Monthly Archives: April 2015
Imagine you are digging your allotment and soon something is revealed – one, two….more and more worked basalt blocks…soon one of the most remarkable pozzo sacros to be discovered in Sardinia was discovered. The only one which gives archaeologists an idea of what originally covered the other sacred wells of the Island. Orune’s Pozzo Sacro Su Tempiesu is not remarkable not only for its good preservation but also for its exceedingly remote location.
In the summer of 1953, a member of the Sanna family was said to be either planning a vegetable patch or digging for coal, found some worked blocks. What soon revealed itself was something quite unique an intact, bar the very top of the arch, sacred well. The site was excavated in 1958 and then in 1981-86 resulting in consolidation to the appearance it is now.
A remarkable discovery…
The temple consists of the usual arrangement – vestibule, staircase and well chamber. The well chamber appears to have been set up between rock shale walls to cleverly channel a spring which erupts at the junction of a vein of rock.
The vestibule, quadrangular in plan, with a depth of 1.60, 1.85 width, and height of 4.50 m. The floor has a slight slope with projecting walls constructed of large perfectly jointed slabs, with perfect joints. There are decorative arches set into the upper wall. The cover of the well has a dual-pitched roof with double eaves, with an acute triangle gable roof with a truncated pyramid ashlar, which had twenty votive bronze swords inserted into it. Two seat benches and two small rectangular cabinets are set into the side walls of the hall. A staircase reaches to a small room ‘tholos’ which covered the spring which has a flagstone floor with a central dimple.
The engineering involved to ensure that the spring is clear and lacking in impurities is one of the most impressive features of the well. The water enters its tholos chamber, as like Santa Christina. This one is smaller having a base of just below a metre and 11 rows of perfect layers which form the nearly 2m done. The cavity’s base in basalt paved and slopes towards its entrance which has a number of steps leading to a threshold step. The well has a porch or vestibule which is paved by slabs of gently sloping trachytes. This is bounded by a wall and these become a very narrow pointed arch. However this arch was destroyed by landslip.
However the base which holds the water is circular in shape and has a dimple which allows decantation and collects impurities. Furthermore, the water then flows through a moulded groove, running obliquely left to right into a smaller basin. The purpose of the smaller basin is unclear if it were built for domestic uses one would expect livestock use but as the site is ritual unlikely. Did it provide a location for ritual washing of objects to be placed in the niches and shale shelves which remain within the structure? Indeed, this site did yield a number of very interesting votive figures.
This well chamber’s arrangement in itself is of course impressive but the structure above the well is awe inspiring considering its neatness and that date between the 10th and 12th Centuries BC. The structure is made of trachytes igneous rock, very hard and very difficult to fashion – yet it is squared and cut perfectly without any crooked sections. There is no mortar but lead cramps and everything is iodomic – of equal size. What is equally remarkable is that as the natural rock here is shale it must have been moved probably from the district of Dorgali – this suggests perhaps that the culture recognised the importance of this rock either because of its durability and its ability to hold water.
To reach the well today consists of a long and undulating car journey from the town and an equally long pleasant downward walk (but a very tiring one going up!)…a location so remote one wonders why it was here. However, evidence does show that a short distance away was a nuraghic settlement of S. Lulla which may have used the site.
Inside the structure were a range of votive offerings. These consisted of bracelets, pins although these were weapon based, rings, swords and buttons which suggest a long period of devotion, from Bronze to Iron Age, although what is not clear is what each offering bestowed and meant. The most noted were three figured bronzes or bronzetti figures one showing a beared male figure, another holding bread and a pair of figures together said to be bidder. The flat top of the well, had 20 swords stuck in the top…the reason unclear.
The Su Tempiesu is an amazing discovery which was fantastically restored and gives a vital view into the Bronze age water worship of the island….the other posts this month are all about restoring sites..
Perhaps the most ancient holy well in the country is also one of the most delightful with presently presumed 18th century and medieval features it is certainly a remarkable survival – even more remarkable since its’ splendid restoration.
Oldest recorded holy well in England?
The first mention of the well is apparently 998, when it is mentioned in a charter to Leofwine by King Ethelred the Unready as a consequence as the term holy well per se derives from Old English halig this is probably the oldest recorded. However, it does not appear to be specifically mentioned as such. However in a Feet of Fines there is a notice in 1206 of a:
“half acre land at Hallewellcul to the north”
Over the next 800 years there then appear to be regular references to the well. By the 18th century there is reference to some sort of protective structure, although the date of the current structure cannot perhaps be gauged from these references. By 1701 a record notes that the Rector was exempted from keeping the well and fencing in repair:
“one footway of the breadth of three feet leading from a certain stile at the bottom of an ancient enclosed ground called Bury Orchard towards Ufton by the Brook to the said well called Holy Well.”
By 1760, a public footpath to the well was made permanent in an Act of Parliament and the enclosures act noting:
“it is hereby further enacted and declared, That the said Well, called Holy Well, in the said Open Fields of Southam aforesaid, shall not be allotted to any of the said Proprietors, but shall be inclosed round with Posts and Rails, Three Yards at least distant from the Stone-work of the said Well, by, and at, the Expence of all the said Proprietors, and shall be kept for the Benefit of all the Inhabitants of the Parish of Southam aforesaid; and which said Posts and Rails shall, forever thereafter, be repaired and kept in Repair by, and at, the Expence of the Inhabitants of Southam aforesaid; and that the said Commissioners, or their Successors, or any three or more of them, shall assign, or lay out, a Footway from the Town of Southam aforesaid, to the said Well..”
Healing eye water
The main two properties, other than a possibly being better than beer, is that it was very cold but never froze and that it was good for eyes. Indeed, its powers in restoring eyes lead to a Henry Lilley-Smith establishing in 1818 an eye and ear hospital not far. Local remedies also recall how to make a tincture with the well water for eyes.
The well of St Fremund?
One of the possible reasons for the site being a holy well is that it was associated with the Mercian saint Fremund. The Life and Death of the Most Holy Fremund, King and Martyr by Burghard, 12th century (tr. from text in Nova Legenda Anglie ) tells how St Fremund, having been beheaded:
“stood up as if nothing had happened, picked his head up off the ground, and set out with the head in his hands. The crowd were amazed at this miracle and followed in his tracks, praising God. He made his way to a spot between Itchington and Harbury, and when he got there he took a stand and thrust the point of his sword in the ground. He prayed to God for a little water to wash his head and body, and what he sought, he gained. For a spring welled up at this very spot, flowing in an unfailing stream and proving the merits of this famous martyr before all the world. He drank of its waters, he washed his wounds, he gave honour to that God in whom all live and have their being. Then turning his head to the east, he sank dead to the ground”.
The Metrical Life of St Fremund by William of Ramsay, 1194×1220 (tr. from text in Pinchbeck Register 1925) repeats the story from Burghard, detailing how ‘No sooner had he wished for water than a spring appeared/ Purer than dew, clearer than crystal, finer/ Than gold, and scattering silver sands’. Later, the Life of Sts. Edmund and Fremund by John Lydgate, 1434 tells how
“there sprong up a welle/ With crystal watrys the stremys gan up welle;/ And wessh away the blood that was so red,/ Which doun disttillyd from his hooly hed”.
egend has it that Fremund was a son of Kind Offa of Mercia. After his death, a great battle ensued at Radford Semele against the invading Vikings in which Fremund was completely victorious. However as Fremund knelt in prayer of thanksgiving one of his own men envious of his success struck off his head. However the legend suggests that the well was not at Southam. For when his corpse stood up, picking up his head and walking away; he stopped somewhere between Harbury and Whitton, possibly Whitnash and there a miraculous well sprung up at his feet, in the water of which he washed his head then lay down and died. This would go against the view that the Southam well is the same.
Well preserved fabric
The first description of the site is Carlisle (1812) ‘Observations on the positions of the alien cell of Begare, and of Halywell upon Watling Street’ who describes:
“a well of very fine clear water, called Holywell, or Halywell, which has always been reputed salubrious. It is… perpetually overflowing, without much variation from the seasons. It is a basin on the declivity of a rising ground. Its form is the larger section of a circle; the bottom is paved with smooth stones; and the sides are walled with the same, a little higher than the water stands, which is about two feet deep. It was formerly nearly encompassed with another wall, and upon a stone, at the mouth of the well, the words Utere, sed non abutere were inscribed.”
However it was apparently in decline by the 1850s as an article written on the 6th October 1855 in the Warwickshire Advertiser describes:
“on the foot road from Southam to Stoney-Thorpe, the residence of H T Chamberlain Esq., is an Ancient Well called ‘Holy Well’ now in a dilapidated condition; but even in its present state, the massive stone work, with curious and not very elegant carved head shews it to have been at one time an object of interest. Its earlier history is not clear, some asserting that it was the source from which Stoney Thorpe was supplied with water when used as a Priory ……it is a large semi-circular well about five feet deep embanked with massive stone masonry, and is supplied by a powerful spring of the Purest Water. It lies at a lower level than the Town, otherwise it might without much expense, be made most valuable for domestic and sanitary purposes. Tradition says it formally had a stone seat placed round it; was furnished with drinking vessels, and covered by an Arched Stone Roof; thus affording refreshment to the Traveller, and a pleasant resort to the health seeker. It is now proposed to restore by a public subscription, this beautiful relic of antiquity, and a considerable sum has already been promised.”
This restoration is described by Freton (1890) in his The Warwickshire Feldon: a sketch of its hills and valleys, waters, famous trees, and other physical features in the Proceedings of Warwickshire Naturalists’ & Archaeologists’ Field Club, states that around 40 years ago:
“I and a few enthusiastic friends undertook to clear out this old well, in the hopes that it might lead to its ultimate restoration. Our efforts as amateur navvies excited little sympathy among the rough labouring lads of the neighbourhood, who seemed to look upon us as having a slate off, and we invariably found our labour of one evening fruitless the next, so after a week’s hard work we gave it in.”
Certainly when Richardson (1928) found it as:
“a semicircular recess in the bank. A low retaining wall – recently renovated – prevents the bank from slipping down into it. At its foot is a flagged path along the curved margin of the semicircular well. Impounding the water in the well… is low two buttressed stonework. The stonework is much mutilated, the water flowing over the two broken and worn ends; but the central portion is higher and has three faces sculptured on it from orifices below which the water spouts out. Two flights of steps– that on the left with three steps, that on the right with four – lead down to a “trough” below the stonework”.
The most curious facet of the well are the well worn, and hence presumably ancient carved heads. What is their origin? Thoughts have ranged from effigies of sun gods to the recycled remains from a priory or church. I certainly favour the later and they were probably gargoyles and incorporated in the fabric in the 18th century. This may explain why they look more worn than would be expected if was last constructed in that century. However, it seems odd to have incorporated them and it may have been an attempt to produce a folly for a local lord. Well restored
However, despite Richardson’s favourable visit, not everything was positive. In 1925 the water was diverted into a reservoir and the provision of mains water artesian wells in the 1930s took their toll on the flow, an article in a local newspaper noting that:
“the Holy Well itself a few yards away has been partly emptied, and no water now flows into its basin in dry weather.”
By 1981, Brian Townsend noted in Southam Through the Centuries III notes it was little more than a trickle but a year after clearing out and restoration by the Community Enterprise Programme restored the flow through the heads. Yet by 1991 it was dry again, possibly as the result of quarrying and work on a by-pass. This is what it was like when I first visited…filled with rain water and polluted by crab apples. Through the 1990s restoration was planned but due to various reasons it was never attempted until the early 2000s. By 2005 the water supply was relocated and it could be restored, a Holy Well community was established an Heritage Lottery Fund money of £102,500 was successfully obtained. By 2005-7 the site was splendidly restored with seats and a palisade fence with delightful well related carvings on the posts…a fantastic return to the glory..the crowning of that glory the fact the water flows as profusely as ever. A delightful site and a holy well must.
“the most beautiful of the Holy wells of Somerset.”
Here in this small community, consisting of a manor house, associated farm and pleasing church, is a delightful find: an ancient conical well house called St. Agnes’ Well (ST 184 318 ) which in 1994 was swamped by tall horsetails and covered in fernery and herbs, which lent a rustic and mysterious feel to the site. Removing the surrounding vegetation will reveal more of this little six foot high conical stone structure. It resembles many such sites encountered in Cornwall, and one can agree with Horne (1923), as noted above who describes it as ‘the most beautiful of the Holy wells of Somerset’. The earliest reference is Jeboult in A General Account of West Somerset (1873):
“Near Cothelstone old Manor House is a fine spring of water, said to have been named St Agnes’ Well, and to have possessed excellent curative and cooling properties.”
Its water is accessed via an arched doorway on the west side, believed by Horne ( 1923 ) to show clearly its Perpendicular origins ( although there is no written evidence.) Once opening the small wooden door, one can see that a large volume of clear shallow water. According to Horne ( 1923 ) the water rises from the centre and flows under the step to an underground channel some distance to emerge as a large pool : obviously for livestock. A pipe leads out of the well indicating that it is directly tanked for farm use. Horne (1923) describes it as:
“A little stone building about six feet square… There is a doorway on the west side, well made, with a cut stone head. Inside, the whole floor is covered with shallow clear water, which rises about the centre and flows out under the door-step. It then follows an underground channel for some little distance, when it comes to the surface and forms a fairly large pond”.
Tongue (1965 ) adds that the well was once visited by lovers, usually on St Agnes’ Eve to find their futures. Palmer (1973) in Somerset Folklore notes some of the folklore of the site:
“It was thought necessary to leave a coin, usually silver… It was lucky if the coin fell flat, though sometimes tradition held that if the coin fell to the left the answer was no, but if it went to the right the wish was granted.”
Please don’t know as the water is used for a domestic supply! A stream nearby was called the Pixie Stream and it was thought that the well was where pixies lived!:
“It was said to have been a wishing well of considerable power, but many local people wouldn’t use it because it was also the place where mischievous pixies lived The waters are thought to be good for sore eyes and sprains, as well as for finding a husband, but only if you are not married! Once an old maid servant“coming to the end of her womanhood” did long for a husband and children. She did not wish to worry St Agnes when there were so many younger maids needing husbands. St Agnes had different ideas. When the old maid visited the well, her future husband just happened to be out walking that same night! Within a year they were married with children! The night before the feast of St Agnes (20th January) is when maidens would creep over to the well after dark to whisper their heart’s desires, hoping to see romantic visions of their future husbands! If St Agnes “do fancy the maiden she’ll send a husband that year!”
However, Harte (2008) in his English Holy Wells believes these traditions are spurious and possibly I suggest Victorian in date. Indeed, it may date from the time of Edward Stawel who married an Agnes, daughter of John Cheyney of Pinhoe Devon during the reign of Henry VII. The well may be simple called Agnes Well, there is an Agnes Well in the Selworthy estate in Somerset..interestingly this too has been ‘canonised’. It seems likely that the well was associated with the saint in the 1800s in a reverse of the secularisation of holy wells elsewhere.
In 1987 the Friends of The Quantocks repaired the Well but by the 1990s when I visited it was looking very forlorn. Fortunately in the 2000s the landowner, a Mr Hugh Warmington agreed to a full restoration and a group was formed to restore it using funding from the Quantock Hills Sustainable Development Fund and using the scheme to help the employment prospects for adults with learning disability. With permission from the County Archaeologist a small dig was made to find if there was an original base. By 2008 the progress of repair and improvement was already well on its way.
By 2009 a sign had been set up and a kissing gate. Leaflets were produced and a medieval fayre was established in September 2009 in a field opposite the well. All in all, raising interest and knowledge of this delightful site.
A stone channel and basin was created with the water flowing into this space and towards the river. During the restoration the most splendid find was an engraved stone with the words St. Agnes and a small cross, probably by the look of it from a Victorian restoration. Finally in 2015 the following was reported:
“£8,700 Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant for promotion of the heritage and restoration of the surrounding area of the well in partnership with Land-based Studies students from Bridgwater College. Bishop’s Lydeard Parish Council also kindly donated towards the project. The initiative is thought to be the only project of its kind in the country.”
Fantastic news and hopefully this will be the trailblazer for future restorations. Find out more at www.wellobsessed.com. (be careful who you copy and paste the website by the way!) http://www.wellobsessed.com/HolyWellsLeaflet.pdf