Category Archives: Gazatteer

A Suffolk field trip

Suffolk is only is perhaps well known for its Lady’s Well at Woolpit. And altough not particularly associated with holy wells but close reading of a number of texts and old maps reveals there are more sites than this. Last month I noted some Norfolk examples so here are some extracted from a forthcoming book on sites of county. a-ladywell Bradley


Situated in a remarkably remote location for this part of Suffolk, the Lady well (TM 061 552) is reached only by a dead end road that peters out into a dirt track at a farm courtyard. One then travels over a muddy field, to reach the site of the well. After such a journey the well it is a bit of a disappointment; the farmer directed me to a boggy circular hollow with no trace of masonry or even indication of any former importance. There is a large thorn tree over the hollow, but there is no sign of any use. Again apart from its description on the O/S maps as ‘Ladywell’ in Old English script, I have found no written account of the well. The farmer knew of the well, but not its history. Only its name remains to remember any past religious activity here, although there is some tradition that it was visited for medicinal purposes. The county record office has no details concerning the well.


A large structure called the Lady’s or Wishing Well or Lady’s Fountain (TM 450762), which is found down Spring Lane at the south end of Henham Park. The structure is made brick and stone arch and has two low seats inside. It was erected by the first Countess of Stradbrooke in the 19th century. It was thought to be a ‘traveller’s rest’ with brass cups attached to the structure for anyone wishing to drink there. It is recorded in 1833 the ‘Lady’s Fountain’ poem by Agnes Strickland An alternative name was Queen Anne’s Well.  This itself appears to be a confusion because according to some sources it relates to King Onna. The spring is said to be near the reputed to be the place of King Onna’s death (654 AD) and a structure was erected soon after to mark the spot where the spring arose where the king’s body fell.  The structure is now dry and overgrown but clearly has a confused history.


St_Johns_Wel_Great_BartonWithin the grounds of St John’s well cottage is the said St John’s well (TL 889 669). It consists of a circular approximately two foot high well, with a fastened wooden lid. The brick work consists of a mixture of two red bricks layers sandwiching, a layer of round agate / pebbles, and then topped with a level of brick, and then a final layer of sandstone. Although the lid was locked, the water looked quite deep. A pleasant circular summer house has been constructed around the well. This has a concrete floor and a cone thatched roof supported by timber frames, set on short red bricked columns. A clematis has scrambled across the roof, and the indeed the edges of the summer house are quite obscured with vegetation. The well, to the left of the cottage gates, can also be seen from the road through the hedge, outside the private garden of the cottage. However apart from the marking of its location upon the appropriate O/S maps in Old English Script as ‘ Well ‘ The owners when I visited, a Mr and Mrs Williams knew little of the origin of the well, although the well’s water was still used according an elderly neighbour who had died recently that is back in the late 1990s. Its waters have never been known to dry even in drought conditions, despite being a shallow well of 7-8ft below the surface with 3-4ft of water. It is possible that the well received its dedication from Palgrave Chapel of St John, which was demolished in 1545. The only written report acquired is as follows :

‘Situated in the garden of a private house built c 1923 the well head and canopy probably date from the same time. According to the owner of the house the well is marked on maps as old as the 17th century but there is nothing of this age to be seen in the lining which seems to be modern brick. OD Card TL 86/NE7.’

I too have found no other exact details. It is possibly that the well is that referred to by Cruden in the following account:

‘There is also on Mr Milner Gribson Cullums property near Bury a spot named Holywell, but no traditions….survive.’

I have been unable to place the location of this site of which are a little vague. The county record office has no details concerning the well. Copyright Pixyledpublications

A Norfolk field trip

In a previous post, I promised a return to Norfolk…I unfortunately haven’t physically been there but there are still some sites of which I can describe from my original survey.


grimstonLocated in a private garden is one of the least known holy wells is those found opposite the church called St. Botolph’s Springs (TF 721 219). It is absent from Harte’s work and I have been unable to find its origin. According to local tradition it apparently named after a local saint who baptised converts in them. Little appears to be recorded of him, but clearly the church was founded to Christianise the springs considering its proximity. These appear to be two in number and now flow to fill a large pool in the garden of the house opposite the church called The Springs. There is a small section of stone walling just above the first spring and the spring itself bubbles from underneath this through the chalk. The second spring arises similarly from under a ledge nearer to the church. Whether there are any old fragments of this site is unclear, especially as there appear to be no authorities to confirm that the truth behind the local saint.



Arises in a small copse of bushes on the edge of a field is St Mary’s Well (TM 021 781) whose waters were thought to be good for eyes. It was recently been tidied up with a new fence erected around it although it is a simple spring. There as a number of small stones lying around suggesting a possible structure. 


wereBetter reported St Margaret’s Well (TF 680 017) is noted by Chambers (1830) as:

“…to the west of the church is St. Margaret’s Well, at which, in the times of popery, the people diverted themselves on that saint’s day with cakes and ale, music and dancing; alms and offerings were brought, and vows made: all this was called Well worship”.

Here is a confusing one! Reports state that site still arises beside a circular pond fills a small foot wide basin beneath a small obelisk.  Water flows sluggishly from this structure but clearly contributes to the pond beside it. However sadly it is not for the said well is now further east where the road is and buried. The oblelisk is spring fed but not the same spring sadly.


East Dereham boasts one of Norfolk’s best and most interesting holy wells. This is St. Withburga’s Well (TF 988 134) which arises behind the church through a flint and stone archway in front of the well basin is a stone coffin lid.  The site is protected by railings and since the 1990s there has been a well dressing although not in a Derbyshire style. In 1757 there was an attempt to convert the spring into a minor spa, although never referred to as such. A bath house was constructed over the well and this was restored in 1786 and 1792-3 the latter being undertaken by local man Sir John Fenn and his committee established to repair and maintain the structure. This resulted in a brick built classical building being erected over the well. However, this was finally removed in the 1850s by the Rev Benjamin Armstrong who opposed the structure.

The well is associated with Saxon St. Withburga, daughter of King Annas who died in c 743. The spring is said to have arisen after the monks of Ely Cathedral stole the saint’s relics.

Chambers appears to suggest that there is another St. Withburga’s Well (TF 986 133) some distance from the churchyard but gives no further details. This would appear to have been that at Old Becclesgate where it lay in the garden, however in the cellar which shows evidence of the building being probable monastery site was a supposed well said to be a holy well. Neither site appear to exist.


norwichRecords show that St Lawrence’s Well (TG 228 089) in the time of Edward I was a common well and probably served Fullers Hole, where cloth was cleansed and thickened.  In 1547 the Court granted the parishioners the lane from the High Street to the well, together with the said well, on the condition that they erect the door at the south end of the lane and keep it open in the day, and shut up securely at night. However, in 1576, Robert Gibson was given a grant of the said lane, or entry, and the well, and had thus to provide at his own charge access to the well. It states:

‘He shall bring the water from the said well in a cock of lead, into the public street, for the ease of the common people, and shall maintain the same.’

In latter times this site was known as St Lawrence’s Pump, and following inscriptions had been applied:

“This Water here cavght,  In Sorte as yowe se. From a Spring is brovghte, Threskore Foot and thre. Gybson hath it sowghte, From Saynt Lawrens Wel.”

The site appears in drawings by Cotman (1818) and Willis (1885). Suffling (1887) notes that:

“A few years since, Mr Harry Bullard, a brewer, and well-known patron of his city, transformed it into a public drinking fountain.”

After a number of years of looking rather sorry for itself this is without doubt the most splendid of the wells in this survey, resplendent in its guilt and painted brick work.

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A Buxton field trip. Searching for the ancient springs and wells of Buxton

The following is extracted with editing from The Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Derbyshire

BuxtonThe most famed holy and healing well in the county and one which has attracted considerable fame across the county is St. Anne’s Well (SK 058 734) but the town has a number of other springs including another holy well. It is said to be of certain Roman origin as Aquae Arnemetiae, or the waters of the goddess Arnemetia. This may have been a native cult although little is known of it. There may have been an unbroken use from Roman but nothing is known of it until the tenth or eleventh century, being recorded in the road to Buxton, Bathamgate meaning the road to the (warm) baths.

The first mention of the site as a holy well was by William Worcestre (1969) c.1460:

“makes many miracles, making the infirm healthy, and in winter it is warm, even as honeyed milk.”

When the site was dedicated to St. Anne’s is unclear; in 1461 Buxton was known as Bukston juxta Halywell and even in the sixteenth century they were usually called the Springs or Buxton Wells. However, Cox (1888) in work on Churches mentions that in the reign of Henry VIII offerings were made to St. Anne at the chapel of Buxton, but does not directly state the well was called this.  However, it is likely that this chapel was associated with the spring. It was during Henry VIIIth’s reign that under the bidding of Thomas Cromwell the chapel was closed and the saint’s image removed and access to the waters prevented. However, a local family, the Cottrell family appear to have had ownership or indeed influence over the site. In 1542 Roger Cottrell contested a decision that the chapel should be used by the general inhabitants of Buxton, keeping it locked and preventing mass being said there. This would appear to have been a brief period of disuse for in 1572 a Dr. Jones wrote a treatise on The Benefit of the Auncient Bathes of Buckstones, stating that the crutches and other tokens of restored health were hung up on the walls of a public room erected by the Earl of Shrewsbury not far from the baths, suggesting that the chapel by this time had been destroyed. He mentions, also the legend that the image of St. Anne had been miraculously found in the well, and thus given it her name or as he refers to it as the “Cottrels tale or vayne inventions about St Anne found in the well” perhaps suggesting they were keen to re-establish an ancient tradition and used the saint to support it. In 1553 there was a petition against Roger Cottrell for allowing:

youthful persons to wash and bathe them in the well called Saint Anne’s Well, not only to tipple and drink within the said chapel on the Sundays and holydays, but most irreverently also to pipe, dance, hop and sing….to the great disturbance of the inhabitants of Buxton”.

Whether this was a direct complaint about the Catholic nature of the visits or rather the rowdiness of the parties whichever Roger Cottrell was fined £100 at the Derby assizes. By the 17th century the site had become more established being included on Speed’s map of 1610 and being in 1667 on the northern itinerary of Celia Fiennes. The foundations of the chapel were uncovered in 1698. It is suggested that actual well appears to have remained lined with Roman lead, and surrounded with Roman brick and cement down to the year 1709. Short (1734) states that a Sir Thomas Delves, who after receiving benefit at the spring, had removed this old work and erected over it a stone alcove, or porch twelve foot long and twelve foot broad with stone seats on the inside. In 1836 a six foot stone structure, with sculpture of St Anne and St Mary, was erected by the Duke of Devonshire. Today people still collect the mineral water for free and is dressed, first recorded in the 1840s, discontinued in 1911 but restarted in 1925.

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There were a number of springs which developed under the shadow of St. Ann’s however few are formally named (such as a cold bath on the Macclesfield road, said to be of the same temperature as the waters at Matlock). According to Campbell (1774) noted in Burton, (1977) Buxton’s Waters it was a:

about twenty yards South-East of St. Anne’s, in another close lies Bingham, or St. Peter’s Well..”

This appears to be the earliest reference to Buxton’s lesser known holy well called St. Peter’s well, a site missing from every gazetteer including that by Harte (2008). The origin of its dedication is unclear and its secularised name is better known being Bingham’s or Leigh’s well (SK 058 735).  (The later name being based on a person who had a notable cure from its waters.) This saint’s dedication suggests an early site, but if this is so it is surprising that no other authors refer to it. It was lined with white marble, and the temperature of the hot baths from it, was most accurately adjusted by an ingenious contrivance for the introduction of cold and hot water. When all this was lost is unclear. The well’s site is now marked by manhole cover in the road east of the crescent.

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There was also a chalybeate spring on the North side of the river Wye, at the side of the turnpike-road behind the Crescent. Nothing appears to be recorded of its history.

These lesser springs disappeared largely without trace, but the great spring which brought both Romans and Regency, remains today.

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Visiting the wells at Midsummer – a lost holy well custom.

Although January 1st, Imbolc and May 1st (or its first sunday) are associated with veneration of wells and springs and their increase in proficiency, Midsummer (Eve or Day) was a date often associated with visiting wells.   Often the wells would be dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the saint whose feast day would be on that date. Some such as St. John’s Well, Broughton or St John’s Well, Shenstone whose waters were thought to be more curative on that day.  This is clear at Craikel Spring, Bottesford, Lincolnshire Folklorist Peacock (1895) notes that:

“Less than fifty years ago a sickly child was dipped in the water between the mirk and the dawn on midsummer morning,’ and niver looked back’ards efter, ‘immersion at that mystic hour removing the nameless weakness which had crippled him in health. Within the last fifteen years a palsied man went to obtain a supply of the water, only to find, to his intense disappointment, that it was drained away through an underground channel which rendered it unattainable.”

Now a lost site, it is possible that the site now called St. John’s Well in the village is the same site considering its connection to midsummer.

Often these visits would become ritualised and hence as Hazlitt notes in the Irish Hudibras (1689) that in the North of Ireland:

“Have you beheld, when people pray, At St. John’s well on Patron-Day,
By charm of priest and miracle, To cure diseases at this well;
The valleys filled with blind and lame, And go as limping as they came.”

In the parish of Stenness, Orkney local people would bring children to pass around it sunwise after being bathed in the Bigwell. A similar pattern would be down at wells at Tillie Beltane, Aberdeenshire where the well was circled sunwise seven times. Tongue’s (1965) Somerset Folklore records of the Southwell, Congresbury women used to process around the well barking like dogs.

These customs appear to have been private and probably solitary activities, in a number of locations ranging from Northumberland to Nottingham, the visiting of the wells was associated with festivities. One of the most famed with such celebration was St Bede’s Well at Jarrow. Brand (1789) in his popular observances states:

“about a mile to the west of Jarrow there is a well, still called Bede’s Well, to which, as late as the year 1740, it was a prevailing custom to bring children troubled with any disease or infirmity; a crooked pin was put in, and the well laved dry between each dipping. My informant has seen twenty children brought together on a Sunday, to be dipped in this well; at which also, on Midsummer-eve, there was a great resort of neighbouring people, with bonfires, musick, &c.”         

Piercy (1828) states that at St. John’s Well Clarborough, Nottinghamshire

a feast, or fair, held annually on St. Johns  day, to which the neighbouring villagers resorted to enjoy such rural sports or games as fancy might dictate.”

Similarly, the Lady Well, Longwitton Northumberland, or rather an eye well was where according to Hodgon (1820-58) where:

People met here on Midsummer Sunday and the Sunday following, when they amused themselves with leaping, eating gingerbread brought for sale to the spot, and drinking the waters of the well.”         

When such activities ceased is unclear, but in some cases it was clearly when the land use changed. This is seen at Hucknall’s Robin Hood’s well, when the woods kept for Midsummer dancing, was according to Marson (1965-6)  in an article called  Wells, Sources and water courses in Nottinghamshire countryside states it was turned to a pheasant reserve, the open space lawn was allowed to grass over and subsequently all dancing ceased. In Dugdale’s (1692) Monasticon Anglicanum notes that at Barnwell Cambridgeshire:

“..once a year on St John Baptist’s Eve, boys and lads met there, and amused themselves in the English fashion with wrestling matches and other games and applauded each other in singing songs and playing musical instruments. Hence by reason of the crowd that met and played there, a habit grew up that on the same day a crowd of buyers and sellers should meet in same place to do business.”       

Whether the well itself was the focus for the festivities or the festivities were focused around the well because it provided water are unclear, there are surviving and revived midsummer customs which involve bonfires and general celebrations but no wells involved.

The only custom, revived in 1956, which resembles that of the midsummer well visiting is Ashmore’s Filly Loo.  This is the only apparent celebration of springs at Midsummer is at Ashmore Dorset where a local dew pond, where by long tradition a feast was held on its banks, revived in 1956 and called Filly Loo, it is held on the Friday nearest midsummer and consists of dancing and the holding of hands around the pond at the festivities end.

Another piece of evidence perhaps for the support of a well orientated event as opposed an event with a well is the structure of the Shirehampton Holy Well, Gloucestershire which arises in:

‘A large cave … Inside, there is crumbling masonry – the remains of an ancient shrine or hermitage – and a pool fed by a stream which seeps through the floor of the cave. The rays of the midsummer sun are said to strike the centre of this pool, and seers used to read the future in its depths.”

Tait (1884–5) suggests that the building was:

“duly oriented for midsummer day, so that it is clearly a mediaeval dedication to S. John Baptist.”

This unusual site may indicate the longer and deeper associations of springs and midsummer than is first supposed…or antiquarian fancy. You decide.

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Some wells of the Weald: a Sussex field trip

My occasional visits to Sussex have allowed me to visit the ancient water supplies which have been poorly covered. I hope in the next year or so to publish my volume on both counties, until then I thought I’d inform you of my exploits in both East and West Sussex as a taster for the book. If any reader knows any site (other than St. Anne’s Well Brighton) please message me I’d like to know.

Ludwell, Horstead KeynesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There were two noted springs in the Parish; one the Holy Well has now been incorporated into the domestic water supply. Happily a large springhead pool called the Lud Well till survives not far from the church. This was believed to have cured the plague as related on a notice nearby:

Legend has it that in the time of the Great Plague c1666, pilgrims from London paused at this spring (sometimes referred to as God’s Pond) to wash the plague from their body.”

What is interesting here is the name. Lud dedications can often be confusing. Some authorities without equivocation suggest they are dedicated to the Celtic God Lud, however often with springheads it is said to derived from loud, I have always included them in my research as the former and I think the second name is vindication…what God are they refereeing to? It seems unlikely that either people in the 1600s or modern people would instantly make or care about the link. So this seems likely to a Pagan survival. Perhaps the presence of the holy well is further evidence. Was this established by the Christians to avert interest…ironic that that site was chosen for the mains? The Ludwell had become very overgrown in recent years but today is a testament to what local people can do to tidy up and repair our water heritage. The springhead also flows to fill a trough closer to the road perhaps set up for animals.

Lord’s Well, Crowborough


This site is an little known well but potential significant. It still exists in the Lordswell Lane. Enquiring in the lane I was directed to a site on the right hand side below Lord’s Well House. I was told by the owner of the well house that the whole street had springs along it but directed me
Interesting in his garden was a circular well, could this be a lost holy well? I only suggest this as the house abutting this property and sharing the same drive was called Holy Well. I was informed by the elderly owner of this house that it was covered by a square of concrete to prevent children falling in. The well house appears to be brick made and those which can be seen are very mossy. The spring still flows through a pipe into a channel below beside the road.
No properties are recorded but it is said to be named so to this being the location that fighting Saxons and Danes (I was told by Celts whilst surveying there) meet to settle Slaughterham Ghyll being given as a evidence, found along Lordswell Lane. I am unable to verify this nor know its connection with the spring

St. Dunstan’s Well, Mayfield


Lying in the grounds of a school, and subsequently is difficult to access but I found the staff there very helpful when I contacted them. The well is one of the most substantial holy wells in the county and one of the only one associated with either a local saint or with a detailed tradition. Black (1884) Guide to Sussex describes it as of considerable depth (reputedly 300 feet) and supplied with the purest water. He states that it was resorted to by pilgrims. It is noted by local historian Hoare (1849) in his historical and architectural notices of Mayfield Palace, as:

“Adjoining the kitchen apartments at the lower end of the hall, is a well, of considerable depth, and supplied with the purest water. It is called St Dunstan’s… It is guarded by four walls, having one entrance.”

St Dunstan, although Archbishop of Canterbury, he also worked as blacksmith and it is said one day a beautiful girl arrived to distract him, but he noticed cloven hooves beneath ‘her’ skirt and using is tongues grabbed old Nick’s nose. The devil was said to have flown off in agony and cooled himself in a spring, which may be that at Mayfield. It is remembered by the local rhyme:

“Saynt Dunstan (as the story goes),
Caught old Sathanas by ye nose.
He tugged soe hard and made hym roar,
That he was heard three miles and more.

The legend is well known, although the legend appears to have transferred to the Chalybeate Spring at Tunbridge.

The Well House, Withyham

Here is a notable Chalybeate spring covered by a delightful 19th century wooden well house with four sturdy wooden posts and pyramidical tiled roof topped with a pineapple like finial. The centre of the well house is pleasantly tiled with large red tiles surrounding the spring which fills a circular basin. Its water appears to flow beneath the well house into a natural hole in the ground and then a further dipping hole, more detailed than the first resembling that seen at Tunbridge Wells, perhaps established as a 24 hour source as the main source was completely fenced off in the well house. The water is very heavily coated in orange scum, in fact it’s one of the strongest iron waters I have seen. The site can be encountered on the drive to Buckhurst House and was clearly an estate improvement. However, beyond this I have been unable to find more information regarding its history or traditions and would welcome further information.


Holy wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire: an overview


The following post is derived from the preface to Holy wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire, which has been recently published.

To date there has been a number of attempts to provide a complete guide to Lincolnshire sites, despite a small number of sites is recorded by Hope (1893), Lincolnshire has fared better than other counties he describes, with a sizeable gazetteer in Gutch and Peacock (1908) and various editions of Lincolnshire Notes and Queries (Antiquarius Rusticus (1926–9)). Interest in the topic picked up in the 1990s by two excellent articles by Healey (1995) and subsequent notes and queries contributions in Lincolnshire Past and Present which extended work by the previous authors and notes made by the noted folklorist Ethel Rudkin. The 1990s culminated in Thompson’s excellent Lincolnshire Springs and Wells. However this work covered very few holy wells or healing wells compared to those listed in previous authors (although did give an excellent analysis of sites in its appendix) mainly focusing on ‘noted springs’ such as those at Helpringham whose religious heritage is unclear. Although it worked wholly with surviving sites it rather perplexingly omitted some still extant and accessible sites (perhaps suggesting he was working on a second volume). Nonetheless, it is a worthy book. This work intends to combine the relevant finds of all previous researchers as well the usual sources such as field names located in maps and documents, village histories and other topographical works. Thus it hopes to be the most comprehensive of the topic (with the usual inventory of named wells.)

Harte’s excellent magnus opus, although focuses on holy wells only, records 34 genuine sites and 7  probable and 12 dubious (some of these dubious sites are possible and I have not included some such as St. Guthlac’s Well, Crowland which I concur is a misreading!). Healy (1995), in a survey more akin to this volume than Harte, records 88 sites but many of these are records of parishes with no details (see appendix of this volume) and one presumes that they may have had significance but the original recorded Rudkin made no further details.  This survey makes a total of 55 holy well sites. Indeed, Lincolnshire can claim a low concentration of wells per square miles. This is compared to Nottinghamshire which has a density of 9.3 wells per square miles, Derbyshire wells per square mile, Leicestershire 9.9 wells per square mile (Rattue 1993).

Dedications consist of Holy well (24 although includes some dubious sites) St Helen’s Well (3), Virgin’s well (3) Lady or St. Mary (3), St. Ann(e)’s well (3 including one possible 4 with a possible Anniel), St. Chad (2 but possibly just Cold wells) St John (2), St Peter (2) the others, although some may be named after chapels or churches nearby rather than wells have one dedication each: St. Michael, St Thomas, St George, St. Clements, St. Winifred, St Margaret, St Hugh, St. Trunnian. It is possible that other sites remain to be confirmed in the county, whose firm dedications appear to have been forgotten but their location is strongly indicative of holy wells or possibly pre-Christian sacred springs. Everson, Taylor and Dunn, (1991) suggest All Saints Heapham and St Chad’s Church Harpswell, both sit on springs and All Saints is isolated from the village. These are probable sites, especially Harpwell with its pre-Conquest dedication and unusual well dedication. However, one must be careful to make assumptions because statistically with the large number of churches in the county, some must be associated with spring heads especially as it may be that the original foci of the settlement would be such springs and churches naturally would be situated near these original focuses.

Although one naturally considers such sites to be of Christian origin, one does not nor should not exclude sites which indicate associations with other religions. Such a consideration is particularly important in the British Isles, where one can clearly see that a number of our holy wells have endured a long popularity. However, it should be stressed that the general lack in archaeological interest in such sites, such claims cannot be ascertained. No claims are made for pre-Roman sites in the county, but Lincolnshire’s Roman remains are often found in close proximity to a number of sites: Brigg’s St. Helen’s Well, Greetham’s St Margaret’s Well, Ancaster’s Lady Well, Winterton’s Holy Well, close to Ermine street and St Pancras Well, Scampton. More significant perhaps Kirton Lindsey’s Diana’s head possibly named after the Roman goddess.  The strongest association, however, is Danish with noted Kell Well and By-Well being clearly inheriting their names from Danish settlers.  Other sites mentioned in the inventory, such as Keld Ash, could also claim this association but details are scant. One has also includes sites which are associated with religious ritual beyond Catholic usage, a sites connected with Baptist and Judaism are included (although sadly not a Medieval mikah site).

There are only appears to have been three real spas in the county, i.e those with established rooms or baths made for public convenience: Stainfield, Braceborough and Woodhall. However, the use of Spa or spaw as a term for a minor spring with medicinal qualities is used here as in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. In all there are 14 such sites, but to this one can add chalybeate and mineral springs with no other names.

Research shows that Lincoln is an interesting city for well researchers, having a number of interestingly named sites, despite very little tradition. Unlike nearby mediaeval settlements (Nottingham), the city does not have a well known holy well, which survived the Reformation and became known outside of its community. The nearest to this was St. Hugh’s Well, although very little appears to be known of this in comparison to St. Anne’s Well at Nottingham and indeed that site may be questionable and may be a Victorian fabrication.

Folk traditions and legends are considered in this volume as suggesting some past importance to the site.  Some sites for example, often ponds are associated with the traditions of hidden treasure or haunting. Many spectral water figures in the county are called Jenny. For example, Stanny Well, Hibbaldstow, has one described as a woman carrying her head under her arm. This spectre is supposed to be Jenny Stannywell, who once upon a time drowned herself in the water. At least two other well or pond ghosts of the feminine sex are known in Lincolnshire, but so far as is recorded they carry their heads in orthodox fashion. The site is suggested to be Roman is this significant? 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. Similarly, the unusual blow holes in the north-east were said to be haunted by a coach and four and a grey lady. Pilford Bridge between Toft next Newton and Normanby, a ghost of a witch which attacked anyone who crossed the bridge was trapped in an iron pot.

The Trent itself has the Aegir (see also Holy Wells and Healing springs of Nottinghamshire) named after a Norse God. (There are of course a number of sea serpent sitting around the Lincolnshire coast). One wonders whether this god is associated with Jenny Hurn above. The most famed of the county’s ghost folklore which is often associated with water is the black dog or as called in the county Shuck (although this can describe any unworldly creature). Rudkin (1936 and 1937) notes Black Dogs at Bonny well (Sturton by Stow), the fish pond (Blyborough) and Hibaldstow’s Bubbling Tom. A number of Black Dogs are associated with bridges such as Brigg, Willingham (Till bridge) or banks of streams such as at At Kirton, there is a black dog was reported as living in a hole in the stream bank near this Belle Hole farm. Old Nick has an association with water lore in the county at The Devil’s pulpit, Tealby where he appears at midnight and drinks from a nearby stream perhaps suggesting that the stream had some significance.  There are of course a number of blow holes in the county, although some such as Tetney have received some folklore, others have not, therefore I have not included as many as Thompson (1999).

Recording of customs associated with springs is good in the county by Gutch, Peacock, Rudkin and Sutton, but as Thompson (2009) notes probably too late and much later than other counties. However, this lack of information is common, after all as a study Holy wells did not receive a classic text until 1895.  Indeed, the study of Lincolnshire holy wells did not receive attention until the 1920s, by which time many traditions could have been lost. One could argue it did not real attention until the 1990s with works by Healey and Thompson, where neighbouring East Riding had work done in 1923 (similarly Nottinghamshire had its first work until 1988 and lacks in many recorded traditions, indeed it was perhaps not until 2008 that a complete survey was made by this author. However, one must look on the positive side at least three works recorded folklore in the county as opposed to neighbouring Nottinghamshire where no folklore volumes have been produced similarly! Such some traditions are recorded Well dressing, in a more primitive form compared to Derbyshire, perhaps recording an ancient origin is recorded in Welton, Glentham and Louth. The placing of rags on wells appears to have been fairly widespread occurring in Aisthorpe, Winterton, Healing, Utterby, Kingerby. At Kell Well, Alkborough, Ashwell, Kirton-in-Lindsey, Halliwell, Scotter, By-Well, North Kelsey, and the holy well at Mavis-Enderby, and many other springs beyond the limits of the county, the quality of giving those who drink of it an irresistible desire to live in its neighbourhood. There are records of rag-wells at Kingerby, Nettleton, Burton-upon-Stather, Healing, Holton Le Moor, Utterby and Winterton, in the north of the county. Another tradition, recalled in a Lincolnshire saying is that whenever water is drawn from a well a little should be thrown back into it

In the neighbourhood of Kirton-in-Lindsey another water superstition may be recognised in the opinion sometimes expressed that no washing ought to be done on Ascension Day, since, if clothes are hung out to dry on Holy Thursday, some member of the family concerned will die. And only a few years ago a woman, who was born about 1812 in a parish lying within three or four miles of the southern bank of the Humber, presented one of her carefully-hoarded bottles of ‘June- water’ to a friend, with the assurance that it was a household remedy of the greatest value for bad eyes and other ailments, and that it had been caught as it had fallen direct from the clouds.

I encourage the reader to explore, but implore local parishes to preserve these sites before they disappear as Lincolnshire is perhaps one of the counties were ancient wells have been largely ignored.

Lady Well Ancaster woodhall spaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Extracted and edited from holy wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire available now!

Researching our sacred and healing springs a guide

The seasons are changing here in the Northern hemisphere and when the days get longer, the temperature rise but the foliage has not managed to reach its highest levels, its time to do some research. I have visited hundreds possibly thousands of springs in the cause of my research, and I encourage you do the same and rediscover our sacred spring heritage.

Any research comes in two forms:

a)     Field

b)    Archival based

Usually archival based research is first.

Archival research

Sources for information

a)     Archives – can be a daunting and they are rather large and overpowering. I always find the people there very nice and despite the fact it can be like look searching for a needle in a haystack, some do have good referencing either there or sometimes on line. You’ll need to sign up for a CARN ticket and collect your pencils!

b)    University library collections – Similar to above and useful for periodicals. Most allow you day tickets and of course UCL has the folklore society library.

c)     Local history collections in public libraries – Little less daunting and can actually have more in them. The works can be open shelves which helps and some have excellent references files, the result of a good use of work experience candidates no doubt.

d)    Local history societies – Can be an excellent source although I am always surprised that no one knows about a site which still survives. They may have already done the research or have their own collections.

e)     Parish councils – may have someone who knows or links to above.

f)      The local vicar – some have an interest in this sort of thing, many wrote local histories.

g)     The internet (may of course cover the above – and don’t forget to put the name in “”, wells are a bit of a common theme and well of course could be a word used anywhere)

Where to look for information:

Local history and county history books – These of course vary from great 19th, 18th and even 17th great tomes to small privately founded works made often on a short run. The millennium spawned a lot of the latter, but there’re not always very useful and despite the importance of water holy wells rarely figure! The former ironically can be more useful, if of course no indication on whether the site still survives. Some older books can be found posted in full on-line which is helpful, all can be found in any library local history section worth its salt!

Folklore books – they can often be useful although most commonly these use the above as their sources

Websites – more convenient as you don’t need to learn the sitting room! Their utility depends on how good someone else’s research is and remember little is peer reviewed on the net! Three particularly useful websites are the NationalArchives on line, Pastscape and Megalithic. Forums can be useful too.

Parish records – can be revealing although do not always locate them but will name them

Diaries – as above

Terriers – can reveal sites but can be difficult to read and they are in Latin. Difficult to access as in archives.

Estate maps – difficult to get unless in an archive and you have no idea they’ll be a notable well there so it could be a fruitless task

Tithe awards and maps – the map is essential and if it’s there; cross-referencing with an OS map will allow you to identify a simple spring as the site you’re after.

OS maps (old or new) – Modern ones are useful but often the series between the wars and just after are more useful. They can be viewed on for free. It is a complete mystery why some holy wells and related sites are marked others absent, some appear and disappear between editions, some are italicised despite the lack of age and some are in blue but are older!!

All these sources may locate an unknown site or locate the location of a know site and so the next stage is field work.

As stated if you are researching lost or less well known sites, this is best done in the autumn/winter/spring when the vegetation is less. Having said this it may not always be the best weather and most convenient. You can of course do your research in the summer but remember shorts and holy well research are not the best! As I have found out may times…too many nettles!



Map – larger the scale the better, the old OS pathfinder now Explorer, 1:25000 is the best. The larger the scale the more detail, although for reasons above you may need to use older ones.

Garden gloves – for brambles, briars and nettles

Clippers– for brambles, briars and nettles, but of course be sensitive to ownership and the natural ambience of the place.

Wellies and water proofs – Water = mud= dirty!

A camera = depends on what you want but a decent point and shoot is often good enough, and prevents the SLR dropping into the mud!

Desirables, things I always forget

A tape measure – to measure any fabric

Compass – to align with the map

Mobile- but I am sure you’ll have it

Sturdy shoes – if you walking to the site and changing into wellies there.

A bottle to drink the water??? At drinker’s risk I would say.

What to look for?

Sometimes finding a site is very easy and the map is accurate, you follow the instructions and lo and behold it’s there. That’s not always the case..

The clues:

A stream, brook or river – follow it to its source of course.

A difference in foliage – in open areas such as fields look for clumps of trees or at least nettles.

Animal activity – in those fields look for tracks to the springhead made by livestock or birds flying over.

Sound – The sound of trickling water if you are lucky, but another thing to look for may be the sound of a pump at the site if it has been utilised by the farmer.

Smell- sometimes spring smell and not nicely.

The shape of the landscape – look for undulation, old indentations and channels in the valley.

The Countryside code

Where possible you should always try and find the land owner. In some cases the springs may be on footpaths or on common land (or private golf courses!) and so it can be easier. Many times it is difficult to find the correct land owner and if you are only coming off the footpath please try to do it with the minimum impact to land and livestock (and livelihood of course) so: close gates properly, try to not to disturb wildlife or livestock (i.e best not to have a dog) and leave everything as should be ( note this is not an encouragement to trespass!)

What do next?

Why not write up the research, either in printed form- book or article or else put it on a website, blog or perhaps email me!

There’s a well in there…..honestly!

its in there somewhere!!!

An Edinburgh fieldtrip: some holy and healing wells around the city


Holyrood Park has a number of notable sites.  St Margaret’s Well is a strange and possibly unique hybrid. The spring itself is a holy well, called The Well of the Holy Rood or St. David’s Well and dates from 1198, the well head was but the well house was re-erected from St Margaret’s Well at Restalrig. This was when this site became derelict once land nearby was to be built over by the North British Railway depot. This resulted in the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland removing the structure brick by brick and resurrecting it over the Holy rood site.

The spring itself of course is the reason why the park is called Holy rood, for legend has it that King David after mass decided to go hunting in the area and was thrown from his horse by a giant stag which was then carried the king, him holding for dear life onto a cross between its antlers until it stopped at the spring. In thanks for his deliverance he built the Abbey of Holy Rood there.

The well house is a delightful structure, Gothic in nature and dating from the fifteenth century with an internal width of sixth feet and around five feet in height with a central pier with a carved hear which is provided with a spout through which the water flows.


There is something delightfully mysterious about St Anthony’s Well. Despite being traipsed across by hundreds of people on a daily basis, this spring is still difficult to find, the very essence of being pixyled. It can only really be seen from the ruins of chapel said to be a hermitage for it arises beneath a large boulder and fills a small trough. I cannot find any information about its origin but it is said that on May morning ‘youths and maidens after wash their faces in the dew on Arthur’s seat nearby come down and drink from the well.’ However every time I’ve seen it is has been dry.


In Liberton, perhaps in the most incongruous of situations, a Toby Carvery, but at least it is now easy to find and get to. This is the Balm Well or St. Katherine’s Well, a delightful  little pitched roofed well house, which once had small pinnacles on its structure but these had gone when I visited and looks a little forlorn. However, this recent bit of neglect is nothing compared to what happened in the 17th century when Roundheads filled it with stones and defaced it. The present structure dates from 1563, but the site has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries by the Scottish kings, until James VI built this well house. Its waters are said to have arise from Queen Margaret dropping some oil accidently which she had obtained from Mount Carmel or Sinai and the spring arose. The waters thought to good for rheumatism is still oily, its origins thought to have derived from coal strata.


The final spring, is in the Dean village part of the city beside the Water of Leith, being the imposing St. Bernard’s Well, a temple like building with a statue of Hygeia and a pump room. Although it is said to be named after the Abbot of Clairvaux who is said to have drunk here preaching the Second crusade. However, this may be a back derived story as it was latterly discovered in 1760 and in 1789, Lord Gardenstone erected this structure over it and it became a popular spa.

Some holy wells in and around Dublin

Dublinstreets (51)

For Christmas Gary Branigan’s excellent and invaluable Ancient and Holy wells of Dublin arrived and a great book it is to. A real detailed field guide revealing how many fascinating sites there are in the Dublin area, and hopefully this will be the spearhead for similar studies in all the Republic’s counties. Until then here’s some of my explorations in the city, which however brief revealed some interesting sites.

St Patrick’s Well, Dublin St Patrick’s Cathedral


Despite being the site of a well, this is an interesting site and worthy a visit. The site of the well is marked in a garden in the south-west corner with a plaque reading:

“near here is the reputed site of the well where St Patrick baptised many of the local inhabitants in the fifth century AD

The site was found during road widening when a large upright cross slab was discovered which is believed to have been over the well. This cross slab can now be found in the cathedral which berars a wheel cross and Maltese cross. Below the now prostate cross reads:

“This stone was found on 18th June 1901 six feet below the surface on the traditional site of St. Patrick’s Well ie 91 feet due north from the north-west apele of the tower.”

Lady Well, Tyrelltown

Lady's Well Mulhuddat Dublin (5)

This is a delightful well sadly spoiled by its location beside a busy Church road. The building’s core is thought to date from the fourteenth century and was originally dedicated to St Cuthbert changing in the 1300sew. In the reign of Henry VI it was looked after by an order, called the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary, dedicated to repairing Marian shrines and when this was finally dissolved at his death, the Gracedieu Nunnery looked after the site. A pattern was established here on the 8th September, and according to some sources continues still, where it was tradition to crawl on your hands and knees and thus lying on one’s stomach place your hand in the well chamber and drink directly from the well. With such a busy road I cannot image it being done with any degree of sanctity or safety. Its waters were said to good for sprains, cuts and rheumatism and like many other wells those attracted turned to drunkenness and violence and in 1790 a death occurred.

The well is painted white and blue, Mary’s colours, and above the well chamber is a figure of Mary in one of the finials at the end. The back finial has a cross and the front one has written upon it:

“I H S Holy Mary pray for us

O blessed mother and ever Virgin glorious queen of the world make intercession for us to our lord   Amen

Vouchsafe that I may praise thee O sacred virgin obtain for me force against thy enemies”

Legend has it that once the spring was offended and it moved to the other side of the road.

Lady's Well Mulhuddat DublinLady's Well Mulhuddat Dublin (3)

St Winifred’s Well, Eustace Street

Sometimes the best intentions do not always come best and the rediscovery of this ancient well clearly has not been welcomed by all. The plaque reads:

“St Winifred’s Well

…St Winifred’s Well was a medieval well known to have been in Eustace Street, perhaps further up towards Dame Street. St Winifred…was revered in North Wales in the middle ages and like St Bridget in Ireland, her name was associated with wells and springs. It is not clear how a well in medieval Dublin came to bear her name. It is known that Dublin had trading contacts with North Wales from the 11th century onwards and settlers from there probably came to live in Dublin after the Anglo-Normans captured the city in 1170. One of these may have given the well its name…

The present well has been covered over by the Street at some point in the past. It has been restored to expose the ground water resource that flows all the time below the foundations of the city…

Joint project involving Dublin Corporation & Temple Bar Properties Ltd.”‘

Its rediscovery in 1990s has not really created a circular well head monument but rather a good vestibule for litter!

These three sites are only the tip of the iceberg and I heartly recommend this excellent book Ancient and Holy Wells of Dublin

Herefordshire field trip: Some holy and notable wells of the county.

St Edith’s Well, Stoke Edith

St Edith's Well, Stoke Edith

This is a substantial spring head arising in a square pool and beside a niche and then flowing into a large brick-lined bathing pool. Over the whole structure is a stone arch. The spring was said to have been formed when the Saxon saint, the daughter of King Edgar, was carrying water from a nearby brook to mix with the mortar so that the church could be built, but became exhausted, prayed for water and the spring arose. The pool was used for healing, although this did not stop the Lady of the Manor, Emily Foley, installing a grill inside the arch preventing locals using it. However this grill is now open, although it would be a bit of a squeeze, as only part of the grill fully opens.

Higgin’s Well, Little Birch

Higgin's wellIn what could be described as the muddiest lane in England, well it was when I visited, the reason for the mud is easily found being the substantial Higgin’s Well. The brick work of the structure dates from the early 19th century with some improvements such as the creation of a large pool as an animal trough for Victoria’s diamond jubilee, although this structure does mean now it is very difficult to get the water if you are not an animal. Perhaps this was the intention; as the foundation of the well enshrine the landowners attempt to stop people taking the waters. It is said that the spring was originally further up the hill, but Higgins the land owner filled it to stop locals who crossed his land to reach it. As a result the spring forced itself through the floor of his house! As a result Higgins established a well at the bottom of the hill as a compromise.

Holy Well, Garway

Garway Holywell

This is a small spring, dried when visited, just outside the south-east corner of the churchyard. When it flows the water flows through a spout into a small rectangular pool. Beside is a niche perhaps where offerings or a saint was placed. The site is associated with a Templar church, but whether they utilised it is unclear.



The Holy Well, Kenchester

Holywell, The WeirThe National Trust gardens of the Weir hide an interesting anomaly, a small spring head surrounded by a series of circular steps down. Said to be a holy well by some authorities, it was filled in by the Bishop of Hereford, however others believe it to be a Roman water shrine.

A colourful legend tells that a Roman soldier who had an ancient Briton lover, this lover misconstrued a visit from on order to a ‘lady’ and threw herself into the river. He went to save her and was himself drowned. It is said that every year they haunt the well and that the well fills with their tears, and if collected the water would have special properties for lovers.

Is it a holy well? It’s not clear, the fact that the site lies in a landscape garden suggests it is folly although there was a Roman villa. Local accounts state it was rediscovered in the 1891 drought, whilst searching for a water supply.

St. Ann’s Well, Aconbury

St Anne's Well HerefordshireThis is a delightful well to finish our survey. Found in a copse in a small field. It arises in a small medieval structure which enclosures a small pool, being tanked, the flow can change and when I visited it was rather dry. I have included this site in my January entry this year, as its water said to be good for eyes, where visited on Twelfth night or New years day, when it was thought to be more powerful.
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