A well for July – St. Anne’s Well, Brislington

imageNow remarkably lying in a green oasis in some of the worst areas of industrialised Bristol is the St. Anne’s Well (ST 621 725). This lies in St Anne’s wood, which was acquired by the Bristol Corporation, and since then very little has been done thankfully to change its situation. The circular brick rounded well, was restored early this century. A suitable inscription reads:

“Wishing well, St Anne’s Well. This Holy Well was associated with the chapel of St Anne, which stood about 300yards to the NW; throughout the Middle Ages , pilgrims were made here, and especially by the sailors of Bristol, Henry VII. Visited this spot in state in 1485, and hither his Queen came in 1502.”

“The Chapel, dating from about 1392 was destroyed with Keynsham Abbey, to which it belonged, in 1539 by Henry VIII.”

William Worcester described the chapel as:

“58ft by 80ft high, with colossal square candles, renewed yearly at the Pentecost, that touched the roof nearly at the roof and cost £ 5 each. Thirteen others burnt before the image of St Anne. There were also 32 models of ships and boats, 20 shillings each, for receiving and containing offerings and sometimes to burn incense in .”

It was founded by a certain Lord de la Warr, of Brislington. One can say without doubt that the pilgrims, many of the important, must have contributed greatly to the coffers of Keynesham Abbey. A typical entry is shown in the Duke of Buckingham (1502) diary:

“ My Lord’s and my young  Lady’s oblation to St Anne in the wood, seven shillings and four pence.”

The chapel was controlled by a custodian or warden. One particular individual is remembered in the Keynesham church. It reads:

“Hic Jacit  Walternus Jose canonicus nuper custos capelle Sancti Anne in the Wode cujus animo propicietur  alissum amen.”

From 1635-1800 the chapel was used as a pottery works when it was demolished. In 1889 action was brought about concerning a public right of way through the wood and passing the well. This footpath had been used for centuries for passing to St Anne’s Ferry, and to make pilgrimage to well and chapel.  This is referred by Leland in 1542:

“At two miles above Bristow was a commune trajectus by bote (ferry boat) where was a chapel of St Anne on the same side of the Avon that Bath standeth on , and here was great Pilgrimage to St Anne.”

image

Interestingly none of these authors directly make reference to the well and authorities such as Harte (2008) in a magnus opus question that there was ever a holy well. This may be so, certainly the recorded history of St Anne’s Chapel being much greater than that of this well, which does not get mentioned until the 1880s, when Morris (1885) who discusses ‘the Shrine Well of St Anne’s-in-the-Wood, Brislington’. The well becoming at this time a place of pilgrimage by local Catholics who perhaps replaced the chapel as it was no longer possible to re-build or even trace its remains with the well.  Indeed, it may be when as Hope (1893) notes a Father Grant cleared out the well in 1878 and found:

“some coins were found in this well… 1. Half groat, Edw.IV; 2. An abbey token; 3. A half groat, Hen.VII; 4. A Portuguese coin; 5. A reckon-penny or counter.”

By the time Hope (1893) refers to this he states that:

“The water of this well was formerly considered good for affectations of the eye”.

Horne (1923) in his Somerset Holy Wells monologue reports that the well:

has been cleaned out to a depth of twenty feet, and the stone work at its sides is in perfect condition. The spring enters the well about six inches from the bottom, on the north side.”

According to Jones (1946) in his The Glory That Was Bristol, states that by the turn of 1900s the well was ruined again who adds:

“The writer as a boy often visited the well taking away, with others, the water for the bathing of weak eyes. Its water is used to-day for weak eyes, rheumatism, and blood impurity. “Johnny Onion Men” from Brittany made annual pilgrimages to the well till recent years… The writer commenced in 1920 a movement for the restoration of the Well”

This also resulted in the woods containing the well being given to Bristol Corporation to allow continued access to the site.  Winchester (1986) in St Anne’s, Bristol: A History,, notes that:

“in front were five large stepping stones, said to be Holy Stones. The Stones were very old and worn, with deep impressions made by hundreds of feet. They were removed in 1924 but replaced… In 1926, the City of Bristol had the well covered with a picturesque canopy and surrounded by a protective wall… Few people lived in the area, but I do not think that any child passed the well without standing on the stepping stones and stirring the waters with a twig, hoping to find Queen Anne’s ring!”

Another account records that the Cordwainers:

“In May, 1939, members of the Guild with their friends and distinguished visitors made a pilgrimage to the “Holy Well” in St Anne’s Wood. They were led by the sheriff of Bristol, Colonel Lennard, who was a cordwainer.”

 The fortunes of the well and its pilgrimage over the last 90 or so years have been mixed. In the 1920s a circular well was constructed with a conical tiled roof. However, the well has gone through several stages of neglect. Winchester (1986) records in 1975 that rubble filled the well with a metal disc cover over it but a local holy wells pagan group, The Source set about restoring the site and created a new circular well chamber and a statue of St. Anne, although this statue now lays prostrate. They also established a regular visit to the well. Currently, a theatre group enacting the characters of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York for a mile long community walk to the well with readings at it on the Sunday closest to the saint’s day following the ancient route.

More can be found out here, with some excellent photos and illustrations http://brislingtonarchaeology.org.uk/projects/st_anne/index.html

and https://www.facebook.com/events/133809176814235/ for the events

Copyright Pixyledpublications. Happy for photos to be used on amateur websites/blogs but please give attribution to this website. Thanks

About pixyledpublications

Currently researching calendar customs and folklore of Nottinghamshire

Posted on July 19, 2013, in Bristol, Folklore, Pilgrimage, Restoration, Saints, Somerset and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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