Monthly Archives: July 2012
If you park in the first car park at Greenaway Country Park past the lake, and then walk along the road taking the footpath on the left around the lake, continue until one crosses a bridge, just below the Warden’s Tower taking a path which follows a small stream, past a pond and then continue until there is a bridge on the left and just after this is a path on the right you will reach Gawton Well (SJ 898 555) voted one of the most mystical places and certainly one of the most atmospheric of Staffordshire ancient wells is found on the remains of the Kynpersely Estate.
The spring fills at first an elliptical stone basin, then a small rectangular basin and then a larger one which could have formed a bath. There is a semi-circular stone just after this and then flows through a number of large rocks forming a stream. The site has an excellent arrangement the juxtaposition between the man-made and the natural.
A druid grove?
Perhaps what makes this well one of the most evocative and interesting is the fact that it arises in an oval grove of yew trees. Some folklorists and New age Antiquarians have seen this as being evidence of some pagan origin of the well and although it is interesting that the site is unconverted to the Christian faith. However, one must be careful. Firstly the trees do not look that old and secondly the presence of a nearby Warden’s Tower, a folly suggests, that this is perhaps a 18th century piece of antiquarianism.
A hermit’s house?
This suggestion of the site being a folly may be justified by the presence of Gawton’s Stone. This is just up from the spring, being a large stone supported by three other stones. Some antiquarians identified erroneously this as either a druidic altar or megalithic structure (it would be impossible to lift the structure). However it is here that legendarily a hermit lived called Gawton who used the well. Often landowners would employ a hermit to add some romance to the estate, although the stone does not particularly look like a comfortable place. Certainly local tradition states that the man came from Knypersley Hall in the seventeenth century, although the house is 18th century and no name is recorded as living there of any note! The house itself dates from the 12th century.
Plot (1686) states that:
“There are many waters such as the water of the well at Gawton Stone…which has some reputation for the cure of the King’s evil..”
The King’s evil was a skin complaint generally called scrofula which was only thought to be cured by the touch of the reigning monarch. Now rarely do I try out springs but at this time my little boy was suffering with eczema and having tried all sorts of creams I said flippantly try some of the well’s water. I collected it from near the source in a drinking bottle, it felt unusually silky to the skin, and applied some to an area of dry peeling skin on his cheek. Remarkably by the time we had walked from the well to the car the area have healed itself rather miraculously. I only wished I had collected some more to use later, although the area on his face disappeared for good….
In all Gawton’s Well deserves to be more well known, a magical site of which my only clue to its existence before reaching it was a circle on the OS! A site which may reveal its secrets with greater research which I plan to undertake whilst preparing for the Holy wells of Staffordshire.
Much has been written regarding holy wells culminating in Harte (2008) magnus opus but no survey has attempted to record all those wells and springs named after monarchs as far as I am aware. With Jubilee fever all around I thought it would be fitting to start an overview of this aspect of water lore in England. Starting with King well, a generic name, is by far the commonest with sites recorded at Chalk (Kent), Cuffley (Hertfordshire) (although associated with James I), Chigwell (Essex) (although probably cicca’s well)), Lower Slaughter (Gloucestershire), Kingsthorpe (Northamptonshire), Orton (Northumberland), Cheltenham (Gloucestershire), Ellerton (Staffordshire), Wartling (Sussex), and Bath (Somerset). Some of these such as Chigwell may be a etymological mistake being more likely derive from Cicca’s well and some such as Orton are thought to be associated with Iron age sites.
However, English wells and their associations with monarchs starts perhaps starts with King Arthur’s Well (Cadbury ) but taking this probably mythical king aside, and not considering those monarchs associated with the Celtic and Saxon Kingdoms (after all a high percentage of these early saints were the sons of Kings (such as those begat by King Brechan) or early kingly Christian converts for example St Oswald or St Ethelbert ) which are better known by their sanctity rather than their majesty, I start with sites associated with who is seen as being the first King of England; Alfred.
King Alfred’s Well (Wantage) is of unclear vintage arising as it does in a brick lined chamber although his association with the town is well known. However as Benham (1911) notes in his The Letters of Peter Lombard:
“a clear and bright spring, but I fear that the evidence that King Alfred ever had anything to do with it is not forthcoming. The site of his birthplace is not very far from the well”
Although that did not stop a procession to the well in the year 2000! St Peter’s Pump at Stourhead (Wiltshire) too has become associated with Alfred and it is said he prayed for water her before a battle, there is again little evidence if any of this. In East Dean (Sussex) there is another well named after him. Interestingly the direct descendents of Alfred do not appear to have gained any association with wells, perhaps being a measure of either their impact on folk memory. The next king is the rather tragic figure of Harold. Harold’s Well laying in the Keep of Dover Castle (Kent) is an interesting site, it is a typical castle well and unlikely to be the site where Harold is said to have according to Macpherson (1931) (MacPherson, E. R., The Norman Waterworks in the Keep of Dover Castle. Arch Cant. 43 (1931)) been were the King swore he would give with the castle to William of Normandy, later William I. (Wartling’s King well may record Harrold or William)
I can find no wells associated with the Norman Kings or Queens and the next monarch to appear is King John. He is interestingly the monarch with most sites associated with him, being in Heaton Park (Newcastle), Odell (Bedfordshire), Kineton (Warwickshire) and Calverton (Nottinghamshire) (although the later is recorded as Keenwell). This may be the consequence of his infamy and association with Robin Hood sites taking on his name in the telling and re-telling of Robin Hood tales. However, in most cases it would appear to be sites associated with a castle although surely King John was not the only monarch to have used such sites.
The next monarch associated with a well is a prince, a man who despite being heir apparent, never reached the throne. The Black Prince, a very romantic figure and with an evocative name, his spring is perhaps the most well known of those associated with royalty: the Black Prince’s Well, Harbledown (Kent). Legend has it that he regularly drank from the well and asked for a draught of it as he lay sick and dying of syphilis. However, the water’s powers did not extend to this and he died never becoming king. The well has the three feathers, sign of the Prince of Wales, an emblem captured at Crecy although the origin and age of the well is unknown it is the only such spring with any insignia of a monarch.
The subsequent centuries saw a number of squirmishes and conflicts which also created some springs associated with royalty. Perhaps the most interesting well associated with a monarch is King Henry VI’s Well, Bolton in Craven (North Yorkshire). It is interesting because the King’s reputation was that of sanctity and as such any well would have pretentions to be a holy well. Indeed the local legend states that when a fugitive at Bolton Hall he asked for the owner to provide a bathing place. No spring was available and one was divined with hazel rods and where they indicated water the site was dug. The king prayed that the well may flow forever and the family may never become extinct. The site still exists and is used for a local mineral water firm!
The years of conflict between the Lancastrians and Yorkists ended at Bosworth field and here a we find King Richard’s Well, Sutton Cheney (Leicestershire). Traditionally Richard III drank from a spring that Lord Wentworth in 1813 encapsulated in large conical cairn shaped well house with an appropriate Latin inscription. Curiously both wells of course mark the losers of the battle and no wells record the victors of such conflicts. One wonders whether this records our interest in the underdog and lament for the lost. The strangest extrapolation of this is a well found in Eastwell (Kent). Here generations have pointed to a circular brick well in the estate grounds and a tomb in the derelict church and associated them with the lost son of Richard III. The Plantagenet’s Well may indeed have some basis in fact although the only evidence is the account of the legend during the building of Eastwell Manor in 1545, the landowner, Sir Thomas Moyle, was amazed to find one of his workman reading a book in Latin. Naturally curious, he decided to ask him about this ability. Thus the man informed him, that in 1485, at Bosworth Field, he was the illegitimate son of King Richard III, who had previously clandestinely acknowledged him as sole heir. The following day, fearing reprisals after Richard’s loss, the boy fled, avoiding being recognition by disguising himself as a bricklayer and thus was years later, employed in the manor’s construction. Sir Thomas, believed the man’s story, and being a Yorkist sympathiser, adopted him into his household. This story of Richard Plantagenet remained a family secret, until it was revealed in Gentleman’s Magazine, as a quotation from a letter written by Thomas Brett, of Spring Grove (near Eastwell) to a friend Dr. Warren. He had heard the story from the Earl of Winchelsea at Eastwell House about 1720. This story is further enforced by Parish records showing that on December 27th 1550 V Rychard Plantagenet was interred, the notation V being a notification for a royal personage. However, having never seen the record myself I am unsure of its validity.
The next monarch encountered in a well dedication is a surprising one perhaps. In Carshalton (Surrey), we find Anne Boleyn’s Well, which is an perplexing dedication considering her unpopularity and association with a monarch who would have seen holy wells another trapping of the papist money making machine he had excluded from his realm (although there is little evidence that Henry VIIIth had any real direct effect on holy wells as would the newly established Scottish Kirk). The legend of its formation related that when the King and Queen were out riding from Nonsuch Palace, her horse’s foot hit the ground and a spring arose. No reason for is given and it is probable that the spring was re-discovered and perhaps dedicated to St. Anne. Bedford’s Park is not far from Pygro’s Park which has an association with Henry VIII so one assumes the Queen Anne’s well is again Boleyn although I know nothing more and indeed missed it from my survey!
Unlike her mother, Elizabeth I was a popular monarch, much as the present monarch is, especially in the strongly protestant counties, hence Queen Elizabeth Wells at Rye and Winchelsea (Sussex). In the case of Rye, the spring was part of a water improvement system which provided water via a conduit system. It was so named after her visit to Rye in 1573, when she drunk the water and met the town dignitaries, or Jurats, there, before they processed into the town. Amusingly the well was also known as Dowdeswell, from O. E. dowde for a plain woman, a scold or shrew a fact which may have tickled some recusant families in the vicinity no doubt. so like many a holy well the name was changed for the monarch. Interestingly, Winchelsea’s site was and still is called St. Katherine’s Well so perhaps the monarch’s name was used to remove Catholic associations (especially considering Queen Katherine of Aragon), although St. Leonard’s well remained intact. Bisham’s Queen Elizabeth’s Well (Buckhamshire) is even associated with miraculous cures which certainly predate the monarch and perhaps her visit and taking of the waters when visiting Lady Hoby her cousin may have been the opportunity to move away from the holy well name? Queen Elizabeth also gave her name to a well in Friern Barnet (Middlesex) and Blackheath (Surrey)
Perhaps in the day when the site of the monarch was an extremely rare occasion folk memory has preserved it. This may explain King James Well Mickley (Yorkshire) whose only reason for the dedication was that he stopped to drink at it! This well does not appear to have then developed any note as a consequence. However, a spring at Cuffley (Hertfordshire) was visited by the King and developed into a minor spa called the King’s Well.
Interestingly, if England had not broken from Rome we may have seen those associated with Charles I develop in the same fashion, after all he does have churches and chapels named after him. Charles is often associated with wells, in some cases such as Carles Trough, (Leicestershire) where he is said to have watered horse here after Naseby. Ellerton’s (Staffordshire) King’s Well and Longhope (Gloucestershire) Royal Spring are both associated with the monarch.
However, stopping to drink is a common theme. A well in Appledore (Kent) is called Queen Anne’s Well because she is said to have stopped there and asked the landlord for a sip. It is possible that such associations may stem from a desire for a local land owner to support a developing spa trade, Queen Anne’s Bathhouse exists in Lullingstone (Kent), however there is no record of such an attempt at Appledore. Furthermore, it is unclear which Queen Anne is recorded at Appledore and it is possible considering the age of the brickwork in the cellar and around the well at this site that it was once St. Ann’s well. This is probably true of Lincoln’s Queen Ann’s Well, Chalvey’s Queen Ann’s Well (Buckinghamshire), Queen Anne’s Wishing Well (South Cadbury) and Blythborough’s (Suffolk) site now known as Lady Well! However of that of Chalvey, perhaps not as there is no pre-18th century record, although if it did not it soon attracted a reputation for healing and was called a spa. Interestly Queen Charlotte is also noted as being involved and as such according to the Mirror, of 1832,:
“a stone was placed there in 1785 by her illustrious consort, George III”.
An accompanying woodcut to the piece showing the stone with the royal monogram carved in the centre. In 1698 Anne of Denmark gave money to create a basin at Tunbridge wells and well was called the Queen’s well.
Of course in the next two centuries, the rise of the spas saw many mineral springs develop the patronage of the monarch such as George IV, yet despite this times had changed and the wells did not take the monarch’s name directly. By the reign of Victoria, her name was then applied to fountainheads and pumps, as old wells were filled in and channelled away amidst growing concerns for the need for clean and freely accessible water. A few sites such as the confusing named Coronation or Jubilee Well (so marked on the 1844 OS map so difficult to record which monarch and which jubilee or coronation is referred to) in Wessington (Derbyshire) buck the trend.
In summary it is interesting that despite a large number of memorable and in some case not so memorable monarchs, there is are a limited number of them associated with wells. Why? Is it due to these particular monarchs having pricked the public’s folk memory, or in some cases inherited some sort of pious notion akin to that associated with holy wells.
Wells associated with Royalty can be divided into the following categories:
a) Those drunk before a battle or whilst on the run from a battle. This could include the Battle Well Evesham (Worcestershire), with its associations with Simon de Montford is out of the scope of this blog but shows this trend, the water becoming curative.
b) Those associated with their castles, palaces, hunting lodges. But why these particular monarchs is unclear?
c) Those made by miraculous events such as that associated King Henry VIs well. It seems perhaps these sites had developed in anticipation of the eventual sanctifying of the individuals which of course never happened.
Shropshire has a number of interesting holy and ancient wells
STOKE ST MILBOROUGH
Wells found in villages which bear the name of the saint the well is dedicated to are always very interesting and this site is perhaps the original focus for the community and it is not always clear my the saint has become synonymous with the location. The origins of St Milburga’s Well is associated with a local legend. In the village they tell a legend of the saint being chased for two days and nights non-stop until exhausted she is said to have fallen from her white horse and cut her head open on a stone. The fall was witnessed by some farm workers who came to her aid but found no water to bathe her with. She then turned to her horse and instructed it to hit the stone to which the spring then arose. Such stories are often told of saints, for example see my blog entry on St. Thomas’s Well Otford for a more famous example. A great story is also recorded that she made the barley the men were sowing when the incident happened to grow rapidly, in fact so much that it was harvestable. When the saint’s pursuers came by later that day the men were indeed harvesting the barley, and so when asking if they had seen the saint they said yes when they were sowing the barley. Confused, the pursuers gave up and the saint escaped. The well itself was noted for cures of the eye although it also used for washing clothes by the local women and was finally enclosed in the early 20th century for the village water supply. Today despite appearing still to be tapped, the modern water works being rather incongruous and ugly, the main spring still flows rapidly down hill arising in a square chamber. It has occassionally been dressed.
Hope Baggot’s holy well is one of the simplest but most evocative of sacred springs. One can feel that little has changed for perhaps thousands of years and if such sites do have a pre-Christian history this one with its protective ancient yew is clearly a candidate. Sadly little is known of the site. The Carbon dating of the yew gives a date of 6000 years but does not mean the site has been venerated that long. The well itself arises in a stone lined grotto and flows pleasantly. The tree is adorned by clooties and the overall effect is rather magical.
Ludlow has two noted wells, either sides of the town. The Boiling spring is a rather insignificant boggy morass and not much to be seen. However, it is one of the few wells to attract a legend as Hope (1893) notes:
“The pretty legend of the Boiling Well–so called from its continual bubbling as it rises–in a meadow beside the River Corve at Ludlow, was related to me on the spot in the year 1881, as follows. Three centuries ago the principal figure would have been described as a holy saint in disguise instead of a simple palmer.
Years ago, you know, there was what was called the Palmers’ Guild at Ludlow. You may see the palmers’ window in the church now: it is the east window in the north chancel, which was the chantry chapel of the guild. The old stained glass gives the story of the Ludlow palmers; how King Edward the Confessor gave a ring to a poor pilgrim, and how years afterwards two palmers from Ludlow, journeying homewards from the Holy Land, met with the blessed St. John the Evangelist, who gave them the same ring, and bade them carry it to their king, and tell him that he to whom he had given it was no other than the saint himself, and that after receiving it again the king should not live many days, which came to pass as he said. The Palmers’ Guild founded many charities in Ludlow, and among them the Barnaby House, which was a hospice for Poor travellers. Many used to pass through the town in those days, especially pilgrims going to St. Winifred’s Well in Wales. And once upon a time an old palmer journeying thither was stayed some days at Barnaby House by sickness, and the little maid of the house waited on him. Now, this little maid had very sore eyes. And when he was got well and was about to go on his way, he asked of her what he should do for her. ‘Oh, master,’ said she, ‘that my sight might be healed!’ Then he bade her come with him, and led her outside the town, till they stood beside the Boiling Well. And the old man blessed the well, and bade it have power to heal all manner of wounds and sores, to be a boon and a blessing to Ludlow as long as the sun shines and water runs. Then he went his way, and the little maid saw him no more, but she washed her eyes with the water, and they were healed, and she went home joyfully. And even to this day the well is sought by sufferers from diseases of the eyes.”
St Julian’s Well is enclosed in something a little more substantial, a stone well house which is rather strangely placed on a small island in the road. It is difficult to see how functional this well would be as I could not see a doorway. The whole structure is rather sunken in the ground and looks more like a conduit house. It was used by the Augustinian friary.