Category Archives: Middlesex

Where a few surviving hedges, Keep our lost Elysium – The Waxwell of Pinner

Pinner is classic suburbs. Lovely well kept houses, neat lawns, tidy hedges but as John Betjemen’s quote suggests some relics of past times remains……in this case on the junction of Waxwell Road and Uxbridge Road. The Waxwell (TQ 118 905) is such a surprising substantial well site that it is surprising it is so little known. Researching our holy and healing well heritage in London and Middlesex is generally a disheartening experience. Many wells have been lost forever, even their locations cannot be effectively traced or else enclosed away. The Wax well is an exception, although it has not completely escaped the perils of urbanisation, it remains remarkably unchanged from the last century as comparison with today and the postcard testifies.

Watching or Waecca?Waxwell Pinner (11)

The name is interesting, it is the only one I am aware of. A plaque by the Harrow Heritage Trust reads:

“Wax Well Name was first recorded in 1274 as ‘Wakeswell’ Thought to mean ‘Waecc’s’ Spring. Until mid-19th century the well was the most important source of water in Pinner village and reputed to have healing properties.”          

The name is either from a personal name or Anglo-Saxon Woecce whichmeans ‘to guard’ perhaps suggesting that the water was important or associated with a ritual. However, the site is close to Grime’s Dyke which was the boundary of Mercia so the guard may relate to use by people associated with that site.

Staying in Pinner forever?

A tradition that anyone who drunk of the well would stay in Pinner forever, this being a tradition often associated from Anglo-Saxon sites, such as Keldwell in Lincolnshire and Bywell in Northumberland, both Saxon sounding wells so there appears to be a significant relationship. Pinner residents clearly protective of who lives in the area, they have perhaps prevented people from testing this out for no water can be found there!Waxwell Pinner (7)

Remarkable waters

Yet it was a very reliable water source especially in dry periods when people would travel from miles around to collect it.  The healing properties of the water ranged from the being good for eyes to unusually reviving people at the point of death! Sadly, since 1870, the site has been sealed up and the site is now dry and deep in leaves. The well consists of a large red brick domed structure set into the bank and earth covered.  The water arose under an arch in a semi circular basin set into base of the chamber with three steps reaching the water.

Waxwell Pinner (9)

The veneration of water in 12 objects…number seven Votive weapons

“If I throw thys ryche swerde in the water, thereof shall never com good, but harme and losse.’ And then sir Bedwere hyd Excalyber undir a tre… But King Arthur repremands him and sends him back.

So Bedevere went to the watirs syde. And there he bounde the gyrdyll aboute the hyltis, and threw the swerde as farre into the watir as he myght. And there cam an arme and an honde above the watir, and toke hit and cleyght hit, and shoke hit thryse and braundysshed, and than vanysshed with the swerde into the watir.”

So retells one of the most famed scenes recorded in Arthurian romance: the Lady in the Lake taking the mighty Excalibur back. A scene which may remember folk memory of Celtic and possibly pre-Celtic traditions of depositing sword votive offerings such as those held in the British Museum. A number of sites have revealed sword and other weapon deposits as far apart as Flag Fen (Cambridgeshire) to Carlingwark (Scotland). In some places there are considerable amounts. An intriguing window into the Celtic world and the ritual significance of water has been revealed for example at Llyn Cerrig Bach. Here 150 objects dating from second century B.C to the first century A.D have been extracted. Many of these objects show damage before their deposition, i.e rendering them useless although some were quite servicable, a common theme it appears.

One particular location which too has been clearly significant is the river Thames. This received a wide range of weaponry and other military equipment over at least a millennium, such as early Iron Age spearhead daggers still in their sheaths, at Chelsea, Wandsworth, Barn Elms and even a bronze helmet with bulls horns found era near Waterloo Bridge.

A bronze shield found in 1985 in a gravel pit near the River Thames at Chertsey with a pair of double-headed snakes beside the handle suggesting a higher level of working then would usual.

The Battersea Shield Source Wikipedia

However, most famed of these votive river offerings is the Battersea Shield, a rare relic from the Iron Age. It is delightfully decorated being highlighted by 27 framed studs of red enamel associated with three roundels, with a high domed boss in the middle of the central one with a large stud in its centre. A reprousse technique having been used with engraving and stippling being used. Its rich decoration with polished bronze and red glass as well as the thinness of its iron suggests that it could never have been used for defence and clearly was purely ceremonial or made for depositing as a sacrifice for appease some deity. The Battersea shield is remarkable in being made of metal as many shields found in burial sites are wood and had very few metal parts. It is probable that the Battersea shield was only the front part of the shield and there is evidence of rivets on it.

But why leave something like this? Did it prepare the giver for the afterlife? Was there a god or goddess for war associated with water? Perhaps we shall never really know.   Certainly, there is evidence in the currency of giving something very valuable to appease a deity. What is interesting is despite consideration that this an Iron Age custom, there is evidence that such depositions continued into the fourteenth century and as such gives greater evidence for folklorists suggesting that customs and ceremonies can survive from prehistoric times perhaps!

Emma's well

The ancient springs of London’s first commercial water supply – The great scheme

In the early 1600s London undertook an ambitious project to bring clean drinking water from the countryside into the heart of the metropolis. Central to this play were two ancient springs. Unlike their Victorian entrepreneurs who often emasculated their spring heads, those utilised in Sir Hugh Myddleton’s New River remain picturesque relics. He was given the responsibility in March 1609, with the provision that he completed it in four years. However, he encountered considerable problems with acquiring the land necessary, and many land owners believed that the scheme would result in their lands being flooded. Indeed, they even petitioned the government over the matter, but fortunately Parliament was dissolved and the matter was not discussed.
Finally, in 1611, the Corporation of London extended the contract for another four years, but Myddleton sensibly approached James I for help. He agreed to take over half the costs and take half the revenue. This not only helped financially but landowners were impressed by the Royal patronage, and furthermore the King’s connection discouraged a rival scheme to use the River Lea at Hackney.
On Michaelmas Day 1613, the scheme was completed, and a ceremony took place, not far from where Saddler’s Wells Theatre now stands, attended by The Lord Mayor, Myddleton’s brother, Thomas, and a great number of Alderman. With the accompaniment of rolling drums and ringing church bells, the sluice gates opened and water direct from Hertfordshire gushed into the Clerkenwell reservoir.
The total cost at the end was £500,000 in those days an enormous amount. A joint stock company entitled ‘The Governor and Company of New River Brought from Chadwell and Amwell to London.’ The company enjoyed a Royal Charter, and Myddelton was appointed governor. However, it was not until after his death, in 1631, that any profit was made. Yet, in 1640s it saw great periods of prosperity, and remained a separate company for 300 years until it was absorbed by the Metropolitan Water Board. Myddleton in 1622, he was duly made a Baronet, and apart from those at Amwell, monuments at Islington Gardens, The Holborn Viaduct, and the courtyard of the Royal Exchange were erected to his enterprise.

The springheads

Emma'stone (2)
The most picturesque of these is the ancient spring, called Emma’s Well (TL 372 125) which has given the parish its name still exists, having formed part of the system established to supply freshwater to London via the New River It is a well known beauty spot, but the actual well is often missed by visitors, who focus on the delightful turfed islands with their monuments. The well itself is located opposite to this site, and is defined as a small piped opening, through which the spring flows. Just above the well is a small stone monument, slightly obscured by foliage. Upon this source stone a poem is inscribed:

“O’vering with shrubs that fringe the chalky rock. A little fount purr’d forth its gurgling rill. In flinty channel trickling o’er the green, From EMMA nam’d perhaps some sainted maid, For holy life rever’d so such erewhile, Fond superstition many a pleasant grove, And limpid Spring was wont to consecrate, Of Emma’s story nought Tradition speaks, Conjecture who behind Oblivion’s veil. Along the doubtful past delights to fray, boasts now indeed that from her well he place Received as appellation. In Domesday book this village Amwell written Emmaswelle.”

The well’s water flows under the road, and fills the aforementioned artificial pool, created by damming, with its two interlinked manicured turfed isles. Upon the islet is a monument to this scheme’s deviser Sir Hugh Myddleton (1609). It states:

“From the spring at Chadwell 2 miles west and from this source at Amwell the aqueduct meanders for the space of XL miles conveying health, pleasure and convenience to the metropolis of Great Britain. An immortal task since man cannot more nearly initiate the Deity than by bestowing health. This monument was dedicated by Robert Mylne, architect, engineer in 1800. Sacred to the memory of Sir Hugh Myddleton Bart., whose successful assisted by the patronage of his King, conveyed this stream to London. This humble tribute to the genius, talents and clarity of mind.”

The second smaller islet has a yew tree with another monument (1818) with lines of verse penned by locally renowned poet Scott (whose grotto nearby at Ware is well worth a visit ). This he called ‘Amwell ‘ :

“Amwell. Perpetual be thy stream. Nor ever thy spring be less. Which thousands drink who never dream whence flows the streams they bless.”

The name Amwell appeared after the 14th Century before then the well retained its original dedication of Emma. The name is believed to be derived from the wife of King Cnut or Canute. Confusingly, folklorist Gerish (1899) appears to suggest that the churchyard well was that regarded as ‘Holy’, being used in baptisms and being efficacious in cures. He does not give an exact location and I have been unable to locate another well. Easier locate is that commonly called St Chad’s Well (TL 350 135) is located between below the road between Ware and Hertford. It would appear that, rather than being associated with the Mercian missionary and patron saint of springs, its name is derived from O.E ceals for ‘cold’ spring, for in the middle ages, the site was called ‘chaldwelle’ or ‘caldewelle’. The name St. Chad’s well only appears from 1727. However, its water was said to be good for eyes.
The spring arises in this large stone lined pool, and joins the flow from Amwell, into the New River towards London. Around the pool are the stone monuments. The largest one states (on one side):

This belongs to New River Company 178 feet. Chadwell Spring. The other side: This belongs to the New River Company 270 feet. Repaired 1728. The side panels reading, one side: 269 Feet. Opened 1608, and on the other: 43 Feet. Conveyed 40 Miles.

The other, smaller stone which appears to have a trig-point attached also states:

This belongs to the New River Company.

According to Hawkwood (1924) these monuments predate an older inscribed stone, which was found with the words ‘Chadwell’ on it in 1743. The presence whereabouts of this is not known.

a-stchadwellherts3a-chadwellherts2

a-chadwellherts

An oft repeated piece of folklore

An interesting piece of folklore is connected with both this site and Amwell. Recorded by William Vallens in the ‘Tale of Two Swannes’ (1589) and referred to by Cussans, the Hertfordshire historian, it relates how the two sites were connected by an underground tunnel. It states:

“A tale there is deliver’d unto us, from hand to hand, how that a haunted ducke, Diving within this chalk-well head or hole, Was forced underneath the hollow ground, To swimme along by wayes that be unknowne, And afterward at Amwell Spring (they say) Was thrown up featherless and bare.”

This is a common folklore motif, and is often connected to mysterious caves and legends of secret tunnels. However, it has also been connected to holy wells. For example there is said to be a tunnel between Guildford Castle and St Mary’s Well, Farnham, both in Surrey. This was supposedly traversed by a goose, who also like the above tail appeared a little worse for wear the other end!

What is pleasing to note that unlike their Victorian counterparts, the scheme did not emasculate the spring and enclose it within an inaccessible chamber, they celebrated and romanticised their water supplies rather than santise and have left a romantic site for future generations to enjoy.

An overview of Royal 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.

Some lost wells and found wells of eastern central London

DSC_0064Finsbury’s Sadler’s Well is believed by some to have been a converted holy well. Indeed, Hood (1813) records that in A True and Exact Account of Sadler’s Well, 1684:

“the new Well at Islington is a certain Spring in the middle of a Garden, belonging to the Musick-house, built by Mr Sadler… the water whereof was, before the Reformation, very much famed for several extraordinary cures performed therby, and was therefore accounted sacred, and called Holy-Well… But, upon the Reformation, the Well was stopt up’, until some workmen uncovered it, and Sadler began to market it as a spa.”

Despite the likelihood of the site being a holy well it is more probable that the site had a back history created for the benefit of advertising the spa. In the recent refurbishment of the Opera House, the old Sadler’s well was not forgotten and now has been given a clear cover so that the well can be observed just right of the foyer up the stairs.

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In Holborn, the Powis Well was discovered according to Foord (1910) before 1721 as it is mentioned in The Weekly Journal of 1721 January 17th::

 “Tuesday morning last happened a very odd and deplorable accident; a man going to a little spring at the back of Lord Powis’s house, in Lamb’s Conduit Fields, to which  there is a great resort on account of its being reported good in several impurities; stooping to wash his eyes, as ’tis supposed, he fell headlong in and was suffocated.”

Clearly named after the house it was found in the garden of, now the north-west end of Great Ormond Street Hospital, and as stated its water was said to be good for eyes. The well had a house of entertainment and walks associated with it. Foord (1910) notes an advertisement dated August 4, 1748 (the name of the newspaper does not appear) announces that :

 “The Long Room at Powis Wells by Lamb’s Conduit will be opened for the Summer Season, with an assembly of Country Dancing. To begin on Monday next. Tickets to be had at the said Wells at two shilings each. The doors to be opened at four o’clock. There will be good Musick and good accommodations.”

Another advertisement (of 1754) is in these terms:

 “Powis Wells by the Foundling Hospital. These waters are now in their full perfection. They are of a sweetening, diuritic, and gently purging quality, and are recommended by many eminent Physicians and Surgeons for the cure of breakings out, sore legs, inflammation of the eyes, and other scorbutic and leprous disorders, &c. Those who send for these waters are desired to take notice that the Bottles are sealed upon the cork with the words ‘Powis Wells Water.’”

The site is now lost, but is remembered in Powis Street. Three noted healing springs existed in the Clerkenwell parish, one of which gave the borough its name. The Clerks Well is the best preserved holy well in this area of London. The spring is so called because as Hone (1823) notes that the Miracle Plays were performed here by virtue of its suitability of its aspect,

“being a rapid slope from Clerkenwell Green down to the valley of the Fleet, forming a sort of natural amphitheatre, whence the spectators could see distinctly all that went on below them.”

Stow gives its position as:

“ not far from the west end of Clerkenwell Church, but close without the wall that incloseth it.”

Agas’s (1558)  pictorial plan of London shows that the water gushed from a spout at the south-west corner of St. Mary’s Nunnery, and falling into a trough, enclosed by a low wall as described by Stow. In 1673, James third Earl of Northampton donated the water and its land to the poor of St. James. However, this did not stop the Vestry leasing the spring to John Crosse a brewer, who enclosed the well and ran a conduit from it to Hockley in the Hole. The well had formerly iron- work and brass cocks, which are now cut off. The water spins through the old wall. I was there and tasted the water and found it excellently clear, sweet, and well tasted.  The Clerks’ Well was still marked by a pump in 1858 in the south-east corner of Ray Street, the spring from which it was supplied being 4 feet eastwards. An iron tablet which was erected over the pump remains and it commemorates the Clerk’s performances and that ‘the water was greatly esteemed by the prior and brethren of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, and the Benedictine Nuns in the neighbourhood.’ By 1897, the well existed being covered by a massive brick arch, but under the floor of No. 18, Farringdon Road, formerly the parish watch-house. But by 1924, the exact location was unknown, but it was rediscovered on Farringdon Lane. The site was finally renovated in 1984, with a small exhibition.

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Of the Skinner’s Well, another spring associated by Miracle or Mystery plays, this time done by the Skinners, it is noted in a Feet of Fines MS notes a Godewell described as between the Priory and the Holeburne ; apparently somewhat to the south. The name at least dates from 1327 as a Charter was granted to the Skinners then by they would have existed before then to be granted such a charter so the well may be older in its dedication.

Foord (1910) states that the Skinners’ Well had been lost by 1720 if not by Stow’s time but he was informed that it lay west of St. James Church Clerkenwell and was enclosed within certain houses there. He notes that:

“Dr. Rogers, who formerly lived in an house there, showed Mr. Edmund Howard, late churchwarden, marks in a wall in the close where, as he affirmed, the pipes lay, that it might be known after his death.”

Yet exact site of Skinners’ Well is not now known. Another site may be considered a holy well by virtue of association, Loders Well; was granted to the Nuns of Clerkenwell in year 1200 by a Muriel de Montigny who gave the  ‘fons qui vocatur Lodderswell’ with a right-of-way thereto from the Priory. The site of the well has now been lost.

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The final Clerkenwell site was the Coldbath spring was located near the Clerk’s wel, near river Fleet and Turnmill Brook. It was described as a mild chalybeate spring at first drunk and then by 1697 to be bathed in. Sutherland (1915) tells us that Walter Baynes noted it as the most noted and first bathing place in London. Water was good for scorbutic complaints, rheumatism, chronic disorders and help with the appetite. It consisted of a 103 foot by 60 foot bath and in its large garden was a four turret summer house. In 1815 the front of the building as removed but the bath remained until 1870. The neighbourhood was called Coldbath fields and now nothing is left to remember it

There are a number of well sites at Cripplegate; possibly some recall the same site. The most confirmed was at the back of St. Giles Church was the Crowder’s or Crowd’s Well which according to Childrey (1661) as tasting like new milk and was good for eyes.  Near the site was a Jewish cemetery and it has been commented that a Crowell is close to a medieval Jewish cemetery in Oxford and a Crowder’s Terrace in Winchester near a medieval cemetery. This view is further supported by the presence of a Jacob’s Well north of the cemetery plot. It has been postulated that this well may have been a mikveh used on the site for ritual ablutions (cf Jacob’s Well Bristol, also near a Jewish cemetery). Until fairly recently a Pub, Crowd’s Well remembered it, but it too has gone.   Monkwell Street commemorates the Monk Well. The site is possibly linked to a hermitage or Chantry chapel established in 1347 by Lady Mary de St. Pol, Countess of Pembroke. She granted the Cistercian Abbey of Garendon, Leicestershire, two tenements one in Fleet Street and the other in Sherbourne Lane. In return the Abbot and Convent were to maintain one monk in a hermitage near Cripplegate, to pray for the soul of Aymer de Valence, late Earl of Pembroke.   Foord (1909) notes that a little west of Well Street and Monk well was a site called St. Giles’s Well. There is no evidence of this well having this name and so may have been a site by association with St. Giles’ church and a confusion with Monk well or Crowd’s well.

As this brief article shows, the restless urban progress of London has robbed us of many interesting sites, but  like many great cities, some sites remain, preserved like flies trapped in aspic giving us a view of when London’s wells were a vital part of their society.