Category Archives: Folklore

In search of rag wells: St Helen’s well, Thorp Arch, Walton, Yorkshire

 

A fragment of cream coloured cloth is a curious exhibit piece at Oxford Universities’ Pitt Rivers museum. It states:

“Votive rags from St Helen’s Well, Thorp Arch near Boston Spa, West Yorkshire 1884.140.331 is an example of the votive rags that were tied to a tree near a well.”

Interestingly it also notes:

“Oddly this item was not accessioned into the Pitt Rivers Museum collections until the 1990s though it had lain in the museum for over a hundred years by then.”

This rag is perhaps unique being the only museum example of a rag taken from a rag well (considering the folklore associated with such sites I would be interested what happened to the collector). It is fitting to have this record of one of the countries most famed rag wells. For outside the famed Clootie Well and Madron Well, St Helen’s Well, Thorp Arch is perhaps the most famed rag well; one which today only a memory survives perhaps –and this acquisition is interestingly the earliest reference to the site. The earliest published reference is in A Thousand miles in Wharfedale by Edmund Bogg (1892) refers to it as:

 “St Helen’s or the Wishing Well, which is often visited by young men and maidens… In a clump of trees near the river, hanging on the roots of the trees, are some scores of gewgaws left by anxious lovers, who suppose the well holds some subtle efficacy or charm.”

A gewgaw would appear to refer to rags as the dictionary definition being a showy thing, especially one that is useless or worthless.  A term which has largely fallen out of usage since the Victorian times.

Our next reference is Charles Hope in his 1893 Legendary Lore of Holy Wells. He explicitly now refers to rags, as he notes that:

It was usual for those who consulted the oracle at this well to make an offering there of a scrap of cloth. This was fastened to an adjoining thorn, which, being literally covered with pieces of, rag, presented a peculiar appearance.”

Harry Speight (1902) Lower Wharfedale visited St. Helen’s Well he notes in reference to a cross:

This interesting relic of the ancient faith was discovered here, hidden among brushwood near the celebrated spring which bears St. Helen’s name. Whitaker thinks that the distinguished lady had crossed the ford of Wharfe, and that in all probability she had drank at this well, which for centuries afterwards became a very popular resort of religious votaries, particularly from the vicinity of York. Subsequently a chapel was erected on the spot, which was standing in Leland’s time, but the Reformation did away with most of these wayside oratories, and not a stone now remains.

He description of the rag custom seems to suggest it was by his time in abeyance:

Such, however, was the fascination of this time-honoured spot, that down even to our own time pilgrimages continued to be made to the holy fountain, and bits of metal or pins were thrown into the water, or ribbons were attached to the adjoining bushes (as many as forty or fifty have been seen within living memory), in propitiation of the good cause of St. Helen and Christianity. The water is beautifully soft and clear, and in former times was much resorted to as a specific for sore or weak eyes.”

By the time that C.N. Bromehead wrote an article entitled ‘Rag Wells,’ in Antiquity IX, March 1935 he visited the well he recorded that:

“There is now no well or visible spring, but from the position at the lower margin of a gravel terrace it is obvious that water would be obtained by digging a few feet; a small stream flows just east of the site.”

Yet despite its lost he noted that:

 “It is curious that the hanging of rags should survive when the actual well has vanished, but the writer has visited the spot many times in the last seven years and there are always plenty of obviously recent additions.  The custom is to stand facing the well (i.e., due west), preferably after sunset, wish, and then attach something torn from one’s clothing either to the big tree — wych elm — or to any of the bushes.”

Like a precursor of the lovelocks folk craze now current everywhere the author then continues to observe:

“Probably the custom is largely maintained by vagrants who frequently camp in the wood, but it also has its attraction for courting couples from the neighbouring villages!”

Certainly the final nail in the coffin was in 1940 when a munitions factory called ROF Thorp Arch was opened following compulsory purchase of the land. This made St Helen’s Lane and the Rag Well out of bounds until 1958 when the site was closed. According to Pastscape historical record that in 1958 it recorded:

“St. Helen’s Well (a Votive or Rag Well) still used as such. The Well, now dry and overgrown, has no associated masonry, and appears to have been a simple spring.”

This appears to be to the contra of the fact the munitions factory had emasculated the custom. Yet it was doubtless on the way out for by 1963, this entry had been updated to read:

“There are no visible remains of the chapel, but the contour of the ground in the vicinity of the well, suggests a natural hillock at SE 45134583 as the probable site. 

However even in the 2000s ribbons could still be seen in the vicinity but whether these were placed by locals seeking a cure or local pagans keen to continue the tradition is unclear but it is interestingly that one of the most famous English rag wells lives on. I only wish that those who had attached the current rags were aware of the that original in Oxford and ensured that their examples were cotton based!

 

 

 

 

In search of rag wells: St Mary’s Well, Culloden – a photo archive

First sighting of a hybrid votive offering custom a lock lock at a rag well.

wide array of coloured rags some of some age.

A number of trees are ‘adorned’ with anti-establishment slogans.

The most recent rag

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A branch with a collection of cotton rags slowly being covered with algae and rotting and an appropriate tartan one.

Lots of iron encrusted coins in the stream of the spring

A children’s bike helmet has this been attached as thanks for surviving an accident?

Tree beside the wall of the well has the largest number of coloured rags.

A scarf attached to a tree the furthest away from the springhead.

In search of rag wells: The Ragged Springs of Healing, Lincolnshire

There are records of a considerable number of rag wells in Lincolnshire and as such a cluster can be identified. In a couple of posts we shall be exploring the sites focusing on some in detail such as the significantly named Ragged springs near Cleethorpes to the north of the county which is the focus on this blog post.

First it is worth considering the name. The springs themselves whilst possibly being an ancient site, noted by the fact that the earliest name for the parish is Heghelinge. One may make the assumption that perhaps this derives from the springs. However, this is at variance to the view of the Cameron (1985-2002) as it is noted that Hægelingas is derived from ‘the sons or followers of a man named Hægel’ rather than healing, although it is of course a strange coincidence perhaps.

The first reference appears to be Charles Edward Hope (1893) in his Legendary Lore of Holy Wells, which of course takes a number of sources, some hitherto unknown, but often from local accounts. He records it confusing under another nearby village and states?

“Lincolnshire GREAT COTES, ULCEBY. Here is a spring celebrated locally for its healing properties. It rises from the side of a bank in a plantation, and is overshadowed by an ancient thorn, on the branches of which hang innumerable rags, fastened there by those who have drunk of its waters.”

Gutch and Peacock (1908) note that a:

“Mr. Cordeaux visited them not long since for the purpose of discovering whether pins are ever dropped into them, but the bottom of the water in both cases was too muddy and full of leaves to allow accurate examination.”

According to Gutch and Peacock (1908) each well had a different use, one spring being a chalybeate one was done for eye problems, whereas the other was for skin problems. They continue to note that a:

“F S, a middle-aged man, who grew up in an adjoining parish, states that when he was a lad, one spring was used for bathing, and the second for drinking. The latter was considered good against consumption, among other forms of sickness. . . . What the special gift of the bathing well was F S cannot say. He often plunged his feet into it when a boy, but he does not venture to assert that it had any great power in reality, although ‘folks used to come for miles,’ and the gipsies, who called the place Ragged Spring or Ragged Well, frequently visited it. A Gentleman who hunts with the Yarborough pack every winter, says that he notices the rags fluttering on the shrubs and briars each season as he rides past. There is always a supply of these tatters, whether used superstitiously or not, and always has been since his father first knew the district some seventy years ago.”

The custom apparently continued until the 1940s, indeed a visitor in the 1920s noted that even the trunks were covered with longer pieces of rag. A picture in Healy (1995) shows a number of rags on the bushes as seen below.

It is worth noting that perhaps the presence of a large thorn perhaps suggests a great antiquity to the site   The springs are still marked on the current OS map, as Healing Wells, in a small plantation, but they are, as the photo shows, only marked by circular indentations in the ground, the first spring being the easier to trace and appears to have holes, although these may be made by animals.

The springs are now quite dry, perhaps that the clogging of the springs noted above continued as the springs were forgotten, resulting in the current situation. Lying around the springs are a range of metal buckets in various stages of decay and some metal pieces which may be remains of a metal fence around it. I was unable to find any sign of rags although the man I asked in the whereabouts referred to them as the ragged springs. So there name maybe remembered even if the custom has long since been forgotten.

A little known Suffolk holy well – the holy well of Kedington

Suffolk strangely is not over endowed with holy, healing and noted wells and one is indebted to the pioneering work of Michael Burgess in his nigh impossible to obtain 1978 Holy Wells and Ancient Crosses of Norfolk and Suffolk a East Suffolk & Norfolk Antiquarians Occasional Paper 2.  So when one is noted it is of considerable interest despite its provenance. The Holy Well at Kedington is mentioned in Burgess’s work. 

The village of Kedington near Haverill has such a site simply called the Holy Well. The village is itself a delightful place full of interest namely its church where a rare circular Saxon cross head with an image of Jesus is located.

Burgess (1978) informs us that in the rectory gardens, also called Ketton House and states:

“In the grounds of Kedington rectory is a ‘holy well’ with supposed healing powers. At one time it was actually by the roadside but the road has since been diverted. Covered by a rounded brick hood, the we us about 41/2 feet deep, and has never been known to fail.”

Finding the holy well

The site has been on my to do list for some while and then last year around Easter time I happened to be in the area and able to visit the site. The gardens are regularly open for the Garden Open Scheme so I felt the owner would be possible amenable to my search. The gates were open and I walked over to the large house walked on the steps and rang the bell. A call came out and the owner appeared. I explained my search and he said I’ll get my wellingtons on and show you. Its current owner Mr Max Dyre-Bartlett was happy to show me and as can be seen it is an unusual well situated below the house but a fair way I would say from the road to suggest this part of the account may be erroneous and perhaps recants a movement of the spring into this well head? Similarly, despite the claim it never failed, he remarked that in the 20 years of living on the property it had never flowed. He also repaired and cleared the well which has an unusual brick built spiral stepped walkway to the well. The well has either lost its hood or else the small curved brickwork is what remains of it or is the hood.  Mr Max Dyre-Bartlett could not remember if it had more brickwork but on inspection it seems unlikely. This brickwork looks around Victorian in part and pre-Imperial in other suggesting an early 1700 origin. There is a hole below the level of the floor which is either where the water flows into the well head or out to prevent flooding. 

A pilgrim route?

Apart from providing unfailing supply of water, another tradition states that pilgrims used it on their way to Bury stating:

“Tradition says it was used by pilgrims on their way to the shrine to St. Edmund at Bury.”

This could certainly be true as it is close by but perhaps more interestingly, it is also in a straight line passing not far from the holy wells of St Wendreda near Newmarket and Holy Well Row near Mildenhall to the greater shrine of Walsingham.

Holy Well or not?

The site does not appear to be well known. It is not mentioned in a review of the garden in Garden open scheme, the church warden was unaware of it and indeed the current owner, Mr Max Dyre-Bartlett was unaware that it was a holy well. However, he was certainly interested in it being one and me bonded over both sharing a holy well on our property mine being under the house of course! So is it one? It certainly is unusual, indeed I have never seen one with such an unusual path way. However, perhaps as Burgess is the only source should be cautious? The site is also not mentioned in Harte (2008) English Holy Wells. Its location in a rectory garden is significant but how much we can use this as a solution is unclear. This notwithstanding if you are in the area when the gardens are open it is worth examining. 

Was there a prehistoric water shrine in the Medway?

Despite the thundering sounds of motorways nearby, the industry of Aylesford and the urban sprawl of Maidstone and Rochester not far away the triangle of area trapped between this modernisation clinging to the edges of the ancient pilgrim’s way still has a feel of something ancient and mysterious. Many people visit the area to see its megalithic remains – Kit’s Coty, lower Kit’s Coty and the White horse stone, but in this area are a number of springs which tantalisingly may suggest a similar ancient ritual use.

Many years ago I picked up a delightfully named volume A Tramp in Kentish Pilgrim Land by Coles Finch. A 1925 book whose research and details are of much interest. One of the sites he discusses is the Pilgrim’s Spring, (TQ 731 614) in the old community of Tottington, which he describes a pool surrounded by sarsens believed to be of ancient origin:

“Spread around this beautiful spring head in plenteous disorder is a large number of huge stones, some thrown into the bed of the stream, others supporting its margins. Some half buried and peep through the ground. With Cromlech and altar thrown down and heaped around the spring, it is left to our imagination to picture this site of ancient water worship in the dim and distant past. The stone circle appears to have completely encircled the principal spring; hence there are reasonable grounds for concluding that too was devoted to water worship.”

Earlier in 1872 a James Fergusson visited the area and noted:

…nearer the village [Aylesford] exists or existed, a line of great stones, extending from a place called Spring Farm, in a north-easterly direction, for a distance of three quarters of a mile, to another spot known as Hale Farm passing through Tollington [sic], where the greater number of the stones are now found. In front of the line near the centre at Tollington lie two obelisks, known to the country people as the coffin stones – probably from their shape. They are 12 feet long by 4 to 6 broad, and about 2 to 3 feet thick. They appear to be partially hewn, or at least shaped, so as to resemble one another.

Of course, the description is perhaps tainted by the ‘Druid’ obsession of Victorian antiquarians, so perhaps the stones are natural, although close to recognised ancient monuments, they are still to be found in area some up righted by the farmer The springs still exist too, but the number of sarsens associated with them appears to have been reduced, and one would suggest that a number have been dragged from their position and placed on the Coffin Stone.

Another similar site is a Spring (TQ 745 599) which is also situated by the Pilgrims way, and was probably associated with the nearby lost chapel of St. Michael, Alfred John Dunkin in his 1846 History of the County of Kent describes it as a Druidical pool:

“East of the Medway at Cossington, at the base of the hill on which Kits Coty House stands, water of the spring is intensely cold in summer and very warm in the winter.” He records that stones and similar objects placed in the water become coated in a red tinge, which undoubtedly created deep superstition regarding their powers.”

He also notes that around the spring head:

 “still lie many of the massive boulders of their temple in a well preserved semicircular form.”

Dr. Thorpe’s work of 1788 cited in Hasted (1797-1811) History of Kent describes Cossington’s spring as:

“At the bottom issue several springs, which are so cold and sharp that the water is said to cramp and kill ducks, and the flints that lie in it are tinged red as blood, and to try the experiment stones have been marked and put in, which, in less than a year’s time, were of the same colour.” 

Finch (1925) believes that these properties were exaggerated, and were certainly not considered when the water company took charge of the water; he describes the stream as now only flowing at a meagre flow and only feeding some pools by the ruins of Cossington Manor. Sadly, the site was been taken over by the waterworks and consequently at the spring head there is nothing of interest. Near Cossington farm, there are the ruins of the ancient manor and beneath this a rag stone pool, built to grow watercress. Yet, these are the only artefacts of interest, as the spring head itself is of no longer interest.

Below Boxley’s All Saint’s Church, Finch (1925) recorded a Pilgrim’s Pool (TQ 775 589) where the pilgrims would have presumably refreshed themselves or bathed. This pool has become over grown and rubbish strewn, compared to Finch’s (1925) time. The railings that lined the pool as shown in Finch’s photo are now bent, buckled and rusty. Overall, the pool is largely forgotten, and not even mentioned by the church guide. Hasted (1797-1811) notes two Petrifying Springs in the vicinity, and these are presumably the ones which arise inaccessibly in a small copse near the ruins of Boxley Abbey and the old vicarage garden (TQ 766 591, and TQ 774 589).

All of these sites potentially suggest the location of the Haly Well of Haley Garden. This has caused a fair amount of confusion from Kent historians being some discussion has occurred regarding its exact location, although Hale Farm may have taken its name from it. Harris (1719) in his work on Kent Topography notes that a well, that had many virtues, in particular cleansing sin:

“Under Boreham (Burham, Burgham) formerly there was a fountain in this Parish (South Philipot) at a place called Haly or Holy Garden, which was accounted mighty sacred by common people, and had very uncommon virtues ascribed to it, and in the 17th year of King Richard II, The Friars Carmelites of Aylesford obtained a grant by letters Pateill to bring the water from to their monastery.”

The nearby Friars at Aylesford are also said to have built an aqueduct from the site.  Finch (1925) believes that the well lay eleven hundred yards due west of the Kewland Wheel Well house. Although, he also states that other authorities believed that this wheel well itself was the site. This belief was discredited, however, when its well shaft was explored: no chambers or tunnels were found to lead off of from it. Sadly, there is no evidence of Great Kewland house, although some house debris down a nearby wooded quarry can be located, although being tightly fenced in, one is unable to find any remains of a well or local knowledge.

Another possible site is  a Roman or Ancient Draw Well, (TQ 741 809) According to Finch (1925), there is a legend connecting the well with another that of Kewland by a secret tunnel. Finch (1925) notes that there is:

“…an elm tree and some stones of various sizes, beneath which is a well only some two feet in diameter, but tested to be 113 feet deep. This doubtlessly was sunk for a water supply for the Roman occupants hereabouts.”

Finch (1925) expected that this well was a local myth but was fortunate to find a sixty year old man, who as a boy, used to drop flints down it. He notes that:

“The elm tree is bowed over with age and its sinuous roots have all but closed the entrance to the well, leaving but a tiny aperture through which one could see the rough coping stones. With a little dexterity, one could drop a stone, time its fall, and hear the thus as it fell upon the accumulated debris on the bottom no casual visitor could find the well, even though accurately marked upon a plan, without a guide.”

Certainly, it is unmarked on the present maps, and attempting to uncover its location I was hindered by considerable ivy cover and rubbish. I did locate a large amount of brick and stone debris at one site and possibly remains of a dead elm, but conclusively. Its location and indeed the location and meaning of the springs remains a mystery. Much of my field and archival research was done in the 1990s and detailed in Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Kent but even with the power of the internet these sites have not revealed themselves.

In search of rag wells: The Clootie or St. Boniface’s Well, Munlochy, Scotland – a photo archive

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This year we are focusing on the often controversial subject of rag or clootie wells. The topic has already been explored on this blog a while back but with new research it is worth exploring again. So this year either view detailed history/folklore discussion or photo archive we shall be exploring the topic again. To start rather than a detailed History/folklore blog post it would be good to look at the range of clooties or rags left at the country’s most famous example with my ideas of why and I hope it might encourage discussion.

Over Beltane 2017 I had the privilege to spend much of the day at this famed holy well. My aim was two fold:

a – to photo as many as possible of the clooties and other offerings at the well as a record

b – to hopefully encounter visitors attaching clooties

Below is a photo archive cataloguing some of the diverse form of offerings at the well. For the background to this site please see the earlier post. I shall give my recollections of b in a later post with another on the site’s history

I have tried to categorise each item and give some rationale…it’s a controversial subject and now the site has been cleared recently do doubtless many of these have gone, which is not necessarily a bad thing in many cases!

Underwear – were these spare or did they completely undress? Are they associated with problems with these parts of the body? There is the famous bra fence in Australia associated with cures of cancer is this the same or are they ex votos as thanks?

Shoes – Similarly for foot problems or thanks for travelling safely…some new shoes as well

Teddies and dolls – personal items of a sick child perhaps?

Flags! – Hope for Nationalism and a record for overseas visitors

Football scarfs – wishing the team good luck!

Tabards – asking for solving work problems or to give protection for workers!

Personal messages – hope, thanks and memories of friendship renewed

Bags – good luck for school

Plaster casts – speak for themselves

Odd eggs! – Cowabunga! Fertility perhaps or just an attempt at egg rolling!?

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This one’s been here for a while!

And there are many many more…perhaps enough for another blog post at the end!

A Roman water shrine rediscovered? The Weir garden’s mysterious well

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The Weir garden is a delightful riverside garden owned by the National Trust. Many people naturally visit it for the gardens but it is the unusual and possibly unique relic that can be found.

Before entering the main section of the garden is a curious octagonal cistern lying close to the path on the left This was discovered when some work people were digging for a new water pipe in 1891 during a period of drought. Whilst removing earth for a trench they discovered the site. Unfortunately, several of the upper stones were removed before its significance was realized and the placed back. This did mean that the sections were replaced but in the wrong parts and this explains the tanks less than perfect outline. When it was first discovered the excavators believed it to be a medieval structure this was despite the discovery of tesserae plugging a central opening in the lower stone. The remains of a wooden water calcified for centuries which used to direct the flow of the spring above and angled by about 45°from above. Elsewhere were pieces of broken tile, tesserae and green painted wall plaster. More substantial remains of buttresses can still be seen in the river below.

Local legend?

Associated with the site and gardens is a legend recorded by Jonathan Sant in his 1994 Healing wells of Herefordshire. The legend records that two figures haunt the well and area. One was a Roman Soldier and the other ancient Briton women said to have been his lover. It is said that his general sent him to the well with a message for a lady but alas he say his Briton lower saw them meeting at the well and suspecting him for infidelity and thus threw herself into the river. He saw her do this and jumped in after her. They both sadly drowned

Once a year it is said that the ghosts appear and fill the well with their tears and according to Sant its waters were said to have magical powers for lovers.

All this is possibly Victorian romanticisms post the discovery of the well. Jonathan Sant (1994) also states that the well was traditionally said to have been filled in by order of the bishop of Hereford but he does not claim why or give the source. Does this suggest that it was used as a pagan site? Or are we talking about a protestant Bishop stopping Catholic practices at a holy well? None of these legends appear to have attracted the attention of either Ella Mary Leather’s The Folklore of Herefordshire or Roy Palmers The folklore of Hereford and Worcester.

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A local water deity?

It is possible that the ruins represent a high status third or fourth century Roman villa which contained a Romano-British shrine dedicated to water nymphs called a nymphaeum. A clue to a local deity may come from the Roman altar stone found in 1821 beneath the Billiard Hall near the Hereford library may have originally come from the Weir Gardens and of what can be read:

DEO SILVANO

As Silvano was a Roman God of the countryside it would make sense to have them worshipped by the river Wye. It is possible that if the legend is not a Victorian embellishment that records folk memory of the deities.

A curious site and possibly one of the only truly surviving Roman water shrines in situ. It may have been Christianised but all memory of that has been forgotten. Hopefully one day more can be found.

An abecedary of Sacred springs of the world: The rag wells of Wales

As a prelude to next year’s theme on votive offerings at holy and healing wells with a special focus on rag wells, for this abecedary entry W I have picked Wales and want to focus on rag wells in the country as an early prelude to my theme next year which is on rag or more often called cloottie wells.

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The earliest confirmed reference is an English one of 1600 and evidence from Wales of their existence comes much later as nearly 300 years after the first accounts. What are we to make of this?

An account by Professor Rhys in Folklore for September, 1892 is the easiest reference and he is given the following information, said to be ‘lately sent to him by a friend, about a Glamorganshire holy well situated between Coychurch and Bridgeendd’ he notes.:—

“people suffering from any malady to dip a rag in the water, and bathe the affected part. The rag is then placed on a tree close to the well. When I passed it, about three years ago, there were hundreds of these shreds covering the tree, and some had evidently been placed there very recently.”

He was further informed that :

 “People suffering from rheumatism. They bathe the part affected with water, and afterwards tie a piece of rag to the tree which overhangs the well. The rag is not put in the water at all, but is only put on the tree for luck. It is a stunted but very old tree, and is simply covered with rags.”

An interesting variant of the custom is recorded at Ffynnon Eilian (St. Elian’s Well), near Abergele in Denbighshire. Here Professor Rhys was informed by Mrs. Evans, the late wife of Canon Silvan Evans, who states that:

“some bushes near the well had once been covered with bits of rag left by those who frequented it. The rags used to be tied to the bushes by means of wool-not woollen yarn, but wool in its natural state. Corks with pins stuck in them were floating in the well when Mrs. Evans visited it, though the rags had apparently disappeared from the bushes.”

This may have been to do with the unfavourable nature of the well which was renowned as a cursing well. Recently restored it rags have yet to re-appear there!

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Finally he records Ffynnon Cefn Lleithfan, or Well of the Lleithfan Ridge, on the eastern slope of Mynydd y Rhiw, in the parish of Bryncroes, in the west of Caernarvonshire, here:

“The wart is to be bathed at the well with a rag or clout, which has grease on it. The clout must then be carefully concealed beneath the stone at the mouth of the well.”

Which is yet again another variant possibly to do with the paucity of trees in the area

In an article in the Cardiff Naturalists Society (1935) by Aileen Fox, entitled “A Rag Well near Llancarfan” the spring called the Inflammation Spring  she states that:

“When I first visited the spring in August, 1935, 3 old rags – pieces of dish cloth and calico – and a piece of brown wool were tied on overhanging branches by the source.”

And records that:

“The treatment described by Mrs Williams consisted in using the water for drinking to the exclusion of all other fluids, in applying mud from the source as a plaster on the affected parts, and in tying a rag, preferably from the underclothing, by the well.”

Distribution of the rag wells in the county is spread out with a small cluster in the south. Research and survey work indicates that there are eight traditional sites of which only three have a continued tradition, although it is difficult to describe or define the presence of rags there as continued or revived tradition without further research. Add to this only three sites which have no tradition but have no become rag wells. This latter category itself is a puzzle to define.

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A recent visit to the atmospheric St. Pedr’s Well at Caswell Bay on the Gower did reveal rags and objects hanging from trees. However, the more traditional appearing was St. Teilo’s Well, Llandilo in Pembrokeshire where trees beside the pool filled by the spring were adorned with white and red fabrics of cloth and as such perhaps appears closer to the tradition than other sites such as St Anne’s Well, Trelleck, Monmouthshire, where a tree is adorned with a multitude of objects when it is not actively cleared up by local people. Why rags and objects should appear at St Tegla’s Well, Llandega, Denbighshire, or the Holy Well, Pileth, Powys or Patrishow’s holy well, Llanlawer is unclear. As sites which have received publicity in the earth mysteries and pagan press these rank pretty high. However, it is interesting to note that they are all close to the English border too. The origins of the custom in Wales similarly is difficult to determine. The widespread nature of the custom and it variant usage suggests possibly a wider distribution and the sites remaining are bar the remnants or that it arose individually in a number of places.

The Everlasting Well of Papillon Hall, Leicestershire

One of the most fascinating lost Leicestershire holy wells was St. Mary’s Well or Everlasting well – although there is no clear evidence they are one and the same I should add but it is more than likely. Why is it more fascinating than most? It was because it was associated with David Papillon, said to be a local mystic.

Who was David Papillon?

David Papillon (1691-1762) was great-grandson of the builder of Papillon Hall, locally he was called Pamps and stories state he had psychic powers and that he had the power to bewitch people with his ‘evil eye’. One local tale tells how he criticised two farm labourers for ploughing a field poorly and so mesmerized them so they could not move all day and only released them at the end!.. As a result villagers made the sign of the cross in dough when baking bread to protect them.  It is not clear how he used the well but it was probably thought he cast spells over it!

Holy well come evil well?

Pen Lloyd 1977, in their The History of the Mysterious Papillon Hall, Market Harborough, notes:

“A chalybeate spring in the grounds used to be known as St Mary’s Well”

The site of the Hall was thought to have been on  the site of a Leper colony established by Leicester Abbey. Another name of this was the “Everlasting Well”, which was reported to be David Papillon’s magic well, which was supposed to possess great medicinal virtue. In my research for my Holy wells and Healing springs of Leicestershire volume I aimed to discover if the site survived and what remained of it.

History of the well

The first account is John Nichols (1795–1815) in his The History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester:

“within a few yards of the Welland… in a stone cistern, formerly in some repute for weak eyes’

But he fails to suggest its name or refer to it in reference to David Papillon. Lloyd (1877) records an account by a Mr Walker, a previous owner of the Hall, who had a fragment of the well cover which still showed a P and one of the butterflies from the coat of arms. He gave it to Pelham Papillon who lived in Sussex in 1908 and the stone was supposed to have been built into a stone wall in the garden at Catsfield Place. Why it was given away is unclear and perhaps suggests at this time the well itself had become derelict and being removed. Whatever,   it is also reported that he experienced some misfortune followed and he was forced to return it. However, where it is now is unclear.

What happened to the well?

In Old Pamp and the Slippers of Papillon Hall by David Allen or Lubenham.org.uk states:

“around 13 years ago (1988). It was at this point I decided to take a closer look…… I was surprised at what was still standing including……… the remains of St Mary’s well”

So it would appear it probably survived when Bob Trubshaw was recording it in his 1990 Holy wells of Leicestershire. No photo or drawing exists of the well that I can find but it must have been large enough to have a slab over it or on its enclosing wall.

PapillionHall

Does the Everlasting Well last today?

Contacting a Mrs Barbara Burbidge, Secretary of the Lubenham Heritage Group I was informed that the well no longer existed. She also informed me of a local man called Bernard remembered when his parents and many others would get water because the mineral content was supposed to have therapeutic healing powers. Bernard’s mother used it to bathe her eyes. Even Jack Gardiner the famous boxer from Market Harborough is reported to have used it after his fights to help him recover.

She continued by informing me:

“Unfortunately I can verify that  the well itself was removed several years ago and when I visited the site about five years ago doing research on Papillon Hall, all that remained was a slight staining in the ground and a few pieces of brick and rubble. I expect ploughing in the field in subsequent years has removed even those traces.”

According to Mrs Burbidge the well was situated about a mile to the west of Lubenham and south of what is now the A4304. The site can be found by following an avenue of trees from the road (opposite the entrance to Papillon Hall Farm and Branfield Residential Park) towards the River Welland. As you approach the river, turn left into an arable field and the well was in that corner of the field. Following those instructions I could not find any evidence and it looks like the Everlasting well lasts no more.

300th Post – the original Pixy Led well, Fitz’s well, Dartmoor

 

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It’s great to record that this is the 300th post of this holy well blog and as this month is also its 8th Birthday I thought it would be worth making it clear why the posts are by Pixyled Publications or more precisely why Pixy led! What does this mean and why is it used? Well for this 300th blog post and on the blog’s 8th birthday I felt it was appropriate to describe the well where the term is most commonly associated with. This is Fitz’s Well laying in the desolate moors of Dartmoor at Princetown overlooking its foreboding prison. Charles Hope in his 1893 Legendary lore of holy wells aptly explains:

John Fitz, of Fitzford, near Tavistock, who was one day riding with his wife, lost his way on the moor. After wandering in vain to find the right path, being thirsty and fatigued, he at last found a delicious spring of water, whose powers seemed to be miraculous, for no sooner had he partaken thereof than he was enabled to trace his steps correctly homewards.”

Getting lost was often thought to be due to elemental spirits and Hope continues to note:

“John Fitz erected the memorial stone marked I. F., 1568, which, with a few other slabs of granite, protects it, for the advantage of all pixy-led travellers.”

Image may contain: outdoor and natureComically Sabine Baring Gould in his 1899 Book of Devon recorded that when he came to the well in the 19th century, some of his party including officers from the Ordnance Survey complete with their surveying equipment went astray in the mist and were completely lost. He noted:

“pixy-led out of pure mischief to show how superior the pixies were even to the most scientific equipment.”

However, you may still ask what does Pixy-led mean? British novelist Anna Eliza Bray first recorded the Pixy or Pixie in her 1837 The Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy. It was recorded that Pixies would enjoy the prank of leading people astray and getting them lost. Thus the terms pixy led or rather amusingly for modern ears, pixilated, meant someone lost on a familiar route which lead to a state of confusion or bewilderment. If one thought they would be pixy led they would turn their coats inside out.

Hope goes on to describe the site as:

about 3 feet deep, and lies in a swamp near the remains of an ancient bridge, or clam, the bridge being partly swept away by a flood in 1873”.

Sabine Baring-Gould notes:

Fice’s Well, which I remember in the midst of moor, is now included within the new take of the prisons, and a wall has been erected to protect it. This deprives it of much of its charm.”

In 1826 an engraving by P. H. Rogers shows no sign of the enclosure wall. This must have been built by the prison’s intake post this date and before Baring Gould’s visit. The Field Investigators of State Environment in the 1954 note:

A well constructed granite dipping chamber of drystone masonry. Internally it is 0.8m. square and 0.8m. high with a slab roof and a lintel over the open S side bearing the initials “IF” for John Fice and the date 1568. The well is enclosed by a circular protection wall, probably of much later date, and access is by steps over the wall which effectively precludes a photograph of the build.”

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Confusingly, Okehampton and Tavistock also have Fitz’s well, although only the former could claim to have a position which might match the legend, but these are for another blog post perhaps. Finally, apart from removing the powers of the Pixy or as Sabine Gould calls it ‘Pixy glamour’ in an account obviously borrowed from Hope, it is also said to have:

“possess many healing virtues”.

No authority says what.

Today the well is a lot easier to find following the footpath from the road but I have only visited it on a warm and clear summer’s day. One could still imagine the Pixies would be about on a cold and misty November.

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