Category Archives: Derbyshire
Well research can be quite rewarding in a strange way…and finding St. Alkmund’s Well in the urban setting of north Derby laying virtually beneath the tower blocks is one. Where urbanisation has swept away many wells in a joint wave of sanitation and urban expansion, the planners in the city wisely decided to preserve this relic in no doubt protected by the long vanished church bearing its name. It is excellent that they do for not only is its setting and preservation unique its dedication is too.
The site is first recorded in 1190 in a rental agreement but considering its association probably earlier. Indeed it is likely that the well was so named from the time of the Saxon saint who who died 800 AD and whose tomb or shrine was located in church nearby (and is now located in the Derby Museum). It would be interesting to contemplate that pilgrims to his shrine took to the waters but there is not evidence. Indeed there is little is recorded of its history however and much of which we know comes from the plaque which reads:
“Until the area was built up from 1814, the well was in a rural setting, part of St Helen’s Park. The stone niche surrounding the well was built by the Rev Henry Cantrell in the early 18th century”.
What is also known is that according to church historian Cox (1875–9) in his Derbyshire churches records that a vicar of the local S. Werburgh’s was cured of his low consumption, after constantly drinking its water, although the sign It has been traditionally dressed, revived in 1870 and continued infrequently until 1993, stopping because the boards were thoughtlessly vandalised. The demolishing of the St. Alkmund’s Church in the 1960s for road widening stopped the tradition of processing to the well.
The well is below ground level with four steps to its water which flows with some force into an oval basin. A stone carving states its name. When I first visited it was possible to reach the water. I was told by a local elderly lady that she still drank the water and that it was very pure…I was not sure myself! Now I would not be able to know as the railings have enclosed the whole structure.
It now sits rather incongruously in an area of urban landscape, an odd juxtaposition amongst the older houses and tower blocks still exists, but is often prone to vandalism. and has suffered from it. Well dressings were discontinued due to vandalism and it was blocked off my tall metal fencing for a period recently. Now it is surrounded by a small wall and black railings which has blocked access but will protect it.
Who was St Alkmund?
An 8th century son of a Northumbrian king, Alkmund who was murdered by those who had overthrown the King, Eardwulf and was buried first in Shrewsbury and then Northworthy, the Saxon settlement which became Derby. The removal of his relics to Derby in 1140 produced a perfume. The tomb in which he was enshrined was discovered at the demolishing of his church in 1968 to make the ring road! It can now be seen in Derby Museum.
Despite an attempt to emasculate the site with the railings its importance has seen a revival. What is more remarkable is that the modern St Alkmund’s Church has revived or created a procession to the well at Whitsuntide. The church process carrying banners to the well where a blessing and hymns are made. All in all it is good to see even in this urban land ancient wells can still have a role!
The following is extracted with editing from The Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Derbyshire
The most famed holy and healing well in the county and one which has attracted considerable fame across the county is St. Anne’s Well (SK 058 734) but the town has a number of other springs including another holy well. It is said to be of certain Roman origin as Aquae Arnemetiae, or the waters of the goddess Arnemetia. This may have been a native cult although little is known of it. There may have been an unbroken use from Roman but nothing is known of it until the tenth or eleventh century, being recorded in the road to Buxton, Bathamgate meaning the road to the (warm) baths.
The first mention of the site as a holy well was by William Worcestre (1969) c.1460:
“makes many miracles, making the infirm healthy, and in winter it is warm, even as honeyed milk.”
When the site was dedicated to St. Anne’s is unclear; in 1461 Buxton was known as Bukston juxta Halywell and even in the sixteenth century they were usually called the Springs or Buxton Wells. However, Cox (1888) in work on Churches mentions that in the reign of Henry VIII offerings were made to St. Anne at the chapel of Buxton, but does not directly state the well was called this. However, it is likely that this chapel was associated with the spring. It was during Henry VIIIth’s reign that under the bidding of Thomas Cromwell the chapel was closed and the saint’s image removed and access to the waters prevented. However, a local family, the Cottrell family appear to have had ownership or indeed influence over the site. In 1542 Roger Cottrell contested a decision that the chapel should be used by the general inhabitants of Buxton, keeping it locked and preventing mass being said there. This would appear to have been a brief period of disuse for in 1572 a Dr. Jones wrote a treatise on The Benefit of the Auncient Bathes of Buckstones, stating that the crutches and other tokens of restored health were hung up on the walls of a public room erected by the Earl of Shrewsbury not far from the baths, suggesting that the chapel by this time had been destroyed. He mentions, also the legend that the image of St. Anne had been miraculously found in the well, and thus given it her name or as he refers to it as the “Cottrels tale or vayne inventions about St Anne found in the well” perhaps suggesting they were keen to re-establish an ancient tradition and used the saint to support it. In 1553 there was a petition against Roger Cottrell for allowing:
“youthful persons to wash and bathe them in the well called Saint Anne’s Well, not only to tipple and drink within the said chapel on the Sundays and holydays, but most irreverently also to pipe, dance, hop and sing….to the great disturbance of the inhabitants of Buxton”.
Whether this was a direct complaint about the Catholic nature of the visits or rather the rowdiness of the parties whichever Roger Cottrell was fined £100 at the Derby assizes. By the 17th century the site had become more established being included on Speed’s map of 1610 and being in 1667 on the northern itinerary of Celia Fiennes. The foundations of the chapel were uncovered in 1698. It is suggested that actual well appears to have remained lined with Roman lead, and surrounded with Roman brick and cement down to the year 1709. Short (1734) states that a Sir Thomas Delves, who after receiving benefit at the spring, had removed this old work and erected over it a stone alcove, or porch twelve foot long and twelve foot broad with stone seats on the inside. In 1836 a six foot stone structure, with sculpture of St Anne and St Mary, was erected by the Duke of Devonshire. Today people still collect the mineral water for free and is dressed, first recorded in the 1840s, discontinued in 1911 but restarted in 1925.
There were a number of springs which developed under the shadow of St. Ann’s however few are formally named (such as a cold bath on the Macclesfield road, said to be of the same temperature as the waters at Matlock). According to Campbell (1774) noted in Burton, (1977) Buxton’s Waters it was a:
“about twenty yards South-East of St. Anne’s, in another close lies Bingham, or St. Peter’s Well..”
This appears to be the earliest reference to Buxton’s lesser known holy well called St. Peter’s well, a site missing from every gazetteer including that by Harte (2008). The origin of its dedication is unclear and its secularised name is better known being Bingham’s or Leigh’s well (SK 058 735). (The later name being based on a person who had a notable cure from its waters.) This saint’s dedication suggests an early site, but if this is so it is surprising that no other authors refer to it. It was lined with white marble, and the temperature of the hot baths from it, was most accurately adjusted by an ingenious contrivance for the introduction of cold and hot water. When all this was lost is unclear. The well’s site is now marked by manhole cover in the road east of the crescent.
There was also a chalybeate spring on the North side of the river Wye, at the side of the turnpike-road behind the Crescent. Nothing appears to be recorded of its history.
These lesser springs disappeared largely without trace, but the great spring which brought both Romans and Regency, remains today.
Dale Abbey is a fascinating little village, with its Abbey ruins; half church-half house (originally a chapel to the abbey) and rock cut Hermitage in the woods. Less well known, but arguable the reason for the community is the Hermit’s Well.First noted in 1350 in association with the legend of the foundation of the Abbey, Hope (1893) notes it was curative and was a wishing well; being visited on Good Friday, between twelve and three o’clock, water being drunk three times.
A simple and then a more complex legend
Hope gives two versions of the legend taken from the Chronicle of Thomas de Musca quoted in Glover’s history of Derbyshire:
“A hermit once going through Deep Dale being very thirsty, and for a time not able to find any water, at last came upon a stream, which he followed up to the place where it rose; here he dug a well, returned thanks to the Almighty, and blessed it, saying it, should be holy for evermore, and be a cure for all ills. Another version is that the famous Hermit of Deep Dale, who lived in the Hermitage which is close by the well, discovered this spring and dug the well, which never dries up, nor does the water diminish in quantity, however dry the season and blessed it.”
In another version of the story, Hope (1893) notes:
“There was a baker in Derby, in the street which is called after the name of St. Mary. At that period the church of the Blessed Virgin at Derby was at the head of a large parish, and had under its authority a church de onere and a chapel. And this baker, otherwise called Cornelius, was a religious man, fearing God, and, moreover, so wholly occupied in good works and the bestowing of alms, that whatsoever remained to him on every seventh day beyond what had been required for the food and clothing of himself and his, and the needful things of his house, he would on the Sabbath day take to the church of St. Mary, and give to the poor for the love of God, and of the Holy Virgin. It happened on a certain day in autumn, when he had resigned himself to repose at the hour of noon, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him in his sleep, saying, “Acceptable in the eyes of my Son, and of me are the alms thou hast bestowed. But now, if thou art willing to be made perfect, leave all that thou hast, and go to Depedale where thou shalt serve my Son and me in solitude; and when thou shalt happily have terminated thy course thou shalt inherit the kingdom of love, joy, and eternal bliss which God has prepared for them who love Him. The man, awakening, perceived the divine goodness which had been done for his sake; and, giving thanks to God and the Blessed Virgin, his encourager, he straightway went forth without speaking a word to anyone. Having turned his steps towards the east, it befel him, as he was passing through the middle of the village of Stanley, he heard a woman say to a girl, ”Take our calves with you, drive them as far as Depedale, and make haste back.” Having heard this, the man, admiring the favour of God, and believing that this word had been spoken in grace, a, it were, to bin’, was astonished, and approached near, and said, “Good woman, tell me, where is Depedale?” She replied, “Go with this maiden, and she, if you desire it, will show you the place. When he arrived there, he found that the place was marshy, and of fearful aspect, far distant from any habitation of man. Then directing his steps to the south-east of the place, he cut for himself, in the side of the mountain, in the rock, a very small dwelling, and an altar towards the south, which hath been preserved to this day; and there he served God, day and night, in hunger and thirst, in cold and in meditation.
And it came to pass that the old designing enemy of mankind, beholding this disciple of Christ flourishing with the different flowers of the virtues, began to envy him, as he envies other holy men, sending frequently amidst his cogitations the vanities of the world, the bitterness of his existence, the solitariness of his situation, and the various troubles of the desert. But the aforesaid man of God, conscious of the venom of the crooked serpent, did, by continual prayer, repeated fastings, and holy meditations, cast forth, through the grace of God, all his temptations. Whereupon the enemy rose upon him in all his might, both secretly and openly waging with him a visible conflict. And while the assaults of his foe became day by day more grievous, he had to sustain a very great want of water. Wandering about the neighbouring places, he discovered a spring in a valley not far from his dwelling, towards the west, and near unto it he made for himself a cottage, and built an oratory in honour of God and the Blessed Virgin. There, wearing away the sufferings of his life, laudably, in the service of God, he departed happily to God, from out of the prison-house of the body.”
The well still exists. It appears to be in a direct line with the cave, found high in the woods. The well lies within the private garden of Church house, although it can be easily seen in the winter from the field in which the footpath below the church passes through, as well from the church yard. The well is a delightfully rustic one and certainly contains old stonework if not from the hermit’s time than the period of the Abbey. It is an oval structure with eight stones around the mouth, a three foot rectangular stone covers half of the well and has a semi-circular cut placed in the middle. Mossy steps lead from the higher end of the garden into the little dell where the well arises. The well has been dressed in the early 2000s but has now disappeared into obscurity. Indeed, some believe that it is does not exist in the first place…
Another well legend
There is another well noted here with folklore associations. This is the Abbey Well where the treasure of the abbey was hidden before the King’s men came at the time of the Reformation. This is a common folklore motif and may indeed have basis in truth; deep wells would be a good place to hid items. Some folklorists state that the tales suggest the giving of votive offerings. Whichever the origin, the well was filled in during the Second World War.
Taken and amended from Holy wells and healing springs of Derbyshire
Water holds an innate fascination with us as a species; it is both source of essential life giving power but a still untameable force which can be unpredictable and dangerous. So it is not surprising that as well as considered to healing and holy, springs and wells have a darker side. A side I am going to explore, in a fitting post for Hallowe’en. In this overview I intend to discuss these sites, many of which only have their name to suggest this dark origin. Of these Puck or Pook Wells are the commonest, deriving from O.E pwca meaning goblin. Puck is as Shakespeare immortalises, a type of fairy. Of these there are site recorded on the Isle of Wight (Whitwell), Wiltshire (West Knowle), Essex (Waltham Holy Cross), Derbyshire (Repton), Somerset (Rode), Northamptonshire (Aynho) and Kent (Rolvenden and St. Paul’s Cray), The latter does underline the otherworldy nature of springs which despite being in an area of urbanisation. It fills a boggy hollow just off the footpath and even on a busy summer’s day you feel remote. Joining the Puckwells is the more general Pisky or Pixy well (the spirit which has led the written many times astray), a term found generally in the South-west such as the site in Cornwall (Alternun) and Somerset (Allerford). One can certainly feel the presence of these folk on a visit to the former especially with is ancient mossy basin and small wellhouse. The second most common otherworldly character is Knucker, Nicker, Nikor or Nicher. This is a pagan Norse monster, which some have associated with St. Nicholas, who is said to have fought a sea monster. The most famous site is the Knucker Pit in Lyminster (West Sussex). This is associated with a notable legend which records that the dragon terrorised the countryside and took away the daughter of the King of Sussex. The king offered the hand this daughter to anyone who would kill it and a wandering knight did poison the beast and claimed her hand. The term appears to apply to sites from Kent (Westbere), Edgefield (Norfolk) and Lincoln. One wonders, whether these had similar legends. Thor is perhaps commemorated in a number of wells and springs, especially it seems in the counties were the Danish influence was greatest, the most famed of these being Thorswell at Thorskeld, near Burnstall (North Yorkshire), interestingly this is one of the areas St Wilifrid is said to have converted. Less well known are other sites can be postulated in Lincolnshire with Thirspitts (Waltham, Lincs), Threshole (Saxilby Lincs), Thuswell (Stallinborough, Lincs) and Uffington’s Thirpolwell (Lincs). The latter most certainly, a likely candidate, but of the others there may not even be evidence they are springs let alone their otherworldly origin. The O.N term Thyrs for giant may be an origin. There are a number of springs and water bodies associated with what could be considered pagan gods, but I will elaborate on these in a future post. Many spectral water figures in the country are called Jenny. Whelan (2001) notes a Jenny Brewster’s Well, Jenny Friske’s well, Jenny Bradley’s Well. The name is frequently encountered in Lincolnshire, were a Hibbaldstow’s Stanny Well, where a woman carrying her head under her arm, called Jenny Stannywell, who once upon a time drowned herself in the water. At a bend of the Trent at Owston Ferry was haunted by Jenny Hearn or Hurn or Jenny Yonde. This little creature was like a small man or woman, though it had a face of a seal with long hair. It travelled on the water in a large pie dish. It would cross the water in a boat shaped like a pie dish, using spoons to row. One wonders whether there is a story behind Jenny’s Well near Biggin (Derbyshire). Sometimes these weird creatures were doglike like that said to frequent Bonny Well in Lincolnshire. Many of these creatures such as the one eyed women from Atwick’s Holy well span the real and the otherworldly.
When discussing the spirit world, by far the commonest otherworldy being associated with wells. Ghosts are also associated with springs. Sometimes they are saintly, such as St Osyth (Essex), but often if not a saint, they are female such as a pool in Chislehurst caves, Lady’s Well, Whittingham (Northumberland), Lady well, Ashdon (Essex), White Lady’s Spring, (Derbyshire) Peg of Nells Well , Waddow (Lancashire) Marian’s Well Uttoxeter (Staffordshire), Julian’s Well, Wellow (Somerset), Agnes’s Well Whitestaunton (Somerset), a Chalybeate spring in Cranbrook (Kent) and so the list goes on and is a suitable discussion point for a longer future post. All that can be said is that the female spirits outweigh the male ones and this must be significant. To end with, that staple of Hallowe’en, the witch, is sometimes associated with springs, especially in Wales. This associated perhaps reflects their ‘pagan origins’ or else there procurement post-Reformation, afterall it was thought that they stole sacred water from fonts, so it is freely flowing elsewhere why make the effort! The most famous of these being Somerset’s Witches Well (Pardlestone) this was said to have been avoided by locals until it a local wise man three salt over the well and removed their presence. So there was a rather brief and perhaps incomplete exploration of the unlikely combination between holy wells and the darker aspects. In a future post I will explore the associations with ghosts and in another on supposed evidence of pre-Christian gods and goddesses at wells.
Much has been written regarding holy wells culminating in Harte (2008) magnus opus but no survey has attempted to record all those wells and springs named after monarchs as far as I am aware. With Jubilee fever all around I thought it would be fitting to start an overview of this aspect of water lore in England. Starting with King well, a generic name, is by far the commonest with sites recorded at Chalk (Kent), Cuffley (Hertfordshire) (although associated with James I), Chigwell (Essex) (although probably cicca’s well)), Lower Slaughter (Gloucestershire), Kingsthorpe (Northamptonshire), Orton (Northumberland), Cheltenham (Gloucestershire), Ellerton (Staffordshire), Wartling (Sussex), and Bath (Somerset). Some of these such as Chigwell may be a etymological mistake being more likely derive from Cicca’s well and some such as Orton are thought to be associated with Iron age sites.
However, English wells and their associations with monarchs starts perhaps starts with King Arthur’s Well (Cadbury ) but taking this probably mythical king aside, and not considering those monarchs associated with the Celtic and Saxon Kingdoms (after all a high percentage of these early saints were the sons of Kings (such as those begat by King Brechan) or early kingly Christian converts for example St Oswald or St Ethelbert ) which are better known by their sanctity rather than their majesty, I start with sites associated with who is seen as being the first King of England; Alfred.
King Alfred’s Well (Wantage) is of unclear vintage arising as it does in a brick lined chamber although his association with the town is well known. However as Benham (1911) notes in his The Letters of Peter Lombard:
“a clear and bright spring, but I fear that the evidence that King Alfred ever had anything to do with it is not forthcoming. The site of his birthplace is not very far from the well”
Although that did not stop a procession to the well in the year 2000! St Peter’s Pump at Stourhead (Wiltshire) too has become associated with Alfred and it is said he prayed for water her before a battle, there is again little evidence if any of this. In East Dean (Sussex) there is another well named after him. Interestingly the direct descendents of Alfred do not appear to have gained any association with wells, perhaps being a measure of either their impact on folk memory. The next king is the rather tragic figure of Harold. Harold’s Well laying in the Keep of Dover Castle (Kent) is an interesting site, it is a typical castle well and unlikely to be the site where Harold is said to have according to Macpherson (1931) (MacPherson, E. R., The Norman Waterworks in the Keep of Dover Castle. Arch Cant. 43 (1931)) been were the King swore he would give with the castle to William of Normandy, later William I. (Wartling’s King well may record Harrold or William)
I can find no wells associated with the Norman Kings or Queens and the next monarch to appear is King John. He is interestingly the monarch with most sites associated with him, being in Heaton Park (Newcastle), Odell (Bedfordshire), Kineton (Warwickshire) and Calverton (Nottinghamshire) (although the later is recorded as Keenwell). This may be the consequence of his infamy and association with Robin Hood sites taking on his name in the telling and re-telling of Robin Hood tales. However, in most cases it would appear to be sites associated with a castle although surely King John was not the only monarch to have used such sites.
The next monarch associated with a well is a prince, a man who despite being heir apparent, never reached the throne. The Black Prince, a very romantic figure and with an evocative name, his spring is perhaps the most well known of those associated with royalty: the Black Prince’s Well, Harbledown (Kent). Legend has it that he regularly drank from the well and asked for a draught of it as he lay sick and dying of syphilis. However, the water’s powers did not extend to this and he died never becoming king. The well has the three feathers, sign of the Prince of Wales, an emblem captured at Crecy although the origin and age of the well is unknown it is the only such spring with any insignia of a monarch.
The subsequent centuries saw a number of squirmishes and conflicts which also created some springs associated with royalty. Perhaps the most interesting well associated with a monarch is King Henry VI’s Well, Bolton in Craven (North Yorkshire). It is interesting because the King’s reputation was that of sanctity and as such any well would have pretentions to be a holy well. Indeed the local legend states that when a fugitive at Bolton Hall he asked for the owner to provide a bathing place. No spring was available and one was divined with hazel rods and where they indicated water the site was dug. The king prayed that the well may flow forever and the family may never become extinct. The site still exists and is used for a local mineral water firm!
The years of conflict between the Lancastrians and Yorkists ended at Bosworth field and here a we find King Richard’s Well, Sutton Cheney (Leicestershire). Traditionally Richard III drank from a spring that Lord Wentworth in 1813 encapsulated in large conical cairn shaped well house with an appropriate Latin inscription. Curiously both wells of course mark the losers of the battle and no wells record the victors of such conflicts. One wonders whether this records our interest in the underdog and lament for the lost. The strangest extrapolation of this is a well found in Eastwell (Kent). Here generations have pointed to a circular brick well in the estate grounds and a tomb in the derelict church and associated them with the lost son of Richard III. The Plantagenet’s Well may indeed have some basis in fact although the only evidence is the account of the legend during the building of Eastwell Manor in 1545, the landowner, Sir Thomas Moyle, was amazed to find one of his workman reading a book in Latin. Naturally curious, he decided to ask him about this ability. Thus the man informed him, that in 1485, at Bosworth Field, he was the illegitimate son of King Richard III, who had previously clandestinely acknowledged him as sole heir. The following day, fearing reprisals after Richard’s loss, the boy fled, avoiding being recognition by disguising himself as a bricklayer and thus was years later, employed in the manor’s construction. Sir Thomas, believed the man’s story, and being a Yorkist sympathiser, adopted him into his household. This story of Richard Plantagenet remained a family secret, until it was revealed in Gentleman’s Magazine, as a quotation from a letter written by Thomas Brett, of Spring Grove (near Eastwell) to a friend Dr. Warren. He had heard the story from the Earl of Winchelsea at Eastwell House about 1720. This story is further enforced by Parish records showing that on December 27th 1550 V Rychard Plantagenet was interred, the notation V being a notification for a royal personage. However, having never seen the record myself I am unsure of its validity.
The next monarch encountered in a well dedication is a surprising one perhaps. In Carshalton (Surrey), we find Anne Boleyn’s Well, which is an perplexing dedication considering her unpopularity and association with a monarch who would have seen holy wells another trapping of the papist money making machine he had excluded from his realm (although there is little evidence that Henry VIIIth had any real direct effect on holy wells as would the newly established Scottish Kirk). The legend of its formation related that when the King and Queen were out riding from Nonsuch Palace, her horse’s foot hit the ground and a spring arose. No reason for is given and it is probable that the spring was re-discovered and perhaps dedicated to St. Anne. Bedford’s Park is not far from Pygro’s Park which has an association with Henry VIII so one assumes the Queen Anne’s well is again Boleyn although I know nothing more and indeed missed it from my survey!
Unlike her mother, Elizabeth I was a popular monarch, much as the present monarch is, especially in the strongly protestant counties, hence Queen Elizabeth Wells at Rye and Winchelsea (Sussex). In the case of Rye, the spring was part of a water improvement system which provided water via a conduit system. It was so named after her visit to Rye in 1573, when she drunk the water and met the town dignitaries, or Jurats, there, before they processed into the town. Amusingly the well was also known as Dowdeswell, from O. E. dowde for a plain woman, a scold or shrew a fact which may have tickled some recusant families in the vicinity no doubt. so like many a holy well the name was changed for the monarch. Interestingly, Winchelsea’s site was and still is called St. Katherine’s Well so perhaps the monarch’s name was used to remove Catholic associations (especially considering Queen Katherine of Aragon), although St. Leonard’s well remained intact. Bisham’s Queen Elizabeth’s Well (Buckhamshire) is even associated with miraculous cures which certainly predate the monarch and perhaps her visit and taking of the waters when visiting Lady Hoby her cousin may have been the opportunity to move away from the holy well name? Queen Elizabeth also gave her name to a well in Friern Barnet (Middlesex) and Blackheath (Surrey)
Perhaps in the day when the site of the monarch was an extremely rare occasion folk memory has preserved it. This may explain King James Well Mickley (Yorkshire) whose only reason for the dedication was that he stopped to drink at it! This well does not appear to have then developed any note as a consequence. However, a spring at Cuffley (Hertfordshire) was visited by the King and developed into a minor spa called the King’s Well.
Interestingly, if England had not broken from Rome we may have seen those associated with Charles I develop in the same fashion, after all he does have churches and chapels named after him. Charles is often associated with wells, in some cases such as Carles Trough, (Leicestershire) where he is said to have watered horse here after Naseby. Ellerton’s (Staffordshire) King’s Well and Longhope (Gloucestershire) Royal Spring are both associated with the monarch.
However, stopping to drink is a common theme. A well in Appledore (Kent) is called Queen Anne’s Well because she is said to have stopped there and asked the landlord for a sip. It is possible that such associations may stem from a desire for a local land owner to support a developing spa trade, Queen Anne’s Bathhouse exists in Lullingstone (Kent), however there is no record of such an attempt at Appledore. Furthermore, it is unclear which Queen Anne is recorded at Appledore and it is possible considering the age of the brickwork in the cellar and around the well at this site that it was once St. Ann’s well. This is probably true of Lincoln’s Queen Ann’s Well, Chalvey’s Queen Ann’s Well (Buckinghamshire), Queen Anne’s Wishing Well (South Cadbury) and Blythborough’s (Suffolk) site now known as Lady Well! However of that of Chalvey, perhaps not as there is no pre-18th century record, although if it did not it soon attracted a reputation for healing and was called a spa. Interestly Queen Charlotte is also noted as being involved and as such according to the Mirror, of 1832,:
“a stone was placed there in 1785 by her illustrious consort, George III”.
An accompanying woodcut to the piece showing the stone with the royal monogram carved in the centre. In 1698 Anne of Denmark gave money to create a basin at Tunbridge wells and well was called the Queen’s well.
Of course in the next two centuries, the rise of the spas saw many mineral springs develop the patronage of the monarch such as George IV, yet despite this times had changed and the wells did not take the monarch’s name directly. By the reign of Victoria, her name was then applied to fountainheads and pumps, as old wells were filled in and channelled away amidst growing concerns for the need for clean and freely accessible water. A few sites such as the confusing named Coronation or Jubilee Well (so marked on the 1844 OS map so difficult to record which monarch and which jubilee or coronation is referred to) in Wessington (Derbyshire) buck the trend.
In summary it is interesting that despite a large number of memorable and in some case not so memorable monarchs, there is are a limited number of them associated with wells. Why? Is it due to these particular monarchs having pricked the public’s folk memory, or in some cases inherited some sort of pious notion akin to that associated with holy wells.
Wells associated with Royalty can be divided into the following categories:
a) Those drunk before a battle or whilst on the run from a battle. This could include the Battle Well Evesham (Worcestershire), with its associations with Simon de Montford is out of the scope of this blog but shows this trend, the water becoming curative.
b) Those associated with their castles, palaces, hunting lodges. But why these particular monarchs is unclear?
c) Those made by miraculous events such as that associated King Henry VIs well. It seems perhaps these sites had developed in anticipation of the eventual sanctifying of the individuals which of course never happened.
Tissington in Derbyshire claims to be the oldest continued well dressing tradition. Well dressing being almost a Derbyshire speciality (although it has spread to neighbouring counties and beyond these in the twentieth century) is for those unfamiliar where clay is placed upon frames and an image pressed into this by using flowers, leaves and seeds. The art work produced can be of fantastic, but due to the spread of the tradition this quality varies greatly as do the themes, unsurprisingly the Olympics and Jubilee figure largely in 2012 designs. One of the best places to see the tradition is at Tissington, where not only is the art work very high quality, but the theme is very tradition taking biblical themes.
Furthermore, it is considered the oldest location. Local tradition, although I have been unable to verify states that the springs were dressed as a thanks for survival from an outbreak of the Black death in 1349, the local populace believing that the quality of the water was the reason for their survival, apparently only one person died whilst it ravaged through the local area. This notwithstanding, a severe drought, recorded in nearby Youlgreave parish registers where between the 25th March and August 1615 when only three showers fell may be the source of the custom. However, the earliest written reference, quoted by Christian (1966) states that in 1748 Nicholas Hardinge, clerk of the House of Commons recorded:
“At Tissington, FitzHerbert’s village we saw springs adorned with garlands; in one of these was a tablet inscribed with rhymes, composed by the local schoolmaster in honour of the fountains, which as FitzHerbert informs me are annually commemorated upon Holy Thursday, the minister with his parishioners praying and singing over them.”
Certainly this reference suggests that the tradition was older then 1748 and although the dressing may have been cruder than today’s effort it does appear to have been showing some development beyond garlands. It is reported in 1758 that the well nearest the church was certainly dressed and perhaps given their name of St. Helen may have been some a left over from dressing of a holy well (although Lord St. Helens was the brother of the first Tissington baronet so it would be a big coincidence!). A report in the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1794 noted:
“it has been custom, time immemorial, on every Holy Thursday, to decorate the wells with boughs of trees, garlands of tulips and other flowers, placed in various fancied devices; and after prayers for the day at the church, for the parson and singers to pray and sing psalms at the wells.”
Today there are five wells dressed, certainly in their own right without the dressings, a number of these wells are quite interesting and impressive. The most impressive being that as noted dressed the longest the Hall or St. Helen’s, Hand’s Well named after a local family (as our the following) with its oval basin, Yew Tree or Goodwin Well, Coffin or Frith’s Well and Town Well.
However, it is not until 1817 that a report makes it clearer that boards were being reused each year, in Brayley’s Graphic and Historical Illustrations in The Mirror of Literature, amusement and instruction:
“The well that pleased me most was one that stood in a retired garden, it had an arbour formed from trees with wreaths of laburnum and the common blue hare-bells thrown over, at the top was a picture of pity (holding a medallion of the King), bending to Hygeia, with her accustomed offerings of fox gloves. The drapery of the figures defied all description. The colours were so well chosen.”
A report in 1839 appears to be the earliest definite report of the dressing being a design. A local report stating:
“The stems and flowers are closely inserted, and a brilliant mosaic is thus prepared, forming as it were, a ground work for various ornamental designs, as crowns and stars, and appropriate mottoes, chiefly from scripture, which are most imperiously introduced.”
Indeed, it is clear that the blessing of the well was well established in its modern format by then. One thing that these early reports emphasis is the hospitality of the local people where all and sundry opened their houses, including Tissington Hall, to the visitors indeed it is noted there is
“Open house was kept by everyone according to their means and all comers are received with welcome.”
Indeed many people did come to the wells and that in 1800s that Ashbourne people were ‘ keen to get a lift on a horse, or anything that pulled, in order to get there with the least inconvenience’. Indeed, as the Revd Ward noted in 1827 that the day was ‘concluded with utmost hospitality and festivity.’
Little has changed in the intervening 150 or so years and the village whether on the morning of the blessing of any day until their dismantling is a throng of people, car parks are full, coaches line the main street and although it does sometimes look like all of Darby and Joan has descended upon the village, children can be seen taking full advantage of any ice-cream available!
Interestingly by the end of the nineteenth century Tissington was described as where “the spiritual character and quaint simplicity of well dressing is maintained..elsewhere in Derbyshire has degenerated.”
Perhaps this was a statement on the quality of the dressings or the maintenance of the tradition which has apparently only been broken three times in the last 100 years. The obvious times being the Wars, indeed the last war appears to have caused a considerable gap in the proceedings as Porteous (1949) in his ‘The Beauty and Mystery of Well dressing’ counts himself fortunate that he did not seek out the Tissington dressings before other lesser known sites, as the tradition being in abeyance in the village may have led him to the belief that it had died out elsewhere. He notes that it was hoped that Tissington would start dressing again in 1950. The third time was during the Foot and Mouth Outbreak of 2001!
Ten years only from that cancellation, 2011 I was able to see the blessing, traditionally held on Ascension Day every year (a variable date in either May or June-it was June 2nd in 2012). After a service in the church, the procession led by the vicar Revd Andy Larkin with the Archdeacon of Chesterfield, the Venerable Christine Wilson, the FitzHerberts and choir left the church and made their progress around the village to bless the wells. At each a reading was given, a hymn sung and a blessing made with a large congregation of onlookers.
All in all a delightful day, the artistry of the wells particularly that of the Hands well with its topic Royal Wedding theme was much to admired…as was the Stilton Sandwich…which had virtually a wedge of Stilton! Hospitality is still considerable on Well dressing days..
The following is taken from the introduction to Holy Wells and healing springs of Derbyshire.
The first book to cover sites in the county was Naylor (1983) in his ‘Ancient wells and springs of Derbyshire’, however this did not contain many holy wells (13 true holy wells) and appears more concerned with industrial uses of water. Hope (1893) covers a number of sites and the author himself was a Derbyshire man and after his death, his notes made for a second edition, were passed onto the Reverend Binnall. Thanks to him, these additional notes as well as those already published were collated for an article for the Trans. Derby Antiq. and Nat Hist. Society. Harte (2008) provides the most complete survey giving 39 sites, but as this research notes is still not complete. Hence this work, hopes to draw together all references, and fresh research to provide the definitive work.
The nature of this work, indeed all volumes, is thus to describe the sites under the respective parishes giving historical details and present conditions (with directions if the sites can be accessed). I have adopted Francis Jones’s (1954) category system for wells. The main body of the text covers Class A (saint’s names, those named after God, Trinity, Easter etc), B (associated with chapels and churches), C (those with healing traditions which in this case includes spas and mineral springs) and some E (miscellaneous with folklore) sites The second part includes a list of named ancient wells with explanatory notes (mostly Class D i.e. those named after secular persons but possibly also holy wells and E).
There are 190 or so sites in the gazetteer which follow these criteria. This would give a density of Compared to Nottinghamshire 1 well every 8.8 squares miles, and Leicestershire 9.9 (6.1 removing controversially those probably not holy wells, healing springs or associated with tradition (Rattue 1993) In consideration of holy wells, the range of dedications is wider than Nottinghamshire, having a spread similar to Yorkshire. The order is Holy wells (15 confirmed sites although some may be holwells as well as 9 possible sites including possibly halig drivations.), and those with names are restricted to presumably foreign or biblical saints: St. Mary (or rather Lady Wells) (8), St. Anne’s Well (5), St. Helen (3), St. Thomas’s (3), St. Peter (3), St. John (2), Jacob (2) and one of St. Michael, St. Alkmund, St. Cuthbert, St. Martin, St. Osyth and two dedicated to the Trinity (a rare dedication although in both cases it probably derives from the location) and three to the Gospel. To add to this is the possibility of other sites hidden in place name changes to add to the list, such as a Moses Well. Compared to Nottinghamshire there does appear to be local dedications or native saints such as Alkmund (there is a St Bertram’s well just over the border in Ilam, Staffordshire).
The age of well dedications is always problematic. Derbyshire has a small number of sites whose name is suggestive of pre-Roman but this is only based on possible pagan names (class D). Roman sites are suggested at Buxton, Bradwell, doubtlessly erroneously at Stoney Middleton (there are Roman wells in Derby but these do not have any traditions and like others found in the county purely domestic). Unlike Nottinghamshire, there appear to be less sites associated with Danes (only one possible at Daniel Hay) as noted by Herewell in that county, this is to be expected as I hypothesis in that work they are indicative of tribal borders and as such these do not exist in Derbyshire, although some are suggested in the appendix. The majority of secular dedications appear Anglo-Saxon and Mediaeval in origin with a few interestingly named sites such as Harvestwell which may suggest some folk importance at this time of year. There are also a small number of wells given numerical names such as seven (3) or five (3). There appear to be none in neighbouring Nottinghamshire and although this maybe due to geological reasons (Hemswell in Lincolnshire shares much of the same geology as parts of Nottinghamshire where there are no numerical springs but boasts a seven springs suggesting that perhaps this is not a factor.) This has been seen as significant by Briggs (2007) as suggesting a cult importance. Interestingly, there are a number of Gospel Wells in the county, which is interesting as none are recorded in Nottinghamshire suggesting a continuation of rogation or beating of the bounds traditions.
Derbyshire appears to be particularly rich in folklore compared to neighbouring Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. One custom which was fairly widespread in the county, variously called ‘bottle day’, ‘sugar cupping’ or not named at all was generally carried out at Easter. This tradition of adding sugar, liquorice, sweets or oatmeal to spring water is, although not unique to the county (it was done a far afield as Oxfordshire), was in the county more common. At least nine sites retain memory of the tradition (Castleton, Belper, Tideswell, Chapel-en-Frith, Ashford in the Water, Doveholes, Stoney Middleton, Little Hucklow) and there appears possibly a connection to Lady Wells. Another custom associated with wells across the country is the dropping of pins, done at Little Hucklow, Castleton (in pindale!) and Bradwell. Of course the most famous tradition associated with Derbyshire wells is well dressing which can trace its history at least to the 14th century. It is a tradition now extended beyond the White peak were it was mainly endemic (as well as neighbouring parts of Staffordshire). However, very few sites dressed could be considered holy wells or commemorate those with healing or folklore traditions. (According to Naylor and Porter (2002) who list well dressing sites and Welldressing.com (2009) which list well dressing sites of those in the county. From these sources only 18% (although the work does not list all wells and so the figure is probably inflated) and 6% respectively record known holy or healing wells. Those with current well dressing traditions which are certainly within the remit of this work are to be found at Buxton (St. Ann’s Well), Chapel-en-le Frith (Nanny well), Youlgreave (Holy Well), Wyaston (Bishop Well), possibly Wessington (Moses’s well) and Bradwell (whose dressing mark the location of some of the lost pin wells). Other locations have a long tradition and may have had associations with holy wells. These may include Belper, Baslow and Roston.
The county has a number of other traditions associated with water. Possible pagan figures are remember with three sites possibly deriving from Thor (variations of Thurs pytt), two sites derived from goblins (grime and puck), three derived from Hob, sites derive from elementals such as possibly Jenny Well, Hell hole, and another two derived from prophetesses, Sparken well, Tungleswalle and Olrin well. More obscure is Tommy-Raw-Head Well named after Rawhead-and-Bloody-Bones, a water-demon commonly used in Yorkshire to frighten children haunting deep ponds.
Many of the rivers in the county have interesting traditions. The Trent was thought to desire an annual sacrifice and an elemental which was said to frequent it around Swarkstone. (where the substantial bridge was built by two sisters who lost their lovers in its waters).Indeed ghosts associated with bridges may be seen as significant there is Ashbourne’s hanging bridge, Derby’s St. Mary’s Bridge (in the form of a nun), Bamford Bridge, Cromford bridge, (where an evil spirit called Crocker existed in the form of an Ash tree by the Derwent. It would attack travellers as they crossed the nearby bridge, until someone stuck St John’s Wort into the tree!).Of spring sites only White Lady Spring has an associated ghost although one waslaid to rest in Lumby Pool in 1760. It is said that an exorcist from Bradwell was invited to help when the ghost of a young girl was terrifying the village. He raised the ghost and told it to turn into a fish and go to live in Lumb Brook which fed the pool. Each Christmas Eve the fish changes into a bird and fly to Lumbly Pool. To add to this collection of water lore of course is the Mermaid’s pool. At Edale the River Noe is haunted by the sounds of a screaming followed by splashing noises and a more traditional ghost haunts Turnditch’s Carsington Water, being a phantom black dog. Why are there so many well traditions in the county? Perhaps this is an indication of the remoteness and wildness of much of the county where ancient traditions continued for longer, perhaps even in some remote areas the full effect of Christianity never reached them!
Derbyshire is famous for Buxton Spa and Matlock Bath, but not surprisingly there were several attempts to establish similar large scale (Bakewell) to medium sized (Derby, Stoney Middleton, Quarndon, Kedleston) to small affairs (the largest amount with 25 sites). Therefore there are 32 C sites in the county, although this does not include sloughs which were used to utilise their thermal waters. The trend seen in Nottinghamshire of naming all mineral waters, spas, irrespective of how slight they are is continued into the county. Derbyshire’s spa and mineral waters has received greater recognition and the high number of sites is clearly this time geographically based due to the nature of the minerals in this area. Lists exist (Farey (1818)) of notable water supplies but very few appear to have been frequented or acknowledged beyond such these texts, most I have referred to as sulphur or mineral water according to his descriptions. Again as argued elsewhere, some of these mineral waters may have originated as holy wells, the strongest evidence being that of St. Anne’s Buxton of course.
Derbyshire’s last exploitation of its waters was the Hydro. Although in a sense out of the scope of this book, they are worth a mention. There were three major Hydros in Matlock: Smedley’s, the largest, near Matlock Bridge Station; Davis’ at Matlock Bank; and Roger’s at Matlock Green. A number of smaller hydros were established, Rockside Hall, Bank House and Laburnum Hydros. All of which ceased around the mid to late 1930s, Smedley’s finally becoming the Town Hall in the 1950s. Just outside of Matlock, Darley also had its hydro which after seeing life as a girl’s school is now flats. Matlock Bath had Ashover had two successful ventures: Ashover House Hydro and Ambervale or Prospect House Hydropathic Institution Boarding House. The former was established in 1869 and continued until 1963 when it was divided into private apartments. The later was established in 1877 and continued until the early 20th century. Baslow had a Hydro established in the late 1800s being based in a hotel surrounded by spacious grounds. It was a profitable enterprise until the First World War and was closed in 1936 was demolished. Only the two stone gateposts and Hydro Lane remember the enterprise.
To learn more about the healing and holy water history of the county read Holy wells and healing springs of Derbyshire.
In my searches for holy wells, here are ten of the oddest places I have found them. If you know any odder ones let me know. I’ve hyperlinked to megalithic portal for most were a page exists. Note due to the locations some of these sites are on private land.
Under a church. Much is spoken of the Christianisation of pagan springs by siting churches over them but the evidence is not common, St Ethelbert’s Well in Marden Herefordshire is one such example, located in a room to the west end of the nave, existing as a circular hole in the carpet mounted by a wooden frame.
In a bridge, Bridge chapels are a rarity in England and so were bridge holy wells and as far as I can tell of those said to exist at Barking in Essex and possibly in Nottingham at Trent bridge, only Biddenham’s Holy Well still survives in an ancient bridge, probably dating from the 17th century its worn steps lead down to a chamber beneath the bridge, although access is hampered by a locked gate.
Under my kitchen. A visit in search of St John’s Well near Retford, Nottinghamshire reveals a subterranean rectangular stone lined chamber designed to be a plunge pool for body immersions beneath a trap door in a person’s kitchen. More can be learned here or in Holy wells and healing springs of Nottinghamshire.
In the shadow of the tower blocks. Urbanisation has a tendency to sweep away anything inconvenient and messy like an ancient well and have in conduited away in pipes or just filled in, luckily one of oldest of Derbyshire’s holy wells (or at least with one of the oldest provenances) survives in a juxtaposition between some older housing and some tower blocks. Vandalised over the years and currently protected by an unsightly metal cage it St. Alkmund’s Well, flows on at the point where his body is said to have rested on the way to his shrine (supposedly in the city museum)
On a golf course. Surprisingly, despite what you would think would be an inconvenience, a number of holy wells arise between the bunkers and fairways of the countries golf courses. In Kent we have St Augustine’s Well at Ebbsfleet, Oxfordshire’s Holy Well at Tadmarton, and Jesus’s well at Miniver, Cornwall. My favourite, although it may not be a holy well per se (deriving from O.E holh or hol) is Holwell on Newstead Golf Course, Nottinghamshire. A natural fern, moss and liverwort adorned cave whose sweet waters are still available via a cup attached to a metal chain.
In the grounds of a school. As long as they don’t fill them with paper aeroplanes and rubbers, wells can survive in school estates well. The best example is the Lady’s Well located within the Bedgebury School Estate, a large sandstone structure has been raised over the spring either to celebrate Our Lady, original landowner Vicountess Beresford or perhaps a past Bedgebury School Headmistress!
Amongst the rock pools on the beach. Although now dry, St Govan’s Well and its associated Chapel are undoubtedly the most atmospherically positioned of any of this list. A small stone well house covers the spring which has either dried or being filled up by too many pebbles.
In a cave. Perhaps the most atmospheric of holy wells is the Holy Well of Holy Well bay near Newquay Cornwall. A large sea cave reveals a magical multicoloured series of troughs made by a natural spring that has dripped its mineral load over the rocks and formed a perfect immersion set up. Its origins are linked to the resting of St. Cuthbert on his way to Durham. Crotches were left on the beach outside by healed pilgrims.
Under a holiday home and an old Courthouse – St Winifred’s Well Woolston is a delightfully picturesque black and white tudor courthouse now a holiday home sitting up top of the chambers of St Winifred’s Well. A site associated with the pilgrim route to her shrine in Shrewsbury and well at Holy Well in Flintshire.
Restored in a new housing estate. Developers of new estates are not always sympathetic to history perhaps and certainly not water history, but the designers of De Tany Court in St Alban’s took good advice and preserved the newly discovered St. Alban’s Well, lost for decades in the grounds of the nearby school’s playing fields, in their new housing estate and made it a garden feature.