Monthly Archives: June 2014
If you walk into Peterchurch, Herefordshire, one of the most intriguing images is found high on the wall – a trout with a chain around its neck. This image, a sculptured stone painting, said to have been copied from an older one, has been associated with a local legend, which has resonance elsewhere. Hope (1893) in his Legendary lore of holy wells notes:
“Tradition has it that a fish was once caught in the river Dore, with a golden chain round its body, which was afterwards kept in the Golden Well, from whence the river rises.”
Although in some cases, a nearby well St. Peter’s, newly restored or simply the river Dor itself is given as the source. The image is much copied locally, especially by the school. However, is it really associated with a well? Wells and fish, sacred usually and often prophetic can be found in places as far away as North Wales to Cornwall, a names like Fish Well in Lincolnshire are also given as support for a cult associated with fish in wells. Over the years the simply story has been elaborated upon. The chain in Christian imagery is associated with St. Peter (again with a nearby well) and he is claimed to have placed it there, whilst he and fellow apostle St. Paul converted the locals – the name Apostle Lane.
However, the story goes further for the fish was supposed to live in the pool the people of Dorstone tried to capture it and steal it chain and so injured it made its way to Peterchurch, where one would expect perhaps it would receive refuge, but no, it was killed and the chain removed.
What does this story mean? Is there any truth to it? Well yes and no. It seems likely that the fish escaped from some local paradise ponds or fisheries on the river probably owned by the monks of Abbey Dore. Records show that three existed on the Dore and no doubt in times of shortage local people might attempt to liberate them. It may also be possible that these fisheries caught fish travelling up the river, such as salmon and they could have been chained up to prevent removal? I think that’s perhaps unlikely and the chain element may have been introduced to validate its association with St. Peter. The well association is the vaguest but perhaps the source was the fishery or else there is another less fishy story lost in the legend.
The ancient city of Durham unsurprisingly has a number of interesting springs, which remember local saints.
The most remarkable is St Cuthbert’s Well (NZ 272 422), which is enclosed in the largest stone work of any well in this region, indeed it is one of the largest in the country. The stone work is made of sand stone with a rounded archway. Despite the impressive fabric and association with Durham’s most famed saint, its history is unrecorded and a question mark exists of its age. Hunt (1986) notes that:
“The County Archaeologist, Peter Clack, told me that nothing is known of the well’s history, and he doubts the antiquity of the well, suggesting it received its dedication from that of the nearby cathedral. It seems odd that so imposing a structure should have so little known about it.”
Osborne and Weaver (1996) even suggest that the well head was moved from the Butterby Spa, but give no evidence. Celia Fiennes visited the site in 1687 and recorded that it was a:
“a well which had a stone bason in it and an arch of stone over it, the taste was like the Sweete Spaw in Yorkshire”.
This was of course not long after the inscription over the archway which reads:
“Fons Cuthberti 1660”
It is probable that the site was developed as a spa spring taking the saint’s name as a local association. This is in agreement with Fowler (1896–1905) and no early record is made for the site, first appearing on the 1861 OS map.
Hunt (1986) notes:
“It has been intermittent in flow since the strata were breached by the new university library extension nearby, and has been dry on every visit I have made since September 1985”
A similar stone surround, destroyed by 19th century vandals, apparently surrounded St Oswald’s Well (NZ 275 419), this now consists of a cavern cut into the sandstone rock behind the church of St Oswald. Again nothing is recorded of its history, but the dedication of the nearby church suggests antiquity.
Beneath the cathedral under a metal grill is the Galilee Well (NZ 272 422), named after the chapel which is partly built over it. No properties are noted or tradition recorded, although it may be the source of St. Oswald’s well.
The final holy well which survives in the city is the ‘much restored to’ St Mary’s Well (NZ 271 419) which is probably that close to Prebend’s Bridge by the path up to South Street arising from a pipe producing chalybeate rich water. Another un-named Chalybeate spring arises in an arc of stone walling and collects its iron rich water.
“I forbear to speak of his cow, his staff, his oak, his well, and his servant Abel; all of which are lively represented in a glass window of that church”
So reads Tristram Risdon’s 17th century The Chorographical Description or Survey of the County of Devon. St Brannock, a Welsh saint, was first noted in the 9th century, as Brynach the Goidel. He is famously noted as the quote above states for the positioning of the chapel according to a sow and her piglets.
It is said that when he returned from a pilgrimage to Rome, landed first in Wales, then crossed to what is now Braunton Burrows, the district and founded indirectly the town of Braunston by erecting a chapel beside a spring. This chapel first mentioned by churchwardens’accounts for 1562and 1568 and apparently was still extant. However, by the 18th century it was ruined and described as ‘the shell of the chapel of St Brannock’ by the 19th century.
An account in the Catholic Herald in the 1958 a Catholic church was to be built at the site:
“WITH the approval of the Bishop of Plymouth, a scheme due to the pious initiative of Lt.-Colonel and Mrs. Incledon-Webber, of St. Brannock’s, Braunton, in North Devon, has been launched for the restoration of the chapel and holy well dedicated from time immemorial to St. Brannock, the sixth-century apostle of the district. The plans for the new chapel have been prepared by Mr. Joseph E. Walter, of Paignton, and approved by the Barnstaple R.D.C. The work was actually started in mid-August, with the cleaning up of the well and the levelling of the site. A small section of the old chapel has been preserved and will remain standing close by the new building, which will be considerably larger than the former one. The purpose of this restoration is not merely antiquarian, but is meant to provide the Catholics of the village and neighbourhood with an inspiring place of worship….The foundation stone was laid on October 29th by the Bishop of Plymouth, and it is hoped that the inauguration may take place before Easter 1958.”
“At the restoration of the chapel the well was cleared of the accumulated rubbish of years and once more is filled with crystal clear water”
The chapel was indeed built and consecrated in 1978. The well was restored and consists of a large stone lined pool which sits beneath a steep rocky hillside inside of which is a niche for a statue of Our Lady. The springs that fill the pool arise further up the hill and flow or rather trickle down the rocky escarpment to fill the spring. Thompson and Thompson (2001) in The Water of Life state that one the springs, which which flows down a small channel, taste bitter, suggesting a mineral origin.The size and nature of this well is quite curious and substantial. One wonders how much of it dates from the 1950s restoration and how much from a medieval or even pre-Medieval origin. The site appears to be a baptism site but of course this may be coincidental. All in all, a delightful site hidden away from the hustle and bustle of Barnstaple!