St Kenelm’s Well at Winchcombe
‘and immediately a spring burst forth under a rock, which they lifted up, and the whole company drank healthfully before moving on. The spring runs into the river to this day’.
High above the picturesque village of Winchcombe is a substantial conduit house. This conduit house with its heavy stone pitched rood of local stone and substantial door contains a four foot wide, two foot deep well fed by a spring associated with most of the country’s most interesting saint. In a text called Vita Sancti Kenelmi, written it is believed by Goscelin of Saint-Bertin, in the 11th century the story of the saint is told. It relates that King Kenulf, King of Mercia and founder of Wincombe Abbey (in 789 A.D) had an heir Kenelm. His half sister Quenride was jealous of her brother and being ambitious murdered him and had his body hidden in Clent, North Worcestershire ( and now on the outskirts of the West Midlands Metropolitan area ). His death was seen as a great scandal and soon the dead revealed itself and when the body was found, and a white dove sent the message to the Pope:
“In Clent in cowback Kenelm King’s bairn lieth under a thorn bereft of his head.”
The Clent monks removed this body, a miraculous spring arising in the process, and carried it to Winchombe. Where the funeral cortège rested miraculous springs arose. Of these springs, only the two remain, that at Clent and the one under discussion here, the last resting place. The monks of Wincombe claimed this body and established a pilgrimage place, the spring being part of this pilgrimage. The Annals of Wincombe, related in the South East Legendary c1280, translated below reads:
“These men towards Winchombe the Holy body bear,
Before they could it thither bring, very weary they were,
So they came to a wood a little east of the town,
And rested, though they were so near, upon a high down,
Athirst they were for weariness, so sore there was no end,
For St Kenelm’s love they bade our Lord some drink send,
A cold well and clear, there sprung from the down,
That still is there, clear and cold, a mile from the town,
Well fair, it is now covered with stone as is right,
And I counsel each man thereof to drink, that cometh there truly,
The Monks, since, of Winchombe have built there beside,
A fair Chapel of St Kenelm, that man seek wide.”
In Caxton’s 15th century Golden Legend it states:
‘for heat and labour they were nigh dead for thirst, and anon they prayed to God, and to this holy saint to be their comfort. And then the abbot pight his cross into the earth, and forthwith sprang up there a fair well, whereof they drank and refreshed them much’.
The site, as St Kenwolphs Well, first appears on the map in 1777 on Taylor’s Gloucestershire map but Walters (1928) in his work on Ancient springs of Gloucestershire, states that the well house or conduit house was enclosed by Lord Chandos (of Sudeley Castle in the valley below) in the reign of Elizabeth I dating from around 1572. It is possible that the conduit house replaced a previous well house and it is thought to have been a chapel nearby which was still standing in 1830 when it was either demolished or converted into a cottage. The later seems possible as a Perpendicular window is to be found in the rear of a Victorian cottage nearby but I did not find it.
To return to the conduit house, a figure of the saint was placed over the door, crowned and seated, with sword and sceptre. It bears the date 819 A.D. and the name St Kenelmus, but was erected in 1887. The inscriptions within these walls are as follows :
East wall :
“THIS WELL DATING FROM THE ANGLO-SAXON TIMES, ANNO DOMINI 819, MARKS THE SPOT WHERE THE BODY OF KENELM, ‘ KING AND MARTYR ‘ RESTED ON THE WAY TO INTERMENT IN THE ABBEY OF WINCHOMBE.
A CHURCH WAS ERECTED IN THE IMMEDIATE VICINITY FOR PILGRIMS ATTRACTED HITHER BY THE WONDERFUL POWERS OF THE WATERS. ALL THAT NOW REMAINS OF THIS EDIFICE ( DEMOLISHED ANNO DOMINI 1830 ) IS A WINDOW INSERTED IN THE ADJOINING FARM HOUSE.
IN THE REIGN OF QUEEN ELIZABETH LORD CHANDOS OF SUDELY ENSHRINED THE HOLY WELL BY ERECTION OF THIS CONDUIT HOUSE, PROBABLY TO COMEMORATE ONE OF THAT QUEEN’S VISIT TO THE CASTLE.
IN THIS JUBILEE YEAR OF THE REIGN OF QUEEN VICTORIA, JUNE 20TH, ANNO DOMINI 1887, THE SCULPTURE-FIGURE OF ST KENELM WAS ADDED EXTERNALLY AND THESE THREE LEGENDARY TABLETS PLACED THEREON.
“OH TRAVELLER, STAY THY WEARY FEET,
DRINK OF THIS WATER, PURE AND SWEET,
IT FLOWS FOR RICH AND POOR THE SAME,
THEN GO THY WAY, REMEMBERING STILL,
THE WAYSIDE WELL BENEATH THE HILL,
THE CUP OF WATER IN HIS NAME.”
“IN LOVING MEMORY OF THE THREE BROTHERS JOHN, WILLIAM AND THE REVD. BENJAMIN DENT, AND OF THEIR NEPHEW, JOHN COUCHIER DENT, WATER FROM THIS ABUNDANT AND EVER FLOWING STREAM WAS CONVEYED AS A FREE GIFT TO THE INHABITANTS OF WINCHOMBE BY EMMA, WIDOW OF THE ABOVE JOHN COUCHIER DENT. JUNE 20TH, 1887”
“LET THEY FOUNTAIN BE DISPERSED ABROAD,
AND RIVERS OF WATERS IN THE STREETS. ” PROV. V. 16”
On a pleasant summer’s day it makes a delightful goal to the pilgrim, although sadly the well itself is now inaccessible…it is currently locked.