Guest blog post: Ffynnon Leinw – Holy Well or natural wonder by Tristan Gray Hulse (Part one)
As a special extra Christmas treat I present part one of an article by Tristan Gray Hulse exclusively published here on Ffynnon Leinw.
The Inspecting Officer for the Royal Commission visited Ffynnon Leinw, in Cilcain parish, Flintshire, on 24 October 1910. The ensuing published Flintshire Inventory recorded the well as follows:
Ffynnon Leinw … A spring, the flow of which has probably been decreased by operations in connection with the neighbouring lead mines. It is enclosed by masonry 18 feet by 10 feet, and 2 feet deep, but there is now little water save after long continued rain. This spring is noted by Edward Lhuyd in 1699 under the above name (RCAHM 1912, 16: § 54).
The well is located immediately to the south of the A541 Mold-Denbigh road, in the north-west corner of a wood just to the west of the hamlet of Hendre (SJ 186 677). 106 years on, Ffynnon Leinw looks much the same as just described (see also Gruffydd 1999, 84, illus.), but an examination of sixteenth- to nineteenth-century accounts of the well reveals a complex and confusing history. These sources are laid out here, followed by a discussion.
1188 In this year Giraldus Cambrensis accompanied Archbishop Baldwin on a preaching tour of Wales; after which he composed his Itinerarium Cambriae. They stayed one night at Rhuddlan Castle, where they were told (II, 10):
There is a spring not far from Ruthlan, in the province of Tegengel, which not only regularly ebbs and flows like the sea, twice in twenty-four hours, but at other times frequently rises and falls both by night and day (Giraldus 1908, 129).
Giraldus had already noticed another “spring which, like the tide, ebbs and flows twice in twenty-four hours”, near Dinefwr Castle, in Carmarthenshire (I, 10: ib. 74).
1572 This year saw the publication of the Commentarioli Britannicae Descriptionis Fragmentum of Humphrey Llwyd (1527-68); in the following year it was translated by Thomas Twyne and published as The Breuiary of Britayne. (The recent edition of Twyne’s translation by Philip Schwyzer modernises the spelling, and uses the currently accepted forms of Welsh toponyms.)
In Tegenia [Latinisation of Tegeingl, the old regional name for the area afterwards named Flintshire] est mirae naturae fons, qui cum a mari sex millibus passuum distat in Parochia Cilcensi, bis in die fluit & refluit. Hoc tamen nuper observavi (Luna ab horizonte Orientali ad Meridianum ascendente quo tempore omnia fluunt maria) fontis aquam diminui, refluviumque pati (Lhuyd 1572, 57).
In Tegenia is a well of a marvelous nature which, being six miles from the sea, in the parish of Cilcain [Kilken, in Twyne’s original text], ebbeth and floweth twice in one day. Yet have I marked this of late, when the moon ascendeth from the east horizon to the south (at which time all seas do flow), that then the water of this well diminisheth and ebbeth (Schwyzer 2011, 116).
Llwyd’s first sentence appears to repeat Giraldus, but identifies his “spring not far from Ruthlan” with an unnamed well in Cilcain parish. Llwyd lived much of his life in or near Denbigh, and clearly knew the Cilcain well from personal observation; he notes that the well had a tendency to lessen or dry up at a certain period of the year.
Twyne’s translation of The Breuiary, edited by Hugh Thomas, was reprinted in 1729, and an annotated edition of Llwyd’s original Latin text was published by Moses Williams in 1731.
1585 In 1585 David Powel (1552?-98) published an annotated edition of Giraldus’ Itinerarium Cambriae, with an abbreviated edition of the same author’s Descriptio Cambriae (the first printed editions of these texts). Commenting on Giraldus’ notice of the well near Rhuddlan (Powel 1585, 211), Powel specifically identified this with the Cilcain well noticed by Humphrey Llwyd, and quoted Llwyd’s words (ib. 214). Before this, commenting on Giraldus’ notice of the Dinefwr spring, he had again quoted Llwyd’s text, for comparative purposes; but here he named the Tegeingl well mentioned by Llwyd as Fynon Leinw (ib. 141). This appears to be the earliest record of the name.
1586 This year saw the appearance of the first edition of the Britannia of William Camden (1551-1623). The sixth Latin edition was translated into English by Philemon Holland in 1610. This was revised, with many additions for Wales by Edward Lhwyd, by Edmund Gibson in 1695. A revised edition of Gibson’s Camden appeared in 1722. Having discussed Mold, Camden wrote:
Australem sub his regionis partem pererrat Alen fluuiolus, prope quem in monte ad Kilken viculum, fons est qui maris aemulus statis temporibus suas & reuomit, & resorbet aquas (Camden 1616, 549).
Below these places the fourth-part of this Country is water’d by the little river Alen, near which, on a mountain in the Parish of Kilken, there is a spring, which, [as is said,] ebb’d and flow’d at set times like the sea (Camden 1722, col. 826).
The “[as is said]” was added by Edward Lhwyd, who also, in the margin, corrected “on a mountain in the Parish of” to “at a village call’d” Cilcain, and “ebb’d and flow’d” to “ebbs and flows”; the last, seemingly in line with Camden’s original Latin text, the rest with information lately supplied to him by Richard Mostyn, in 1694 (see below). Camden will have known Lhuyd 1572 and Powel 1585, but neither were responsible for his location of the well on a mountain near to the little village of Cilcain – it is Cilcain village itself which sits on a hilltop overlooking the Alun, to the south, rather than the well, which is in Cilcain parish, but almost two miles from the village, to the north-east.
1603 William Camden reprinted Powel’s annotated edition of the Itinerarium Cambriae (Camden 1603, 818-878).
1611/12 The publication of John Speed’s county maps of Great Britain (the title-page gives 1611, but – certain maps bearing the date 1612 – the actual publication date must have been in the latter year). The text accompanying the Flintshire map (book 2, chap. 13) has the following:
There is also hard by Kilken (a small village) within this Countie, a little Well of no great note, that at certaine times riseth and falleth, after the manner of Sea-tides (Speed 1611/12, 121).
The information is likely to have been derived from the Britannia. The map shows Cilcain, but not the well.
28 February 1694 Richard Mostyn, the grandson of Sir Thomas Mostyn, lived at Penbedw, in Nannerch, just over the Cilcain/Nannerch parish boundary. During the years 1693-5 he corresponded with Edward Lhwyd. In a letter dated 28 February 1693/4 he wrote:
The well wch Mr. Cambden mentions yt Ebbs & flows calld Fynnon Leinw is abt halfe a mile hence, ‘tis in Kilken parish indeed, but nothing near Kilken church or ye river Alen (as he says) it now (as J can find) neither ebbs nor flows, thô it did formerly as they say. Powell in his notes upon Giraldus his itinerary makes this to be ye well Giraldus mentions in his passage between St. Asaph & Basingwerk, & from him Speed & Cambden &c seem to take it, but under favour J can’t think it ye same yt Giraldus ment, for ‘tis but seven miles from St. Asaph to Basingwerk, & this is four or five from Basingwerk & eight of St. Asaph. J rather think he meant Fynnon Assa, a noble spring, yt is sd to doe ye same: but this with submission (Lloyd 1971-2, 45).
(In fact, Giraldus mentioned the – unnamed – well when noticing his night at Rhuddlan, before going on to visit St Asaph, and then on to Basingwerk Abbey.) Lhwyd substantially incorporated much of this passage into his additions to Gibson’s 1695 edition of Camden’s Britannia.
1695 Edward Lhwyd’s additions to Gibson’s edition of the Britannia.
But it neither ebbs nor flows at present, tho’ the general report is that it did so formerly. But whereas Dr. Powel supposes this to be the Fountain to which Giraldus Cambrensis ascrib’d that quality; it may perhaps be more probably suppos’d, that Giraldus meant Fynnon Assav, a noble Spring, to which they attribute the same Phaenomenon. But seeing that Author (though a learned and very curious person for the time he liv’d in) is often either erroneous or less accurate in his Physiological Observations, it is seldom worth our while to dispute his meaning on such occasions (Camden 1722, col. 826).
1698 In his own answers to his Parochialia questionnaire, covering parts of North Wales, Edward Lhwyd recorded that there was a “Fynnon mihangel” and a “Fynnon Leinw” in Cilcain parish (Lhwyd 1909, 81), and a “F. S. y Katrin”, a “F. Y Beili”, and a “F. Ym maes garmon” in Mold parish (ib. 93); no indications as to precise locations within the parishes are given. (The construction of the name “F. S. y Katrin” seems awkward, but it is paralleled in the title of the medieval Welsh Life of the saint, Buched Seint y Katrin, and in a document of 1623 where St Catherine’s church at Llan-faes, Anglesey, is called “Llan Saint y Katherin”: Cartwright 2008, 148 ff., 158.) For Cwm, Lhwyd noted the “most remarkable” spring in the parish to be Ffynnon Asa (Lhwyd 1909, 64). This was reputed to ebb and flow with the tides, but observation over a period of nine hours had shown its reputation to be false.
1723, 1731 The antiquarian Moses Williams (1685-1742), who had been one of Edward Lhwyd’s assistants at Oxford, published an edition of Humphrey Llwyd’s Breviary of Britain in 1723, and an annotated edition of Humphrey Llwyd’s 1572 Commentarioli in 1731. Commenting on Llwyd’s notice of the Cilcain well Williams said that the well no longer ebbed and flowed, but suggested that its name, Ffynnon leinw, should be taken as evidence that it had done so formerly (Williams 1731, 87).
1781 The second volume of Thomas Pennant’s Tours in Wales first appeared in 1781.
In this parish, on the side of the turnpike-road, not far from Kilken hall, is the noted Ffynnon Leinw, or the flowing well; a large oblong well with a double wall round it. This is taken notice of by Camden for its flux and re-flux; but the singularity has ceased since his time, according to the best information I can receive (Pennant 1810, 59-60).
Nineteenth century After Pennant’s time, Ffynnon Leinw was regularly noticed by antiquarian and topographical writers; their comments are entirely dependent upon Camden and Pennant, and often enough upon each other. For example:
The singularity of the noted Flowing Well, is said to have ceased since the time of Camden, who mentions the circumstance (Carlisle 1811, art. “Cîl Cain”).
In this Parish is the noted Ffynnon Leinw, or Flowing Well, noticed by Camden for its flux and reflux; but it appears from Mr Pennant that this singularity has ceased for some time (Cathrall 1829, 225).
(For Giraldus, see e.g. Richter 1976; for Edward Lhuyd/Lhwyd, Humphrey Llwyd, Thomas Pennant, David Powel, and Moses Williams, see, e.g., Lloyd and Jenkins 1959, 565-7, 594, 745, 770, and 1060; for the impact of the writings of Humphrey Llwyd and David Powel, see Schwyzer 2011, 1-35: “Introduction”; for Camden and the Britannia, see, e.g., Stephens 1998, 68; for Richard Mostyn, Lloyd 1971-2.)
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Posted on December 19, 2018, in Clywd and tagged holy wells, Holy wells blog, Holy wells healing springs Spas folklore local history antiquarian, Holywell blog, legends, Local history, Pilgrimage, Saints, Tristan Gray Hulse, water lore. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.