (now with windows) within which apparently the waters arise and perhaps custodians sat. The water emerges beneath these ‘huts’ a series of three pipes. Two to the left and one to the right. There water gushes out at some force filling stone throughs and then draining away.
In a delightful private garden set amongst cascading is a particularly venerable looking Holy Well called St. Pancras’s or Holy Well, although some doubt over its antiquity. It consists of a stone walled structure with two larger stones set across its opening, with one inside having fallen in. The lady owner stated they were worried that it was going to collapse any day : but has not! Indeed this condition was noted by Horne in 1914 that it has:
“has two slabs of stone over the top gable-shaped, but the stonework inside has fallen in somewhat, and is moss and fern grown… It is locally known as the HolyWell”
The water travels through a narrow liverwort covered channel, and then underground. The owner stated that they had had the water tested and found it purer than any water around!
Horne (1914) notes that:
“The well is in the garden of an old cottage which was once a chapel, though it has been much re-constructed. The cottage has always been known as St Pancras, and this was no doubt the dedication of the chapel, of which little remains beyond a built-in lancet window and the doorway”
Its position in the enclosed area of an old chapel, dedicated to St Pancras suggests perhaps that it may have had a role in supplying water for visitors to Old Cleeve Abbey . The owner noted that recently the well had received some notice in the local press, which pleased her it seemed.