A well for the love lorn and the Pixy…St. Agnes Well, Cothelstone

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“the most beautiful of the Holy wells of Somerset.”

Horne (1923)

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”.

Pixy Led

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.

Well restored.

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

About pixyledpublications

Currently researching calendar customs and folklore of Nottinghamshire

Posted on April 19, 2015, in Favourite site, Folklore, Saints, Somerset, Well hunting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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