Category Archives: Folklore

Mysterious creatures of springs and wells – Phantom Black dogs

A phantom black dog usually much larger than an actual dog, often said to be the size of a calf, with glowing red eyes is a folklore standard being recorded from across the country. Whether they be called Black Shuck, Barguest, Gytrash, Trasher, Padifoot or many other names often there is an association with water. As a brief introduction I have again attempted to included as many as I have uncovered.

It  Lincolnshire often they are associated with bridges such as Brigg, Willingham (Till bridge) or banks of streams. At Kirton, there is a black dog was reported as living in a hole in the stream bank near this Belle Hole farm. Ponds were often associated with it such as the fish pond in Blyborough Lincolnshire. Rudkin in her 1937 Lincolnshire folk-lore notes a site called Bonny Well in Sturton upon Stow Lincolnshire which was an unfailing supply even in the great drought of 1860. One assumes that the site derived from O.Fr bonne for ‘good’. The site in the 1930s was a pond down Bonnywells Lane and was associated with a number of pieces of folklore; that it was haunted by a black dog and sow and litter of pigs which appeared on Hallowe’en. In the same county, Hibaldstow’s Bubbling Tom had a black dog protect it. Edward Bogg’s 1904 Lower Wharfeland, the Old City of York and the Ainsty, James tells how near St. Helen’s Well, Thorpe Arch:

 “padfoots and barguests…..which on dark nights kept its vigil”

In Elizabeth Southwart’s 1923 book on Bronte Moors and Villages: From Thornton to Haworth, she talks about Bloody tongue at Jim Craven’s Well, Yorkshire:

“The Bloody-tongue was a great dog, with staring red eyes, a tail as big as the branch of a tree, and a lolling tongue that dripped blood.  When he drank from the beck the water ran red right past the bridge, and away down—down—nearly to Bradford town.  As soon as it was quite dark he would lope up the narrow flagged causeway to the cottage at the top of Bent Ing on the north side, give one deep bark, then the woman who lived there would come out and feed him.  What he ate we never knew, but I can bear testimony to the delicious taste of the toffee she made.”

She relates one time:

“One Saturday a girl who lived at Headley came to a birthday party in the village, and was persuaded to stay to the end by her friends, who promised to see her ‘a-gaiterds’ if she would.  As soon as the party was over the brave little group started out.  But when they reached the end of the passage which leads to the fields, and gazed into the black well, at the bottom of which lurked the Bloody-tongue, one of them suggested that Mary should go alone, and they would wait there to see if anything happened to her.

“Mary was reluctant, but had no choice in the matter, for go home she must.  They waited, according to promise, listening to her footsteps on the path, and occasionally shouting into the darkness:

““Are you all right, Mary?”

““Ay!” would come the response.

“And well was it for Mary that the Gytrash had business elsewhere that night, for her friends confess now that at the first sound of a scream they would have fled back to lights and home.”

The author continues:

“We wonder sometimes if the Bloody-tongue were not better than his reputation, for he lived there many years and there was never a single case known of man, woman or child who got a bite from his teeth, or a scratch from his claws.  Now he is gone, nobody knows whither, though there have been rumours that he has been seen wandering disconsolately along Egypt Road, whimpering quietly to himself, creeping into the shadows when a human being approached, and, when a lantern was flashed on him, giving one sad, reproachful glance from his red eyes before he vanished from sight.”

In Redbrook, Gwent, Wales, at Swan Pool after the crying of a baby and then the appearance of a women holding a baby, a large black dog appears circles the pool and heads off a to kiln.  In the Highlands a pool containing treasure is guarded by a hound with two heads and it is said to have haunted a man who drained the pool and discovered the treasure. He soon returned it! A moat near Diamor County Meath is said to contain a nine kegs of gold protected by a large black and white spotted dog. One could collect the gold if the dog was stabbed three times on the white spot.  Another white dog is found, described as the size of a bullock, at Bath Slough Burgh in Suffolk.

Water appears also to be a place of confinement. At Dean Combe waterfalls in Devon the ghost of local weaver was banished by a local vicar and when he turned into a great black dog was taken to a pool by the waterfall. Here it was told that it could only concern people once it had emptied all the water using a cracked shell! At Beetham a local vicar banished a spirit called Cappel which manifested itself as a dog into the river Bela in the 1820s. Equally one wonders if the account associated with St Eustace’s Well, Wye Kent has more significance:

‘swollen up as it were by dropsy’ came to a priest, whom upon seeing her urged her to go the spring. This she did and no sooner had the women drunk the holy water, she recovered but vomited forth a pair of black toads, growing into black dogs, then black asses! The woman surprised vented her anger against these manifestations and the priest intervened, sprinkling the holy water on ‘they flew up into the air and vanished, leaving no traces of their foulness.’

Holy Wells of South Wales: A peaceful retreat by the sea St. Anthony’s Well Llansteffan

One of south Wales’s most evocative and peaceful holy well is that of St Anthony’s Well in Llansteffan. One approaches the site by a path that leads from the castle site down to the beach.

No photo description available.

Why St Anthony?

A fair few Welsh holy wells are dedicated to their local holy people but this one is dedicated to St Anthony. However, this still underlines its association with hermits as titular saint is St Anthony of Egypt who in around 251-356 AD was believed to be the first Christian hermit. Like modern day Catholics who take a saintly name at confirmation Celtic holy people would adopt names which had a spiritual significance. Thus locally this hermit was called Antwn; a Welsh form of Anthony who is said to have lived here in the sixth century. The plaque on the wall of the well records:

“Little St Anthony’s Well is barely large enough to get your hand inside for a drink of water. But you must wait patiently for the clear drops to seep from the mossy recess in the hillside.”

Chris J Thomas in his 2004 Sacred Welsh Wales describes it as cold and bland so it may not be worth the wait.

May be an image of 1 person

It is recorded that in 1811 existing stonework has been built around the natural spring in the form of a pointed arch with an offerings shelf at the back. A small recess above the shelf is where a statue of the saint was reputedly placed. Now there is an icon of the saint.  Prayer flags festoon the area as well.

No photo description available.

In more modern times the surrounding area has been rather heavily improved with extra retaining walls and a paved forecourt. It is now described as a Grade II listed site is describe as having a well chamber  set within a triangular-headed recess into the southwest facing wall of the enclosure and above it are two stone shelves and a carved niche. Above it is a relief carving, presumably of Antwn, is on the rear wall of the enclosure

The shelf is full of cockle shells -and some other small votives and it is apparent that the tradition is alive and well. However, I am unaware of why they are doing so.

No photo description available.

A hermit’s well

So this was a hermit’s well which suggests in the location there was a hermitage or at least a site of refuge. A suggested site is a cave further down the bay shaped similarly to the well arch – however there is no evidence.

Local tradition suggests that he used the water to baptise local people It is still a site of pilgrimage. Paul Davis 2003’s Sacred Springs: In Search of the Holy Wells and Spas of Wales notes that:

“frequented by lovesick travellers intent on casting a pin into the well to fulfil their hearts desires.”

No photo description available.Thomas (2004) notes:

“Pilgrims still visit this well for their own secret purposes, the most prevalent of which is for ‘wishing’. Romantic aspirations and reparations are what St Anthony’s Well is best at, apparently. You must be totally alone, offer a small white stone and wish very sincerely. There ae no known statistics regarding its success rate.”

It is not difficult to see why this site would not be in anyone’s top 10 of sites – the seaside location, its secretive enclosure and the sweeping gardens and sylvanian setting surrounding it mean it would be easy to spend a few hours in solitude listening to the dripping water and the sounds of the waves. A more peaceful place would be hard to find.

No photo description available.

Mysterious creatures of springs and wells – phantoms horses and coaches!

A possibly un-investigated sub-genre associated with holy wells and varied water bodies are the coach and horse phantom. The phenomena is wide spread. And in lieu of a longer elaboration I thought I’d introduce some examples here and please feel free to add other examples in the comments. The furthest south one I have found is association with the Trent Barrow Spring, in Dorset Marianne Daccombe in her 1935 Dorset Up Along and Down Along states:

“One dark and stormy night a coach, horses, driver and passengers plunged into this pit and disappeared, leaving no trace behind. But passers-by along the road may still hear, in stormy weather, the sound of galloping horses and wailing voices borne by them on the wind”.

However, the majority appear to be in the eastern side of England which is not surprising as these were and in some cases are boggy, desolate marshland areas which clearly were treacherous in olden times.

In Lincolnshire, the Brant Broughton Quakers (1977) note a site in their history of the village. This was found on the corner near the allotments on Clay road was a deep pond called Holy well pond or All well or Allwells. They note that

it was haunted by a coach and horses which plunged into its waters. I was informed by Mrs Lyon, the church warden that the pond was filled in at least before the writing of the above book.

In Lincolnshire, most noted site is Madam’s Well or Ma’am’s Well. Wild (1901) notes that this was a blow hole which Charles Hope’s 1893 Legendary lore of Holy wells describes as a deep circular pit, the water of which rises to the level of the surface, but never overflows and such it is considered bottomless by the superstitious. Rev John Wild’s 1901 book on Tetney states that they were connected to the Antipodes, and relates the story which gave the site its name:

“In one of these ponds a legend relates how a great lady together with her coach and four was swallowed bodily and never seen again. It is yet called Madam’s blowhole”

Wild (1901) also tells how:

“a dark object was seen which was found to be a man’s hat…when the man was retrieved belonging to it….my horse and gig are down below.”

Norfolk has the greatest amount. Near Thetford a coach and four went off the road and all the occupants were drowned in Balor’s Pit on Caddor’s Hill, which they now haunt.  On the right-hand side of the road from Thetford, just before reaching Swaffham, is a place called Bride’s Pit, after a fathomless pool once to be seen there. The name was actually a corruption of Bird’s Pit, but tradition says that a couple returning home from their wedding in a horse drawn coach plunged into the pond one dark night, and the bride was drowned. An alternative origin is that it may be a memory of the Celtic Goddess, Brede or the early saint St Bride.

The picturesquely named Lily Pit was found on the main road from Gorleston to Beccles (A143), hides a more ominous tradition, that it was haunted by a phantom. The story states that at midnight a phantom pony and trap used to thunder along the road and disappear into the water. What this phantom is confusingly differs!  One tradition states the phantom was a mail-coach missed the road one night and careered into the pit, vanishing forever. This may be a man named James Keable who lost in the fog fell into the pool in 1888 his body never being recovered. Or a farm-hand eloped with his master’s daughter, who fell into the pool and drowned. He so racked with guilt later hung himself on a nearby tree.  This may be the a man from Gorleston who went mad after his only daughter was lost in the pool, and so hung himself from an oak tree which stood there into the 1930s. There is an account in this Youtube video.

The ancient and healing wells of Cuffley and Northaw – St Claridge’s Well and the Griffin’s Hole

In part one we discussed the famed King’s Well in this second part we explore three possible sites which are possibly all one site notwithstanding the possibility that one is completely made up.

The most curious one to disentangle is St. Claridge’s  Well Our sole source is Charles Lamb more of which in  moment who claims it is described in the Black Book of St Albans although I could not find it there. In a letter to Charles Cowden Clark in 1828 he records that saint would entertain angels and hermits for the blessing of the water, who sat of mossy stones called Claridge Covers.

Who is St Claridge?

St. Claridge may have been another name for Sigur, who was a hermit who lived in Northaw Woods. Mrs Fox-Wilson in her 1927 Notes on Northaw and district in the East Hertfordshire Archaeological society journal records that the hermit built a cell  near a well of pure water in Berevenue forest. This is recorded in Gesta Abbotum  Mon Sci Albani 1 105 (1119-1149), dating it around the 12th Century. There is accordingly, a tomb in St. Alban’s Abbey which reads: “Vir Domini verus jacet hic  hermeita Regerus et sub eo clarus meritus hermita Sigarus.”

Where was the well?

The exact location of the above is not clear, it is hinted to the south east of the  church by Lamb but if he was travelling from Buntingford, it would appear to be the  same as Griffin’s Hole which lays in Well Wood, a small private part  of the Great Wood. A footpath from Well Road leads directly to the well and  nowhere else, which suggests a great past importance for the site being the main  supply for the village. This path appeared to have been recently re-opened, and the  well itself has been repaired. The site consists of a roughly square pool of muddy  water with an edging of old red bricks, possibly Tudor. A fence of rhododendrons has  been erected around the site to prevent people falling in, but it does not deflect from  the mysteriousness of the site: which is very odd and eerie. Today a metal frame is placed over it which makes it less evocative I would say. However, is it the St Claridge’s Well of Lamb?

Griffin's Hole

The letter Charles Lamb wrote may help  locate it as he appears to have encountered the well on a four hour walk to “the  willow and lavender plantations to the south-east of Northaw Church.” However, this  is confusing as it would appear to suggest that the well is to the south-east but that  depends on where he was travelling from! He is known to have visited Buntingford.  He refers to Claridge’s covers:

“Clumps of the finest moss rising hillock fashion, I  counted to the number of two hundred and sixty…not a sweeter spot is in ten counties  around”.

Some authors suggest that the name is some sort of joke, this note withstanding, Fox Wilson states that this site was called John’s Hole, and that in the  1920s requests were still made to the landowner for the water as it cured rheumatism.

Unfortunately I have been  unable to find out why the site is called the Griffin’s Hole (one assumes it is a  personal name) or whether it is indeed The Hermit’s Well, John’s Hole or St.  Claridge’s Well in the 10 years on since publication.  However I do feel that this is at least the John’s Hole site if not St. Claridge’s Well

 

Will the real patron of St Gudula’s Well stand up?

First noted by P.F.S Amery in his 1882 Old Ashburton: Being Recollections of Master Robert Prideaux, (Attorney-at-Law) 1509–1569 as:

‘Gulwell, a short distance down the Totnes road, in the corner of the vicar’s glebe field, which was called after St Gudula, the ancient patroness of blind folk. A stone cross… stood by… The tall stone still gives the name of Stone Park to the vicar’s field’.

St Gudula’s is one of the best known of Devonshire wells but whether it is a holy well or back derivation of its name is a matter of discussion as well shall discuss.  

Who was St Gudula?  

The most likely source recommended by Sabine Baring-Gould in his 1899–1902 A Book of the West is a little known 6th century Celtic evangelist who is claimed to have converted Brittany called St. Gudwal as Terry Faull, 2004 Secrets of the Hidden source, emphatically states:

“local interpretation of St. Gulwell who is also known as St. Wulvella, and was sister of Saint Sidwell of Exeter. They are claimed to have been the daughter of royalty being probably born in Wales.”

However, the site is dedicate to St Gudula who was born in Hamme, Flanders in around AD 648 and was associated with healing the blind. This appears to be what the plaque at the well claims:

 ‘This Well, The Waters Of Which Are Said To Be Good For Weak Eyes, Was Dedicated To St Gudula, The Ancient Patroness Of The Blind. The Cross (Probably 14th Century) Was Removed Prior To 1510. It Was Restored, Re-Erected, And Presented To The Parish Of Ashburton, 1933’.

However, this seems very unlikely and it would be more reasonable to assume that some learned antiquarian, probably Amery, has associated the saint with the site due to its name and properties – the name is being more likely be descriptive about it forming a gully.

The origins of the cross

William Crossing in his 1902, The Ancient Stone Crosses of Dartmoor and its Borderland, says:

‘we shall not find the cross here, but at a farm a little further on, which bears the same name as the well… This consists of the shaft only, and… I learnt in 1892 from the late Mr Perry, the owner of Gulwell, who was then eighty-three years of age, that it was in its present situation in the time of his grandfather’

Another site?

Even more confusing is that there is a well at Gulwell Farm and it is possible that this the real site especially if we re-read what Crossing states he suggests that the cross was brought from another site. “and if it really was brought from the spring it must be long ago”, does that suggest that someone decided to transfer the site to another spring and to emphasise it move the cross! Faull (2004) states it was returned to its original site in 1933 as noted by the plaque of course.

The current situation

Even more confusing is that there is a well at Gulwell Farm and it is possible that this the real site especially if we re-read what Crossing states he suggests that the cross was brought from another site. “and if it really was brought from the spring it must be long ago”, does that suggest that someone decided to transfer the site to another spring and to emphasise it move the cross! Faull (2004) states it was returned to its original site in 1933 as noted by the plaque of course as noted by the 10th March 1933 Western Times. It recorded that it was re-erected by some unemployed men after being recovered from the location where it had been for several generations. It also notes at the same time it was planned to restore the well but there was not enough money available.

Mysterious creatures of wells and springs – Mermaids of the Peak District

Mermaids are traditionally thought of as a marine phenomena but there are a number of freshwater accounts such as that noted in Herefordshire, three in Suffolk (Bury St Edmunds, Rendelsham, Fornham All Saints) and another in Gloucestershire at Timsbury. The peak district probably because of its remote and desolate landscape claims two!

The first is associated with the Black or Blake Mere a small pond of irregular shape, lying in a little hollow on the summit of the high hill of Morridge, about three and a half miles. from Leek in Staffordshire. The pond appears to have a reputation of being haunted. In the pages of The Reliquary, Camden quoting Nicham, says it is:

“A lake that with prophetic noise doth roar; Where beasts can ne’er be made to venture o’er— By hounds, or men, or fleeter death pursued, They’ll not plunge in, but shun the hated flood.”

Robert Plot in his 1689 Natural History of Staffordshire notes that:

“no Cattle will drink of it, no bird light on it, or fly over it; all which are as false as that it is bottomless; it being found upon admeasurement, scarce four yards in the deepest place; my horse also drinking, when I was there, as freely of it as ever I saw him in any other place; and the Fowls are so far from declining to fly over it, that I spoke with several that had seen Geese upon it; so that I take this to be as good as the rest, notwithstanding the vulgar disrepute it lies under.”

Neither account mentions a mermaid and it is unclear when this creature is first applied to the site. One of the first accounts perhaps is Charlotte S. Burne 1896 notes in her “What Folkore is, and how it is to be collected” in the North Staffordshire Naturalists’ Field Club, Annual Report and Transactions. Two origins for the existence of this mermaid are given. One account states that she was a women ,who during a stormy night was drowned there by her lover after he discovered she was pregnant with his child. Another story suggests that she was a witch and was drowned by the local people. It is said that as she drowned she cursed the person who accused her and days later he was found clawed to death in the pool.  Local people state that she can be seen combing her hair and enticing people to their death. She is also said to have warned locals who were draining the lake to check its depth by threatening to flood the local town of Leek – they subsequently stopped!

Mermaid's Pool - geograph.org.uk - 247324.jpg by Dave Dunford

Mermaid’s Pool – geograph.org.uk – by Dave Dunford

Perhaps the more famous of the Peak’s merfolk is found in The Mermaid’s Pool a mysterious pool at the foot of  Kinder Scout, a strange site which appears to be a relic of pre-Christian water worship particular  as the water is said to have healing qualities. Charles Hope in his 1893 Legendary lore of holy wells notes:

“There is a local tradition that a beautiful nymph ….who comes to bathe daily in the Mermaid’s  Pool, and that the man who has the good fortune to see her whilst bathing will become immortal.”

It is likely that Hope is sourcing Henry Kirke’s 1869 article “The Mermaid’s Pool” in The Reliquary notes:

“At Old Oak Wood, near Hayfield, Derbyshire, is the Mermaid’s Pool, where a beautiful woman is said to enter the water every day, and whoever has the good luck to see her will become immortal and will never die.”

Hope records a tradition of someone who had seen the mermaid thus:

“The old folk of Hayfield, moreover, have a long story of a man who, sometime in the last  century, went from Hayfield over the Scout, and was lucky enough to meet this mountain  nymph, by whom he was conducted to a cavern hard by. Tradition adds that she was pleased  with this humble mortal, and that he lingered there for some time, when she conferred on him  the precious gift of immortality.” 

The best time to find visit the Mermaid’s Pool is midnight on Easter eve when she could favour  you with your wishes, but if she did not favour you she will drag you to your death!

It is possible of course that local production of methane gases produced willo-the-wisps which were seen as the mermaid but that would ruin a good story would it not? Or perhaps you might argue that someone caught the said mermaid and put it in Buxton museum! – go along and have a look!

Mysterious creatures of wells and springs: Jenny Greenteeth

One of the frequently encountered mysterious creatures near springs and wells, as well as other bodies is called Jenny Greenteeth. In an article in the Transactions and proceedings of the American Philological Association in 1895, Charles P.G. Scott notes in the Devil and his imps remarks:

“Jenny Green-teeth, in the vernacular Jinny Green-teeth, is the pretty name of a female goblin who inhabits wells or ponds.”

The name Jinny Green-Teeth is recorded in the Folk-speech of South Cheshire (1887) and A Glossary of Words Used in the County of Chester (1886) stating that:

“Children are often deterred from approaching such places [as wells or ponds] by the threat that “Jinny Green-Teeth will have them.”

Edwin Waugh notes in 1857  Sketches of Lancashire life and localities 

“ lurking in the streams and pools, like ‘Green-Teeth,’ and ‘Jenny Long Arms,’ waiting, with skinny claws and secret dart, for an opportunity to clutch the unwary wanderer upon the bank into the water.”

Often description is given of this goblin and it appears to be restricted to the west of the country, with references made in the Notes and queries around Manchester, Birmingham and as far east as Shropshire. Roy Vickery in a piece on his excellent Plant-Lore blog reports an account from Bebington Merseyside in the 1980s:

“Although Jenny Greenteeth was usually unseen, in about 1920 the bogey which inhabited two pools beside Moss Pitts Lane in Fazakerley, ‘had pale green skin, green teeth, very long green locks of hair, long green fingers with long nails, and she was very thin with pointed chin and very big eyes.”

Moreover it is possible that in Lincolnshire the same goblin is encountered as Jenny Hearn, Hurn or Yonde. This name is found associated with a bend of the Trent at Owston Ferry was haunted by Jenny Hearn or Hurn or Jenny Yonde. Unlike Jenny Greenteeth the creature is described. In Lincolnshire folklore Ethel Rudkin reports:

“The pygmy propels the dish rapidly across the stream by means of a minute pair of oars, the size of teaspoons. It is said, that having reached shore this being crosses the road and proceeds to browse in the field. ‘Or again it is said that a ‘thing’ is known to come crawling out of the water, having large eyes, and long hair, and tusks a walrus. It goes into the fields to feed. The river bank here curves in the shape of a horse-shoe, consequently a short-cut footpath has been used for years to counteract this bend.”

A possible ancient origin of this creature is suggested by another Lincolnshire location: Jenny Stanny Well a site has appeared to have passed through a number of name changes. Abraham de la Pryme discussed it in his 1680 discussion of Lincolnshire described the well as Julian’s Stony Well and now it is called Stanniwell. The name is suggestive of a Roman heritage.

Here interestingly, the name Jenny Stanny well has been supported by the suggestion that the site is haunted by a ghost presumably of that girl who carries her head under her arm. She is said to have drowned in the water. Is this a confusion of the Jenny Greenteeth tradition?

Interestingly in Preston the goblin is associated with a holy well. In the anonymous 1852 piece A Prestonian, ‘Preston More than Forty Years Ago’ in the Preston Chronicle:

“Near Friargate, and not far from the houses now called Mount Pleasant, was ‘Lady well’, about which the superstitious old women used to tell strange tales of one ‘Jenny Greenteeth’, who was said to be occasionally seen riding on a broomstick, cutting wonderful capers.”

Image result for Duckweed

The association of drowning with Jenny Greenteeth is significant as it would seem that the folklore probably developed as a way to warn children off playing in dangerous areas of water. This being done by associating the goblin with algae and duckweed. A note in an 1820s version of Notes and queries records Jenny Greenteeth being a name for duckweed in Birmingham. In A Glossary of the Words and Phrases of Furness (North Lancashire) (1869) she is called

“Jinny-green-Teeth — green conversa on pools.

“green scum on ponds, but supposed to imply the presence of a water-sprite or “boggart”, a terror to children as they pass the pond on which the appearance is seen.”

This is emphasised by an article by A.R. Vickery, Lemna minor and Jenny Greenteeth, in Folklore 94: 247-50, 1983. whose correspondent noted:

“ I was brought up in the Upton/Crenton area of the west side of Widnes in Lancashire (now Cheshire) …It was and still is…a farming area and many of the fields contained contained pits – some of them have quite steep sides Jinny was well known to me and my contemporaries and was simply the green weed Duckweed, which covered the surface of stagnant water.”

Finally, it is interesting the correspondent also notes

“Children who strayed too close to the edge…would be warned to watch out of Jinny Greenteeth, but it was the weed itself which was believed to hold children under water. There was never any suggestion there was a witch of any kind there!”

And such does a folk tradition become diminished! However, it was a clever way to use a common plant of stagnant water to signify dangerous waters – pity it wasn’t used in 1970s Public information films – Dark and dangerous water!

A Gloucestershire rag well – Matson’s red well

This chalybeate spring called alternatively by Bazeley and Richardson (1921–3) as Holy Well, whilst Walters (1928) calls it Holy Red Well (SO 848 153) arises incongruously now on the edge of a dry sky slope in a field called Red Well field.

“The Red Well at Matson consists of a 3ft. square limestone trough at the road-side, fed from a chalybeate spring in the field a few yards above it. The interior of the trough is 2ft. square by 1ft. deep, and its overflow is fed through a gargoyle into a semi-circular basin on the east side. Nearby are the remains of stones, which, if placed round the well, would give it the form of a Maltese cross. The spring belonged to the Canons of Llanthony, and its history dates from 1066, when Ralph de Mattesdon gave the church of Mattesdon to St. Peter’s Abbey Gloucester.”

records that it was also known as Edith’s Spring according to H. Y Taylor in 1866 who immortalised it in the Saint Harold the martyr – the Red Well at Matson or Edith’s Spring two local legends. He tells an interesting and possibly unique legend to describe its origin. Edith was an 18 year Saxon old local noblewoman from Upton St Leonard. She married an Earl, giving him a son, but soon after he was killed fighting King Harold. Fear what repercussions may occur as a result from the invading Normans she climbed Matson Hill. Here she decided to kill herself and son and as she dug a grave. As she dug, so arose the red spring water. She saw this as a sign and as a result dedicated herself to a holy living, she and her son becoming anchorites.  The well belonged to the Canons of Llanthony Priory, whose lands fell to the Selwyn family during the Reformation, whose coat of arms resembled a cross itself.

Embrey (1918–20) states that:

“the presence of iron salts is considered as conferring tonic properties.”

and its water being very ferruginous was said to be “good for the eyesight” or a cure for tired eyes.                                         Another alternative name was the Rag Well and as such it was one of only two such sites in the county and certainly the most well-known. It is still overshadowed by a thorn tree, upon which tradition asserts clothes may have been left as a form of offering. However, the tradition has not continues or been revived.

The Holy Red Well (Chalybeate) Matson, Gloucestershire. | Sacred well,  Magical places, Sacred places

Enclosed in square railings, a reason perhaps why the well is no longer treated as a rag well. The spring itself arises in a square limestone trough of two feet by two feet and one foot deep inside and three feet deep outside. Another small receptacle, or basin a semi-circular one of Oolite stone is found on the east side. It then flows into a roadside trough. Walters (1928) notes that some slabs were located around this spring, which could be arranged to form a Maltese cross

In search of rag wells: Irish rag wells a photo archive

Wishing trees at St Cooey's Well by Eric Jones

Wishing trees at St Cooey’s Well ©Copyright Eric Jones and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Holy Well, Cranfield Co Antrim by Robert Ashby
The Holy Well, Cranfield Co Antrim

The Holy Well at Cranfield near the old church on the shore of Lough Neagh. Pilgrimages were made to the well between May Eve and 29th June. The tradition of hanging healing rags and tokens still continues. Amber pebbles found in the well are said to have great healing powers. An annual Mass is carried out to bless the boats of the local fishermen.
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   ©Copyright Robert Ashby and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Eye Well by Kenneth Allen
The Eye Well

At the base of the promontory below the ruined church is a spring, known locally as the “Eye Well”, which is believed to have curative powers for eye ailments. It must be extensively used as I could see hundreds of clothes hung on branches of the trees. They would have been dipped into the healing waters. I gather that a prayer is said as the rag is left there. A descriptive stone is nearby H3462 : Path leading to the eye well, Dromore There used to be a holy well at Errigal, Ballygawley where people went to with similar complaints H5857 : Holy well, Gort And recently I noticed this holy tree at Navan Fort H8445 : Holy tree, Navan Fort
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St Brigid's Well: Loch Dearg by louise price
St Brigid’s Well: Loch Dearg

An ancient site on the west bank of Loch Dearg, although the stone work here & cross wrapped in ‘votive’ rags is modern, this is the original site of a medieval wooden bridge to Saint’s Island, said to be the original island of pilgrimage as opposed to the current Station Island.
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The Abbey Well by louise price
The Abbey Well

Tobar na Bachaille: the Well of the Staff or Crozier. This ancient well is associated with St. Patrick and St Colmcille, who helped his cousin St Barron found Killbarron church. On August 15th people come here on pilgrimage to pray and some tie strips of cloth to a tree as votive offerings.
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Tobernalt in Co. Sligo by Enda O Flaherty
Tobernalt in Co. Sligo

Votive offerings hang at the holy well of Tobernalt in Co. Sligo
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"Do not leave rags" notices, St Malachy's Well by Kenneth Allen
“Do not leave rags” notices, St Malachy’s Well

There is a similar situation at Dromore, in County Tyrone, on a smaller scale, where the Eye Well is located outside the town, in which cloths are left beside the well, which is reputed to have healing properties H3462 : Eye well, Dromore Pictured here H7932 : Interior of St Malachy’s Well
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   ©Copyright Kenneth Allen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

 

A holy well in a mysterious sea cave

One of the most evocative holy wells is perhaps one of the most unique fittingly. The first to record it was William Hals in his 1685-1736 History of Cornwall. He records that:

“In this parish is that famous and well-known spring of water called Holy-well (so named the inhabitants say, for that the virtues of this water was first discovered on Allhallows- day).”

So far not perhaps that unusual. But he continues:

“The same stands in a dark cavern of the sea- cliff’ rocks, beneath full sea-mark on spring-tides ; from the top of which cavern foils down or distils continually drops of water, from the white, blue, red, and green veins of those rocks. And accordingly, in the place where those drops of water fall, it swells to a lump of considerable bigness, and there petrifies to the hardness of ice, glass, or freestone, of the several colours aforesaid, according to the nature of those veins in the rock from whence it proceeds, and is of a hard brittle nature, apt to break like glass.”

Over a hundred years later,  John Cardell Oliver’s 1877 Guide to Newquay romantically records:

“It is a somewhat curious place. After passing over a few boulders the mouth of the cave will be reached, where steps will be found leading up to the well. This rock-formed cistern is of a duplicate form, consisting of two wells, having a communication existing between them. The supply of water is from above; and this water, being of a calcareous nature, has coated the rock with its earthy deposits, giving to the surrounding walls and to the well itself a variegated appearance of white, green and purple. Above and beyond the well will be seen a deep hole extending into the cliff.”

Thomas Quiller-Couch in Holy Wells of Cornwall

“This well has Nature only for its architect, no mark of man’s hand being seen in its construction ; a pink enamelled basin, filled by drippings from the stalactitic roof, forms a picture of which it is difficult to describe the loveliness. What wonder, then, that the simple folk around should endow it with mystic virtues?”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndZoeriJKRM

Cures for children

Richard Polwhele, in his 1803 History of Cornwall states

“The virtues of the waters are, if taken inward, a notable vomit, or as a purgent. If applied outward, it presently strikes in, or dries up, all itch, scurf, dandriff, and such-like distempers in men or women. Numbers of persons in summer season frequent this place and waters from countries far distant. It is a petrifying well.” 

Further details are given by  John Cardell Oliver

“The legend respecting the well is, that in olden times mothers on Ascension Day brought their deformed or sickly children here, and dipped them in, at the same time passing them through the aperture connecting the two cisterns ; and thus, it is said, they became healed of their disease or deformity. It would seem that other classes also believed virtue to reside in its water; for it is said that the cripples were accustomed to leave their crutches in the hole at the head of the well.”

He adds:

“The virtues of this water are very great. It is incredible what numbers in summer season frequent this place and waters from counties far distant.”

Why is it St Cuthbert’s Well?

One account tells how Alchun, Bishop of Holy Island, Lindisfarne in 995 AD to take the body of previous bishop, St Cuthbert, to Ireland to escape Danish raiders. However, it is said that the weather drove them to the north coast of Cornwall where they were beached and settled at time and built a church at Cubert. They presumably rested at the cave and the relics touched the spring which then became holy and healing. After settling down in Cornwall, the Bishop and the relics finally set off to Durham where the saint was finally laid to rest.

This seems a fairly unlikely journey and a story made up by the ill-informed it would seem as the parish is named after St Cubert, an 8th century companion of St Carantoc, who came to convert the local pagans. What is interesting is that there are two holy wells in the parish. A more traditional chapel type being found on higher ground and I would hypothesis that this was constructed to sway local people from visiting the more primeval sea cave. Perhaps as that did not work local Christians applied the St Cuthbert story to the sea cave to attempt to finally push out the pagan connotations – the saintly name however still jars in this most primitive and ancient site.

Interestingly despite it being a wholly natural site it became a Scheduled Monument by Historic England in 2001