Monthly Archives: October 2013
Well (no pun intended) another year for the blog and there’s still plenty of sites to record. Let us start with a delightful well in an unexpected part of Essex…
Finding a genuine well dedicated to St. Cedd is problematic. Like his brother Chad, many sites are possible eytomological back deriving. However, local legend records that St. Cedd’s Well (TQ 586 849) was used for the baptism of heathen Saxons and it is probable because it is known that the saint founded a monastery in Tilbury, not far away. Another more romantic notion is that the water arises in Kent and gushes forth in Essex. Could this legend refer to some knowledge of a ley line, or local memory when this part of Essex belonged to Kent? The well was indeed the original focal point for the community, and the foundation of the church nearby enforces the religious traditions and the Christianisation of a pagan spring.
There would appear to be some evidence to suggest that there were seven springs here giving the village its original name Wokindun Set Funteines in 1274. The familiar water bodies were adopted in the 13th Century by the first Rector, a William de Septermfontayns. Although no trace of the other six are visible, it is believed they feed the nearby moat, which would explain its considerable volume. Of course the name seven may be mythological as it is a number commonly associated with springs, this being regardless of their actual number! Pythagoras believed that every number had a function, and that seven was a religious number relating to the then seven celestial bodies. It is possible that the affix was taken from the name of rector rather than the other way around, especially as no multiple springs appear apparent.
The well today
The well is a fairly large rectangular brick lined spring of about four feet long and of several feet deep: one could certainly envision it as baptism pool. Although it went through a period of being seemingly ignored, being covered by an ugly corrugated metal cover, when I visited in the 1990s it was covered by a large green well house made and designed by local children This covered by quaint illustrations: one depicts a bearded man with a white ruff, and gold chain, below that of a lady wearing a cowl crying. The roof has a figure and a mule, depicting scenes from the saint’s life. Both roof and side wall bear the dedication. Sadly, the elements have had considerable effect on these. Interesting, Johnson (1996) in his Hidden Heritage: Discovering Ancient Essex, notes:
‘ “Has a wooden decorated canopy over it featuring Mary Magdalen and a male figure. Mike Batley told me that some years ago he met an elderly woman who looked after it. She told him that the male figure once had horns that were erased because the Church authorities frowned upon them.”
Some photos of before and after!
Not surprisingly that in 2012 the well was repaired and renewed and the iconography removed, given a new roof and clean brickwork. The water flows down a channel into the lake below and is accessed by a small pump. This water is of considerable clarity, although I am unaware of any chemical tests on its medicinal properties. It appears to be still used, as there is a plastic bucket for drawing water attached to a metal bar across the opening. I know of no traditions associated with the well, but it is now the best condition and looked after well in the county with an improved garden around it. Lets hope that when people ask locally, they be more informed. When I asked in the 1990s, I spoke to a local man who although walked here every weekend, had never heard of the well!
Extracted from Holy Wells and healing springs of Essex Copyright Pixyledpublications
A mark on the current O/S map SJ 688 217 in blue writing is all I knew of this well. What could it be? A boggy morass or something more substantial? The map showed it located beside the road suggesting easy access for a visit and so I decided to investigate the site. First clue was a footpath sign but this did not go to the well, a few paces ahead a small copse appeared on the left with an inviting opening and a path descending downwards. From here one could hear water and see something in the near distance. Soon the holy well was clearly visible a very large brick lined walled structure with a gravel bottom. The water appeared remarkably clear and ran under the path into a concrete channel and into a pool below to form a brook. The water was remarkable clear and the sound of its considerable flow very therapeutic. Despite the sound of thunder around the small copse appeared to be isolated from the outside world.
“came down the Mite Lane with pack mules and carried water back from the well.”
A local tradition associates the spring with the monks of Dodecote. Anne Furness (1983) in Furness, Anne, 1983, ‘Wells and paths’ in Earthlines magazine notes that they: How true this story is unknown especially as there does not appear to be any fabric which could date from this time. The monks in question would be associated with a property given by Buildwas Abbey. The earliest record is the house-name Holy Well from 1796 and the well itself appears on the 1881 O/S map. Certainly the present structure was established fairly recently and probably for farming use especially as the large volume of water would be more than sufficient for the small community. Perhaps the strangest fact is that the village is so far away from this considerable source. Furness (1983) was told that
“there used to be grooves cut into the rock so that buckets could be put under the spring to catch the water”
Sadly despite was is a considerable spring the correspondent added:
“We used to draw water from the spring until 10 years ago, when the health authorities failed it.”
Yet, this ancient spring still flows vigorously and copiously whatever its history, a delightfully peaceful oasis a few steps from the road, and worth a small detour to visit.
Suffolk is only is perhaps well known for its Lady’s Well at Woolpit. And altough not particularly associated with holy wells but close reading of a number of texts and old maps reveals there are more sites than this. Last month I noted some Norfolk examples so here are some extracted from a forthcoming book on sites of county.
Situated in a remarkably remote location for this part of Suffolk, the Lady well (TM 061 552) is reached only by a dead end road that peters out into a dirt track at a farm courtyard. One then travels over a muddy field, to reach the site of the well. After such a journey the well it is a bit of a disappointment; the farmer directed me to a boggy circular hollow with no trace of masonry or even indication of any former importance. There is a large thorn tree over the hollow, but there is no sign of any use. Again apart from its description on the O/S maps as ‘Ladywell’ in Old English script, I have found no written account of the well. The farmer knew of the well, but not its history. Only its name remains to remember any past religious activity here, although there is some tradition that it was visited for medicinal purposes. The county record office has no details concerning the well.
A large structure called the Lady’s or Wishing Well or Lady’s Fountain (TM 450762), which is found down Spring Lane at the south end of Henham Park. The structure is made brick and stone arch and has two low seats inside. It was erected by the first Countess of Stradbrooke in the 19th century. It was thought to be a ‘traveller’s rest’ with brass cups attached to the structure for anyone wishing to drink there. It is recorded in 1833 the ‘Lady’s Fountain’ poem by Agnes Strickland An alternative name was Queen Anne’s Well. This itself appears to be a confusion because according to some sources it relates to King Onna. The spring is said to be near the reputed to be the place of King Onna’s death (654 AD) and a structure was erected soon after to mark the spot where the spring arose where the king’s body fell. The structure is now dry and overgrown but clearly has a confused history.
Within the grounds of St John’s well cottage is the said St John’s well (TL 889 669). It consists of a circular approximately two foot high well, with a fastened wooden lid. The brick work consists of a mixture of two red bricks layers sandwiching, a layer of round agate / pebbles, and then topped with a level of brick, and then a final layer of sandstone. Although the lid was locked, the water looked quite deep. A pleasant circular summer house has been constructed around the well. This has a concrete floor and a cone thatched roof supported by timber frames, set on short red bricked columns. A clematis has scrambled across the roof, and the indeed the edges of the summer house are quite obscured with vegetation. The well, to the left of the cottage gates, can also be seen from the road through the hedge, outside the private garden of the cottage. However apart from the marking of its location upon the appropriate O/S maps in Old English Script as ‘ Well ‘ The owners when I visited, a Mr and Mrs Williams knew little of the origin of the well, although the well’s water was still used according an elderly neighbour who had died recently that is back in the late 1990s. Its waters have never been known to dry even in drought conditions, despite being a shallow well of 7-8ft below the surface with 3-4ft of water. It is possible that the well received its dedication from Palgrave Chapel of St John, which was demolished in 1545. The only written report acquired is as follows :
‘Situated in the garden of a private house built c 1923 the well head and canopy probably date from the same time. According to the owner of the house the well is marked on maps as old as the 17th century but there is nothing of this age to be seen in the lining which seems to be modern brick. OD Card TL 86/NE7.’
I too have found no other exact details. It is possibly that the well is that referred to by Cruden in the following account:
‘There is also on Mr Milner Gribson Cullums property near Bury a spot named Holywell, but no traditions….survive.’
I have been unable to place the location of this site of which are a little vague. The county record office has no details concerning the well. Copyright Pixyledpublications