A well for February- St Blaise’s Well, Bromley Kent
The patron saint of shepherds is saint with a strong association with February, the 3rd being his feast day. He was much celebrated in sheep areas such as Kent and this was by virtue of his gruesome martyrdom involving iron combs, which resemble a sheep shearer’s combs. Bromley, itself, has had a long association for popular lore suggests that the Parish church was also once dedicated to him. The earliest known connection between the two was during the reign of Henry VI, with St. Blaise’s Day fairs. It was also a common practice for local blasphemers to give homage to the saint’s image at Bromley. One recorded example is by a Thomas Ferby, who in 1456, promoted a clandestine marriage in St. Paul’s Cray Church. He was excommunicated for this act, and had to present a wax taper of a pound weight at the image here.
In the town he surprisingly had a well, one of the few dedicated to him, St. Blaise’s Well (TQ 408 692). Hasted (1797-1801) notes:
“There is a well, in the Bishop’s garden, called St. Blaize’s Well, which, having great resort to it anciently, on account of its medicinal virtues, had an oratory attached dedicated to the saint. It was particularly frequented at Whitsuntide on account of forty days enjoined penance, to such as would visit this chapel, and offer up their orisons in it, and the three holy days of Pentecost. This oratory falling to ruin at the Reformation, the well too, came to be disused, and the site of both in process of time became totally forgotten.”
Hasted (1797-1801) continues to record a discovery in 1754, by a Rev. Harwood, at the Bishops Garden near the old palace ponds, of a chalybeate spring. This is believed by most authorities as the rediscovery of the well. Its discovery and qualities was detailed by the surgeon Thomas Reynolds:
“It was discovered in September 1754, by the Rev Mr. Harward, his Lordship’s domestic Chaplain, by means of yellow ochery sediment remaining in the track of a small current leading from the spring to the corner to the moat, with the waters of which it used to mix. It is very probable that this spring was formerly frequented, for in digging about it there were the remains of steps leading down to it made of oak plank, which appeared as if they had lain underground a great many years.
When his Lordship was acquainted that the Water of this spring had been examined and found to be a good Chalybeate, he, with great humanity, immediately ordered it to be secured from the mixture of other waters, by skilful workman, and enclosed in a circular brick work (stone work) like the top of a well; in hopes that it might be beneficial, as a medicine, to such as should think fit to drink it. This order was speedily and effectually executed, and the Water not only secured but the access to it made very commodious to the Public, by the generous care, and under the inspection of Mr. Wilcox his Lordship’s Son. And their benevolent intentions have already been answered with success: for great numbers of people, of all conditions, but chiefly middling and poorer sort, drink daily of this excellent Water, many of whom have been remarkably relieved from various infirmities and diseases, which were not afflicting but dangerous.”
Hasted (1797-1801), gives the discovery of the wooden steps as evidence that this is St. Blaise’s Well. Whatever its origin, the waters were apparently good enough as to encourage Reynolds to retire in the Bromley neighbourhood, to take its waters, rather than return to his earlier resort, Tunbridge Wells. A latter description by Hone (1827-8) refers to the well as the ‘Bishop’s Well’, describing it as a trickling through an orifice, at the moat or lake’s side. A contemporary sketch shows it covered with a conical thatched roof, supported by six pillars, with water arising in a circular basin, this is also shown in a photo in Horsburgh (1939). Sadly, in 1887, a snowstorm resulted in the roofs destruction and the then owner Mr. Coles Child replaced it with a tiled one in the early 1900s. By the 1930s, its flow was lost.
Although, commonly accepted that the chalybeate spring and St. Blaise’s Well, are one and the same, there is some element of doubt. For in the late 1800s, these doubts were fostered by correspondence in the Bromley Record, which stated that nothing in the history books could be found to suggest that they were the same. A site at the ‘end of a large upper pond now drained off, in springy ground, not far south of the huge oak tree blown down about three years since in a paddock in the front of the palace’ was favoured. At this site about four courses of circular brickwork could be seen. Indeed, Wilson (1797), a local historian believed that it: “.. was 200 yards NW of the mineral spring in a field near the road with eight oak trees in a cluster, on an elevated spot of the ground adjoining.”
Latter Dunkin (1815), quoting this work stated that this structure: “..appears to have been originally designed to supply the adjoining moat.” Horsburgh visited the ‘brick reservoir’, in 1916, and found it was below the present ground level, roofless, and dry. It measured ten feet long, four feet wide, with a depth of eight to nine feet. The plan was rectangular, and although the upper part of the brickwork was of no considerable age, those below looked older, and perhaps were covered with moss. Coles Child pointed out that one outlet was in communication with springs, and the water flowed through a pipe into the uppermost of the three ponds to the north within palace ground. This lay in a direct line between the moat and Widmore Road, the uppermost being filled in before he acquired tenancy, and by then only a depression marked its site. He had filled in the remaining two. These ponds were believed to be paradise ponds, corresponding to four fish ponds referred to in a 1646 Parliamentary Survey of Bromley Palace.
Whether this other site was the real St. Blaise’s Well is difficult to say; especially considering that it has now has been lost. Perhaps, if archaeological evidence on the location of the oratory could be found, this would shed light on the exact site. Popular opinion states that the chalybeate spring and holy well, are one and the same, and that the other site is just a conduit and of no significance. It is worth noting the unusual small building that now sits by the old entrance to the Palace grounds. Cox (1905) describes this as a chapel built in the Eighteenth Century. This hollow building with a Romanesque-Norman archway and a shield showing the St. Blaise is an estate folly, fashioned after interest in St. Blaise’s Well. Today, this building stands rather forlornly beside the entrance to the sprawling municipal council offices. These have swallowed up nearly all the old Palace Grounds. Sadly only the fabric of St. Blaise’s Well remains, a large round red brick structure, in the centre of which is a pipe, through which presently pool water is being recycled. Beside which a sign noting its brief history. It’s a sad end, but at least something is there to remember it.
Take from forthcoming Holy wells and healing springs of Kent
Posted on February 19, 2013, in Kent, London, Saints, Spa and tagged antiquarian, archeology, folklore, follies, healing wells, Hermitage, Holy well blog, legends, Local history, mineral springs. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.