Category Archives: Pilgrimage

St. Chad’ Well, Stowe, Lichfield – perhaps the only genuine St Chad’s Well?

St Chad’s Well at Stowe on the edge of Lichfield is perhaps one of the few such named wells with a direct link to the saint. The site has a more direct link as Thomas Dugdale’s 1817 County of Warwickshire states in his translation of the death of Saints Wulfade and Rufinus based on 14th century text that Wulfade the son of the pagan king Wulfhere of the Mercians was hunting when he pursued a white hart, and the wounded stag took him to the hermitage of St Chad:

“which he had built within the thickets of the wood on the edge of a spring, so that he might throw himself into its waters to overpower the heaviness of sleep and reawaken himself with its cold”. 

St Chad took advantage of the occasion to preach to the prince, telling him that:

“as the hart desireth the water brooks, so he should seek after the cool grace of baptism, and Wulfade, converted by this analogy, consented to be baptised from the well. Rufinus soon followed the same course. At first his father was angry and killed his sons, but afterwards he repented and gave nobly to the Church. “

According to Simon Gunton’s 1686 History of Peterburgh Cathedral there were windows in the cloisters of Peterborough Cathedral, accompanied by mottoes apparently of the fifteenth century which told how

‘the Hart brought Wulfade to a Well and ‘That was beside Seynt Chaddy’s Cell.” 

John Floyer discussing St Chad in his 1702 Essay to prove cold bathing both safe and useful  proposes that:

“the Well near Stow, which may bear his Name, was probably his Baptistery, it being deep enough for Immersion, and conveniently seated near that Church; and that has the Reputation of curing Sore Eyes, Scabs, &c. as most Holy Wells in England do”.

Robert Hope in his 1893 Legendary Lore of Holy Wells states that the water was thought to be dangerous to drink because it caused fits. Septimus Sunderland’s 1915 Old London’s Baths, Spas and wells also met a woman who looked after the well who said that it still had a reputation for bad eyes and rheumatism and was known as a Wishing Well. Thomas Harwood in his 1806 The History and Antiquities of the Church and City of Lichfield states that at the well it was adorned with:

“…boughs, and of reading the gospel for the day, at this and at other wells and pumps, is yet observed in this city on Ascension Day.” 

However, by the time of Langford (1896) he noted that it was but sadly shorn of its ancient glory. According to Skyking Walters’ 1928 Ancient Wells and Springs of the Cotswolds, the site was still decorated with flowers on Ascension Day, a tradition which continues today in a modern form similar to that seen in Derbyshire. The site despite being in the grounds of an Anglican church was the site of Catholic pilgrimages from 1922 until the 1930s (although an Anglican one visited in 1926)

In his Itinerary of c. 1540 (published 1906–10), John Leland reports that:

“Stowchurche in the est end of the towne, whereas is St Cedd’s well, a thinge of pure water, where is sene a stone in the bottom of it, on the whiche some say that Cedde was wont nakyd to stond on in the water, and pray.”

The stone mentioned by Leland was still there or a version of it in the 1830s as it was shown to any visitors who visited the site and appears to have had its own significance in cures and rituals at the well.

The tour diary of John Loveday, 1732 (published 1890) states in reference to Stowe church that:

“near it, in a little garden is St Chad’s Well, its Water is good for sore Eyes; it is of different colours in a very little time, as They say.”

According to the V.C.H. (1908–84), the well was cleaned in 1820 by the churchwardens as it had become only six feet deep and the supply of water had become reduced by the draining of local water meadows. The well basin itself had become filled up with mud and in 1830 a local physician James Rawson built an octagonal stone structure over the well bemoaning in the Gentlemen’s magazine in 1864:

“Whatever the well might have been originally, it had, by the year 1833, degenerated into a most undignified puddle, more than six feet deep . . .
…..from two men of far-advanced age, in the year 1833, I learned that the supply of clear water around the well had become much lessened by the drainage of the lower meadows during the latter part of the eighteenth century, At all events, by the date
first named here, the well-basin had become filled up with mud and filth; and on top of this impurity a stone had been placed was described by the sight-showers as the identical stone on which St Chad used to kneel and pray!
For my own part, hoping by means of a public subscription to procure a new supply of water for the site of this ancient baptistry . . . I endeavoured to exclude the surface water of the old marsh land from the well, because of this surface water being loaded with orchre: and, as a feeder for the well, a supply of clear water was carefully obtained from the rock at a moderate distance, for close to the well a running sand became an impediment to the work. Over the well an octagonal building was erected with a saxon-headed doorway, and a stone roof surmounted by a plain Latin cross .”

It is interesting how a tradition soon built up around this new structure. Langford (1896) notes how wishes would be granted by placing one’s hand on a granite stone built into the well house, which was said to be that originally used by St. Chad.

By the early 1920s, the supply dried up and the well was lined with brick and a pump was fitted over the well and a special service was held in 1923 by the rector to officially open the pump. This created a revival. Catholic pilgrimages begun each year from 1922 to the 1930s and even an Anglican pilgrimage in 1926.

However by 1941 the well had become derelict, and after a commission set up by the Bishop of Lichfield it was restored in the 1950s, unfortunately replacing the 1840 octagonal structure with an open structure with a tiled roof (with R. Morrell in his 1992 Source article calls the Stowe bandstand). And so St Chad’s Well remains, not perhaps the most romantic of structures, but a link to those early Christian times.

Visiting the Wychwood Forest healing springs on Palm Sunday

DSC_1329
A throng of walkers pass the Wort Well

“Walkers enjoy day in ‘Hidden’ forest. Hundreds of ramblers and conservationists converged on the secret Wychwood Forest on Sunday to walk through its leady glades. It was the one day of the year – Palm Sunday – when Lord Rotherwick the owner of the 2150 acre medieval woodlands, allows public access.”

To which I might add just! This is a curious custom where part of the tradition remains, but aspects of it appear to have disappeared. The custom apparently was established to provide access of the local parishes adjacent – Leafield Five Ash, Charlbury and Finstock particularly – for the collection of wood and the visiting of the springs and wells of the estate. It is the latter of which is of considerable interest.

If you go down the woods…..

My aunt and uncle did not live far from this area and I have always been fascinated with this woods and their privacy. Apparently, I was not the only one. Large numbers of visitors could be found wandering the woods; their cars lined the narrow streets around the forest. It was not just for local people. In an excellent article by Roy Townsend on the Finstock Local History Website records the memories of a Mr Pratley of nearby Finstock. He notes the widespread nature of the visitors:

“It was possible to meet people from Cornwall one minute, then a family from Durham a few yards later.”

But why? The name the ‘Secret Forest’ was part of the appeal no doubt. It was a forest which could only be visited on Palm Sunday each year. Any other time of the year it was strictly out of bounds. Everyone loves a mysterious place and getting access to it was part of the allure.

Well wishing…

One of the major reasons for the access on Palm Sunday was for the local community to visit the springs and wells, which were thought to have a healing tradition on the day. A local historian, John Kibble, noted in 1928, recorded that prayers were said at the springs:

“Hast then a wound to heal; The wych doth grieve thee?Come then unto this welle, It will relieve thee:Nolie me tangeries, And other maladies”                                                                  

This was one of the main reasons also why the estate and its curious access tradition fascinated me. Wells and springs were often visited on this date, but this one appeared to have the longest surviving tradition and from some accounts some people still did it. The main aspect of this tradition undertaken was to make Spanish Water, using liquorice, brown sugar or sweets often black peppermints. Mr. Pratley again notes:

“This tradition took place all through the 20th century, and probably before, although the liquorice may have originally come from the root of the plant, rather than being shop bought.”

Three wells can still be found in the estate – the Cyder, the Wort and the Spa or Iron Well. The Wort Well or another lost well called Uzzle were the most popular apparently around them would grow wild liquorice. The name wort derives from healing suggesting its health giving properties. Of the Iron Well, Roy Townsend notes:

“Spanish Liquor is made up with some pieces of hard liquorice with two to three black gobstopper type sweets and white peppermints which were crushed, made up on Saturday night and shaken well on Sunday Morning. You take your bottle with the mixture in down to the well behind the kennels called the Iron Well. If it’s still there behind the fencing. We were forbidden to drink much of it on the way home.”

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The Iron Well
Cyder well
The Cyder Well

A poster in the Finstock Local History website, called Fabulous Flowers notes:

“I remember walking to the Iron Well on Palm Sunday with my great Aunty Vi and Molly and mixing the water with our Spanish liquor. Before the footpath was opened through the Wychwood forrest (sic) as it is know this was the only day you could walk down to the lakes and I remember lots of people doing this.”

The date of this visitation is unclear but this aspect tradition appears close to extinction or is extinct. An account noted that:

a man from Leafield, who used to take his bottle of mixture to the well up until a few years ago.”

ironwell route
The Cornbury Map showing route directly to Iron Well.

On entering the estate I still noticed that the route outlined still made a bee-line to the Iron Well.  The route had been diverted and I easily found my way in courtesy of a man who did the walk every Palm Sunday. I made my way at first to the Iron Well. I wasn’t convinced to drink the water..it certainly lived up to its name, having a reddy-orange scum on the edges – it didn’t look very appetizing. Entering the park I first made a slight detour to see the Cyder Well, which poured out a considerable flow of clear fresh water. However, I thought I would leave my Spanish water experience to the main well which was associated with the tradition – the Wort well. This was the less impressive of the springs but the easiest to determine the spring source.

Close up of the iron rich waters of the Iron Well

The name wort is suggestion of a long tradition of healing – wort is said to be a healing source, more frequently the end of a herb such as woundwort! Its other name Uzzle is suggestive that it derives from the Anglo-Saxon greeting Wæs þu hæl, meaning “be in good health” and thus again suggests it was a general cure-all.

Thus I lowered my bottle and filled it. Popping in my liquorice and giving it a shake I took a slip…it was refreshing but I could detect no real flavour. However as I progressed back along the path regular sips revealed a more flavoursome experience. By the end it was rather delicious and I regretted not filling more bottles or having more liquorice.

One wonders how old the Palm Sunday access is as Briggs refers to an Easter Monday tradition:

“on Easter Monday the Leafield people maintained, and still believe that they have the right to go into the Wychwood Forest and make Spanish Water which is made from one of the sacred springs in Wychwood Forest. The bottle is then shaken till the liquorice is dissolved. This is believed to be not only a tonic but a sovereign remedy for all kinds of disorders. It is grievance to the Leaford people that Wychwood is now closed to them.”

However, talking to local people they stated that they had had 100s of years of access on the date. In the church at Charlbury, I fortunately met Mrs Fowler. She informed me that visiting wells for Spanish Liquor was still very common up until in the 1980s. She and her husband remembered that a Royston (Dobber) Scroggs, a Cotswold Warden, would stand by the well and tell people the history.  This is no more. However, small groups do formally visit the springs such the Green Friends of the Hindu spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi who undertook a walk in 2014 and the Wychwood Forest church in 2017 who visited the Iron and Wort Wells.

My bottle of Spanish water by the Wort Well

Wandering around I watched a number of people on my journey around, of which only one came near to the springs…although they did fill a bottle and drink it. They did not have any liquorice though…Fortunately I did and it tasted rather nice.

sugar cupping
Liquorice dissolving in the water of the Wort Well

Cannot see the wood for the trees.

Ironically the popularity of the custom appeared to lead to its decline. An account from 1984 tellingly records:

“And the Council for the Protection of Rural England took it as an opportunity to promote its campaign to have the forest opened all the year around. Walkers and ramblers were asked, and were willing to sign a petition supporting the campaign. They were signing at the rate of 100 an hour.”

And so that signing lead to the opening up of a permanent footpath, from Patch Riding, Finstock, to Waterman’s Lodge, near Charlbury, through the estate in 1990..the one I used to access the permissive path. It may be only one, but like any incision, it allowed greater access and so the mystic began to fade…but not quite yet. It was clear that Palm Sunday I went that a considerable number of local and not so local people were still keen to see the vistas and green swards generally unavailable. The estate covers a considerable area and the footpath only crosses a very small section.

Walk on the wild side

The Palm Sunday Walk is a curious survival but one still under threat. Many years ago the clergy tried to bribe children by offering free crucifixes to keep them in church. Even today a poster to the Finstock History page notes:

“The last time I tried to visit it on a Palm Sunday, the gate which would have given access to the iron well was locked. I suspect it is only ignorance that keeps us out: if the local history society asked, they’d probably let a group in next year.”

But local people are determined to keep the Palm Sunday Walk open. Mr Pratley writes:

“I walk this permanent footpath regularly but also try to do the Palm Sunday walk as often as possible, as that’s still the only day the Five Ash Bottom route is open to the public.”

He remarks he saw few people despite doing a complete circuit! Indeed, when I arrived I found the traditional route sadly blocked and plenty of walkers appearing and then turning around scratching heads and moaning. However, at least access remains whether people take the waters or not…plenty enough people were happy to ensure that the custom of walking the path remained.

However it would be nice to see more Spanish Water drinking. The is especially significant when if you visit many wells you can find the tradition of tying objects, called clooties to the trees, a tradition foreign to many places it is now found.  It would be better to see the revival of more native traditions such as Spanish Water drinking – at this site I can safely vouch for its safety of drinking its water. So if you are in the area please keep the Spanish water alive!

The Iron Well

Fons Scotiae – The well of Scotland, the well of monarchs

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If there was a claim for the Scottish holy well visited by the most famous people it must be the suitably named Scotlandwell. It would add that it is also one of the most picturesque holy wells in Britain and very easy to find – being signposted down a lane with parking off the village that shares its name.

A Roman site

It is said that in the late 1st century A.D the Romans named the well Fons Scotiae’ . Whilts it is known in 84 AD, Roman soldiers were marching between their camps at Lochore in Fife and Ardoch in Perthshire however, there does not appear to be any evidence especially archaeologically, but what is known that a hospital dedicated to St Mary was established in the area in 1250 by the Trinitarian Friars. It is locally said that they utilised the water. Their association may have attracted one of the most famous of Scotland’s kings – Robert the Bruce. It is alleged that he came here to be cured of leprosy. Janet and Colin Bord in their 1985 Sacred Waters note:

 “Robert Bruce, King of Scotland (1306-29) suffered from leprosy, and at least three wells were reputedly used by him in his search for a cure. He is said to have been responsible for a well at Prestwick (Ayr) which flowed where he stuck his spear in the sand while resting from his struggles with the English. He stayed for several days, and his leprosy was reputedly cured. He is said to have built a leper hospital for those who could not afford treatment. He also visited the St Lazarus Well at Muswell Hill (London) being granted a free pass by the King of England to do so.”

It is thus said to have become a place of pilgrimage. Another monarch, Mary Queen of Scots also is said to have visited it. However, the Friar’s  establishment remembered as Friar Place was demolished in 1587 probably not long after Mary’s patronage at the start of the great Reformation in Scotland.

However, the well itself must have been accessible as Bill Anderton in his 1991 Ancient Britain tells us that:

 “ records show that Charles II travelled from his Dunfermline Palace to take the waters.”

Whatever these records are, are in themselves unclear and whilst the ancient royal seat of Dunfermline is indeed not many miles from the site, I have been unable to find further details.

Restored site

The site may have slowly disappeared into obscuring if it was not for the fortitude of local landowners. When in the early 1820s the site, itself common land, could be described as:

“an almost unapproachable slough of mire and filth” and within it “a half ruinous building used sometimes as a washing house and sometimes as a slaughter house.”

This may have been some remains of the Friar’s buildings perhaps and it is impossible that some older stone in the current fabric of the well house could be from this date. The building of the ornamental well and its nearby wash house was done by a Thomas Bruce of Arnot who owned land in the aras between 1857 and 1860 after acquiring the land. He employed David Bryce an important Edinburgh architect to draw up plans for both in 1857 which consisted of a large stone lined bath like chamber covered accessing all around by covered by grill. Over which is an ornate wooden roof, akin to a alpine chalet style. All painted dark green. Water bumbles up through sandy soil in the water quite obviously and then emerges from a small gap into a small circular basin and then run off. Steps go down from both sides to reach the outflow. Using stone available from quarries nearby that the well was completed soon after at the cost of £154 in 1858. On either side of the water spout are the initials TBA for Thomas Bruce of Arnot and his wife Henrietta Dorin embossed. The nearby washhouse also bears TBA and 1860.

Thomas Bruce of Arnot stated in his memoirs:

“The improvement of the village and of its “Well” has cost me more money than some might perhaps say I aught to have expended upon them, but it has been a subject of great interest to me and I have been far more than repaid in one way at least by the gratification it has afforded to the villagers by a desire for whose moral improvement it was that I was mainly actuated in what I did and am still doing.”

Then in 1922 two years after the death of Sir Charles Bruce of Arnot the well and wash house, were handed over to the people of Scotlandwell as a gift and the site is currently looked after by the Parish council.

The bath house locally called ‘The Steamie’ was where laundry was washed, being connected to the well’s underground water source, ceased being used in 1960s but has recently been restored as a small tourist attraction and currently leaflets are given out concerning the well and the bath house

No photo description available.

Still curing?

In Ruth and Frank Morris’s 1978 Scottish Healing Well they note:

“In October 1978 we met there a women, her husband and brother who had travelled from Edinburgh a round trip of some 80 miles which they frequently made, to fill to two large bottles with clear well water. One of the men, a cancer sufferer had been induced to take the water some time before and found it did him some good , clearing a stubborn body rash that he continued to use the water: “If it was good enough for Robert the Bruce, it’s good enough for me. ”

However, reaching for the metal cup I took myself a large gulp not noticing that the sign that he had read when Ruth and Frank Morris had visited in 1978: ‘Health giving water of Scotlandwell  was for many years used to help cure the sick…” was replaced with UNFIT TO DRINK DO NOT DRINK!

Oh well this was a few summers ago and I am still okay. Whether you drink or not, Scotlandwell is one of the country’s most attractive and perhaps oldest healing springs.

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

The clootie tree at St Euny's Well by Chris Gunns
The clootie tree at St Euny’s Well

Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   ©Copyright Chris Gunns and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Cloutie tree near Madron Well by Jim Champion
Cloutie tree near Madron Well

This tree is alongside the gravel path to Madron Well Chapel, and is hung with clouties (pieces of rags and clothing) which is a traditional custom originally carried out to ask the well spirits to cure illnesses and hurts. The actual Madron Holy Well is about 70 metres west of this point at SW44553274 but it is not easy to get to because of the wet conditions underfoot. It is much easier to continue along the path to the ruined chapel where there is another well basin which was also considered to be a holy well.
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   ©Copyright Jim Champion and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The cloutie tree near Madron Well by Rod Allday
The cloutie tree near Madron Well

‘Clouties’ are strips of fabric which are attached to the tree near this holy well – as the fabric decays the ailment from which the supplicant is suffering is said to fade away.
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   ©Copyright Rod Allday and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The cloutie tree near Madron Well by Chris Gunns
The cloutie tree near Madron Well

‘Clouties’ are strips of fabric which are attached to the tree near this holy well – as the fabric decays the ailment from which the supplicant is suffering is said to fade away.
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   ©Copyright Chris Gunns and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Sancreed Holy Well by Michael Murray
Sancreed Holy Well

This is the Cloutie Tree guarding the entrance to the Well.
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   ©Copyright Michael Murray and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

St Credan’s Well, Sancreed by Humphrey Bolton
St Credan’s Well, Sancreed

Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   ©Copyright Humphrey Bolton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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

Wishing trees at St Cooey's Well by Eric Jones

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

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

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

The Eye Well by Kenneth Allen
The Eye Well

At the base of the promontory below the ruined church is a spring, known locally as the “Eye Well”, which is believed to have curative powers for eye ailments. It must be extensively used as I could see hundreds of clothes hung on branches of the trees. They would have been dipped into the healing waters. I gather that a prayer is said as the rag is left there. A descriptive stone is nearby H3462 : Path leading to the eye well, Dromore There used to be a holy well at Errigal, Ballygawley where people went to with similar complaints H5857 : Holy well, Gort And recently I noticed this holy tree at Navan Fort H8445 : Holy tree, Navan Fort
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   ©Copyright Kenneth Allen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

St Brigid's Well: Loch Dearg by louise price
St Brigid’s Well: Loch Dearg

An ancient site on the west bank of Loch Dearg, although the stone work here & cross wrapped in ‘votive’ rags is modern, this is the original site of a medieval wooden bridge to Saint’s Island, said to be the original island of pilgrimage as opposed to the current Station Island.
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   ©Copyright louise price and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Abbey Well by louise price
The Abbey Well

Tobar na Bachaille: the Well of the Staff or Crozier. This ancient well is associated with St. Patrick and St Colmcille, who helped his cousin St Barron found Killbarron church. On August 15th people come here on pilgrimage to pray and some tie strips of cloth to a tree as votive offerings.
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   ©Copyright louise price and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Tobernalt in Co. Sligo by Enda O Flaherty
Tobernalt in Co. Sligo

Votive offerings hang at the holy well of Tobernalt in Co. Sligo
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   ©Copyright Enda O Flaherty and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

"Do not leave rags" notices, St Malachy's Well by Kenneth Allen
“Do not leave rags” notices, St Malachy’s Well

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

 

A holy well in a mysterious sea cave

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

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

So far not perhaps that unusual. But he continues:

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

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

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

Thomas Quiller-Couch in Holy Wells of Cornwall

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

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

Cures for children

Richard Polwhele, in his 1803 History of Cornwall states

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

Further details are given by  John Cardell Oliver

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

He adds:

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

Why is it St Cuthbert’s Well?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding the holy well

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

A pilgrim route?

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

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

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

Holy Well or not?

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

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

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

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

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

b – to hopefully encounter visitors attaching clooties

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

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

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

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

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

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

Football scarfs – wishing the team good luck!

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

Personal messages – hope, thanks and memories of friendship renewed

Bags – good luck for school

Plaster casts – speak for themselves

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

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This one’s been here for a while!

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

Simon de Montfort’s Battle Well – the holy well of a would be saint

A rather uninspiring pond in a field outside of Evesham is the site of perhaps one of the most fascinating healing springs in England.

A saintly Simon de Montfort?

Much is written of Simon de Montfort but it short his establishment of two parliaments during his interloping coup against Henry II and short rule he is seen as the father of parliamentary democracy. His death at the Battle of Evesham, which saw the rightful monarchy restored, resulted after miracles were reported at his shrine, to be an politico-religious saint and pilgrimages occurred through the late 1200s. Amongst the cures at his tomb Gunnell of Ketton’s son Harry who took dust from it to cure his paralysis and a hen from Sulgrave, Northants was revived to life!

The miraculous creation of a spring

Not unsurprisingly, what with the evocation of Simon and his miracles at the tomb, attention would turn to the site of his demise or in the eyes of his followers ‘martyrdom’. In the 1840 Halliwell translation of the circa 1280 The Miracles of Simon de Montfort, an account records how a Piers de Saltmarsh in 1274 was travelling in the retinue of William Beauchamp of Elmley, one of the Kings’ supporters over the site of the Battle of Evesham. This is said to have happened before June 1266 it is said. Piers doubted Simon’s saintliness and called on him to prove it by providing them, miraculously, with living waters, Piers then:

“seized a horse’s shoulder blade, and began to dig. God works wonders! Out of that dusty hard ground there shot up a spring of sweet water, high as the hills”.

An interesting precursor to this would appear have to been recorded by William rector of Warrington who is said to have taken away earth from the site of the earl’s death and was able to have a dying man by mixing this with water.

Of course the discovery of the spring need not be that miraculous as William Tindal noted in 1794 the spring was normally dry in summer and was just a depression in the ground. Of course both William and Piers were not local and thus would not be familiar with any intermittent spring in the area.

Miracles and cures at the well

Halliwell (1840) again tells how a‘ contemporary authority’ in the 1270s that:

“some say that there have been many miracles at his tomb, and that on the spot where he was killed there is now an excellent spring which has healed those suffering from all kinds of sickness; but nobody dares tell the world of this, for fear of the King and his party”.

The Miracles of Simon de Montfort tell how between 1274 and 1279 record ten miracles of healing from ‘the Earl Simon’s well’ Alice of Burton Overy Leicestershire merely kept vigil and was cured. However most cures were from drinking or washing themselves in water which was brought to them; water was taken as far as Oxfordshire, Thanet, Dunstable and London. Such were Stephen Aungevin’s young son at Dunstable Bedfordshire, Alexander of Suffolk, a citizen of London although some immobile recipients lived nearer such as Harry Chaunteler of Bretforton and a woman at Elmley Castle. Of her a supplementary miracle is recorded. . She is said to have journeyed with a jug to fill it with the miraculous water for her mistress. However, at the time there was an attempt  to stem the cult and visitors to the well. As such some soldiers sent to prevent people visiting stopped her and when they looked inside the jug saw only beer and let her pass.  However by the time she gave it to her mistress at Elmley, it contained water!

Certainly large numbers appear to have attended the site, when Ralph of Boklande of Thanet bathed his leg in the well it is said that he was cured:

“in the site of many people.”

It is recorded that people were even carried in carts from as far away as Leicestershire and even London. A ritual was established in which they would drink at the well, and either worship there or at Evesham Abbey.  Even animals were cured A winded palfrey ( a docile horse), being rode by the Countess of Gloucester being cured there. The Miracles recording:

“The Countess of Gloucester had a palfrey that had been broken-winded for two years. In returning from Evesham to Tewkesbury, the horse having drunk of the Earl’s Well and having had its head and face washed in the water, recovered of this. The Countess and all her company are witnesses”,

The 1910 Evesham Journal reports that:

“until a very little time ago… there was a belief that this water was very efficacious for weak eyes… People often visited the spring and took water away with them to bathe their eyes’

The establishment of a chapel

Understandably, the well attracted considerable trade and obviously money.  Alms being given at the spring by a follower of Simon, Robert de Vere, the Earl of Oxford around either 1273 or 1279.

Despite a decline in the cult by the 1280s the well’s famed did not die with it and it appease to have survived long after it with a chapel. In 1448 The Brut by Richard Fox, a monk of St Albans it is recorded:

“where the battle and murder was is now a well, and grete elmes stande about the well; there is over the well an hovel of stone (a canopy), and a crucifix and Mary and John”.

This appeared to suggest that something of a wayside cross or Calvary was present there but no other authority records it and there is certainly not trace. By 1457 the site was called Battle Well and in that year Abbot John Wickham’s receiver accounted for the abbots expenditure of one penny there. A flyleaf inscription in a missal of 1489 indicates that:

‘to the chapel of le Battell Welle’.

After the Reformation

The chapel appears to have continued until the Reformation, and the Battle well was still remembers long after. In 1702 a man was fined for ‘nuisance at Battle well’ suggesting either he was disturbing those visiting the site or annoying the landowner in attempting to gain access.

Richard Pococke records in his 1757 Travels records:

‘I walk’d near a measured mile to Battle Wells, in the northern road… They say the battle was in the road…and they told me that they found in the road a vault full of bones, which formerly might be under some chapel’.

William Tindal in their 1794, The History and Antiquities of the Abbey and Borough of Evesham records:

‘a little nearer the town, on the same side, is the spot called Battle-well’,

Nathan Izod names and precisely marks it on his 1827 map and it appears on the 1886 OS map as well. It then lay 120 yards west of the road about 200 yards northwest of the mile post and about 145 yards southwest of the Worcester road junction. Richardson (1927) in their Wells and springs of Worcestershire identifies it as

“simply a field-pond situate at the head of a valley that runs down to the River Avon.”

Cox in his translation of the Chronicle of Evesham Abbey provides a map, and says that:

‘examination of the site in 1961… confirmed that Battlewell at present derives its water from land-drainage, and often dries up completely in Summer. In a rainy season, however, it may be filled’.

As D.C. Cox in their Battle of Evesham a new account records:

“The apparent continuity of the name Battle well from the fifteenth century to the nineteenth and the consistency of the early written references, both with each other and with the nineteenth century maps, make it reasonable to suppose that the present Battle well is the fifteenth century one.”

However they cautiously note:

“Earl Simon’s well, according to the thirteenth century collection of Montfortian miracle stories, lay near the Evesham -Kenilworth road at the top of the hill which the battle was fought. That it was the later and present Battle well cannot be proved but cannot easily be doubted.”

Today one can trace this site quite easily although it is unclear of access rights. The site is free to observe during the annual blessing at the well each August however, A simple spring fed pool but one where history, folklore and belief are intrinsically intertwined.

An East Kent Field Trip

In this post I thought I’d examine some little known holy and healing springs from East Kent extracted from the book Holy wells and healing springs of Kent

ALDINGTON

This parish is associated with the Holy Maid of Kent, Elizabeth Barton, whose proneness to fantastic illusions, attracted great numbers of followers, angered by Henry VIII’s split from Rome. Frightened of any connection with Rome, or power she may hold over the peasant folk, she and her collaborators, local monks, were hung at the Tyburn in London. Neame (1971) notes that there was another reputed ‘holy well’ at Goldwell manor apparently associated with the Holy Maid, called the Golden Well (TR 066 371). This was never known to fail, and was still frequented in the 1930s. It lay in the north-east corner of the house and was reached via steps in the cellar, being surrounded by a low brick coping. Sadly it has now blocked up and lost.

The remains of the Chapel of Our Lady (TR 090 353) judging from early engravings, has degraded considerably over the centuries, and sadly all that now remains are three walls with traces of Romanesque archways. A large water cress covered pool, lies beside this. This was the pool used by the pilgrims visiting the Chapel. However, below this is a spoon shaped stone lined chamber, which appears to be a well and may have been a holy well. Although much of it is filled in, and dry, one can envision, a series of steps flowing down to the stone-lined circular pool. It would appear to be unrecorded by other authorities. Perhaps an excavation can be employed to discover its origin.

Charles Igglesden (1900-46) in his Saunters through Kent notes a ‘Pilgrim’s Well’ (TR 082 354):

“Here is a bridle path from Smeeth Station to Lympne Road, called Pilgrim’s Way, from the fact that there is a well at the Lympne end.”

This dubious site, however, appears to have been lost.

APPLEDORE

Here is an ancient well, called Queen Anne’s Well (TQ 958 291), because its waters it is said were drunk by a thirsty Queen Anne, asking for refreshment at the house. Consequently, the house was named ‘The Queen’s Arms’ to commemorate the event. Considering the Queen’s liking for spas, the water may have been a mineral water. Perhaps, although one naturally associates the well with the Stuart monarch, she may have been the wife of James II, Anne Hyde or even further back James I, Anne of Denmark. The well lies in the cellar of a private house of The Queen’s Arms, the one nearest the church. I was informed by the owner that its water flows from the wall behind and then flows via a series of drains to and from the well. Niches facing the well indicate a great antiquity, and emphasise that the house may be built on an old chapel or even priory, as it appears medieval in period, which was the view of the owner. Considering the antiquity of the surroundings, its name may derive from St. Anne. Little is known of its history, it may have been a main ancient water source.

BILSINGTON

To the east of St. Augustine’s Priory at the edge of a field is a site called the Holy Well (TR 044 356). However, I have been unable to discover any reasons for the dedication; it may not be a particular old dedication although it is likely to be the water supply of the priory. It is a simple spring without any sign of structure.  

GREAT CHART

 Igglesden (1901-1946) records a tradition of a curative spring, called The Golden Well (TQ 969 425) which he considers a feeder of the Medway, arising beneath the private cellar of a house. He notes that the house:

Takes its name from a golden well that lies under the cellar and there used to be a legend the effect that the water possessed curative powers over the certain diseases.”

It arises at the base of the rag stone cellar wall, into a circular stone lined well shaft. This although appearing to be only a foot or so deep, was once deeper, but filled when the present house was erected over the cellar. Recent analysis shows it was not potable, yet it is remarkable clear. Interestingly, the owner, Mr. Peter Green, told me of a tradition of a tunnel which lead from the cellar to the edge of Romney Marsh, or rather the sea. He thought he came across the tunnel whilst building a wall.

However, the origin of the well is not clear cut. Wallenberg (1934) in his Place names of Kent, conversely, believes that the Manor’s name derives from the Goldwell family. The explanations are not exclusive. The family may have obtained the name from being guardians of the well. Goldwell may derive from golden votive offerings given to the spring, or the discovery of a hidden hoard from the Reformation, a common myth embroiled around such sites.