Monthly Archives: July 2015

Aquae Ypsitanae – The Roman Thermal Baths of Sardinia

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The Roman occupation of the island has left a few remains although not as many as the mainland Italy. The most remarkable of these is the spa of Caddas, called Aquae Ypsitanae, a name coined by Roman writer Tolomeo. It is an incredible survival nestling on the banks of the river Tirso. Established in the reign of Trajan the site consists of a forum, an amphitheatre (a few metres off site) and the spa. Being located at the most significant thermal region on the island, and even on a hot August day steam can be seen building up over its waters.

The remains

For those familiar with the site of Bath in England, the site is particularly interesting as it gives an idea of what that site would have looked like before its most recent improvement. The oldest section of the complex dates from the first century A.D. and it was occupied until third Century.


The central focus on the ruins is the 12 by 6 by nearly two metre deep natatio, or bath. This is filled by the thermal spring which arises to the south of the site. These waters were mixed in another bath with cold waters entering from higher above. In such a way waters could be controlled. Other baths exist to the north and a cloaca or channel through which the water drains into the river. Over the natatio was probably a barrel roof, the arches of which remain. These arches enter the most interesting relic a nympheum, which was probably a small chapel. Here Esculapio, God of healing and nymphs were invocated for their guidance and power.


These parts formed the original nucleus of the spa complex of which, a frigidarium, tepidarium and celidarium complex was used utilising cold springs.


The source of the waters

It was thought that an aquaduct provided water from Mount Grighini but it is noted that as water on site is still so abundant it would have arisen here. For above the Roman ruins are the large tanks holding the spring water. These have been carved into the rock and are despite their algae covered waters still flowing from here and through the complex. The hot spring arose separately in such a small distance from the cold springs a quite amazing fact for these early engineers to note. This hot spring is also a sulphur spring which has lead to healing properties.


Healing and cleaning waters

These waters of Aquae Ypsitanae were famed as the S’abba de su figau’ – the waters of the livers. However they are also said to be able to cure and relieve skin complaints such as dermatitis and psoriasis, bone ailments and respiratory problems. The hot waters also have had a more functional use. The large oval pools located outside the enclosed ruins were used, and may indeed still be, used for washing clothes. Touching the water it is exceptionally hot being 56OC

The Bagnio and beyond


Whist it is not beyond realisation that one could still utilise the spa site today. The town of Fordongianus is still a functioning Spa town beyond the site. A few metres from the Roman site until recently visitors could experience the hot waters in a Bagnio Termali. This nestles closer to the village and below the level of the road. Despite its fairly modern appearance the site dates from 18th century. The site derivs its waters from another spring which fortunately are slightly colder being 44OC Sadly it appears that the site is now closed it but spa bathing still survives with an enormous investment being made into a more considerable spa complex. As the small linear building is only big enough for a normal sized bath, the new establishments located more centrally in the town. These farm more modern hotel facilities still provide the same, if slightly more modernised, wellness treatments provided by the Romans – little changes. So not only can we marvel here the cleverness of the use of both cold and hot springs which the Roman engineers manipulated excellently to provide a tepid and more tolerable water, we can see its use remains today.


Restored to glory – St Osyth’s Well Bierton

197670_ac658cf4 © Copyright Rob Farrow

When I first started researching holy wells I failed to find the well. I clearly was not the only one if this report attests in Megalithic Portal:

reported as being next to the church…I walked around the churchyard without success.”

However it is excellent to hear that unlike other noted wells the local community restored and repaired the site. This has made it more visible and it is now as James Rattue in his excellent Holy Wells of Buckinghamshire notes:

physically (St. Osyth’s Well) the most impressive holy well in the county.”

Which Osyth?

What is certain is that the well was associated with a local Osyth, who local tradition records was born in Quarrendon nearby. This was around.660, when the site of the now Abbey ruins was her father Frithuwold’s royal residence. Her mother was the sister of King Wulfhere of Mercia, Wilburh, the sister of king Wulfhere of Mercia (658-674). Eadgyth, the sister of Wilburh. Osyth was the first abbess of Aylesbury’s minster. Whether this is the same as the more famed martyr is open to subjector although Bethell’s Lives of St. Osyth of Essex and St. Osyth of Aylesbury in Analecta Bollandiana claim they are the same. If so the body after its decapitation in Essex was transported back to Aylesbury’s St. Marys where a shrine was established.

Which well?

The exact location of a St. Osyth’s well has been confused. The antiquaran John Leland is perhaps the first to record this well in 1540 as:

“the well of S. Osythe at Querendune bytwyxte Aeilsbury and Querendune.”

However there is a problem, this is clearly another site as Bierton is not between these two places so why should this well be named. As noted above Quarrendon would make sense as Quarrendon is supposed the saint’s birthplace. James Rattue’s Holy Wells of Buckinghamshire he notes that Victorian writers note that it was:

“a never failing spring on Dunsham Farm whilst ‘another well ‘associated with St. Osythe’ lay in the corner of a field between Dunham and Watermead.”

Interestingly some local folklore records that the spring arose when the body of the saint was carried back from her martyrdom in Essex. Certainly by the time of the local topographer Sheahan in the 1800s, the location had moved to Bierton. He describes it as:

“a remarkable old well of the same date of the church, which was lately restored by the parish and is a most valuable spring…this well was formerly walled around, and had a drinking-trough for cattle. In ancient times it was called by the name of the Quarrendon Saint; now the spring is known as Up Town Well.”

One wonders where his evidence came from and it is noticeable if it had been a holy well it had slipped into vernacular by the authors time and was further sliding into obscurity perhaps.


Restoring the well

Yet it was not forgotten and was ripe for a millennium refit. Rattue states that:

“The well used to be a low brick structure capped with concrete and accompanied by a pump close by. In 2000, however the Parish Council restored it in grand fashion with the aid of the Heritage Lottery Fund. The cap was removed, the low drum-like well built up to a height of several feet, and a garden laid out complete with information panel and seating.”

Interestingly, he also notes that an archaeological watching brief was kept but no very old remains were found. This perhaps suggesting that the well was of no significant age?

James Rattue’s excellent book on Holy Wells of Buckinghamshire is well worth seeking out for further information on the counties wells.

Carshalton’s hidden holy wells part one – Anne Boleyn’s Well


To find a more delightful oasis in suburban London would be harder to find. Despite the traffic which flows through this town, a significant calm is created by the bubbling waters which give Carshalton its name which derives from Cars – Aul – ton with aul means well or spring and there are a number of notable water sites.

“There is a well at Carshalton, A neater one never was seen; And there’s not a maid of Carshalton, But has heard of the well of Boleyn. It stands near the rustic churchyard, Not far from the village green; And the villagers show with rustic pride, The quaint old well of Boleyn.”

One of the springs which supply these pools is the best known in the town – Anne Boleyn’s Well. It would be difficult to understand how, as its been dry for many years, but it was once a spring of note and a site which regularly props up as a ‘holy well’ in work such as Hope’s Legendary Lore and the Bords Sacred Waters. Usually such associations are fanciable antiquarian suggestions. However this time there may be more evidence.

The well is a simple structure for many years obscured with weeds and a rather vigorous lavendar, probably in homage to the town’s famed agricultural export. It has recently been tidied up and now a small brick well head can be seen surrounded by railings. It perhaps looks a little unloved and forlorn but at least it has survived. The site was once in the middle of the roadway as old postcards attest..other urban sites would have been long lost if they were in that position in other locations. Unusually, the pavement was extended to include the site and now it sits in the shadow of All Saint’s Parish church. The move clearly resulted in a rebuild as early pictures show a domed shaped structure surrounded by a stone surround. Sadly, also the chain and bowl once attached for wayfairs to drink from has long gone, not that a drink could be had anyhow!

The legend of its origins


The legend is recorded, possibly for the first time in G.B. Brightling’s History and Antiquities of Carshalton (1827) and notes that Henry VIIIth and Anne were riding over from Nonsuch Palace to Beddington Park to see Sir Nicholas Carew when at the spot the horse rose up and striking the ground a spring formed. The villagers then enclosed the well and named it after her as a memorial.

The problems with the legend

The clear problem was that if they were travelling from Nonsuch, no such place would have existed then – it was constructed after the Queen’s execution in 1538! However, this does not completely remove the legend as it must have come from somewhere.


The true origins?

A number of possible alternative origins are suggested for the well. The commonest suggestion is that it was dedicated to St. Anne, whilst this is a convenient and obvious origin, there is no evidence. A more prosaic origin is hinted by the alternative name Bullen does it originate from Old English billen refering to roaring and perhaps describes the nature of the spring, and perhaps explained the legend of the spring erupting. However, the most accepted origin is that the name derives from the Count of Boulogne who was Lord of the Manor in Carshalton in the 12th century. This would explain the legend that Anne had a house near the well as well. A variant of this is that the well was associated with a small cottage, sadly long since demolished, which abutted the churchyard. This cottage was called Dame Duffin’s Cottage but was believed to have originally been a chantry chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Boulogne. A chapel was given by Nicholas Gainsford in 1497 according to Michael Wilks 2002 Book of Carshalton. The well appears likely to have been the spring probably used by the chapel as its water source. Whether it was truly a holy well or rather a well named by association is unclear. There is no clear reason for a chantry chapel in the location, although of course it is close to a bridge and often chapels are built nearby to these for offering purposes. It is just as probable that the chapel was established for those attracted to the spring. It has been suggested that the recess behind the well may have originated as a resting place for visitors and maybe all that remains of the chapel and was where the spring arose. Interesting Hogpit pond is suggested as the true origin of its water. This is significant in justifying its holy well origin as hog is most often derived from Old English halig for holy and pit derives from putte for spring.


So why Anne?

However, we should not completely dismiss the Boleyn connection perhaps because it is rather interesting legend and one with a familiar motif. There a number of springs across the country such as Beckett’s Well at Otford where a saint has thrust their staff into the ground and a holy spring arose. Similarly saints have lost heads and springs arose at the point they hit the ground! So taking this into account what do we read into the legend? I have speculated that Anne became a cult figure of the Reformation and sites became associated with her akin to they would have done with Saints. Local people berift of their saints reattached legends to her in response. Perhaps if this did happen, and I suggest the same happened with Elizabeth, it was a sort transitional development, but the name stuck. However, the question asks where did the legend come from. If it was a construction of Brightling, no further back than antiquarian musings, but if its older than something more significant could be read into it.

Queen Anne Boleyn’s Well is not the only supposed holy well in Carshalton and in a future instalment I will investigate other sites.

Interested in Surrey holy wells? Check out James Rattue’s Holy wells of Surrey.