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