Between the sow and its piglets…St Brannoc’s Well, Braunston, Devon


“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.


St Brannoc’s Church seen beside his well. Source Wikimedia

The restoration.

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.”

They note:

“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 large circular well chamber with the grotto over looking. Source Wikimedia

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!

About pixyledpublications

Currently researching calendar customs and folklore of Nottinghamshire

Posted on June 19, 2014, in Devon, Favourite site, Folklore, Pilgrimage, Saints and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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