The original Jack in the Box…Sir John Shorne’s Well, North Marston, Buckinghamshire

As many children may be getting ready to play with an old toy – the Jack in the Box – many will be unaware that the toy has a connection with an English ‘saint’ with a notable holy well. Local rector done well. Sir John Shorne came to the village of North Marston in 1290 and he must famous miracle is that an epileptic woman was exorcised and the Devil was caste out and the rector caught him in a boot. The local rhyme going:

“‘Sir John Shorn, Gentleman born, Conjured the Devil into a Boot.'”

This also resulted in the ‘saint’ becoming the unofficial patron saint of bootmakers, and Northampton being famed for this was one such place. When he was buried in 1314 in the north chancel of the Parish church miracles were accounted to have occurred at his ‘shrine’. These miracles become some famed that the Bishop of Salisbury, Richard Beauchamp, in 1478 obtained a licence from the Pope to have the body removed to the rebuilt St. George’s Chapel, Windsor which was renamed John Schorne’s Tower. The move was not generally successful for although the church only had an effigy of Sir John blessing a ‘bote’ it still had a well. The Windsor shrine was destroyed in 1585, but some remains of the North Marston shrine survive and of course the well lived on. This well was said to be one of his miracles according to Hope (1893) in his Legendary Lore of holy wells:

“One legend is that Master Shorne, in a season of drought, was moved by the prayers of his congregation to take active measures to supply their need. He struck his staff upon the earth, and immediately there burst forth a perennial spring. The water was a specific for ague and gout; it is now obtained by a pump. There is still a tradition that a box for the receipt of the offerings was affixed to the well, but this has not been the case within the memory of any person now living.”

Hope (1893) also stated that the spring bore its medicinal qualities from the prayers and benedictions of Sir John. The well also called ‘The Town Well’ which accordingly consisted of:

“of a cistern, 5 feet 4 inches square, and 6 feet 9 inches deep. This is walled round with stone, and has a flight of four stone steps descending into the water. The cistern is enclosed by a building, somewhat larger than the well itself, with walls com-posed of brick and stone, about 5 feet high, and covered with a roof of board.”

The site became an important pilgrimage site, for a sign on nearby Oving hill, where five ancient ways meet, 1 mile east, pointed to the within living memory of the 1800s. Cures Hope (1893) believed that:

“From the size and construction of the building, it was probably occasionally used as a bath, but the sick were, doubtless, chiefly benefited by drinking the water.”

The spring he also notes is slightly chalybeate and states large numbers of houses were built for their accommodation, although I am not sure that this can be verified. It is said by the late 1800s, a glass of the water drunk at night was said to cure any cold by daybreak.  Indeed, local physicians would often include the water in their medicines and when in 1835 there were several cholera epidemics in local parishes, North Marston escaped. It is said that when visiting the well there was a chained gold cup so was the fame. Sheahan (1861) in his work on the History and Topography of Buckinghamshire notes that the water was ‘remarkable for its purity and extreme coldness’ and reputed never to freeze or fail Well changed.

Before the restoration

Before the restoration

After restoration – from wikipedia commons

Browne Willis says that many aged persons then living remembered a post in a Quidenham on Oving Hill (about a mile east of the well), which had hands pointing to the several roads, one of them directing to Sir John Shorne’s Well. The well by this time was covered by a modern structure. This was probably the result if a local woman Jane Watson slipping and dropping in the well. The authorities enclosed the original basin with a wall and for many years consisted of a brick built chamber with a slanting doorway, a bit like a coal bunker and locked! Then in 2004/5 the well was reborn. The site was remodelled with a triangular oak building with tiled floor and a new pump and trough. On Ascension Day 2005 it was dressed with garlands and blessed…and its first water was pumped out for the first time for over 100 years. Then in 2014 North Marston commemorated the 700th anniversary of their local ‘saint’ in which the well was dressed, new pilgrim badges were commissioned and a book produced. See below

John Schorne 700 Commemoration Items

John Schorne Badge Image

Pilgrim Badges

Pilgrim Badges were worn by devotees as a sign of fellowship with other pilgrims and to merit gifts of food and shelter on their travels. Each shrine generated its own badge, so the many shrines to some of the most popular “saints” resulted in a number of different styles of badge being produced in different parts of the country. To celebrate the 700th anniversary of the death of John Schorne, the miracle-working rector of North Marston, the North Marston History Society has commissioned replica pilgrim badges which are sold in gift boxes containing information about John Schorne. The badges sell for £4.00 each and are available fromjohn@spargo.org.uk ornorthmarston.org.uk/history.

John Schorne Booklet ImageJohn Schorne: North Marston’s Saint

John Schorne: North Marston’s Saint is a six-page booklet with coloured illustrations providing as much information as is known about the miracle-working rector who presided at North Marston church 700 years ago. Written by John Spargo and published by the North Marston History Club, it provides an easy to read summary of the man and the pilgrims who came to visit his holy well and worship at his shrine for two centuries after his death, and the legacies they left behind. The booklet is priced at £2.50 and proceeds from its sale go to two local hospices. Copies are available from john@spargo.org.uk ornorthmarston.org.uk/history.

About pixyledpublications

Currently researching calendar customs and folklore of Nottinghamshire

Posted on January 19, 2015, in Buckinghamshire, Devil, Favourite site, Folklore, Pilgrimage, Restoration, Saints, Survival tradition, Well dressing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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