A Well for June: St John the Baptist’s Well, Bisley
June is associated with John the Baptist and off Clews Lane, Bisley is an ancient well, dedicated to that saint. It was possibility used by pilgrims on their way to Canterbury from Winchester. Legend records that the Benedictine Abbey of Chertsey monks once taking the waters felt that it was so refreshing as to establish a shrine here, upon which the church was built around 1283. Aubrey’s (1673) Perambulation of Surrey noted:
“near the church is a spring called St John the Baptist’s Well. The dedication made by curious to try it with galls, which turns it to a purple colour. It is colder than other water in summer but warmer in winter.”
Parker (1909) in his Highways and byways of Surrey stated:
“Aubrey says that the dedication of the well made him curious to try it with oak galls, which turned the water purple. Why should the name have impelled him to this particular curiosity? Aubrey was always testing wells with oak-galls, presumably for iron.”
Parker (1909) continues:
“…the water of which was once used for all the Christenings. It is not easily found, and local harvesters could tell me nothing about it; but I discovered it near a farm house a few hundred yards south west of the churchyard.
Mr Baker (1985) in his Holy Wells and Magical Waters of Surrey records that his wife’s Grandmother was baptised here in the spring in 1876. Her mother would send her down to collect the water ‘to wash babies in’. It continued to be used for baptism until 1900.
Visiting in the 1990s, it was pleasing to see the site still survived but in a sorry state, surrounded by an ugly brick and concrete structure. This was erected by the land owner a Mr. H. P. Lawson. He drunk a cupful of water every day and lived to 90!
Debby Thompson’s notes in Restoration of historic Bisley Well that in 2002 the parishioners of nearby St John the Baptist Church successfully applied for listed building consent to Surrey Heath Borough Council to restore it of the well. A Mr. Ray Spradbery oversaw its restoration noting that:
“The well is fed by a natural spring and flows at the same rate winter and summer and never dries up…The water flows into a small ditch and then into a larger ditch.”
He noted that when:
“we began clearing the undergrowth from the small ditch we found paving all around the well, which had hidden beneath a foot of water because the ditch was blocked. The well currently stands nearly two feet high and the stonework is perfectly circular. It has a depth of about 12 feet and is thought to have been covered for safety reasons.”
What was constructed is a considerable improvement. The stonework has been cleared and the water arises in a circular chamber fitted with a grill in the centre. The chalybeate red water flows from a pipe into a small circular basin and thence into a channel and flows into a brook.
The site is easily found along the footpath overshadowed by a prominent old oak. Its location away from the village suggests a very ancient origin. Interesting Mr Spradbery believed that the:
“The well was named St John the Baptist Holy Well because people were baptised in the water.”
However, it is more likely it took its name from the church.
still a broken hard drive!