A Shropshire field trip
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.