Is Queen Anne’s Well Bedfords Park a lost holy well?
Missing from the gazetteer!
Sadly, when producing a book on a topic which has never been produced before, you can miss something. Queen Anne’s Well is one site I missed. I knew nothing about it, but a brief mention as it happens by the Friends of Bedfords Park. Asking at the visitor centre the name was well known and I was given clear instructions. Expecting to find some boggy hole, the site as can be seen is far more impressive and certainly fabric wise one of the county’s best ancient wells.
The well consists of a brick and sandstone arch well house set into a bank. Inside the well house is plastered brickwork and sits up a small platform. The water arises in a roughly rectangular aperture and flows to fill Nursery pond below. A gnarled tree grows over the well holding some of it together, although the quoin stone is missing, which may have given some clue to its origin. The structure is quite substantial and well built. Water from the spring fills lower Nursery pond. There is also a nearby brick lined reservoir, not necessarily linked, which was the mansion’s domestic source being pumped by a pumping engine.
Holy well or Victorian Folly?
The spring may be the reason for the original settlement as Bedfords Park providing a valueable source of water. According to Mrs Lois Amos of the Friends of Bedfords Park it was known way back in the 16th century and onwards as ‘Belfonts’. This is an interesting thought if it derives from OFr belle meaning ‘good’ or ‘reliable’; and indeed there are small number of healing and/or holy wells called bonny well which has a similar derivation.
However this is at odds with the view that it was named after a John Bedford who held the land in 1362 and built the first manor. It would be apparent that etymological issues have happened here.
This notwithstanding this does not explain how old is the well? Is it a mediaeval? Tudor? Or a folly or Victorian piece of gothic? The lack of embellishment or indeed history suggests that it the site is not a result of any landscape improvements in either the 1700s or 1800s.
The fabric may give the best evidence. The well is not built wholly of brick, which would suggest a post-1600 construction perhaps, but a high quality green sandstone. This is noted by Nigel Oxley, the Boroughs buildings Conservation Officer that such a high quality material used in a number of local churches, emphasising its importance. It is similar to that of Charlotte’s Well in Stratford which suggests a Tudor origin.
Maps can be an excellent source and being enclosed within an estate one would expect some reference to it. However, it does not appear until an 1896 Ordnance Survey map which even then shows it simply as ‘Spring’. The absence of the site from maps is no indication of a lack of age, but it is curious. Simon Donoghue, Havering’s Local History Librarian, produced an excellent guide to the estate and no mention is made of the well.
Bedfords Park is in the London borough of Havering, nearby being Havering atte Bower, which has been a Royal manor since the 8th century. It would appear that Havering-atte-Bower, a Royal property can be cited as the source for the Queen. However, in the late 1300s, the King’s Sergeant lived in the manor who was in the service of Richard II’s queen – Anne of Bohemia. James. However, it is Henry’s wife Anne of Boleyn is the most likely perhaps.
The cult of Queen Anne
I believe that the significance of the occurrence of wells associated with Anne Boleyn has been missed by researchers. Ann was a convenient figure to apply to wells at a time of flux. The cult of Saint Anne and its association with wells is a relatively recent one, dating from the 15th century. Could it be that at the Reformation, that local community or rather a local landowner, realising that the population would have divided into those following the old ways would focus on re-dedication to this popular Queen. Anne was of course, the mother of Elizabeth, the first Protestant figurehead, who herself had a cult and feast day associated with her.
Evidently she has a name which can be conveniently transferred to St. Ann Wells especially as like Ann she was the mother of Elizabeth the founder of English Protestantism. I have noted before how Queen Ann has been associated with springs, however dubious.
Sadly, there is no evidence and I write this post hoping someone can help. However, I do believe that the weight of circumstance and likelihood suggests that the well which exists in Bedford’s Park predates its association with Queen Anne and was probably a St. Anne’s Well.
Posted on February 19, 2015, in Essex, London, Royal, Well hunting and tagged Bedford's Park, Queen Anne's well, Royal, Saint Ann's well. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.
Hello, I am thrilled to see an article on the Well in Bedfords (by the way, without the apostrophe)! I am so glad I contacted you and made the connection. I am pleased to see also that you have mentioned Simon and Nigel. This latest news has spurred me on even more to try and get something done to conserve this important relic and maybe even get a research project and apply for a lottery bud for possible restoration and interpretation.The Friends will not start any work yet though as if it is to be an historic building application we will have to approach it very carefully. It is difficult, as it has a history and charm that is well hidden and unique, but on the other hand,it should perhaps be shared by the local community so they can shar ein the pride of the Park as and area as Royal. Very best wishes, and thank you so much for investigating our Well. Lois
Date: Thu, 19 Feb 2015 00:10:32 +0000 To: email@example.com
That’s great and sorry about the typo i’ll correct it. Sorry I haven’t found more but I hope if I posted about it someone might find it and know something. Be great if something more is found out. All the best with the research and restoration. All the best Ross
Great to see the Well feature – Thank you
I have only known it as St Anne’s well, not referred to to a queen. But then I haven’t lived in the area all my life like some.
May I point out though that Belfonts was referred to as the name of the park , it reads as if that’s the name of the well/spring. And you rightly point out that the there is some incongruity with the park being named after John Bedford. But it may have had both names? For people in the area Belfonts and others not so familiar with the area “John Bedfords place£, maybe ?
Note also that there were many springs in Bedfords but now that the trees at the top of the hill are gone these once gushing fountains are now just trickles.
May I also suggest that the Well could be Anglo Saxon – the 1st palace at Havering atte Bower was anglo Saxon, related to “Haeffer” and Harold Hill & Harold Wood named after the saxon king. There have also been Roman ruins found in the area just to put the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons !
The Well was definitely a healing place in 1535 when Amelia, a herbalist used to use it as her healing HQ. No doubt there was a risk in being a healer at that time even tho the witch hunt hadn’t started in earnest. But any natural healers were at great risk nonetheless. We know that Amelia was badly beaten because of her skills and died of her wounds at the well.
Whether this Well should be made public or not I’m not sure. The park is open 24/7 and there is a risk of vandalism, especially if it really is an ANCIENT healing well.
I look forward to hearing more