Far from the crowd: St Leonard’s Well, Dunster
Many people visit the picturesque village of Dunster with its delightful market cross but tucked up an ancient cobbled lane which becomes increasingly muddy even in the height of summer, is the less well known St Leonard’s Well, Dunster. Mossy and weather worn. An old wooden door appears almost from the wall to go where?
It is believed to be of 14th-15th Century construction, and formed the supply for the ancient town priory ( now ruinous ). It is mentioned in records of Edward III and Henry IV reign as ‘Fontem sancti Leonardi’.
According to William Hamper 1808’s topographical account of Dunster a 1377 deed of 1377 records a:
‘subtus Grobbefaste, juxta fontem Sancti Leonardi’
and again deed of 1412/3 (ibid.) refers to strips in Dunster open field:
‘vocata above ye town, prope fontem Sancti Leonard’.
Hamper is the individual who associated the current structure with said well stating:
“a spring, over which a conduit is built, on the side of Grabice, which I presume to be the Well of St Leonard”.
One wonders whether the conduit and St Leonard’s Well are really one and the same especially when conduit houses are very rarely placed over wells from my experience. Certainly by the time the magnus opus on the county’s holy wells compiled his works Dom Horne was sure. In his 1923 Somerset Holy Wells notes that:
“a small 14th or 15th-century building still stands over it, but the water is not used. It overflows into the lane by which it is approached, making it into a kind of water-course. This well may have been the water supply for the Priory, and it may also have filled the curious arched water trough in the southern wall of the churchyard.”
It is known that the water was still utilised until the 18th century when in In 1777 the old pipes were re-laid and covered and new ones added. It thus filling not just the churchyard trough but another at the south end of the high street. Architecturally the structure is made of rubble with a cemented roof and a chamfered free stone opening with a segmental head and plain wooden door. It was locked when I first visited but a subsequent visit when the door was open showed why. There is a considerable depth of water within filling a rectangular squared off pool full of some form of algae!
Horne notes that until recently people still visited this well and used the water for strengthening the eyes but beyond this little is known. When locked the water could be sourced from a trickling pipe.
For those who visit St Leonard’s well offers a moment of peace, lying picturesquely by the side of the lane, overshadowed by a thorn bush not adorned with rags I would add, a pleasingly quiet place in comparison to the hectic nature of Dunster in Summer time.