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.
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.