Category Archives: Devil

The original Jack in the Box…Sir John Shorne’s Well, North Marston, Buckinghamshire

As many children may be getting ready to play with an old toy – the Jack in the Box – many will be unaware that the toy has a connection with an English ‘saint’ with a notable holy well. Local rector done well. Sir John Shorne came to the village of North Marston in 1290 and he must famous miracle is that an epileptic woman was exorcised and the Devil was caste out and the rector caught him in a boot. The local rhyme going:

“‘Sir John Shorn, Gentleman born, Conjured the Devil into a Boot.'”

This also resulted in the ‘saint’ becoming the unofficial patron saint of bootmakers, and Northampton being famed for this was one such place. When he was buried in 1314 in the north chancel of the Parish church miracles were accounted to have occurred at his ‘shrine’. These miracles become some famed that the Bishop of Salisbury, Richard Beauchamp, in 1478 obtained a licence from the Pope to have the body removed to the rebuilt St. George’s Chapel, Windsor which was renamed John Schorne’s Tower. The move was not generally successful for although the church only had an effigy of Sir John blessing a ‘bote’ it still had a well. The Windsor shrine was destroyed in 1585, but some remains of the North Marston shrine survive and of course the well lived on. This well was said to be one of his miracles according to Hope (1893) in his Legendary Lore of holy wells:

“One legend is that Master Shorne, in a season of drought, was moved by the prayers of his congregation to take active measures to supply their need. He struck his staff upon the earth, and immediately there burst forth a perennial spring. The water was a specific for ague and gout; it is now obtained by a pump. There is still a tradition that a box for the receipt of the offerings was affixed to the well, but this has not been the case within the memory of any person now living.”

Hope (1893) also stated that the spring bore its medicinal qualities from the prayers and benedictions of Sir John. The well also called ‘The Town Well’ which accordingly consisted of:

“of a cistern, 5 feet 4 inches square, and 6 feet 9 inches deep. This is walled round with stone, and has a flight of four stone steps descending into the water. The cistern is enclosed by a building, somewhat larger than the well itself, with walls com-posed of brick and stone, about 5 feet high, and covered with a roof of board.”

The site became an important pilgrimage site, for a sign on nearby Oving hill, where five ancient ways meet, 1 mile east, pointed to the within living memory of the 1800s. Cures Hope (1893) believed that:

“From the size and construction of the building, it was probably occasionally used as a bath, but the sick were, doubtless, chiefly benefited by drinking the water.”

The spring he also notes is slightly chalybeate and states large numbers of houses were built for their accommodation, although I am not sure that this can be verified. It is said by the late 1800s, a glass of the water drunk at night was said to cure any cold by daybreak.  Indeed, local physicians would often include the water in their medicines and when in 1835 there were several cholera epidemics in local parishes, North Marston escaped. It is said that when visiting the well there was a chained gold cup so was the fame. Sheahan (1861) in his work on the History and Topography of Buckinghamshire notes that the water was ‘remarkable for its purity and extreme coldness’ and reputed never to freeze or fail Well changed.

Before the restoration

Before the restoration

After restoration – from wikipedia commons

Browne Willis says that many aged persons then living remembered a post in a Quidenham on Oving Hill (about a mile east of the well), which had hands pointing to the several roads, one of them directing to Sir John Shorne’s Well. The well by this time was covered by a modern structure. This was probably the result if a local woman Jane Watson slipping and dropping in the well. The authorities enclosed the original basin with a wall and for many years consisted of a brick built chamber with a slanting doorway, a bit like a coal bunker and locked! Then in 2004/5 the well was reborn. The site was remodelled with a triangular oak building with tiled floor and a new pump and trough. On Ascension Day 2005 it was dressed with garlands and blessed…and its first water was pumped out for the first time for over 100 years. Then in 2014 North Marston commemorated the 700th anniversary of their local ‘saint’ in which the well was dressed, new pilgrim badges were commissioned and a book produced. See below

John Schorne 700 Commemoration Items

John Schorne Badge Image

Pilgrim Badges

Pilgrim Badges were worn by devotees as a sign of fellowship with other pilgrims and to merit gifts of food and shelter on their travels. Each shrine generated its own badge, so the many shrines to some of the most popular “saints” resulted in a number of different styles of badge being produced in different parts of the country. To celebrate the 700th anniversary of the death of John Schorne, the miracle-working rector of North Marston, the North Marston History Society has commissioned replica pilgrim badges which are sold in gift boxes containing information about John Schorne. The badges sell for £4.00 each and are available fromjohn@spargo.org.uk ornorthmarston.org.uk/history.

John Schorne Booklet ImageJohn Schorne: North Marston’s Saint

John Schorne: North Marston’s Saint is a six-page booklet with coloured illustrations providing as much information as is known about the miracle-working rector who presided at North Marston church 700 years ago. Written by John Spargo and published by the North Marston History Club, it provides an easy to read summary of the man and the pilgrims who came to visit his holy well and worship at his shrine for two centuries after his death, and the legacies they left behind. The booklet is priced at £2.50 and proceeds from its sale go to two local hospices. Copies are available from john@spargo.org.uk ornorthmarston.org.uk/history.

The Devil is in the detail….The Devil’s Whispering Well Bishop Lydeard

imageMy attention was first brought to this curiously named well in Janet and Colin Bord’s excellent Sacred Waters, then I traced the quote to Ruth Tongue’s 1965 Somerset Folklore. However neither sources gave any idea of whether it was extant but both state it was near the church (of course Tongue’s work is the original source no doubt). A few years later I found myself in Bishop’s Lydeard and thought I’d look for it. I found the church and in a lane nearby I found a fish and chip shop. I asked there and they said although they had never heard of the well, there was a well down the lane. A few yards down and there it was. An elderly lady was walking past as I peered in and I asked her if she knew the name of the well..”Devil’s whispering well” she replied.

But why the Devil?

One theory underlined by the name is that one could commune with Old Nick. And the structure could lend support to this bizarre usage. The well is a red brick structure with an arched entrance, but oddly with the well’s basin is to the side of the structure rather being face on like most wells, so we could whisper? But why whisper to the Devil? One possible reason is that the well is a cursing well. As a cursing well it would not be unique countrywide. Indeed, the most well documented site is less than 100 miles away at Bath. But are the two connected? Bath’s reputation comes from the discovery of a hoard of cursing tablets There appease to be no evidence of a Roman connection to the settlement that I am aware of, but then again the other well known site St Elian’s Well in Llanelian similarly does not have a Roman connection.

Walling in the Devil image Is it possible that the cursing aspect is a confused red herring? This is suggested by another possible original is recorded in an article in the Local Notes and Queries of the Somerset Herald of the 31st August 1935:

“Walling in the Devil at Bishop’s Lydeard – many years ago, when I was a child , I remember hearing my grandmother say that the Devil kept appearing near a well at Bishop’s Lydeard, where some men were building. They were very frightened and went to the clergyman and asked him what to do. He promised to go with them when they thought he would appear again and he did so. When Satan appeared in the form of an ordinary man, but with a cloven hoof, the clergy man approached and said ‘In the name of the father, the son and the Holy Ghost, why troublest thou me?’ and he gradually disappeared and the clergy man told the workman to ’wall him in’. So they built round the place, and he disappeared forever. I have always had the impression it was somewhere along the wall opposite Lydeard House. I wonder if anyone else had heard of it? I know my grandmother used to say they walled in the Devil at Bishop’s Lydeard – H”

What does this legend mean? Was it that the Devil was walled up and that’s why you could whisper to him? A reply came a month later and printed in the 28th September edition, where an Isabel Wyatt suggests

“One or two features of this legend suggest the interesting possibility that it may originally have had quite a different significance from the one which we read into now. In the middle ages a person walled into masonary while still alive was one of the punishments for witchcraft; thus in 1222 an old woman and a young man was accused of witchcraft were sentenced by Stephen Langton, then Archbishop of Canterbury, to be plastered alive into a wall.”

She goes on to suggest that the Devil is not the real Devil, but a human devil who was the chief of each witches coven. Witches are associated with other wells in the county, indeed not that far away at Parlestone Common on the Quantocks. This makes some sort of sense as witchcraft is strong in the region. Is it possible that the head of a coven was walled up in the well and members of the surviving coven would visit them and whisper to them? Or is the walling up part of another legend as the first correspondent suggests. Perhaps the well was a well associated with the witches. This might explain why the well was never Christianised despite close proximity to the church. Perhaps this well was their ritual well, a pagan well escaping rededication despite the proximity of the church. What do we make of Palmer (1975) who details in his Folklore of Somerset that Snell (1903) give details from Thornton’s Reminiscences of an old West County Countryman tells of a black dog in the village?

The Devil in the Well…The Monk’s Well Wavertree

“ Qui non dat quod habet, Dæmon infra vide 1414.”

“He who here does nought bestow, The Devil laughs at him below”.

So reads the inscription on the Monk’s Well, a very surprising survival of an ancient well in the urban sprawl of Liverpool. The well consists of a sandstone structure surmounted by a cross. The well although dry and the pipe very worn,  itOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA has been converted into a flower bed, which has probably hidden the steps down under the arch to the water.

The name Monk’s Well derives according to Moss’s Liverpool Guide (1796) because there was:

 “an old monastic looking house…inhabited by some religious order, who might thus request alms towards their support”.

The 1768 Wavertree Enclosure Act notes that the owner of Lake House was annoyed that villagers were crossing his land to reach the water and such that a:

“through tunnel, channel or stone gutter, lately laid and made … to carry and convey water from the said well or basin into another … lately also made, erected and built, in the highway or road adjoining”.

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This improvement may have lead to the local belief of secret tunnels, significantly leading to Childwall Abbey or Priory. The name is significant of course ‘child’ probably deriving from Old Norse keld for spring and may have been an earlier name for the spring.

Baines’s 1825 Lancashire Directory of 1825 states that:

“Here is a well at which charitable contributions were anciently collected, bearing the following monkish inscription in antique letters.”

Of that legend it was a belief locally that all visitors should on taking its waters, give alms. If they did not the Devil who was chained to the bottom of the well laughed and presumably some misfortune befell the person although that is not stated. The well was also said to be a pin well so perhaps pins were given as an alm once the monks moved away?

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Interestingly, when Hope (1893) with his Legendary lore of holy wells visited not only was the cross lost, but only the following inscription was visible ‘Deus dedit, homo bibit’. Which means ‘God gives and man drinks’.  This was apparently, was added at that time and can be seen above the original inscription.

A pump was installed in 1835 by the Select Vestry and they also ordered the constable to lock it up during church services on Sundays so that gossiping women would not visit the well instead. When piped water arrived in the 1850s the well fell into disuse. The site was at risk when a local building firm demolished nearby Monkswell House but happily its importance was recognised and it did not disappear under some semis! In 1952, the  structure became one of the first of Liverpool’s Listed ‘Buildings’ and is easily found following the road which leads off to the left near the old lock up ( itself worth a visit and another remarkable survival ) off the B1578 road out of Liverpool. Turn the corner from North Drive into Mill Lane and you will see it.

Boggarts fairy folk, ghosts, other otherworldy beasts….and waterlore: an analysis

Hobwell Kent

Hobwell Kent

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.

Chislehurst Caves Pool haunted by a women drowned in it

 

 

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.

Perhaps Hobwell’s name was a way to discourage visitors…it looks pretty eerie even now!