A well for October: St Cedd’s Well North Ockenden
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