Category Archives: Kent
One of the first holy wells that I discovered in my first forays into the subject was the variously named site which hides itself beneath the old leper hospital at Harbledown. Having my appetite whetted by journeys in the west country I was eager to find similarly romantic sites in the east and the well did not disappoint.
Like many sites in those days I had read of it bit not seen a picture, so I was very pleased to see the spring emerging at the foot of the hill enclosed in a six foot high semicircular domed well head made from Kentish rag stone and surrounded by brightly coloured flowers.
The well was noted as being able to cure leprous ailments, and presumably this is why the leper hospital was built in 1084 by Archbishop Lanfranc to exploit its properties, although this is not recorded. Why the Black Prince? It is the only well associated with the would-be monarch and joins a select group of well connected with royalty which have ‘religious’ and healing connotations.
The reason by for it is said that amongst its many early pilgrims looking for a cure for this complaint was Edward the Black Prince, who patronised the well twice: the first on his last journey to Canterbury, when he was cured, and then finally, on his death bed in 1376. Unfortunately in this latter case the waters were obviously of no use, being unable to rid him of his syphilis, of which he died. The well subsequently named after the knight.
It would appear previously and not unsurprisingly it had been named after nearby Canterbury’s holi blissful martyr Thomas Becket. For Canterbury pilgrims, it was their first view of the great Cathedral and so it have become a significant watering hole before they made the last steps to that great Shrine of St. Thomas. According to Francis Watt (1917) in Canterbury Pilgrims and their ways this was the seventh St. Thomas’s Watering at Harbledown – one of a whole list stretching the Pilgrim’s way. It still bears the alternative name of St. Thomas’s Well, a dedication unlike other sites would seem to be related to be a direct relationship, for it is recorded that he drunk from the well, accidentally leaving a shoe. Understandably, after the martyrdom, this became an important relic, and was held by the Hospital. It is also from this well that Henry II being responsibly for Becket’s murder walked barefoot into Canterbury where he was flogged by all the bishops as part of his penance. He also Henry II established an annual 40 marks grant to the leper hospital which apparently is still paid by the City Treasury today apparently.
For those unable to drink straight from the well, water was often administered to those living far from it. Evidence for this being the discovery of a leather pouch found near the well. Indeed, even the early part of this century the water was still used, especially by those from afar, for H. Snowdon Ward (1904) Tales of Canterbury Pilgrimages remarks that:
“the water is still in some repute for its curative powers. The sub-prior of the hospital told us that he still occasionally receives small remittances from various parts of the continent…”
Julian Mary Cartwright (1911) The Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester to Canterbury illustrates that its local reputation was still current before the Great War. He records that it was:
‘still believed by Country folks to be of great benefit to the eyes.’
Most interesting a carved stone, in its central apse, depicts the Black Prince’s coat of arms, three feathers taken from the King of Bohemia at Crecy. This stone appears to have been possibly derived from another structure rather than being carved especially for the well head, as do the fluted stones shown in earlier photos (cf Goodsall (1968) in his Kentish Patchwork), which are now apparently missing. An 1836 woodcut shows a circular basin above the lower step and a venerable old tree growing from its roof.
Either side of the well head are two courses of rag stone walling. The well is reached by a series of stone steps between two courses of stone walling. The water emerges, as a small trickle, through a five inch diameter red clay pipe, flowing to fill a circular basin. Often it is dry. Yet it is c
ertainly the well is one of the most interesting and enchanting of Kent wells.
(taken from the Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Kent)
Directions: The Black Prince’s Well is found to the right of a path that curves around past the Leper Hospital / almshouses, and through the forecourt of a house.
In 2015 I finally got around to publishing my Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Kent which includes over 200 sites (an overview blog post will appear soon). This is an expanded extract from the book covering a little known but fascinating lost site!
small settlement, pronounced ‘Hallywell’ or ‘Hollywell’ by locals, is named after a Holy Well possibly called ‘Sir John Schorne’s’ Well (TQ 851 669). Rattue (2001) in his Holy Wells of Kent erroneously states that the pond is the well but that is not what I was told. Apparently the site was rediscovered in 1949 by a Mr. Stevens of Holywell Farm, when his plough hit a large flat stone. This stone lay one foot below the surface of the ploughed field, and measured roughly five feet by five feet, with an average thickness of nine inches. This stone was raised, and it was found to cover a roughly circular opening filled in with flint nodules.
Probing the hole, he found that the well was five feet six inches deep with a water level about four feet six inches down. No trace of masonry or brickwork was observed, although the infill was not removed. The well is believed locally to be Druid in origin, possibly receiving attention during Roman occupation, (as there an important pottery factory here) and considering the name of the settlement, Halstow, important in Jutish times, as Halstow means Holy Place, in Jutish.
An association with Sir Schorne?
In mediaeval times, the well was probably frequented by pilgrims travelling along Watling Street. Yet, the well was possibly associated with the popular ‘saint’, Sir John Schorne. He was born in Shorne, but became famous as the Rector of the small Buckinghamshire village of North Marston ( 1290-1314 ). His fame was centred around a number of miracles, most famous of which, was his conjuring of the devil into a boot. He is also commonly associated with healing wells, and his shrine and well at North Marston, became a major 14th Century pilgrimage.
It would appear that the well’s field was dedicated in 1574 to the ‘saint’. Called ‘Master John Shorne’s Field’. There is also record of the giving of one penny to Master John Shorne of Halstowe, in a Sixteenth Century will of ‘Rest Redfyns’ of Queensborough. This was apparently done to fulfil overdue pilgrimage duties. The name is preserved at Shockfield, a derivation from Shornfield or Shernfield. Thus it would suggest that the holy well would have had a shrine chapel beside it to serve the pilgrims. There is of course another Sir John’s Well in Buckinghamshire.
A Neolithic monument?
It appears then that the well may have been filled in during Reformation times, and the stone dragged over the site to prevent the locals reopening it. It is possible that the stone may have been originally around the well, possibly comprising of a prehistoric stone circle or ancient marker, as at Tottington. This appears to be the remains of a sandstone rock covering the Downs / Wealden chalk much of which was worn away, and accordingly, these stones were still held in some mystical regard in ancient times. Indeed, a Neolithic road passes through the Parish from Gillingham to Newington, and to the east, leaves it a mile to the North. Thus, it would appear that the settlement was of considerable past influence and importance. I spoke to the owner of Holywell Farm, who regretted the loss of the site, as he would have appreciated it now. He said that the stone was removed from the site to the other side of the public footpath to Lower Halstow making locating the exact location of the well now difficult. The stone is now lost in undergrowth beside the path. Roughly, the site of the well is indicated by the start of this scrubby copse opposite the ploughed field, and within this field. Hopefully, considering its long history, one can hope that the well will be explored and restored for future generation.
More details in
This year I published my long researched Holy wells and healing springs of Kent, number six in the series. Here is an analysis of the county’s urban wells which may interest.
Ancient water supplies do not survive well in urban areas. What were once the very focal points of such communities quickly become swept away by progress and the need for better sanitation and supply. However, in my research into ancient wells of the county, I have been interested to note that there appear to have been some particularly interesting examples in what is now the most urbanised area of Kent that which has now in the most part been incorporated into the London sprawl. Some of these sites, Lewisham’s Lady Well, Bromley’s St. Blaise’s Well and Keston’s Caesar’s Well, are well known and suitable for articles in their own right, but there are a number of other interesting sites. In some cases unfortunately their existence in most cases is only remembered by their placenames such as street names or wood names and in some cases actually survive.
For example Greenwich drew the majority of its water from a source called the Stockwell, being the main source of the palace’s conduit tunnels. It may well have drawn upon spring water used by the Romans as Roman wells were located nearby. The site has long gone, and all that remains to remind us is a plaque on the site. Another spring head, not given a name anciently it appears, has in recent years been a focus for local pagans.
Blackheath’s water history is even less clear. Two names are noted Cresswell, a road name and Queen Elizabeth’s Well. The origin of the latter name is lost. Does it suggest that Elizabeth I drank from it when resident in the Royal Palace?
Lewisham had a number of noted water supplies, the Lady Well ( probably the same as the Woe Water ) and the Mineral Spring, however modern street names may record other interesting examples: Abbot’s Well, Cordwell and Foxwell. Swanley street names record a Kettlewell.
Further out, in the Parish of Eltham, there was an interesting well called the Lemon Well. The properties and brief histories of this spring are recorded by a correspondent of Dunkin ( 1856 ):
“..a spring which rises in the hedge by the road side a little beyond the residence of Thomas Lewin Esq, in the road towards Bexley. This spring has long gone by the name of Lemon Well; and has been supposed by the sort of people who entertain such notions, curative of sore eyes.”
This correspondent continues to note that the well was once filled in, but complaints from local people resulted in the culprit cleaning out the well and ‘putting it in a convenient form with new brick work.’ Yet an examination appropriate ordnance survey map and of the area fails to show a well or spring in this position; hence one presumes that the site was indeed finally filled in.
Nearby in the Elmstead Parish, was Garret’s Well. This marked on an 1841 tithe award, and may be derived from Old English garra for the triangular pieces of land left once the furrows were established. Indeed, old tithe awards are often the only evidence of these lost water supplies. For example at Downe, one records a Herwell, although no spring is noted, it would appear to be likely to be a site. The name probably derives from O.E hara for a hare or her for soldier, but possibly hearg for a pagan sacred grove.
A Sundridge tithe awards record a Camberwell and an Orpington tithe awards record a Cornwell, whether this records a spring that was noted for being able to predict corn prices? Another interestingly named site is noted on a Tithe Award in the Parish of St Paul’s Cray. It is called Henrietta Spring, and was the main supply for the village, being located north of the road. One imagines that its name came from local lady benefactor. Often ancient wells are recorded in wills and testaments. Such a mentions can suggest that the well was considered of importance. One such example, may have been found in Erith. Here records of a will of Robert Hethorpe of 1493, describe a Belton Well, ‘3s 5d for the mendying of a well called Beton well.’ This well would appear to be described as Beden Well in 1769 and Beeting Well in 1843. The origin for its name is unclear, it was probably taken from a landowner, but it may have been derived from the pagan festival of Beltaine – unlikely but more interesting if it was. The Cray valley has some interesting examples. The name Cray itself is believed to derive from Celtic for ‘fresh water’, so one would except its source to be considered important. This would appear to called as Craegas aeuuelme in the 8th Century, or fons aewielm, otherwise the ‘Great Spring’. In more modern times it gained the name Newell.
Further out was an interesting site, located near the ornamental ponds of Hayes Place. Located near the ornamental ponds of Hayes Place on the road side was Jacob’s or Hussey’s Well so called because it was repaired with stonework with a hollow stone by a Jacob Angus, and later by a Rev. Dr. Thomas Hussey, Rector from 1831-54. Its water was rich in calcium and sulphates and considered to be medicinal. Sadly, although the ponds remain, the well’s only monument is the name of the street encircling these pools. Hussey has also given his name to the Archdeacons’s or Hussey’s Well. This being a public fountain set up by Archdeacon Clarke of Norwich and Rector.
Cray has an interesting named site, called the Hobling Well which is probably the same as that marked as Robin’s Hole, on Tithe map. Both names suggest that the well was believed to be the abode of elementals. The name Hob being an Old English name for goblin, and Robin possibly recording the pagan character of Robin-a-Tiptoe, an elemental that would do arduous farm work without pay. Why the site should be so name is unclear. What I have always assume is the site, a boggy spring fed pool in Hobling Well wood still survives and recently saw off a plan to use the area as a waste dump. Presumably there was also a site called Palewell, as it has given its name to a local street.
There was also a unnamed pin well in the Parish at Beckenham. Langley was famed for its woe water, but also had an unnamed spring, which was used by a local physician, Dr. Scott in his research into the production of anti-bilious pills. This is now dry, but was known to have medicinal properties.
Yet despite the urbanisation of some parts, other areas retain a rural feel, and the Parish of Chislehurst is one such a place. It boasts two interestingly named sites, the first apparently lost, the latter surviving if little known. The first apparently is where Pett’s Wood derived its name, being that of Swellinde Pette, a name first recorded in 862 as Swelgende. The name refers to Whirl Pool, which was in Pett’s Wood. I have been unable to find any details regarding why local people should have believed there was such a site. Its early date suggests that it was Saxon, and may have been there interpretation of a local Dane Hole. But it is interesting that Horblingwell wood and pookridden woods are nearby was someone trying to warn us of these wood’s danger.
Despite there being some confusion over this site, Chislehurst still has one surviving site, a little known holy well called the Bishop’s Well. I searched for this site whilst undertaking research for my forthcoming book on the subject and was pleased to find that it was still extant. The well, like St. Blaise’s Well, was said to be one of the springs consecrated by the Bishop’s of Rochester during their tenure at Bromley. It was enclosed into the grounds of the Crown Inn in Victorian times. This is not the current Crown, but now the private residence of Old Crown Cottage. I was fortunate to discover the owners in Yet despite the urbanisation of some parts, other areas retain a rural feel, and the Parish of Chislehurst is one such a place. It boasts two interestingly named sites, the first apparently lost, the latter surviving if little known.
I was informed by the then present owner, Bill Orman, that when the previous owners had taken over the property in the 1940s, the well was surrounded by a number of small crosses, which sadly they disposed of. The well shaft is of considerable depth, and older brickwork is visible towards its bottom. The top is enclosed in a square brick chamber, and water still fills the chamber below. There is some dispute regarding the exact site, and I was shown another well, capped and fitted with an old pump, laying in the grounds of Bishop’s Well House. However, despite the name, it is generally believed that the Old Crown Cottage’s well is the said site, and that this other well being above the other draws water from that. So despite the fear of such watering holes spreading cholera, and hence cleared away on sanitary grounds, such an interesting site exists. Fortunately the sprawl of London into the county, the interesting water history of this region of Kent still continues in documents and antiquarian accounts.
St. Edith’s Well (TQ 552 586) lies below the Pilgrim’s Way in Kent and is the county’s most notable and best preserved sites. It is one of only two wells in the county which are dressed and the only one with a long lasting, over 50 years, tradition. this being St Edith’s procession held on the Sunday nearest to St. Edith’s Day.
A collection of cures
Chiefly, it was noted for its cure of eye complaints, and Watt (1923) also notes that it cured women’s barrenness. Belief in its curative power continued until the early 1900s. Its fabric is presumably ‘mediaeval’, and according to most authorities was once enclosed within a religious establishment, who were probably responsible for its upkeep. However there s neither archaeological nor written evidence of one but there is a recording in 1419 of a chapel of St. Edith the Virgin, which presumably was near the well and perhaps held a relic. Sadly, we do not really know.
A local saint
St. Edith (961-84 AD) was the daughter of the early Saxon king, Edgar and Queen Wulfthryth. Despite being nominated Abbess of Winchester, Barking and Amesbury, she refused these positions, disliking state affairs, preferring to commune with the poor and animals. This made her popular among her countrymen, who immediately recognised her saintly attributes. Despite this, her canonisation was not recognised everywhere, and Cnut’s scepticism, prevented her feast day being adopted in many areas. Those who championed her, used miracles at her tomb and her incorruptible thumb, as evidence for her saintliness and she was canonised, with her body being transferred to Wilton in 997 AD. She was said to have been born on land which is now covered by a property called the Box, but again it here is no evidence.
Evidence would suggest that her local popularity was deeply rooted in pagan belief! It is interesting to note, that an image of St. Edith was erected within the churchyard, which according to Lambarde (1571), prevented mildew and the blight of corn and wheat crops. Lambarde (1571) describes a ritual associated with the belief, and the following appears significant:
“Priest made uses to toll the greatest portion, and then to take all handful or little more of the residue the which after aspersion of Holy Water, and mumbling a fewe woordes of conjuration, he first dedicated to the image of Saint Edithe and then delivered it back to the parte that brought.”
This appears to be some persistence of an ancient fertility rite to a pagan deity, further supported by with the cure of cure barren women. Lambarde (1571) believed this, suggesting the Roman god, Robigus (after Robigo, a canker of corn), was the earlier cult focus here. It is recorded that similar ‘sacrifices’ were made to ‘him’, and so it seems likely that even the saint’s effigy could have directly replaced his and the church being built on his temple. The holy water, used in the ritual, may have originated from the well, and in pre-Christian days this may have been an important part of the ritual.
The well today
Today it lies within a small garden of remembrance forming a focal point for the original village. It is approximately three feet high, a round rag stone structure, with a series of steps approach the well. Access now, via these steps, appears impossible, the gate being locked. Watt (1917) notes that the structure was forlorn, and then repaired, and then forlorn again, but now appears in remarkable condition, being within recent years cleared of much of its overgrown ivy! To prevent rubbish falling into the well, brown wiring has been set across, both the well passage, and shaft. A considerable depth of water was present in 2013, and even after a long drought, in 1995. Indeed, I have been informed that it has never been known to dry up! A local belief conveniently ignoring that it was recorded dry at the beginning of this century! Today the well is the best it has ever been although sadly one cannot access the water directly due to the wiring up of the steps.
A modern pilgrimage
Even today, it is pleasing to note that the well is still an important and respected part of the village. It is depicted as the centre piece of a fine tapestry in the church, and on the village sign.
Two separate religious observations are undertaken on the day. In the morning, a procession, established in 1961, after the well was established. It passes through the village from the church is traditionally held on the Sunday nearest the saint’s day September 16th. Every ten years this forms part of a village wide celebration called St. Edith’s Festival, last held in 2011. A banner in the church maybe associated with an earlier 1920s revival perhaps as Mr. Taylor, a local associated with he present Catholic observation suggests.
Traditionally posies have been placed on the well during the service by the congregation, but in the last three years, since the 2011 festival, a well dressing has been undertaken place, last year’s was the Olympics, 2011’s was a picture of the village. This year’s was the harvest and delightfully it was rendered too with a good use of rhubarb seeds for a field and gravel for the signage. Next year’s is planned to be the First World War.
The artists being two local ladies, one of which would appear to have the tradition running through her veins coming from Elmton in Derbyshire, a village with a well dressing tradition, albeit a modern one. Subsequently, the frame is soaked in a paddling pool each year and taken to the village hall where on a table the two worked away using templates to create their art over the week finally finishing on the Saturday before.
I arrived just in time to see the board turn up wheeled on a barrow and just in time to give some extra muscle to set it up beside the well where it was duly staked in. The small group admired their handiwork and then it was covered for the arrival of the church and its congregation. A few minutes later this congregation, following their cross, but sadly no banner, and holding their posies, arrived. The service with the prayer which begins:
“Father each St. Edith’s day, we bring flowers to this well….”
Then the posies were placed upon the walls of the well, the service continuing with a reading of St. Edith’s hymn:
“At this well with great thanksgiving, blessed Edith we record, her short years of holy living, chaste handmaiden of the Lord, May we in her Lord believing, be like her his living sword.”
A thanks giving was given for the water and then the well dressing was revealed to the delight of the congregation. It was great to see that the well continues to be celebrated and the well dressing is a more than welcome innovation. The ceremony ends with prayers of intercession and a collect for St. Edith’s Day, Lord’s Prayer, hymn and blessing. It was a bit disappointing I felt that the support from the village was quite small, especially as everyone here seemed so inviting, but as the service was at 9.45, perhaps it was too early. I recommend moving the service an hour forward and more visitors may be attracted.
Christopher Bells’ Centenary History of the Catholic Church of St Thomas of Canterbury states that Father Phillips, Sevenoaks parish priest from 1916 to 1946, probably revived it around the 1920s. An elderly parishioner told Mr Taylor that the pilgrimage was going in the 1930s, but this was actually on the 16th, not the nearest Sunday as of recent. It is possible that as the village was home of Catholic convert Monsignor Robert Benson, son of Edward White Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1890s the observation may be older. I was told that now parishioners come from all part of the parish which covers the villages of Kemsing, Otford, Weald, Borough Green and West Kingsdown as well as Sevenoaks, some walking 8 miles as well journeying by car from London.
It is said that not only does her water cure eyes, but spiritual blindness, and Richard Bateman, the local Anglican vicar, attributed his conversion to Catholicism in part through her intercession.
Certainly the Catholic community may be aware of the need to start later. In the afternoon, a Catholic pilgrimage occurs from the nearest Catholic Church based in Sevenoaks. However, in 2013 although they planned to meet at 3.00, the weather had turned to the worse. The glorious weather of the morning being replaced by a penetrating drizzle, subsequently, the planned Holy Rosary, prayers and St. Edith’s hymn which were to be at the well were moved to nearby Otford Catholic church…hopefully the weather will be more favourable next year and they will return.
2011 well dressing image copyright Heather Porter
2012 well dressing image copyright Heather Porter
Many thanks to Mr. Antony Taylor, Jane Bowden and Erica Cole as well as the congregation of St Mary’s kemsing and especially Heather Porter
Images and post copyright Pixyledpublications.
The patron saint of shepherds is saint with a strong association with February, the 3rd being his feast day. He was much celebrated in sheep areas such as Kent and this was by virtue of his gruesome martyrdom involving iron combs, which resemble a sheep shearer’s combs. Bromley, itself, has had a long association for popular lore suggests that the Parish church was also once dedicated to him. The earliest known connection between the two was during the reign of Henry VI, with St. Blaise’s Day fairs. It was also a common practice for local blasphemers to give homage to the saint’s image at Bromley. One recorded example is by a Thomas Ferby, who in 1456, promoted a clandestine marriage in St. Paul’s Cray Church. He was excommunicated for this act, and had to present a wax taper of a pound weight at the image here.
In the town he surprisingly had a well, one of the few dedicated to him, St. Blaise’s Well (TQ 408 692). Hasted (1797-1801) notes:
“There is a well, in the Bishop’s garden, called St. Blaize’s Well, which, having great resort to it anciently, on account of its medicinal virtues, had an oratory attached dedicated to the saint. It was particularly frequented at Whitsuntide on account of forty days enjoined penance, to such as would visit this chapel, and offer up their orisons in it, and the three holy days of Pentecost. This oratory falling to ruin at the Reformation, the well too, came to be disused, and the site of both in process of time became totally forgotten.”
Hasted (1797-1801) continues to record a discovery in 1754, by a Rev. Harwood, at the Bishops Garden near the old palace ponds, of a chalybeate spring. This is believed by most authorities as the rediscovery of the well. Its discovery and qualities was detailed by the surgeon Thomas Reynolds:
“It was discovered in September 1754, by the Rev Mr. Harward, his Lordship’s domestic Chaplain, by means of yellow ochery sediment remaining in the track of a small current leading from the spring to the corner to the moat, with the waters of which it used to mix. It is very probable that this spring was formerly frequented, for in digging about it there were the remains of steps leading down to it made of oak plank, which appeared as if they had lain underground a great many years.
When his Lordship was acquainted that the Water of this spring had been examined and found to be a good Chalybeate, he, with great humanity, immediately ordered it to be secured from the mixture of other waters, by skilful workman, and enclosed in a circular brick work (stone work) like the top of a well; in hopes that it might be beneficial, as a medicine, to such as should think fit to drink it. This order was speedily and effectually executed, and the Water not only secured but the access to it made very commodious to the Public, by the generous care, and under the inspection of Mr. Wilcox his Lordship’s Son. And their benevolent intentions have already been answered with success: for great numbers of people, of all conditions, but chiefly middling and poorer sort, drink daily of this excellent Water, many of whom have been remarkably relieved from various infirmities and diseases, which were not afflicting but dangerous.”
Hasted (1797-1801), gives the discovery of the wooden steps as evidence that this is St. Blaise’s Well. Whatever its origin, the waters were apparently good enough as to encourage Reynolds to retire in the Bromley neighbourhood, to take its waters, rather than return to his earlier resort, Tunbridge Wells. A latter description by Hone (1827-8) refers to the well as the ‘Bishop’s Well’, describing it as a trickling through an orifice, at the moat or lake’s side. A contemporary sketch shows it covered with a conical thatched roof, supported by six pillars, with water arising in a circular basin, this is also shown in a photo in Horsburgh (1939). Sadly, in 1887, a snowstorm resulted in the roofs destruction and the then owner Mr. Coles Child replaced it with a tiled one in the early 1900s. By the 1930s, its flow was lost.
Although, commonly accepted that the chalybeate spring and St. Blaise’s Well, are one and the same, there is some element of doubt. For in the late 1800s, these doubts were fostered by correspondence in the Bromley Record, which stated that nothing in the history books could be found to suggest that they were the same. A site at the ‘end of a large upper pond now drained off, in springy ground, not far south of the huge oak tree blown down about three years since in a paddock in the front of the palace’ was favoured. At this site about four courses of circular brickwork could be seen. Indeed, Wilson (1797), a local historian believed that it: “.. was 200 yards NW of the mineral spring in a field near the road with eight oak trees in a cluster, on an elevated spot of the ground adjoining.”
Latter Dunkin (1815), quoting this work stated that this structure: “..appears to have been originally designed to supply the adjoining moat.” Horsburgh visited the ‘brick reservoir’, in 1916, and found it was below the present ground level, roofless, and dry. It measured ten feet long, four feet wide, with a depth of eight to nine feet. The plan was rectangular, and although the upper part of the brickwork was of no considerable age, those below looked older, and perhaps were covered with moss. Coles Child pointed out that one outlet was in communication with springs, and the water flowed through a pipe into the uppermost of the three ponds to the north within palace ground. This lay in a direct line between the moat and Widmore Road, the uppermost being filled in before he acquired tenancy, and by then only a depression marked its site. He had filled in the remaining two. These ponds were believed to be paradise ponds, corresponding to four fish ponds referred to in a 1646 Parliamentary Survey of Bromley Palace.
Whether this other site was the real St. Blaise’s Well is difficult to say; especially considering that it has now has been lost. Perhaps, if archaeological evidence on the location of the oratory could be found, this would shed light on the exact site. Popular opinion states that the chalybeate spring and holy well, are one and the same, and that the other site is just a conduit and of no significance. It is worth noting the unusual small building that now sits by the old entrance to the Palace grounds. Cox (1905) describes this as a chapel built in the Eighteenth Century. This hollow building with a Romanesque-Norman archway and a shield showing the St. Blaise is an estate folly, fashioned after interest in St. Blaise’s Well. Today, this building stands rather forlornly beside the entrance to the sprawling municipal council offices. These have swallowed up nearly all the old Palace Grounds. Sadly only the fabric of St. Blaise’s Well remains, a large round red brick structure, in the centre of which is a pipe, through which presently pool water is being recycled. Beside which a sign noting its brief history. It’s a sad end, but at least something is there to remember it.
Take from forthcoming Holy wells and healing springs of Kent
As it’s the first year anniversary, it is time to reflect upon the how holy springs are born. There appear to be four ways in which holy men and women has caused springs to be created. Perhaps the most easily explained in view of modern science is that miracle associated with St. Thomas a Beckett at Otford or St Augustine in Kent and Dorset, where they struck their staffs into the ground or a rock and caused a spring to arise. A story which of course arises in relation to the work of Moses, who supplied water for the Israelites in Exodus. Indeed, it appears to have been done as a claim of holiness as seen by Sir John Shorne in North Marston (Buckinghamshire). Some modern day antiquarians may relate their actions to that of dowsers, but a little bit of local knowledge of hydrology would help!
Sometimes like that of Holy Well bay (Cornwall), St. Ive’s Well (Huntingdonshire) or St. Winchombe (Gloucestershire), a spring arose when the body was disinterred and rested. This again makes some logical sense for one would expect that digging a body in some geological areas could possibly hit ground water, the junction between two rock types being likely. When arising from the resting of a body is slightly more problematic, but one would expect in a journey fraught with thieves, wolves, bears and all sorts of hazards the body may have been temporarily interred to prevent loss, especially as journeys being done on foot.
Often there is a gruesome origin to springs. St Alban’s Well in St Albans came about after the saint was decapitated by the pagan Romans and at his martyrdom, his head rolled down and where it rested a spring formed. This is one version of the legend, a story repeated in the more famous perhaps St. Winifred’s well. This is a more problematic origin and perhaps again links the idea of temporary disinterment.
Certainly, the construction of a hollow may explain how St Morwena’s well arose in Morwenstowe (Cornwall). It is said that the saint journeyed to find a stone for the font and fell asleep here and a well arose. This resulted in the well being used as the location of the church.
Water holds an innate fascination with us as a species; it is both source of essential life giving power but a still untameable force which can be unpredictable and dangerous. So it is not surprising that as well as considered to healing and holy, springs and wells have a darker side. A side I am going to explore, in a fitting post for Hallowe’en. In this overview I intend to discuss these sites, many of which only have their name to suggest this dark origin. Of these Puck or Pook Wells are the commonest, deriving from O.E pwca meaning goblin. Puck is as Shakespeare immortalises, a type of fairy. Of these there are site recorded on the Isle of Wight (Whitwell), Wiltshire (West Knowle), Essex (Waltham Holy Cross), Derbyshire (Repton), Somerset (Rode), Northamptonshire (Aynho) and Kent (Rolvenden and St. Paul’s Cray), The latter does underline the otherworldy nature of springs which despite being in an area of urbanisation. It fills a boggy hollow just off the footpath and even on a busy summer’s day you feel remote. Joining the Puckwells is the more general Pisky or Pixy well (the spirit which has led the written many times astray), a term found generally in the South-west such as the site in Cornwall (Alternun) and Somerset (Allerford). One can certainly feel the presence of these folk on a visit to the former especially with is ancient mossy basin and small wellhouse. The second most common otherworldly character is Knucker, Nicker, Nikor or Nicher. This is a pagan Norse monster, which some have associated with St. Nicholas, who is said to have fought a sea monster. The most famous site is the Knucker Pit in Lyminster (West Sussex). This is associated with a notable legend which records that the dragon terrorised the countryside and took away the daughter of the King of Sussex. The king offered the hand this daughter to anyone who would kill it and a wandering knight did poison the beast and claimed her hand. The term appears to apply to sites from Kent (Westbere), Edgefield (Norfolk) and Lincoln. One wonders, whether these had similar legends. Thor is perhaps commemorated in a number of wells and springs, especially it seems in the counties were the Danish influence was greatest, the most famed of these being Thorswell at Thorskeld, near Burnstall (North Yorkshire), interestingly this is one of the areas St Wilifrid is said to have converted. Less well known are other sites can be postulated in Lincolnshire with Thirspitts (Waltham, Lincs), Threshole (Saxilby Lincs), Thuswell (Stallinborough, Lincs) and Uffington’s Thirpolwell (Lincs). The latter most certainly, a likely candidate, but of the others there may not even be evidence they are springs let alone their otherworldly origin. The O.N term Thyrs for giant may be an origin. There are a number of springs and water bodies associated with what could be considered pagan gods, but I will elaborate on these in a future post. Many spectral water figures in the country are called Jenny. Whelan (2001) notes a Jenny Brewster’s Well, Jenny Friske’s well, Jenny Bradley’s Well. The name is frequently encountered in Lincolnshire, were a Hibbaldstow’s Stanny Well, where a woman carrying her head under her arm, called Jenny Stannywell, who once upon a time drowned herself in the water. At a bend of the Trent at Owston Ferry was haunted by Jenny Hearn or Hurn or Jenny Yonde. This little creature was like a small man or woman, though it had a face of a seal with long hair. It travelled on the water in a large pie dish. It would cross the water in a boat shaped like a pie dish, using spoons to row. One wonders whether there is a story behind Jenny’s Well near Biggin (Derbyshire). Sometimes these weird creatures were doglike like that said to frequent Bonny Well in Lincolnshire. Many of these creatures such as the one eyed women from Atwick’s Holy well span the real and the otherworldly.
When discussing the spirit world, by far the commonest otherworldy being associated with wells. Ghosts are also associated with springs. Sometimes they are saintly, such as St Osyth (Essex), but often if not a saint, they are female such as a pool in Chislehurst caves, Lady’s Well, Whittingham (Northumberland), Lady well, Ashdon (Essex), White Lady’s Spring, (Derbyshire) Peg of Nells Well , Waddow (Lancashire) Marian’s Well Uttoxeter (Staffordshire), Julian’s Well, Wellow (Somerset), Agnes’s Well Whitestaunton (Somerset), a Chalybeate spring in Cranbrook (Kent) and so the list goes on and is a suitable discussion point for a longer future post. All that can be said is that the female spirits outweigh the male ones and this must be significant. To end with, that staple of Hallowe’en, the witch, is sometimes associated with springs, especially in Wales. This associated perhaps reflects their ‘pagan origins’ or else there procurement post-Reformation, afterall it was thought that they stole sacred water from fonts, so it is freely flowing elsewhere why make the effort! The most famous of these being Somerset’s Witches Well (Pardlestone) this was said to have been avoided by locals until it a local wise man three salt over the well and removed their presence. So there was a rather brief and perhaps incomplete exploration of the unlikely combination between holy wells and the darker aspects. In a future post I will explore the associations with ghosts and in another on supposed evidence of pre-Christian gods and goddesses at wells.
Much has been written regarding holy wells culminating in Harte (2008) magnus opus but no survey has attempted to record all those wells and springs named after monarchs as far as I am aware. With Jubilee fever all around I thought it would be fitting to start an overview of this aspect of water lore in England. Starting with King well, a generic name, is by far the commonest with sites recorded at Chalk (Kent), Cuffley (Hertfordshire) (although associated with James I), Chigwell (Essex) (although probably cicca’s well)), Lower Slaughter (Gloucestershire), Kingsthorpe (Northamptonshire), Orton (Northumberland), Cheltenham (Gloucestershire), Ellerton (Staffordshire), Wartling (Sussex), and Bath (Somerset). Some of these such as Chigwell may be a etymological mistake being more likely derive from Cicca’s well and some such as Orton are thought to be associated with Iron age sites.
However, English wells and their associations with monarchs starts perhaps starts with King Arthur’s Well (Cadbury ) but taking this probably mythical king aside, and not considering those monarchs associated with the Celtic and Saxon Kingdoms (after all a high percentage of these early saints were the sons of Kings (such as those begat by King Brechan) or early kingly Christian converts for example St Oswald or St Ethelbert ) which are better known by their sanctity rather than their majesty, I start with sites associated with who is seen as being the first King of England; Alfred.
King Alfred’s Well (Wantage) is of unclear vintage arising as it does in a brick lined chamber although his association with the town is well known. However as Benham (1911) notes in his The Letters of Peter Lombard:
“a clear and bright spring, but I fear that the evidence that King Alfred ever had anything to do with it is not forthcoming. The site of his birthplace is not very far from the well”
Although that did not stop a procession to the well in the year 2000! St Peter’s Pump at Stourhead (Wiltshire) too has become associated with Alfred and it is said he prayed for water her before a battle, there is again little evidence if any of this. In East Dean (Sussex) there is another well named after him. Interestingly the direct descendents of Alfred do not appear to have gained any association with wells, perhaps being a measure of either their impact on folk memory. The next king is the rather tragic figure of Harold. Harold’s Well laying in the Keep of Dover Castle (Kent) is an interesting site, it is a typical castle well and unlikely to be the site where Harold is said to have according to Macpherson (1931) (MacPherson, E. R., The Norman Waterworks in the Keep of Dover Castle. Arch Cant. 43 (1931)) been were the King swore he would give with the castle to William of Normandy, later William I. (Wartling’s King well may record Harrold or William)
I can find no wells associated with the Norman Kings or Queens and the next monarch to appear is King John. He is interestingly the monarch with most sites associated with him, being in Heaton Park (Newcastle), Odell (Bedfordshire), Kineton (Warwickshire) and Calverton (Nottinghamshire) (although the later is recorded as Keenwell). This may be the consequence of his infamy and association with Robin Hood sites taking on his name in the telling and re-telling of Robin Hood tales. However, in most cases it would appear to be sites associated with a castle although surely King John was not the only monarch to have used such sites.
The next monarch associated with a well is a prince, a man who despite being heir apparent, never reached the throne. The Black Prince, a very romantic figure and with an evocative name, his spring is perhaps the most well known of those associated with royalty: the Black Prince’s Well, Harbledown (Kent). Legend has it that he regularly drank from the well and asked for a draught of it as he lay sick and dying of syphilis. However, the water’s powers did not extend to this and he died never becoming king. The well has the three feathers, sign of the Prince of Wales, an emblem captured at Crecy although the origin and age of the well is unknown it is the only such spring with any insignia of a monarch.
The subsequent centuries saw a number of squirmishes and conflicts which also created some springs associated with royalty. Perhaps the most interesting well associated with a monarch is King Henry VI’s Well, Bolton in Craven (North Yorkshire). It is interesting because the King’s reputation was that of sanctity and as such any well would have pretentions to be a holy well. Indeed the local legend states that when a fugitive at Bolton Hall he asked for the owner to provide a bathing place. No spring was available and one was divined with hazel rods and where they indicated water the site was dug. The king prayed that the well may flow forever and the family may never become extinct. The site still exists and is used for a local mineral water firm!
The years of conflict between the Lancastrians and Yorkists ended at Bosworth field and here a we find King Richard’s Well, Sutton Cheney (Leicestershire). Traditionally Richard III drank from a spring that Lord Wentworth in 1813 encapsulated in large conical cairn shaped well house with an appropriate Latin inscription. Curiously both wells of course mark the losers of the battle and no wells record the victors of such conflicts. One wonders whether this records our interest in the underdog and lament for the lost. The strangest extrapolation of this is a well found in Eastwell (Kent). Here generations have pointed to a circular brick well in the estate grounds and a tomb in the derelict church and associated them with the lost son of Richard III. The Plantagenet’s Well may indeed have some basis in fact although the only evidence is the account of the legend during the building of Eastwell Manor in 1545, the landowner, Sir Thomas Moyle, was amazed to find one of his workman reading a book in Latin. Naturally curious, he decided to ask him about this ability. Thus the man informed him, that in 1485, at Bosworth Field, he was the illegitimate son of King Richard III, who had previously clandestinely acknowledged him as sole heir. The following day, fearing reprisals after Richard’s loss, the boy fled, avoiding being recognition by disguising himself as a bricklayer and thus was years later, employed in the manor’s construction. Sir Thomas, believed the man’s story, and being a Yorkist sympathiser, adopted him into his household. This story of Richard Plantagenet remained a family secret, until it was revealed in Gentleman’s Magazine, as a quotation from a letter written by Thomas Brett, of Spring Grove (near Eastwell) to a friend Dr. Warren. He had heard the story from the Earl of Winchelsea at Eastwell House about 1720. This story is further enforced by Parish records showing that on December 27th 1550 V Rychard Plantagenet was interred, the notation V being a notification for a royal personage. However, having never seen the record myself I am unsure of its validity.
The next monarch encountered in a well dedication is a surprising one perhaps. In Carshalton (Surrey), we find Anne Boleyn’s Well, which is an perplexing dedication considering her unpopularity and association with a monarch who would have seen holy wells another trapping of the papist money making machine he had excluded from his realm (although there is little evidence that Henry VIIIth had any real direct effect on holy wells as would the newly established Scottish Kirk). The legend of its formation related that when the King and Queen were out riding from Nonsuch Palace, her horse’s foot hit the ground and a spring arose. No reason for is given and it is probable that the spring was re-discovered and perhaps dedicated to St. Anne. Bedford’s Park is not far from Pygro’s Park which has an association with Henry VIII so one assumes the Queen Anne’s well is again Boleyn although I know nothing more and indeed missed it from my survey!
Unlike her mother, Elizabeth I was a popular monarch, much as the present monarch is, especially in the strongly protestant counties, hence Queen Elizabeth Wells at Rye and Winchelsea (Sussex). In the case of Rye, the spring was part of a water improvement system which provided water via a conduit system. It was so named after her visit to Rye in 1573, when she drunk the water and met the town dignitaries, or Jurats, there, before they processed into the town. Amusingly the well was also known as Dowdeswell, from O. E. dowde for a plain woman, a scold or shrew a fact which may have tickled some recusant families in the vicinity no doubt. so like many a holy well the name was changed for the monarch. Interestingly, Winchelsea’s site was and still is called St. Katherine’s Well so perhaps the monarch’s name was used to remove Catholic associations (especially considering Queen Katherine of Aragon), although St. Leonard’s well remained intact. Bisham’s Queen Elizabeth’s Well (Buckhamshire) is even associated with miraculous cures which certainly predate the monarch and perhaps her visit and taking of the waters when visiting Lady Hoby her cousin may have been the opportunity to move away from the holy well name? Queen Elizabeth also gave her name to a well in Friern Barnet (Middlesex) and Blackheath (Surrey)
Perhaps in the day when the site of the monarch was an extremely rare occasion folk memory has preserved it. This may explain King James Well Mickley (Yorkshire) whose only reason for the dedication was that he stopped to drink at it! This well does not appear to have then developed any note as a consequence. However, a spring at Cuffley (Hertfordshire) was visited by the King and developed into a minor spa called the King’s Well.
Interestingly, if England had not broken from Rome we may have seen those associated with Charles I develop in the same fashion, after all he does have churches and chapels named after him. Charles is often associated with wells, in some cases such as Carles Trough, (Leicestershire) where he is said to have watered horse here after Naseby. Ellerton’s (Staffordshire) King’s Well and Longhope (Gloucestershire) Royal Spring are both associated with the monarch.
However, stopping to drink is a common theme. A well in Appledore (Kent) is called Queen Anne’s Well because she is said to have stopped there and asked the landlord for a sip. It is possible that such associations may stem from a desire for a local land owner to support a developing spa trade, Queen Anne’s Bathhouse exists in Lullingstone (Kent), however there is no record of such an attempt at Appledore. Furthermore, it is unclear which Queen Anne is recorded at Appledore and it is possible considering the age of the brickwork in the cellar and around the well at this site that it was once St. Ann’s well. This is probably true of Lincoln’s Queen Ann’s Well, Chalvey’s Queen Ann’s Well (Buckinghamshire), Queen Anne’s Wishing Well (South Cadbury) and Blythborough’s (Suffolk) site now known as Lady Well! However of that of Chalvey, perhaps not as there is no pre-18th century record, although if it did not it soon attracted a reputation for healing and was called a spa. Interestly Queen Charlotte is also noted as being involved and as such according to the Mirror, of 1832,:
“a stone was placed there in 1785 by her illustrious consort, George III”.
An accompanying woodcut to the piece showing the stone with the royal monogram carved in the centre. In 1698 Anne of Denmark gave money to create a basin at Tunbridge wells and well was called the Queen’s well.
Of course in the next two centuries, the rise of the spas saw many mineral springs develop the patronage of the monarch such as George IV, yet despite this times had changed and the wells did not take the monarch’s name directly. By the reign of Victoria, her name was then applied to fountainheads and pumps, as old wells were filled in and channelled away amidst growing concerns for the need for clean and freely accessible water. A few sites such as the confusing named Coronation or Jubilee Well (so marked on the 1844 OS map so difficult to record which monarch and which jubilee or coronation is referred to) in Wessington (Derbyshire) buck the trend.
In summary it is interesting that despite a large number of memorable and in some case not so memorable monarchs, there is are a limited number of them associated with wells. Why? Is it due to these particular monarchs having pricked the public’s folk memory, or in some cases inherited some sort of pious notion akin to that associated with holy wells.
Wells associated with Royalty can be divided into the following categories:
a) Those drunk before a battle or whilst on the run from a battle. This could include the Battle Well Evesham (Worcestershire), with its associations with Simon de Montford is out of the scope of this blog but shows this trend, the water becoming curative.
b) Those associated with their castles, palaces, hunting lodges. But why these particular monarchs is unclear?
c) Those made by miraculous events such as that associated King Henry VIs well. It seems perhaps these sites had developed in anticipation of the eventual sanctifying of the individuals which of course never happened.
A probable holy well, if only in name or association is to be found in the London suburb of Chislehurst. This is a site missing from James Rattue’s survey of Kent holy wells. This is the Bishop’s Well, which is said to be one of the springs consecrated by the Bishop’s of Rochester during their tenure at Bromley. It was enclosed in the private grounds of Old Crown Cottage, along Crown Lane, but was once accessible via small path from the road.
Evidence of worship
Interestingly there is anecdotal evidence of worship at the well, For I was informed by the owner in the late 1990s, a Mr. Bill Orman, that when the previous owners had taken over the property in the 1940s, the well was surrounded by a number of small crosses, which sadly they disposed of. Could these have been evidence of pilgrimage to the well or left by those healed by its waters?
Will the real well reveal itself?
The well shaft is of considerable depth, and older brickwork is visible towards its bottom. The top is enclosed in a square brick chamber, and water still fills the chamber below. When I peered down, as can be made out in the photo, was the remains of a badger! There is some dispute regarding the exact site, and I was shown another well, capped and fitted with an old pump, lying in the grounds of Bishop’s Well House. However, despite the name, it is generally believed that the Old Crown Cottage’s well is the said site, and that this other well being above the other draws water from that. The owners hope to make the well into a feature for the garden although I have not contacted them since then to discover if this was done!
In the 1990s I researched for work on holy wells and healing springs of Kent, publishing a number of articles in Bygone Kent on the subject. Little did I know that fellow researcher, James Rattue was simultaneously working on the same county. This year I may publish this unpublished work mainly because unlike James’s excellent work it is a full field guide and covers sites which he did not uncover…below is an extract of one of the county’s most famous springs together with another site James did not know still existed, Colet’s Well.
The picturesque village of Otford has a number of noted water sources, the most obvious being of course the circular duck pond sitting delightfully in the roundabout in the village centre; renowned to be the only listed duckpond in the country! However, tucked away behind the main street, on private land of Castle Farm and largely forgotten now is perhaps the best known holy wells amongst Kent antiquarians is that of Becket’s or St. Thomas’s Well (TQ 5315 592). This is no doubt due to the colourful legend associated with it. This tells that whilst living here in the old manor, the ruins of which called the Bishop’s Palace still stand, St. Thomas bemoaned the lack of good water. As a remedy he struck his staff into the ground and clear water gushed forth. This is a familiar folklore motif, and we shall see it again referred to at other Kent sites. Perhaps it recalls the saint ordering well digging to provide fresh water and marked the position with his staff! The legends earliest reference is made by Lambard (1571):
“..stake his staffe into the drie ground ( in a place thereof now called Sainte Thomas Well ) and immediately the same water appeared, which running plentifully, serveth the offices of the new house to the present day.”
The site has been well recorded in recent centuries, for example an account of 1876, describes the site as: ‘endorsed within a wall, forming a chamber 15 ft across and 10 ft deep’ Both the chamber’s appearance and shape suggests that is would be ideal for immersions, of which Harper and Kershaw (1923) notes that bath and steps are defied annually by the hop pickers. It is interesting to note that Thorne (1876) with no apparent reference, gives another connection with the saint, suggesting that: ‘to have used by the saint as a bath.’ No subsequent or previous work draws notice to this, so it is likely to be antiquarian fancy. Another more plausible possibility is that it was used by the leper hospital found on this site around 1228. They would have clearly made use of the pure water for medicinal purposes and perhaps indeed used it as a bath. The exact nature of its curative powers are unknown, but although belief in them was waning by 1800s, rumours of its use continued to the last world war. The Gentlemen’s Magazine June 1820, gives the only recorded account of a cure and states that:
“an old man, who, crippled by rheumatism, was completely renovated by this bath to health and action of circumstance witnessed by the late Lord Stanhope and several of the neighbouring gentry.”
Kirkham (1948) notes it was suffering from neglect being ‘now said to be choked up and half full of tins.’ This decline would appear to have started a long time ago, as a folly tower, now demolished, was built on Otford Mount a nearby earthwork, from the well’s stone work. Consequently, this degraded condition prompted excavation in the 1950s by the Otford and District Historical Society; the following details of their findings are now briefly described. The report noted that the well consisted of two chambers, with water emerging from two arched outlets into the first of these. This chamber is surrounded on three sides by walls, thirty-five feet by thirteen feet (east end), the walls are eight feet high, and at the same level of the ground. Six steps at the south east end give access to the well chamber. The sluice wall is five feet high, eight feet wide, and is substantially buttressed on the western front. Water runs through this sluice wall, between steep banks westward, through a lower chamber, twenty-seven feet (north sides), and thirty-five feet (west side). The water then flowed through watercress, and finally through an underground, probably Tudor conduit. This conduit then passes through the site of the Palace. This stream, once fed a moat, but now discharges into the Bubblestone Brook, a Darenth tributary.
Locally common thought was that the well is the remains of a Roman bath house, a belief echoed by its present owner. A view endorsed by both Ward (1932) and Harper and Kershaw (1923) who note that it ‘is really a Roman Bath.’ This view is further supported by the two surrounding Roman villas, and hence one aim of the excavation was to evaluate this long held claim. Yet, although they showed that the well had gone through considerable renovation and rebuilding over the centuries, no remains could be positively be dated to this period. This renovation, of course, resulted in a rarity of deposits, and hence with a lack of artefacts, the subsequent interpretation was thus difficult.
The excavation was further handicapped by the waterlogged conditions. Both may have influenced the results. Consequently, there are still doubts, and the concept of a Roman origin has not been satisfactorily disproved. The earliest written record is from Otford Ministers accounts of 1440-1, indicating that by then a stone structure existed here, but how old that was again is not clear. It states:
“To a carpenter for two days to make 2 gutters to bring water from the pool of the garden to the moat and for working on and laying another gutter beyond the water course and coming from the fountain of St. Thomas to old garden, 12d; and to a carpenter for one day covering a gutter with timber and cresting it, 6d. And for two masons for 2 days for placing and laying and making a new stone wall of the fountain of St. Thomas, broken for the pipe of the water conduit, 3s, taking between them daily 12d. To five labourers 10 days digging the soil between the said fountain and moat to lay in the leaden pipe of said conduit16s 8d taking each daily 4d.”
The present floor may be ascribed to that period; although it would seem to cover an earlier lower flint floor (again possibly Roman). Between 1520-1520, Archbishop Warkham, pulled down the then existing Manor house, and built the Palace, covering four acres. This consequently required a better water supply, and hence the well was improved: the original lower chamber is said to originate from this period. The full purpose of the lower chamber is not clear, but it is believed that it may have housed cisterns giving a greater flow of water. When Henry VIII acquired the Palace from Archbishop Crammer in 1537, he spent money on improvements to the estate, and probably the well. The sluice gate, strengthened by Warham, was now supported by buttresses. These may have supported a conduit house. This was recorded in 1573:
“The condiyte house or well conteyning in length XXXVI foote and in breadth XIX fote to be taken downe and newe sett upp will coste XXX pounds. The pypes conveyinge the water from hence to the offyces and small sesterns to be amended will coste Xiii.”
By the 1600s, the Palace was in disrepair, and the well was only used for private consumption by Castle farm. Despite this, restoration still continued, and the north, east and south wall saw upper improvements by the 1700s. In the lower chamber a stone west wall was erected on Warham’s brick foundations. By this time, the south wall was beginning to collapse, and was rebuilt in the 1800s.
By 1954 repairs were again needed, as the north wall was collapsing. Goodsall (1968) reported that even after its excavation in the late 1950s, the site then enclosed in railings, was forlorn and overgrown with weeds. Forty years on, the present condition is similar to that illustrated in the contemporary photo, taken during the excavation: the intervening decades have seen the inevitable degradation, through time, of its infrastructure. Fortunately, the hideous railings have been removed, obviously to erect the trout farm infrastructure, whose water is supplied by the well. The walls appear now comparably greatly overgrown, which has probably preserved them, and the sluice wall / north, south and west walls appear the most ruinous, with the walling falling away towards the sluice wall. The walling was best preserved at the east end. The clear spring appears to flow rapidly from its source, and has the appearance of being deeper. As stated, it now has now a commercial function, providing good quality water for the raising of trout flowing through a series of fish ponds replacing the cress beds. The owner, Mrs. Burrows believed that the well was originally roofed. The results of the excavation did not indicate this although it may be a mix-up with the possibility of a conduit house over the well. She also stated the water stayed the same temperature through the winter and summer, a constant 500C, certainly beneficial to bathers.
There is another named well in Otford, called Colet’s Well (TQ 530 589) named according to Mrs. Burrows after the famous Christian philosopher. Clarke and Stoyol (1975) state that ‘Colet’s Well’ House is built upon a monastery site, but they make no reference to the well, although it appears to lie within monastery gardens, suggesting a holy origin! Is this further supported by the tradition of a subterranean tunnel linking the House with Otford Mount? Such legends are often connected with holy wells and are used by some authorities as evidence of ley lines or processional paths. The present owner of the property could not inform me of its origins, but noted that much of the fabric of the walls surrounding the house gardens had pieces of the abbey. The well itself is a circular deep well, with a square brick top, which supplied water via pump. I was informed that water is said to flow at times through the cellar of the house. Interesting the part of the house overlooking the well is said to be haunted!
Directions: To find Becket’s Well go along the A225 to the centre of Otford, park in the car park (in front of the row of terraced shops) near the Bishop’s Palace. Take a small private road to Castle farm, now as said, a fish farm. Enquire here, if you are able to visit the well, which lies on private land within a complex of fish pools to the east of the farm house. Colet’s Well lies in the garden of Colet Well House, and hence access is difficult, serious enquiries can be made via letter.
Clarke, D., and Stoyol, A., ( 1975 ) Otford in Kent, A History
Goodsall, R. H., ( 1967) Second Kentish Patchwork
Harper, C. G., and Kershaw, J. C., (1923) The Downs and the sea ( Palmer 1923 )
Lambard, W., ( 1570, Republished 1970 ) Perambulation of Kent,
Kirkham, N., ( 1948 ) The Pilgrim’s Way
Paleman, F. R. J., ( 1956 )St. Thomas a Becket’s Well, Otford, Archaeologia Cantiana Vol LXX pp. 172-178
Thorne, J., ( 1876 ) Handbook of the Environs of London,