Monthly Archives: April 2013

Some wells of the Weald: a Sussex field trip

My occasional visits to Sussex have allowed me to visit the ancient water supplies which have been poorly covered. I hope in the next year or so to publish my volume on both counties, until then I thought I’d inform you of my exploits in both East and West Sussex as a taster for the book. If any reader knows any site (other than St. Anne’s Well Brighton) please message me I’d like to know.

Ludwell, Horstead KeynesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There were two noted springs in the Parish; one the Holy Well has now been incorporated into the domestic water supply. Happily a large springhead pool called the Lud Well till survives not far from the church. This was believed to have cured the plague as related on a notice nearby:

Legend has it that in the time of the Great Plague c1666, pilgrims from London paused at this spring (sometimes referred to as God’s Pond) to wash the plague from their body.”

What is interesting here is the name. Lud dedications can often be confusing. Some authorities without equivocation suggest they are dedicated to the Celtic God Lud, however often with springheads it is said to derived from loud, I have always included them in my research as the former and I think the second name is vindication…what God are they refereeing to? It seems unlikely that either people in the 1600s or modern people would instantly make or care about the link. So this seems likely to a Pagan survival. Perhaps the presence of the holy well is further evidence. Was this established by the Christians to avert interest…ironic that that site was chosen for the mains? The Ludwell had become very overgrown in recent years but today is a testament to what local people can do to tidy up and repair our water heritage. The springhead also flows to fill a trough closer to the road perhaps set up for animals.

Lord’s Well, Crowborough


This site is an little known well but potential significant. It still exists in the Lordswell Lane. Enquiring in the lane I was directed to a site on the right hand side below Lord’s Well House. I was told by the owner of the well house that the whole street had springs along it but directed me
Interesting in his garden was a circular well, could this be a lost holy well? I only suggest this as the house abutting this property and sharing the same drive was called Holy Well. I was informed by the elderly owner of this house that it was covered by a square of concrete to prevent children falling in. The well house appears to be brick made and those which can be seen are very mossy. The spring still flows through a pipe into a channel below beside the road.
No properties are recorded but it is said to be named so to this being the location that fighting Saxons and Danes (I was told by Celts whilst surveying there) meet to settle Slaughterham Ghyll being given as a evidence, found along Lordswell Lane. I am unable to verify this nor know its connection with the spring

St. Dunstan’s Well, Mayfield


Lying in the grounds of a school, and subsequently is difficult to access but I found the staff there very helpful when I contacted them. The well is one of the most substantial holy wells in the county and one of the only one associated with either a local saint or with a detailed tradition. Black (1884) Guide to Sussex describes it as of considerable depth (reputedly 300 feet) and supplied with the purest water. He states that it was resorted to by pilgrims. It is noted by local historian Hoare (1849) in his historical and architectural notices of Mayfield Palace, as:

“Adjoining the kitchen apartments at the lower end of the hall, is a well, of considerable depth, and supplied with the purest water. It is called St Dunstan’s… It is guarded by four walls, having one entrance.”

St Dunstan, although Archbishop of Canterbury, he also worked as blacksmith and it is said one day a beautiful girl arrived to distract him, but he noticed cloven hooves beneath ‘her’ skirt and using is tongues grabbed old Nick’s nose. The devil was said to have flown off in agony and cooled himself in a spring, which may be that at Mayfield. It is remembered by the local rhyme:

“Saynt Dunstan (as the story goes),
Caught old Sathanas by ye nose.
He tugged soe hard and made hym roar,
That he was heard three miles and more.

The legend is well known, although the legend appears to have transferred to the Chalybeate Spring at Tunbridge.

The Well House, Withyham

Here is a notable Chalybeate spring covered by a delightful 19th century wooden well house with four sturdy wooden posts and pyramidical tiled roof topped with a pineapple like finial. The centre of the well house is pleasantly tiled with large red tiles surrounding the spring which fills a circular basin. Its water appears to flow beneath the well house into a natural hole in the ground and then a further dipping hole, more detailed than the first resembling that seen at Tunbridge Wells, perhaps established as a 24 hour source as the main source was completely fenced off in the well house. The water is very heavily coated in orange scum, in fact it’s one of the strongest iron waters I have seen. The site can be encountered on the drive to Buckhurst House and was clearly an estate improvement. However, beyond this I have been unable to find more information regarding its history or traditions and would welcome further information.


A well for April: St Richard’s Well, Droitwich

The third of April is St Richard’s Day a day which was greatly celebrated in his home town of Droitwich for his associations with the local brine pits which became holy in association with him.

Take with a pinch of salt

John Leland in his Itinerary, written around 1540 gives the legend:

“Some say that this salt springe dyd fayle in the tyme of Richard de la Wiche Byschope of Chichester and that after by his intercession it was restored to the profit of the old course. Such is the superstition of the people. In token whereof, or for the honour that the Wiche-men and saulters bare unto this Richard their cuntre-man, they used of late tymes on his daye to hang about this sault spring or well once a yeere with tapestry, and to have drinking games and revels at it.”

John Aubrey noted that:

“on the day of St Richard the Patron of ye Well (i.e.) saltwell, they keep Holyday, dresse the well with green Boughes and flowers. One yeare sc. Ao 164-, in the Presbyterian times it was discontinued in the Civil-warres; and after that the spring shranke up or dried up for some time. So afterwards they kept their annuall custome (notwithstanding the power of ye Parliament and soldiers), and the salt-water returned again and still continues.”

This appears to have been an early record of well dressing in the country, albeit not as elaborate as those of Derbyshire today and simply arches over the well to give thanks. When this custom  fell into abeyance is unclear, but it was probably around the Reformation

Worth his salt

Richard was born in Wyche, and a house in the town records this, around 1197 and his image in the church was a site of pilgrimage. A ‘new’ statue, in 1935, was erected in Vynes Park, once an industrial site where the salt was removed.

The brine pits

In Vynes Park was the Upwich Pit which is believed to be St. Richard’s Well it was built in 1264-5. Excavation in the 1990s revealed a long history dating from the Roman period. However, what greets us now is a bit of a controversial site – a replica erected in 2000! It is filled with salty algae covered water which is not directly connected to the source below as it was capped. So strictly speaking St. Richard’s well no longer exists but a replica sort of does!

The return to a modern celebration

A version of the old celebration have been recently restored but set at the end of April or beginning of May, when the weather can be better (generally!) Now, the town of Droitwich celebrates the saint with a modern event which combines elements of the traditional custom with modern twists. The replica Upwich pit and a brine pump in town are imaginatively dressed in honour of the saint with a model of a swan made of flowers and other flower dressing. Around the town, there are displays of Morris dancers, Maypole dancing, historical re-enactments and a most bizarrely vintage car display…..which rather surreally spreads through the quaint streets of the town. Certainly worth a visit when you’re in the area.

Holy wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire: an overview


The following post is derived from the preface to Holy wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire, which has been recently published.

To date there has been a number of attempts to provide a complete guide to Lincolnshire sites, despite a small number of sites is recorded by Hope (1893), Lincolnshire has fared better than other counties he describes, with a sizeable gazetteer in Gutch and Peacock (1908) and various editions of Lincolnshire Notes and Queries (Antiquarius Rusticus (1926–9)). Interest in the topic picked up in the 1990s by two excellent articles by Healey (1995) and subsequent notes and queries contributions in Lincolnshire Past and Present which extended work by the previous authors and notes made by the noted folklorist Ethel Rudkin. The 1990s culminated in Thompson’s excellent Lincolnshire Springs and Wells. However this work covered very few holy wells or healing wells compared to those listed in previous authors (although did give an excellent analysis of sites in its appendix) mainly focusing on ‘noted springs’ such as those at Helpringham whose religious heritage is unclear. Although it worked wholly with surviving sites it rather perplexingly omitted some still extant and accessible sites (perhaps suggesting he was working on a second volume). Nonetheless, it is a worthy book. This work intends to combine the relevant finds of all previous researchers as well the usual sources such as field names located in maps and documents, village histories and other topographical works. Thus it hopes to be the most comprehensive of the topic (with the usual inventory of named wells.)

Harte’s excellent magnus opus, although focuses on holy wells only, records 34 genuine sites and 7  probable and 12 dubious (some of these dubious sites are possible and I have not included some such as St. Guthlac’s Well, Crowland which I concur is a misreading!). Healy (1995), in a survey more akin to this volume than Harte, records 88 sites but many of these are records of parishes with no details (see appendix of this volume) and one presumes that they may have had significance but the original recorded Rudkin made no further details.  This survey makes a total of 55 holy well sites. Indeed, Lincolnshire can claim a low concentration of wells per square miles. This is compared to Nottinghamshire which has a density of 9.3 wells per square miles, Derbyshire wells per square mile, Leicestershire 9.9 wells per square mile (Rattue 1993).

Dedications consist of Holy well (24 although includes some dubious sites) St Helen’s Well (3), Virgin’s well (3) Lady or St. Mary (3), St. Ann(e)’s well (3 including one possible 4 with a possible Anniel), St. Chad (2 but possibly just Cold wells) St John (2), St Peter (2) the others, although some may be named after chapels or churches nearby rather than wells have one dedication each: St. Michael, St Thomas, St George, St. Clements, St. Winifred, St Margaret, St Hugh, St. Trunnian. It is possible that other sites remain to be confirmed in the county, whose firm dedications appear to have been forgotten but their location is strongly indicative of holy wells or possibly pre-Christian sacred springs. Everson, Taylor and Dunn, (1991) suggest All Saints Heapham and St Chad’s Church Harpswell, both sit on springs and All Saints is isolated from the village. These are probable sites, especially Harpwell with its pre-Conquest dedication and unusual well dedication. However, one must be careful to make assumptions because statistically with the large number of churches in the county, some must be associated with spring heads especially as it may be that the original foci of the settlement would be such springs and churches naturally would be situated near these original focuses.

Although one naturally considers such sites to be of Christian origin, one does not nor should not exclude sites which indicate associations with other religions. Such a consideration is particularly important in the British Isles, where one can clearly see that a number of our holy wells have endured a long popularity. However, it should be stressed that the general lack in archaeological interest in such sites, such claims cannot be ascertained. No claims are made for pre-Roman sites in the county, but Lincolnshire’s Roman remains are often found in close proximity to a number of sites: Brigg’s St. Helen’s Well, Greetham’s St Margaret’s Well, Ancaster’s Lady Well, Winterton’s Holy Well, close to Ermine street and St Pancras Well, Scampton. More significant perhaps Kirton Lindsey’s Diana’s head possibly named after the Roman goddess.  The strongest association, however, is Danish with noted Kell Well and By-Well being clearly inheriting their names from Danish settlers.  Other sites mentioned in the inventory, such as Keld Ash, could also claim this association but details are scant. One has also includes sites which are associated with religious ritual beyond Catholic usage, a sites connected with Baptist and Judaism are included (although sadly not a Medieval mikah site).

There are only appears to have been three real spas in the county, i.e those with established rooms or baths made for public convenience: Stainfield, Braceborough and Woodhall. However, the use of Spa or spaw as a term for a minor spring with medicinal qualities is used here as in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. In all there are 14 such sites, but to this one can add chalybeate and mineral springs with no other names.

Research shows that Lincoln is an interesting city for well researchers, having a number of interestingly named sites, despite very little tradition. Unlike nearby mediaeval settlements (Nottingham), the city does not have a well known holy well, which survived the Reformation and became known outside of its community. The nearest to this was St. Hugh’s Well, although very little appears to be known of this in comparison to St. Anne’s Well at Nottingham and indeed that site may be questionable and may be a Victorian fabrication.

Folk traditions and legends are considered in this volume as suggesting some past importance to the site.  Some sites for example, often ponds are associated with the traditions of hidden treasure or haunting. Many spectral water figures in the county are called Jenny. For example, Stanny Well, Hibbaldstow, has one described as a woman carrying her head under her arm. This spectre is supposed to be Jenny Stannywell, who once upon a time drowned herself in the water. At least two other well or pond ghosts of the feminine sex are known in Lincolnshire, but so far as is recorded they carry their heads in orthodox fashion. The site is suggested to be Roman is this significant? At a bend of the Trent at Owston Ferry was haunted by Jenny Hearn or Hurn or Jenny Yonde. This little creature was like a small man or woman, though it had a face of a seal with long hair. It travelled on the water in a large pie dish. Similarly, the unusual blow holes in the north-east were said to be haunted by a coach and four and a grey lady. Pilford Bridge between Toft next Newton and Normanby, a ghost of a witch which attacked anyone who crossed the bridge was trapped in an iron pot.

The Trent itself has the Aegir (see also Holy Wells and Healing springs of Nottinghamshire) named after a Norse God. (There are of course a number of sea serpent sitting around the Lincolnshire coast). One wonders whether this god is associated with Jenny Hurn above. The most famed of the county’s ghost folklore which is often associated with water is the black dog or as called in the county Shuck (although this can describe any unworldly creature). Rudkin (1936 and 1937) notes Black Dogs at Bonny well (Sturton by Stow), the fish pond (Blyborough) and Hibaldstow’s Bubbling Tom. A number of Black Dogs are associated with bridges such as Brigg, Willingham (Till bridge) or banks of streams such as at At Kirton, there is a black dog was reported as living in a hole in the stream bank near this Belle Hole farm. Old Nick has an association with water lore in the county at The Devil’s pulpit, Tealby where he appears at midnight and drinks from a nearby stream perhaps suggesting that the stream had some significance.  There are of course a number of blow holes in the county, although some such as Tetney have received some folklore, others have not, therefore I have not included as many as Thompson (1999).

Recording of customs associated with springs is good in the county by Gutch, Peacock, Rudkin and Sutton, but as Thompson (2009) notes probably too late and much later than other counties. However, this lack of information is common, after all as a study Holy wells did not receive a classic text until 1895.  Indeed, the study of Lincolnshire holy wells did not receive attention until the 1920s, by which time many traditions could have been lost. One could argue it did not real attention until the 1990s with works by Healey and Thompson, where neighbouring East Riding had work done in 1923 (similarly Nottinghamshire had its first work until 1988 and lacks in many recorded traditions, indeed it was perhaps not until 2008 that a complete survey was made by this author. However, one must look on the positive side at least three works recorded folklore in the county as opposed to neighbouring Nottinghamshire where no folklore volumes have been produced similarly! Such some traditions are recorded Well dressing, in a more primitive form compared to Derbyshire, perhaps recording an ancient origin is recorded in Welton, Glentham and Louth. The placing of rags on wells appears to have been fairly widespread occurring in Aisthorpe, Winterton, Healing, Utterby, Kingerby. At Kell Well, Alkborough, Ashwell, Kirton-in-Lindsey, Halliwell, Scotter, By-Well, North Kelsey, and the holy well at Mavis-Enderby, and many other springs beyond the limits of the county, the quality of giving those who drink of it an irresistible desire to live in its neighbourhood. There are records of rag-wells at Kingerby, Nettleton, Burton-upon-Stather, Healing, Holton Le Moor, Utterby and Winterton, in the north of the county. Another tradition, recalled in a Lincolnshire saying is that whenever water is drawn from a well a little should be thrown back into it

In the neighbourhood of Kirton-in-Lindsey another water superstition may be recognised in the opinion sometimes expressed that no washing ought to be done on Ascension Day, since, if clothes are hung out to dry on Holy Thursday, some member of the family concerned will die. And only a few years ago a woman, who was born about 1812 in a parish lying within three or four miles of the southern bank of the Humber, presented one of her carefully-hoarded bottles of ‘June- water’ to a friend, with the assurance that it was a household remedy of the greatest value for bad eyes and other ailments, and that it had been caught as it had fallen direct from the clouds.

I encourage the reader to explore, but implore local parishes to preserve these sites before they disappear as Lincolnshire is perhaps one of the counties were ancient wells have been largely ignored.

Lady Well Ancaster woodhall spaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Extracted and edited from holy wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire available now!