Category Archives: Wales

In search of rag wells: St Teilo’s Well, Llandeilo – a photo archive

This may well be the only ‘traditional’ surviving rag well in Wales the tradition of using only cotton strips predominate.
Red and white appear to be the main rags attached to trees around the pools. The  only  non  traditional  rag

Armchair holy wells – a Youtube focus part 1 Wales

Dear followers and casual readers, as Covid-19 spreads across the globe and around 80% of the World’s population are in Lock Down the chances of any of us visiting a holy well are less than usual – unless its on our recreational walk or like me its under the house! Therefore I thought I’d post some Youtube videos which enable us to travel to holy wells from the comfort and perhaps frustration of our armchairs. I plan to focus on an area each month until the Lock Down period is over in the UK – sorry the rest of the world!

This month – Wales

A great introductory lecture

A well for lovers – Maen-du Well, Brecon

Now on the edge of a modern housing estate on the outskirts of Brecon, the Maen du well is a delightful find. Nestling in a small wood, a signed footpath takes you from the road to another world. The well is a small building, measuring 1.7, by 1.5 m inside. It is constructed of stone with a high vaulted roof formed with overlapping slabs. A doorway leads into a shallow pool of clear water with steps descending into it. The water flows into a large stone lined pool below it.

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How old is it?

Despite resembling the early Christian chapel/monastic cells that survive in Ireland and Scotland . A stone by the entrance is engraved 1754 with the initials WW. Which suggests it is not medieval after all. However, this could be the date it was built, or perhaps of a later rebuilding. The remains of an older well-building maybe evidenced by the ring of rough boulders in the pool.

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An article provides more in The Express dated 27th February 1913:

“THE MAENDU WELL – The well-known and ancient well is situated four fields from Maendu Street, and is to the north of the Priory Church. There is a pathway leading from Maendu Street, but this path for many months of the year is simply a gutter to carry away the water overflowing from fields higher up which badly want draining. The well was for many years the chief supply for the people residing in the Baileyglas and Pendre, and in ancient times it also supplied the Brecknock Castle. Old Sam Cooke, whose father was at one time wood-man to the Camden estate at Brecon, tells us that the well for some years also supplied water to Priory House, being carried through pipes to a tank placed in one of the fields near the Priory Churchyard. There is always a strong and clean supply of water. The well is arched over with stone-work and behind is planted a holly tree. On a stone at the entrance are the letters and figures “W.W. 1754” – probably the date when the present arch was erected. The stone-work shows signs of decay on the N.E. The dimension of the well inside is about 5 feet square, and the roof is about 10 feet from the water, which is only a foot deep, but very clear. The water runs away to a place outside, where those who were in the habit of fetching the water could descend steps and there place their water vessels, beneath the running stream.”

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A well for the castle

Thompson notes Pen y Crug an iron age hill fort nearby and suggests that the population therein used the spring. Certainly, Maen-Du well supplied Brecon Castle with water. An account reads:

“THE MAENDU WELL SUPPLIES THE CASTLE.

Hugh Thomas tells us, that at each corner of what he calls the square of this spacious building, were two watch towers, as might then be seen. The ruins of two of them still remain at the southern angle, and join an elevated and artificial mound, to the north east is the keep, since the confinement of Morton bishop of Ely, called Ely tower, where the conversation with the duke of  Buckingham, mentioned in the former volume, is supposed to have passed. The adjoining ground  on this side is considerably higher than the site of the castle, which made the northern front more  assailable than on any other aspect ; there were here therefore, in addition to the deep ravine or  mote before noticed, two additional fosses, occasionally filled with water from a well called the  Maendy well, which also supplied the fortress, though from the facility with which this stream could be  interrupted by an enemy in the time of a siege, there can be no doubt that there was also a well  within the walls, as water could be procured there without digging to any great depth.”

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A well for lovers

This well is very generally known as “The Wishing Well”, and love sick maidens are said to make pilgrimages and drop pins in the water whilst making their wishes.

Ian and Francis Thompson note in their 1999 The Waters of Life notes:

“the water was also good for eye complaints. We were assured that one man still fills his bottles at the well for his own use and that of his dog, who will not drink the local tap water.”

Richard Hall, the Brecon poet, has a reference to this well in his “Tale of the Past and other poems.”  Today there are no pins in the well that can be seen so perhaps the lovers have ceased to come…and now only local children hide out in this place.

Thompson notes that:

“within living memory hat pins were dropped in the well by girls seeking a husband, and since hatpins were relatively expensive, cheap imitations were sold in local shops for this purpose.”

The pool was restored with EU money and a local group called the Maen Du Group since 2009 have looked after the site clearing litter from the site, keeping the pond clean and producing signage although part of this sign has recently been vandalised. One does wonder how long the well can survive with the encroachment of urbanisation on its doorstep but for now it remains a romantic curiosity.

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

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

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

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

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

He was further informed that :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And records that:

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

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

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

Guest blog post: Ffynnon Leinw – Holy Well or natural wonder by Tristan Gray Hulse (part four)

It is a pleasure to present Tristan Gray Hulse’s fourth part of his monograph on Ffynnon Leinw. 

In his Commentarioli Llwyd had passed on immediately from the Cilcain spring to discuss St Winefride’s Well:

Nec procul hinc est celeberrimus ille fons a superstitioso Wenefridae virginis cultu nomen habens [&c] (Lhuyd 1562, 57).

True, he describes the powerful spring, but his main thrust is to note the well as a place for the “superstitious worshipping of the virgin Winefred”, where many cures are worked by drinking and bathing in the water (for this passage, see Schwyzer 2011, 116-17). He is here clearly describing, not simply a natural wonder, but what is in general understood as a “holy well”.

No-one from Llwyd to Pennant ever discussed Ffynnon Leinw in this manner; despite this, it is now very generally accounted a holy well (cf. e.g. Owen 1899; Jones 1954, 180; Davis 2003, 71). Llwyd, Powel, Camden, and the rest understood that they were following Giraldus’ account of a natural wonder, and wrote accordingly. In general uninterested in such “superstitious” survivals as holy wells, they may perhaps have neglected to record information on the Cilcain well which failed to echo Giraldus. But by the end of the seventeenth century the scope of antiquarian information gathering had considerably widened, and springs could now be considered, not simply as natural wonders, but as elements in the historical landscape. The national antiquities section of Lhwyd’s “Parochial Queries” (Query XIV) had asked for:

Names of the Lakes & remarkable Springs; & whether anything be noted of them extraordinary (Lhwyd 1909, xi);

and this resulted in the first important gathering of information – however incomplete and often frustratingly imprecise – on the holy wells of medieval Wales, in the Parochialia responses. After this period information on the old holy wells begins to be more widely reported. Pennant, for example, not only mentioned the ebbing and flowing of Ffynnon Leinw, but described it as “a long oblong well with a double wall round it” (Pennant 1810, 59-60); the first surviving hint of an artificial structure around the spring. (One wall, now vanished, surrounded the bathing tank, perhaps ensuring privacy; the tank was situated within a large rectangular walled enclosure.) Pennant’s account was copied almost verbatim (but without reference) into the first and second editions of the Cambrian Traveller’s Guide (Anon. 1808, no. 418; 1813, p. 911).

The natural spring described by Llwyd and the rest would have required no such structure, however wonderful its supposed ebbing and flowing was held to be. The elaborate structure hinted at by Pennant is explained in the entry for “Kîlken” in Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Wales (first ed., 1833).

Near Kîlken Hall, in the Vale of Nannerch, is the celebrated Fynnon Leinw, or “flowing well”, which Camden describes as flowing and ebbing with the tide; but this peculiarity has long ceased to distinguish it; it is a copious and limpid spring, and is much resorted to for bathing, for which purpose it has been inclosed, and is said to possess properties fully equal, if not superior, to those of the far-famed spring at Holywell (Lewis 1848, 448).

The Dictionary was edited for Lewis by the North Wales scholar Walter Davies (Gwallter Mechain: 1761-1849 – his role as editor is noted in Rees and Walters 1974, 165; and Stephens 1998, 169), so that there is no need to doubt the otherwise unnoticed use of the well for bathing for cures. It is of course possible that such a use was comparatively recent, perhaps in line with the eighteenth-century mania for discovering and exploiting new “spa” springs (though, if so, one would have expected to have encountered further mentions); but the elaborate structure surrounding the spring, with its tank for bathing for cures within a large walled enclosure (the enclosure walls still survive, though in ruins), is also reminiscent of a very large number of Welsh holy wells whose use is understood to date from the middle ages, even though, often enough, accounts of the ritual behaviour at these wells are not found before the nineteenth century. (Alexandra Walsham has shown how numbers of medieval holy wells in England survived the purge of sacred sites to become spas in the post-Reformation period: Walsham 2011, 395-414. A similar change in perceived status occurred at St Dyfnog’s Well at Llanrhaiadr, near Denbigh: e.g., Jones 1954, 68-70, 173.) The outer enclosure is much larger than those surviving at most other Welsh holy wells, and might thus indicate that large numbers of people seeking to bathe there for cures were once customary at Ffynnon Leinw.

For the last few years of his life, quite literally until his death in 1899, the Welsh folklorist the Revd Elias Owen worked on a book to be called The Holy Wells of North Wales (for Owen, see Anon. 1901). It remained unfinished, and has never been published. Eight pages of the manuscript, with an attached plan, deal with “Ffynon [sic] Leinw, an Ebbing and Flowing Well”. He quotes many of the earlier sources noticed here, along with further examples of supposed ebbing-and-flowing wells in England and Wales from a variety of sources; but his most valuable contribution is his own account of the well, which helps to substantiate the account in the Topographical Dictionary. Owen had visited the well on 25 October 1890.

It was overgrown with weeds and its sides were covered with nettles. Alder trees were growing around it. The double walls were still standing with the exception of a portion of the [enclosure] walls on the south side which have fallen near the outlet to the extent of 4 feet 5 inches. The well was filled with water which flowed out at the S.W. corner. Mrs Cartwright of Old Efel Parci gate [the turnpike gate, in nearby Hendre] told me she remembered the well and that it was once used for drinking purposes. The cistern was large and had two entrances to it both on the N. side of the well. The water was reached by means of three stone steps. These steps were not complete nor were they in position. The depth of water was from three to four feet. The water was cold and clear. The water was frequented by many for the purpose of bathing. Some five or six yards distance from the well was a small artificial lake, 35 yards in length and 15 yards wide, for fish. The lake was once kept in good order but it is not so now.

The Rev. James Jones, Rhydymwyn Vicarage, Mold, thus writes of the well in a letter dated 15 Nov. 1899:- “This well is now fed by surface water. It is dry every summer and its original source has been tapped by the Hendre Mine” (Owen 1899, 8).

V

There is one other piece of possible evidence in support of a suggestion that Ffynnon Leinw may have been a holy well, in addition to being a natural wonder. In 1623 Sir Thomas Mostyn married Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir James Whitelocke, of Chester. The couple lived in Cilcain, where the Mostyn family owned considerable property. In 1627/28 they were visited by Elizabeth’s brother Bulstrode (the date implied should fall between 1 January-24 March 1628; for Bulstrode Whitelocke, see Spalding 1975, and Whitelocke 1860). He stayed at a house which he calls Shoe, which is presumably the Cilcain gentry house noticed in the Parochialia as Plas Hugh (Lhwyd 1909, 80; today, called Plas Yw, to the west of Cilcain village). Whilst there, as his diary recorded (as usual, in the third person):

He went to view severall rarities & monuments, as St Katherines Well of which they report, That if any garbage or uncleane thing be cast into it, the water (as offended att the filth) will cease springing & become drye, & so continue till the next St Katherines day, after which, it begins to spring & fill again, till the like injury be again offered. & it hath water enough to drive a Mill.

He also viewed St Wynifreds Well, which they call Holywell [&c] (Spalding 1990, 56).

Noticing Whitelocke’s concern to visit local “rarities & monuments”, it is worth considering his likely sources for learning about these. In view of the fact that he follows his visit to “St Katherines Well” with one to the well at Holywell, it is perhaps relevant to note that accounts of St Winefride’s Well immediately follow accounts of the Cilcain well in Humphrey Lhwyd and Drayton; Speed notices Ffynnon Leinw immediately following his Holywell account; while accounts of both wells are found in Camden’s brief chapter on Flintshire.

“St Katherine” is certainly Catherine of Alexandria; no other saint of the name had anything approaching a popular cultus in medieval Britain, and no well is likely to have been named for any St Catherine in the post-Reformation period. (For Catherine of Alexandria, see e.g. Farmer 2003, 95-6; for her cult in Wales, Cartwright 2008, 149-75 – “5: Buched Seint y Katrin: The Middle Welsh Life of Katherine of Alexandria and her Cult in Medieval Wales”; the more usual spelling of the name is Catherine, but currently scholars studying her cultus prefer Katherine.) Supposedly a fourth-century martyr, it is unlikely that she ever existed historically. Her cult began around her purported relics at Mt Sinai in the ninth century, and was most probably introduced into Europe by returning Crusaders. Originally an essentially aristocratic cult, it eventually became one of the most popular of the later middle ages. In part, this was because of an incident recorded in her legend; as, for instance, in the account of her life composed c.1260 by Jacobus de Voragine, in his Legenda Aurea:

When she was led to the place of execution, she … prayed: “O hope and glory of virgins, Jesus, good King, I beg of you that anyone who honours the memory of my passion, or who invokes me at the moment of death or in any need, may receive the benefit of your kindness”. A voice was heard saying to her: “… Heaven’s gates are opened to you and to those who will celebrate your passion with devout minds” (Jacobus 1995, 339).

Because of this she was universally invoked against sudden or unprepared death (Duffy 1992, 175-6).

In England, 62 medieval churches were dedicated to her (Farmer 2003, 95); as were 31 holy wells (Rattue 1995, 71). Three surviving medieval churches in Wales have her as patroness, while a number of extinct chapels are also known to have borne her name (Cartwright 2008, 158-9). St Catherine’s church at Cricieth is likely to have replaced an earlier dedication to a native saint or saints, for there is a holy well near the church, Ffynnon y Saint [“the Saints’ Well”], “which only became associated with Katherine in the modern period” (ib. 159). There were or are however several wells bearing her name: the Parochialia notices a “F[fynnon] S[eint] y Katrin” in Mold parish (Lhwyd 1909, 93) and a “Fynnon St Katrin wrth Gaerhyn” at Caerhun (ib. 31); she had a well at Gresford (Jones 1995, 4, 31-2, 90-1, 138-9; there was a chapel of St Catherine in the church at the end of the middle ages); and there is a St Catherine’s Well near the site of her bridge-chapel and hermitage at Rudbaxton, in Pembrokeshire (for the bridge and chapel, RCAHM 1925, 316: § 921; knowledge of the well remains in the oral domain: inf. Julie Trier). (Of the wells, Francis Jones noticed only the dubious example at Cricieth: Jones 1954, 153.) Madeleine Gray has noticed former or surviving medieval images of St Catherine in Wales, in wall-paintings, glass, and sculpture; in North Wales she is/was shown in stained glass at Llangystennin, Gresford, Llandyrnog, Llansanffraid Glan Conwy, and Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd (Gray 2000, 27-8). To these Jane Cartwright adds a former window in Bangor cathedral, and an image on a tomb in Beaumaris parish church (Cartwright 2008, 155, 157). That St Catherine was, in at least some instances, a late-comer to the medieval ritual landscape might be shown from the example of Gresford. There, she had a chapel in the church, and a holy well. There was a chapel of St Leonard of Noblac elsewhere in the parish from c. 1165 (RCAHM 1914, 79, § 254; Cox 1970), with a nearby holy well of the saint (Jones 1995, 152, 138-9). Gresford church was substantially reconstructed in the later fifteenth century, and the Perpendicular font has an image of St Leonard (Gray 2000, 31, and 127 illus 26c). St Sytha/Zita is also depicted on the font, as well as appearing as a single figure in a window panel (ib. 31-2, and 125 illus. 25a, 127 illus. 26d), so she was presumably popular in Gresford at that period; but she never acquired a holy well. There is no image of St Catherine on the font, only her depiction, not as a single figure, but as one of a small group of other virgin martyrs in the great east window of 1500 depicting the whole court of heaven around the Trinity (ib. 28, 120 illus. 20a) – Gresford church is dedicated to All Saints. (The church had an image of All-Saints, to which pilgrimages were made, and there is a Well of All Saints in the parish: Jones 1995, 32; Lhwyd 1909, 144.)

Whitelocke’s “St Katherines Well” was clearly associated with the veneration of St Catherine, for a legend had been evolved to account for what was obviously its intermittent or periodic spring: if polluted (thus offending the saint) it dried up (cf. e.g. the legend attached to the well of St Trillo at Llandrillo, Merioneth: Jones 1954, 116), to re-emerge on or near St Catherine’s feastday (25 November). Identifying the location of the well is more problematic. There is no further reference to it as “St Katherines Well”. According to the Parochialia there was a Ffynnon Seint y Katrin somewhere in the extensive Mold parish, about which nothing is known beyond this mention and one other (see below). “St Katherines Well” was clearly in or close to Cilcain parish, where Whitelocke was staying. Beyond Ffynnon Fihangel, Ffynnon Leinw, and the re-appearance point of the river Fechlas, Tardd y Dŵr, there are no further named wells in Cilcain noticed in the relevant literature (but see Appendix). In Mold, the Parochialia failed to notice the fennon dessilio in Rhual township mentioned in a document of 1493, or the Ffynnon Rhual with which Ken Lloyd Gruffydd was disposed to identify fennon dessilio (Gruffydd 2000, 8; for Ffynnon Rhual, reconstructed as a baptistery by the Baptists in the late seventeenth century, see Gruffydd 1999, 78-80; Davis 2003, 85). The Parochialia also failed to notice the Ffynnon Fair in the Mold township of Nercwys (for which, see Williams 1846, 54), or the Ffynnon Fair in another Mold township, Rhual. (The only evidence for the latter is a field name, dole y fynnon fair, “Ffynnon Fair Meadow”, mentioned in 1634 in Trovarth MS 1576: see the online Archif Melville Richards. Two Ffynhonnau Fair in a single parish is distinctly unusual, but might be explained here by the facts that the ancient Mold parish was exceptionally large and that both Mold parish church and the Nercwys chapelry were and are dedicated to St Mary.) There is no trace of a “St Katherines Well”, or of a cult of St Catherine, in any other parish neighbouring upon Cilcain.

As the instance of Ffynnon Rhual/Dysilio indicates, some wells may have more than one name, or may change their name over time. If it was not a now utterly forgotten and unlocated spring, only one of these named wells local to Cilcain might be plausibly identified with the well visited by Whitelocke: Ffynnon Leinw. “St Katherines Well” had to have been within easy riding distance from Whitelocke’s temporary home at Shoe, in Cilcain. As Humphrey Llwyd had recorded, Ffynnon Leinw was known as a periodic spring. And Whitelocke was intent on viewing “rarities & monuments” in the area, and – via Llwyd, Powel, Camden, Speed, not to mention Giraldus Cambrensis – Ffynnon Leinw was one of the most famous rarities of North Wales.

Wells dedicated to the same saint in adjacent parishes might indicate a strong local cultus of St Catherine. However, it is not possible that the Mold Ffynnon Seint y Katrin and Ffynnon Leinw can be identified. An account of Mold parish published in 1819 has the following:

[T]here are three wells or springs of ancient note in the parish, viz. Ffynnon Maes Garmon […], Ffynnon St. Catrin, and Ffynnon y Bedi (Anon. 1819, 300);

and the Cilcain well Ffynnon Leinw, made famous by Camden, Pennant, and the rest, and still widely known in the early nineteenth century, could hardly have been confused with the Mold well of St Catherine, otherwise noticed only by Lhwyd but still identifiable in 1819.

It is probably also worth considering whether “St Katherines Well” (though the name is known seemingly only from Whitelocke) was not properly the late-medieval dedication of the Cilcain well, while its now universally accepted name was merely originally used as a description of the perceived physical properties of “St Katherines Well”: that is, as suggested by Professor Owen, “a flowing well” became imperceptibly “the flowing well”, to become finally (? perhaps via David Powel, ultimately) simply “Flowing Well” – y ffynnon a leinw > y ffynnon leinw > Ffynnon Leinw.

If the suggested identification of “St Katherines Well” as an alternative name for Ffynnon Leinw be accepted (one name recording the late-medieval dedication of the well, the other describing its physical properties), then it becomes possible to reconcile the “natural wonder” accounts of Ffynnon Leinw given by Llwyd, Powel, and Camden, with the “holy well” account of the well in Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary: neither natural wonder nor holy well, but both.

 

Tristan Gray Hulse (2018)

 

Appendix

A single otherwise unused source known to me noticed two further named wells in Cilcain parish. Glenys Wynne, in her booklet Cilcain, published by the Cilcain W.I. in 1944, wrote:

The village depended once for its water supply on St Mary’s well near “White Cottage.” This was once regarded as a holy well. Another well that is worthy of note if only for the fact that it is marked on the Ordnance Map is “Ffynnon y Gweithiwr” – “The Workman’s Well.” It is to be found on the mountainside [presumably either Moel Famau or its spur Ffrith Mountain is intended] roughly opposite the lane leading to “Ty Newydd” […] Children were taken to this well for a cure from childish ills, and even whooping cough was considered cured after a picnic meal here (Wynne 1944, 14).

As the well noticed by Edward Lhwyd as “Fynnon mihangel” is situated on the roadside almost opposite the house still called White Cottage, on a lane running westwards from the village, it must be certain that Wynne’s “St Mary’s well” was actually that more properly named for St Michael. The explanation here would seem to be that found in association with numbers of other wells in Wales: by the later eighteenth century, presumably because of the sheer number of Ffynhonnau Fair found all across the country, there developed a tendency to call any Welsh holy well a “Ffynnon Fair”, using thus a particular term in a generic sense. In illustration, the Revd John Evans’ 1812 book The Beauties of England and Wales may be cited for its examples. Discussing the settlements of the early Welsh hermit-saints, Evans wrote:

These in Wales were designated by the name of Llan […] Most had generally near them some spring, or well, denominated a Ffynnon vair; the waters of which, according to the estimation of the saint, for his communication with the Deity, were held in repute for their salutiferous effects (Evans 1812, 380-1).

His work offers numbers of examples of this use of “Ffynnon Fair” as a generic: for instance, at Clynnog Fawr, the “holy well dedicated to St Beuno” is also described as “the neighboring Ffynnon vair” (ib. 374); while St George’s Well at Llan Sain Siôr is “a ffynon vair, or holy well, whose salutiferous qualities were ascribed to the tutelar saint [i.e., George, not the Blessed Virgin]” (ib. 531); etc.. It seems significant that this confusion over names and original functions coincided in time with the swift and country-wide abandonment of the earlier para-religious and folk-medicinal usages of holy wells, in tandem with the (usually unsuccessful and temporary) promotion of numerous pseudo-scientifically accredited spas. (It is entirely possible that numbers of Ffynhonnau Fair across Wales, with little or no attestation beyond the name, acquired their present names in this manner, and had no original association with the cult of our Lady. In this way older and original names may have been lost; this is certainly worth consideration where older parishes and churches preserve a dedication to a native or universal saint, but where the parish has preserved no memory of a well named for this native or universal patron. Similarly, the recognition that Ffynnon Fair could on occasion be used as a generic might be of help in determining an original name where it is one of two or more names attached to a single well; for example, at Gwyddelwern, where Ffynnon Fair is one of four names recorded for a well – see Jones 1954, 191. It might also be of use in determining why there were two Ffynhonnau Fair in Mold parish.) In Cilcain, the suggestion must be that the old Ffynnon Fihangel, recorded in 1698 by Edward Lhwyd, later came to be categorised – as in the examples noticed by Evans – as “a ffynon vair, or holy well”, this Welsh generic over time being Englished as “St Mary’s well”, as recorded by Glenys Wynne. Lhwyd’s account of “Kilken” was finally published in 1909 (Lhwyd 1909, 79-81, with “Fynnon mihangel” noted on p. 81; he also recorded that the parish wakes were celebrated on a feast of St Michael – “Their wakes gwyl Vihangel Vechan”: p. 79 – which confirms the well dedication), and this has resulted in the old name being definitively re-established, and the fact that, for a time, it was also known as a Ffynnon Fair/St Mary’s Well has now been completely forgotten.

Realistically, Ffynnon Fihangel is too far from Cilcain village ever to have been its regular source of water. If Wynne’s statement was anything other than a guess, it might have been a decayed memory of water having once been taken to the village on particular occasions; and if so, then it might have been taken to the church for baptisms. This certainly happened elsewhere in north-east Wales, as is indicated in one of a number of excerpts published in 1885 from a now-unidentifiable manuscript of the early eighteenth century.

From the localities named it is evident that they relate to the diocese of St Asaph, and they look as if they were taken from the Returns of Rural Deans on some of the ecclesiastical uses of their parishes (Anon. 1885, 154).

One of the excerpts reads as follows:

If there be a “Ffynnon Vair” (well of our Lady) or other saint in the parish, the water for baptism in the font is fetched from thence. Old women are very fond of washing their eyes with the water after baptism (ib. 150).

The lost manuscript may perhaps have been excerpted from ruridecanal reports for Thomas Pennant, who printed this passage in the second volume of his Tours in Wales, in 1781. Certainly a manuscript containing this quotation once belonged to Pennant, as it afterwards came into the hands of John Brand, who cites it as his source for the identical passage which he quoted in his Popular Antiquities (Brand’s Introduction was dated 1795, but the book was first published in 1813).

Nicholas Carlisle reported that the custom had until recently been observed at Ffynnon Armon, at Llanfechain (Carlisle 1811, art. “Llan Fechain”), while the Revd John Williams (Ab Ithel) wrote that the practice had been observed at Ffynnon Fair, in Nercwys, in the memory of persons then living (Williams 1846, 54). Francis Jones wrote: “Another ancient custom was the use of water drawn from holy wells for baptism” (Jones 1954, 81), and implied that it was once common throughout Wales, referencing the custom at various other wells (ib. 82, 119, 150, 152, 189, 197, 198, 207, 210). But, aside from the Llanfechain well (he missed that at Nercwys), none of these references predate the 1890s, and cannot be relied on. Far from being a pan-Welsh custom, it appears from the evidence to have been restricted to north-east Wales. It was once in use at nearby Nercwys, and it is certainly not impossible that it was once observed in Cilcain as well; but there is no real evidence, beyond the fact that no other explanation of Wynne’s assertion suggests itself.

I have failed to find any other reference to or evidence for Ffynnon y Gweithiwr.

 

Acknowledgments

It is a real pleasure to be able here to thank the following: Professor Hywel Wyn Owen, for unscrambling the complexities of the nameform Ffynnon Leinw for me; Professor Jane Cartwright, for discussions and comment on the medieval cultus of St Katherine in North Wales; Dr Shaun Evans, who first drew my attention to the mention of St Katherine’s Well in Whitelocke’s diary, thus sparking my interest in Ffynnon Leinw; Julie Trier, for locating and afterwards guiding me to the supposedly lost St Catherine’s Well at Rudbaxton; and – for innumerable (and often interminable) conversations on this and all other well-related topics – Janet Bord, dear friend, and all-round good egg.

An earlier draft of this paper was epitomised and translated into Welsh by Howard Huws, and published in the newsletter of Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru, the Welsh Holy Wells Society: Tristan Gray Hulse, “Ffynnon Leinw, Cilcain”, Llygad y Ffynnon 41 (Nadolig 2016) 9-11, & 42 (Haf 2017) 5-6. My thanks to Howard for the supererogatory care taken over this doubtless thankless task.

 

References

Anon., Cambrian Traveller’s Guide, ed. 1, Stourport: George Nicholson, 1808; ed. 2, London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, & Brown, 1813

Anon., “The Parish of Mold”, 3 parts, The Cambro-Briton vol. 1, London: 1819, 136-43, 179-84, 298-300

Anon., “Extracts from a MS of Ancient Date, giving some Customs and Usages in North Wales”, Archaeologia Cambrensis 40 (1885) 150-6

Anon., “Obituary, The Rev. Elias Owen of Llan y Blodwel”, Archaeologia Cambrensis 56 (1901) 322-4

Browne, Sir Thomas, ed. Geoffrey Keynes, Selected Writings, London: Faber and Faber, 1970

Camden, William, ed., Anglica, Normannica, Hibernica, Cambrica, a veteribus scripta [&c], Frankfurt: 1603

Camden, William, Britannia; sive Florentissimorum Regnorum, Angliae, Scotiae, Hiberniae, & Insularum adiacentium ex intima antiquitate Chorographica descriptio, Frankfurt: Johann Bringer, 1616

Camden, William, rev. Edmund Gibson, Britannia: or a Chorographical Description of Great Britain and Ireland … Translated into English, with Additions and Improvements, second ed., vol. 2, London: Awnsham Churchill, 1722

Carlisle, Nicholas, A Topographical Dictionary of the Dominion of Wales, London: 1811

Cartwright, Jane, Feminine Sanctity and Spirituality in Medieval Wales, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2008

Cathrall, William, The History of North Wales [&c], vol. 2, Manchester: 1828

Cox, Phil, “The Lost Chapel of St Leonard”, 1970: accessed 10/12/2015 on the Caer Alyn Archaeological and Heritage website, http://caeralyn.org

Davies, Ellis, Flintshire Place-Names, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1959

Davis, Paul, Sacred Springs: In Search of the Holy Wells and Spas of Wales, Llanfoist: Blorenge Books, 2003

Duffy, Eamon, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c.1400-c.1580, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992

Edwards, J,M., Flintshire (Cambridge County Geographies), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914

Evans, J., The Beauties of England and Wales: or, Original Delineations, Topographical, Historical, and Descriptive, of each County, vol. 17 (North Wales), London: J. Harris [&c], 1812

Farmer, David Hugh, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, ed. 5, Oxford: University Press, 2003

Giraldus Cambrensis, tr. Richard Colt Hoare, The Itinerary through Wales and The Description of Wales, London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1908

Gray, Madeleine, Images of Piety: The iconography of traditional religion in late medieval Wales (BAR British Series 316), Oxford: Archaeopress, 2000

Gruffydd, Eirlys a Ken Lloyd, Ffynhonnau Cymru. Cyfrol 2: Ffynhonnau Caernarfon, Dinbych, Y Fflint a Môn, Llanrwst: Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 1999

Gruffydd, Ken Lloyd, “The Manor & Marcher Lordship of Mold during the Early Middle Ages, 1039-1247”, Ystrad Alun: Journal of the Mold Civic Society 1 (Christmas 2000) 3-21

Hooke, R[obert], Micrographia: or some Physiological Description of Minute Bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon, London: James Allestry, 1667

Hooper, Richard, ed., The Complete Works of Michael Drayton, vols 1-3 (Poly-Olbion), London: John Russell Smith, 1876

Jacobus de Voragine, tr. William Granger Ryan, The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, vol. 2, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995

Jones, Francis, The Holy Wells of Wales, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1954

Jones, J. Colin, Gresford Village and Church: The history of a border settlement, Wrexham: J. Colin Jones, 1995

Lewis, Samuel, A Topographical Dictionary of Wales, ed. 3, vol. 1, London: S. Lewis and Co., 1848

Lloyd, John Edward, and R.T. Jenkins, eds, The Dictionary of Welsh Biography down to 1940, London: The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1959

Lloyd, Nesta, “The Correspondence of Edward Lhuyd and Richard Mostyn”, Flintshire Historical Society Publications 25 (1971-2) 31-61

Lhuyd, Humfredus, Commentarioli Britannicae Descriptionis Fragmentum, Cologne: Johann Birckman, 1572

Lhwyd, Edward, ed. Rupert H. Morris, Parochialia being a Summary of Answers to “Parochial Queries” [&c], part 1, London: The Cambrian Archaeological Association, 1909

Morris, John, ed./transl., Nennius: British History and The Welsh Annals, London and Chichester: Phillimore, 1980

Owen, Elias, 1899: “Ffynon Leinw, an Ebbing and Flowing Well”, chapter in The Holy Wells of North Wales, unpublished manuscript NLW 3290D

Pennant, Thomas, Tours in Wales, vol. 2, London: Wilkie and Robinson [&c], 1810

Powel, David, Pontici Virunnii Britannicae Historiae libri VI; Itinerarium Cambriae, Cambriae Descriptio; De Britannica Historia recte intelligenda Epistola, London: Henry Denham and Ralph Newbury, 1585

Rattue, James, The Living Stream: Holy Wells in Historical Context, Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1995

RCAHM 1912, 1914, 1925 = An Inventory of The Ancient Monuments of Wales and Monmouthshire. II. – County of Flint; IV. – County of Denbigh; and VII.- County of Pembroke, London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1912, 1914 and 1925

Rees, Eiluned, and Gwyn Walters, “The Dispersion of the Manuscripts of Edward Lhuyd”, The Welsh History Review 7, no. 2 (Dec. 1974) 148-78

Richter, Michael, Giraldus Cambrensis: The Growth of the Welsh Nation, rev. ed., Aberystwyth: The National Library of Wales, 1976

Schwyzer, Philip, ed., Humphrey Llwyd “The Breviary of Britain” with selections from “The History of Cambria”, London: Modern Humanities Research Association, 2011

Spalding, Ruth, The Improbable Puritan: A Life of Bulstrode Whitelocke, 1605-1675, London: Faber & Faber, 1975

Spalding, Ruth, ed., The Diary of Bulstrode Whitelocke, 1605-1675, Oxford: Oxford University Press/The British Academy, 1990

Speed, John, The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, London: 1611/12

Stephens, Meic, ed., The New Companion to the Literature of Wales, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1998

Walsham, Alexandra, The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity, and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland, Oxford: University Press, 2011

Whitelocke, R.H., Memoirs, Biographical and Historical, of Bulstrode Whitelocke [&c], London: Routledge, Warne, and Routledge, 1860

[Williams, John] Ab Ithel, “Holy Wells”, Archaeologia Cambrensis 1 (1846) 50-4

Williams, Moses. Humfredi Llwyd, Armigeri, Britannicae Descriptionis Commentariolum [&c], London: William Bowyer, 1731

Wynne, Glenys, Cilcain, Mold: Cilcain W.I., 1944

Guest blog post: Ffynnon Leinw – Holy Well or natural wonder by Tristan Gray Hulse (part three)

It is a pleasure to present Tristan Gray Hulse’s third part of his monograph on Ffynnon Leinw

For Giraldus, the ebbing-and-flowing spring near Rhuddlan was a wonder of the natural world. Such watery natural wonders were a source of perennial fascination to the people of the medieval period. For example, in Wales, the “De mirabilibus Britannice insule” chapters of the early ninth-century Historia Brittonum of “Nennius” are almost entirely taken up with the anomalous behaviour of springs, lakes, and the tides (Morris 1980, 40-2, 81-3). They held an equal fascination in the Early Modern period. This fascination is clearly revealed in one of the Queries (No. XXIV) in the series of “Parochial Queries” which Edward Lhwyd printed and distributed throughout Wales c. 1695, which resulted in the priceless assemblage of information now generally known as the Parochialia. Lhwyd asked for:

An Account of the subterraneous or diving Rivers; & of such as are totally absorbed; or no where distinguishable afterwards; also of sudden Eruptions of Water, & periodical Streams. A Computation of the Number of Springs in the Parish. How near the Tops of the Hills are the highest running Springs: Or are there any in very even Plains remote from Hills? Any Fountains that ebb and flow? Waters that petrify or incrustate Wood, Moss, Leaves, &c. Medicinal Springs, or Waters of an unusual Taste, Smell, or Colour, or remarkable for their Weight or tinging the Stone or Earth whence they proceed? (Lhwyd 1909, xiii.)

Thus, it was simply as a natural wonder that writers from Humphrey Llwyd to Pennant chose to describe Ffynnon Leinw; but attitudes were beginning to change, and interests slowly to widen. In 1613 Michael Drayton (1563-1631) published the first eighteen sections (of an eventual thirty) of his epic poem Poly-Olbion, or a Chorographicall Description of all the Tracts, Rivers, Mountains, Forests, and other Parts … of Great Britaine. Mapping England and Wales with reference to their noted springs and rivers, he used this imagined framework to relate the history, real and legendary, of the two countries. In the course of this (Tenth Song, lines 132-40) he versified Humphrey Llwyd’s Commentarioli passage on the Cilcain well.

As also by thy Spring, such wonder who dost win,

That naturally remote, six British [i.e., Welsh] miles from sea,

And rising on the firm, yet in the natural day

Twice falling, twice doth fill, in most admiréd wise,

When Cynthia [the moon] from the East unto the South doth rise,

That mighty Neptune [the sea] flows, then strangely ebbs thy Well;

And when again he sinks, as strangely she doth swell;

Yet to the sacred Fount of Winifrid gives place;

Of all the Cambrian Springs of such especial grace [&c] (Hooper 1876, II, 49-50).

At the end of each Song Drayton’s friend the jurist and antiquarian John Selden (1584-1654) supplied detailed references and commentaries for the various locations, sights and wonders celebrated in the Poly-Olbion. For lines 132-8 Selden identified the well as Finon Leinw in Kilken, and referenced the accounts of Llwyd and Powel; and he further noticed the ebbing-and-flowing wells at Newton (from Stradling’s account in Camden) and Dinefwr (from Giraldus). But when he came to account for the ebbing-and-flowing phenomenon itself, he seemed to suggest – doubtless, tongue-in-cheek – that such wonders existed simply to tease the antiquarians.

Nor think I any reasons more difficult to be given, than those which are most specially hidden, and most frequently strange in particular qualities of Floods, Wells, and Springs; in which (before all other) Nature seems as if she had, for man’s wonder, affected a not intelligible variety, so different, so remote from conceit of most piercing wits; and such unlooked-for operations both of their first and second qualities (to use the School phrase of them) are in every Chronographer, Naturalist, and Historian (ib. 59).

Without a trace of humour, the “experimental philosopher” Robert Hooke, in his Micrographia of 1665, aimed to remove the very idea of certain springs as wonders altogether.

The same Spring may be fed and supplyed by divers Caverns, coming from very far distant parts of the Sea, so as that in one place be high, in another low water; and so by that means the Spring may be equally supply’d at all times. Or else the Cavern may be so straight and narrow, that the water not having so ready and free passage through it, cannot upon so short and quick mutations of pressure, be able to produce any sensible effect at such distance. Besides that, to confirm this hypothesis, there are many Examples found in Natural Historians, of Springs that do ebb and flow like the Sea: As particularly, those recorded by the Learned Camden, and after him by Speed, to be found in this Island: One of which, they relate to be on the Top of a Mountain, by the small Village Kilken in Flintshire … Which at certain times riseth and falleth after the manner of the Sea. A Second in Caermardenshire … (ut scribit Giraldus) … The Phaenomena of which two may be easily made out, by supposing the Cavern, by which they are fed, to arise from the bottom of the next Sea (Hooke 1667, 27).

He goes on to deal with the Newton well in the same manner. The age of the natural wonder was drawing to a close. The dawning, more self-consciously scientific, age was to be that so wonderfully represented by Sir Thomas Browne’s popular Pseudodoxia Epidemica: or, Enquiries into Very many received Tenents And commonly presumed Truths, popularly known as Vulgar Errors (1646 and many subsequent editions). This was designed, according to Browne’s modern editor Sir Geoffrey Keynes, “to combat the popularity of a large variety of erroneous beliefs” (Browne 1970, “Introduction”). In the opening words of the Pseudodoxia:

Would Truth dispense, we could be content, with Plato, that knowledge were but remembrance; that intellectual acquisition were but reminiscential evocation, and new Impressions but the colourishing of old stamps which stood pale in the soul before. For what is worse, knowledge is made by oblivion, and to purchase a clear and warrantable body of Truth, we must forget and part with much we know (ib. 227).

It is interesting, not to say salutary, to recognise how very few of the learned people who wrote about Ffynnon Leinw had ever seen the well. That had probably been necessary for it to retain its natural wonder reputation; the end of the natural wonder age with the triumph of the age of the Vulgar Errors allowed other aspects of Ffynnon Leinw’s history to be brought to the fore, and a new model to be proposed – one rather closer, it may be, to the actual facts, and certainly one more in keeping with the dawning Gothick and Romantick sensibilities of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: Ffynnon Leinw comes belatedly to be understood as a holy well.

References

Anon., Cambrian Traveller’s Guide, ed. 1, Stourport: George Nicholson, 1808; ed. 2, London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, & Brown, 1813

Anon., “The Parish of Mold”, 3 parts, The Cambro-Briton vol. 1, London: 1819, 136-43, 179-84, 298-300

Anon., “Extracts from a MS of Ancient Date, giving some Customs and Usages in North Wales”, Archaeologia Cambrensis 40 (1885) 150-6

Anon., “Obituary, The Rev. Elias Owen of Llan y Blodwel”, Archaeologia Cambrensis 56 (1901) 322-4

Browne, Sir Thomas, ed. Geoffrey Keynes, Selected Writings, London: Faber and Faber, 1970

Camden, William, ed., Anglica, Normannica, Hibernica, Cambrica, a veteribus scripta [&c], Frankfurt: 1603

Camden, William, Britannia; sive Florentissimorum Regnorum, Angliae, Scotiae, Hiberniae, & Insularum adiacentium ex intima antiquitate Chorographica descriptio, Frankfurt: Johann Bringer, 1616

Camden, William, rev. Edmund Gibson, Britannia: or a Chorographical Description of Great Britain and Ireland … Translated into English, with Additions and Improvements, second ed., vol. 2, London: Awnsham Churchill, 1722

Carlisle, Nicholas, A Topographical Dictionary of the Dominion of Wales, London: 1811

Cartwright, Jane, Feminine Sanctity and Spirituality in Medieval Wales, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2008

Cathrall, William, The History of North Wales [&c], vol. 2, Manchester: 1828

Cox, Phil, “The Lost Chapel of St Leonard”, 1970: accessed 10/12/2015 on the Caer Alyn Archaeological and Heritage website, http://caeralyn.org

Davies, Ellis, Flintshire Place-Names, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1959

Davis, Paul, Sacred Springs: In Search of the Holy Wells and Spas of Wales, Llanfoist: Blorenge Books, 2003

Duffy, Eamon, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c.1400-c.1580, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992

Edwards, J,M., Flintshire (Cambridge County Geographies), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914

Evans, J., The Beauties of England and Wales: or, Original Delineations, Topographical, Historical, and Descriptive, of each County, vol. 17 (North Wales), London: J. Harris [&c], 1812

Farmer, David Hugh, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, ed. 5, Oxford: University Press, 2003

Giraldus Cambrensis, tr. Richard Colt Hoare, The Itinerary through Wales and The Description of Wales, London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1908

Gray, Madeleine, Images of Piety: The iconography of traditional religion in late medieval Wales (BAR British Series 316), Oxford: Archaeopress, 2000

Gruffydd, Eirlys a Ken Lloyd, Ffynhonnau Cymru. Cyfrol 2: Ffynhonnau Caernarfon, Dinbych, Y Fflint a Môn, Llanrwst: Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 1999

Gruffydd, Ken Lloyd, “The Manor & Marcher Lordship of Mold during the Early Middle Ages, 1039-1247”, Ystrad Alun: Journal of the Mold Civic Society 1 (Christmas 2000) 3-21

Hooke, R[obert], Micrographia: or some Physiological Description of Minute Bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon, London: James Allestry, 1667

Hooper, Richard, ed., The Complete Works of Michael Drayton, vols 1-3 (Poly-Olbion), London: John Russell Smith, 1876

Jacobus de Voragine, tr. William Granger Ryan, The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, vol. 2, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995

Jones, Francis, The Holy Wells of Wales, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1954

Jones, J. Colin, Gresford Village and Church: The history of a border settlement, Wrexham: J. Colin Jones, 1995

Lewis, Samuel, A Topographical Dictionary of Wales, ed. 3, vol. 1, London: S. Lewis and Co., 1848

Lloyd, John Edward, and R.T. Jenkins, eds, The Dictionary of Welsh Biography down to 1940, London: The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1959

Lloyd, Nesta, “The Correspondence of Edward Lhuyd and Richard Mostyn”, Flintshire Historical Society Publications 25 (1971-2) 31-61

Lhuyd, Humfredus, Commentarioli Britannicae Descriptionis Fragmentum, Cologne: Johann Birckman, 1572

Lhwyd, Edward, ed. Rupert H. Morris, Parochialia being a Summary of Answers to “Parochial Queries” [&c], part 1, London: The Cambrian Archaeological Association, 1909

Morris, John, ed./transl., Nennius: British History and The Welsh Annals, London and Chichester: Phillimore, 1980

Owen, Elias, 1899: “Ffynon Leinw, an Ebbing and Flowing Well”, chapter in The Holy Wells of North Wales, unpublished manuscript NLW 3290D

Pennant, Thomas, Tours in Wales, vol. 2, London: Wilkie and Robinson [&c], 1810

Powel, David, Pontici Virunnii Britannicae Historiae libri VI; Itinerarium Cambriae, Cambriae Descriptio; De Britannica Historia recte intelligenda Epistola, London: Henry Denham and Ralph Newbury, 1585

Rattue, James, The Living Stream: Holy Wells in Historical Context, Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1995

RCAHM 1912, 1914, 1925 = An Inventory of The Ancient Monuments of Wales and Monmouthshire. II. – County of Flint; IV. – County of Denbigh; and VII.- County of Pembroke, London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1912, 1914 and 1925

Rees, Eiluned, and Gwyn Walters, “The Dispersion of the Manuscripts of Edward Lhuyd”, The Welsh History Review 7, no. 2 (Dec. 1974) 148-78

Richter, Michael, Giraldus Cambrensis: The Growth of the Welsh Nation, rev. ed., Aberystwyth: The National Library of Wales, 1976

Schwyzer, Philip, ed., Humphrey Llwyd “The Breviary of Britain” with selections from “The History of Cambria”, London: Modern Humanities Research Association, 2011

Spalding, Ruth, The Improbable Puritan: A Life of Bulstrode Whitelocke, 1605-1675, London: Faber & Faber, 1975

Spalding, Ruth, ed., The Diary of Bulstrode Whitelocke, 1605-1675, Oxford: Oxford University Press/The British Academy, 1990

Speed, John, The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, London: 1611/12

Stephens, Meic, ed., The New Companion to the Literature of Wales, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1998

Walsham, Alexandra, The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity, and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland, Oxford: University Press, 2011

Whitelocke, R.H., Memoirs, Biographical and Historical, of Bulstrode Whitelocke [&c], London: Routledge, Warne, and Routledge, 1860

[Williams, John] Ab Ithel, “Holy Wells”, Archaeologia Cambrensis 1 (1846) 50-4

Williams, Moses. Humfredi Llwyd, Armigeri, Britannicae Descriptionis Commentariolum [&c], London: William Bowyer, 1731

Wynne, Glenys, Cilcain, Mold: Cilcain W.I., 1944

 

Guest blog post: Ffynnon Leinw – Holy Well or natural wonder by Tristan Gray Hulse (part two)

It is a pleasure to present Tristan Gray Hulse’s second part of his monograph on Ffynnon Leinw

On the Tuesday of Holy Week 1188 Giraldus and Archbishop Baldwin rode from Bangor to Rhuddlan Castle, where they were entertained for the night. On Wednesday Baldwin preached the Crusade in Rhuddlan, before saying Mass in St Asaph cathedral, after which his party rode on to spend the night at Basingwerk Abbey, near Holywell. On the Thursday they rode to Chester. At some point (Giraldus’ mention is made between his accounts of Tuesday evening and the events of Wednesday, so that he probably heard it at Rhuddlan on Tuesday night) they were told of a spring not far from Rhuddlan which ebbed and flowed twice daily with the tides, but which was also liable to rise and fall frequently throughout the day. Humphrey Llwyd identified Giraldus’ unnamed spring with an unnamed ebbing-and-flowing well in Cilcain parish; adding that the spring was observed to dry up at a certain time of the year. Llwyd’s identification of Giraldus’ spring with the Cilcain well was followed by David Powel, who named the latter as Ffynnon Leinw; and Camden followed Powel in locating an ebbing-and-flowing spring in the parish of Cilcain, without naming it. Richard Mostyn and, after him, Edward Lhwyd, suggested that Ffynnon Asa, in Cwm parish, as being closer to Rhuddlan, was a more plausible match for Giraldus’ spring; also noting that Ffynnon Leinw no longer ebbed and flowed.

Giraldus’ topographical notices in the Itinerarium were almost entirely anecdotal, apparently dependent upon the casual comments of his hosts; the hit-and-miss character of this kind of information-gathering can be assessed from the fact that, although he spent a night at Basingwerk, he has no account of St Winefride’s Well, Holywell, although its fame was by then long established in north-east Wales and the northern Marches – its absence is best explained by assuming that no-one happened to mention the Holywell well to Giraldus during his few brief hours at Basingwerk.

Ffynnon Leinw and Ffynnon Asa were not the only ebbing-and-flowing wells in Wales. Giraldus had mentioned another one in his Itinerarium Cambriae, at Dinefwr (I, 10: Giraldus 1908, 74). Francis Jones wrote that ebbing and flowing was “a claim common to many Welsh wells”. (Jones 1954, 53: Jones noticed the claim for a Ffynnon Fednant, in Caernarfonshire – ib. 154; Llandyfeisant Well, Carmarthenshire, i.e., the Dinefwr well – p. 171; Ff. Asa and Ff. Leinw, in Flintshire – 178, 180; Ff. Maen y Milgi, Llandrillo, in Merioneth – 193; two wells at Chepstow, Monmouthshire – 196; and St Non’s Well, at St Davids, Carncwn Well, at Newport, Ff. Lygaid, at St Davids, and Pencw Wells, at Goodwick, all in Pembrokeshire – 210, 212, 213, 216.) James Rattue (1995, 114) notes that such wells were reported in England, and were particularly attractive to antiquarian writers such as Camden; on p. 117 he quotes Camden quoting an ode by Sir John Stradling to an ebbing-and-flowing well at Newton, in Glamorganshire. (This is St John’s Well, Newton; Jones 1954, 183, listed the well, but missed the ebbing-and-flowing claim, and Stradling’s poem.)

Less than two miles from Rhuddlan, Ffynnon Asa is a plausible identification for Giraldus’ spring; Ffynnon Leinw, rather less so. But, given the sheer number of wells for which such claims were made, it cannot be certain that Giraldus’ spring should be identified with either Ffynnon Asa or Ffynnon Leinw. What is certain is that the ubiquity of Camden’s Britannia guaranteed that a well in Cilcain parish – more exactly identified by Powel with Ffynnon Leinw – was for centuries identified as being fed by an ebbing-and-flowing spring.

So far as I am aware, the claim of regular twice-daily ebbing and flowing has never been established for any of the many springs for which the claim has been made in the past. What is probably being witnessed by such claims is a common but irregular fluctuation in water levels created by sustained periods of more or less rainfall, observed casually, from time to time, by persons who noted different water levels each time they had cause to visit the well, and invoked the example of the universal regular tidal ebbing and flowing as an explanation of a local phenomenon. In certain instances it may be that one has to do with a periodic spring, dry for part of the year, but returning after prolonged rainfall; certainly this seems to be what Humphrey Llwyd was recording for the Cilcain well.

Flintshire is famous for its wells, which owe their existence to the Carboniferous Limestone that constitutes its central plain. This rock is porous and the water percolates it till it comes in contact with impermeable shale or clay, where it accumulates and finds its way again to the surface through some of the many fissures … Ffynnon Leinw, “the flowing well,” in Cilcain parish, was at one time an intermittent spring, flowing at regular intervals, owing to syphon action, but it has long lost this peculiarity (Edwards 1914, 25, 27).

This and related phenomena are common in the local limestone landscape. Numbers of the rivers and streams flowing through Cilcain parish run underground for some distance at certain times of the year; as the Parochialia noted:

All their rivulets dive. [It names the Alun, “underground abt 3 quarters of a mile” (it sinks at a place below Cilcain village called Hesp Alun, “the dry Alun”); the Fechlas, “underground hlf a mile it breaks forth at a place therefore call’d tarth y Dŵr” (Tardd y Dŵr, “eruption, or issue, of water”); and the Cain, “dives for hlf a mile more and so to Alen within the P’ish”.] They have severall other Rills that dive (Lhwyd 1909, 80-1).

(The overflow from Ffynnon Leinw drains into the Fechlas; Tardd y Dŵr is two-thirds of a mile west of the well: SJ 175 675. Tardd y Dŵr and Ffynnon Leinw are both in the former Cilcain township of Dolfechlas.) The places of their re-emergence would all exhibit greater or lesser volumes of water, depending on the rainfall. With regard to Ffynnon Leinw, more careful observation (as suggested by Richard Mostyn and Pennant) would have cleared up the popular suggestion of any twice-daily ebbing and flowing.

The suggestion here is that Ffynnon Leinw, before its final drying-up as a result of mining locally (cf. RCAHM 1912, 16; Davies 1959, 65 – if indeed it has really dried up; it would seem still to flow periodically: cf. Davis 2003, 71), was a periodic spring whose flow varied with the rainfall, and which often ceased to flow altogether during drier periods of the year. This idea is perhaps reinforced by the name of the well. The element leinw has caused placename scholars a number of problems (cf. e.g. Davies 1959, 65), but it may simply relate in some way to the verb llanw or llenwi, “to fill”, and to the masculine noun llanw, “influx”. (The ll > l is simply the regular lenition, following the feminine noun ffynnon, “well”; in just this way the personal names Mair and Mihangel mutate to give Ffynnon Fair and Ffynnon Fihangel. ) It is in this sense that Pennant understood the element, when he translated Ffynnon Leinw as “the flowing well”. Professor Hywel Wyn Owen has commented on the name:

The form leinw cannot be explained as a noun or adjective. Most Welsh speakers would know leinw from Psalms 84.6 ‘y glaw a leinw y llynnau’ [“the rain also filleth the pools” – AV]. That was in the old translation … The Psalms use leads me to suspect that the well was originally y ffynnon a leinw ‘the well which fills’. In time the relative pronoun was omitted leaving us with y ffynnon leinw > Ffynnon Leinw (pers. comm. to TGH, 14 December 2015).

The name would thus seem to reference the sudden filling of a well with the recommencement of a periodic spring after heavy rain. It would seem not to carry any inevitable sense of a regular ebbing and flowing like the sea’s tides, but only of flowing; though doubtless the secondary use of the noun llanw for “the flow of the tide” would facilitate any popular misinterpretation of such periodic springs as regularly ebbing and flowing.

References

Anon., Cambrian Traveller’s Guide, ed. 1, Stourport: George Nicholson, 1808; ed. 2, London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, & Brown, 1813

Anon., “The Parish of Mold”, 3 parts, The Cambro-Briton vol. 1, London: 1819, 136-43, 179-84, 298-300

Anon., “Extracts from a MS of Ancient Date, giving some Customs and Usages in North Wales”, Archaeologia Cambrensis 40 (1885) 150-6

Anon., “Obituary, The Rev. Elias Owen of Llan y Blodwel”, Archaeologia Cambrensis 56 (1901) 322-4

Browne, Sir Thomas, ed. Geoffrey Keynes, Selected Writings, London: Faber and Faber, 1970

Camden, William, ed., Anglica, Normannica, Hibernica, Cambrica, a veteribus scripta [&c], Frankfurt: 1603

Camden, William, Britannia; sive Florentissimorum Regnorum, Angliae, Scotiae, Hiberniae, & Insularum adiacentium ex intima antiquitate Chorographica descriptio, Frankfurt: Johann Bringer, 1616

Camden, William, rev. Edmund Gibson, Britannia: or a Chorographical Description of Great Britain and Ireland … Translated into English, with Additions and Improvements, second ed., vol. 2, London: Awnsham Churchill, 1722

Carlisle, Nicholas, A Topographical Dictionary of the Dominion of Wales, London: 1811

Cartwright, Jane, Feminine Sanctity and Spirituality in Medieval Wales, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2008

Cathrall, William, The History of North Wales [&c], vol. 2, Manchester: 1828

Cox, Phil, “The Lost Chapel of St Leonard”, 1970: accessed 10/12/2015 on the Caer Alyn Archaeological and Heritage website, http://caeralyn.org

Davies, Ellis, Flintshire Place-Names, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1959

Davis, Paul, Sacred Springs: In Search of the Holy Wells and Spas of Wales, Llanfoist: Blorenge Books, 2003

Duffy, Eamon, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c.1400-c.1580, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992

Edwards, J,M., Flintshire (Cambridge County Geographies), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914

Evans, J., The Beauties of England and Wales: or, Original Delineations, Topographical, Historical, and Descriptive, of each County, vol. 17 (North Wales), London: J. Harris [&c], 1812

Farmer, David Hugh, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, ed. 5, Oxford: University Press, 2003

Giraldus Cambrensis, tr. Richard Colt Hoare, The Itinerary through Wales and The Description of Wales, London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1908

Gray, Madeleine, Images of Piety: The iconography of traditional religion in late medieval Wales (BAR British Series 316), Oxford: Archaeopress, 2000

Gruffydd, Eirlys a Ken Lloyd, Ffynhonnau Cymru. Cyfrol 2: Ffynhonnau Caernarfon, Dinbych, Y Fflint a Môn, Llanrwst: Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 1999

Gruffydd, Ken Lloyd, “The Manor & Marcher Lordship of Mold during the Early Middle Ages, 1039-1247”, Ystrad Alun: Journal of the Mold Civic Society 1 (Christmas 2000) 3-21

Hooke, R[obert], Micrographia: or some Physiological Description of Minute Bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon, London: James Allestry, 1667

Hooper, Richard, ed., The Complete Works of Michael Drayton, vols 1-3 (Poly-Olbion), London: John Russell Smith, 1876

Jacobus de Voragine, tr. William Granger Ryan, The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, vol. 2, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995

Jones, Francis, The Holy Wells of Wales, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1954

Jones, J. Colin, Gresford Village and Church: The history of a border settlement, Wrexham: J. Colin Jones, 1995

Lewis, Samuel, A Topographical Dictionary of Wales, ed. 3, vol. 1, London: S. Lewis and Co., 1848

Lloyd, John Edward, and R.T. Jenkins, eds, The Dictionary of Welsh Biography down to 1940, London: The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1959

Lloyd, Nesta, “The Correspondence of Edward Lhuyd and Richard Mostyn”, Flintshire Historical Society Publications 25 (1971-2) 31-61

Lhuyd, Humfredus, Commentarioli Britannicae Descriptionis Fragmentum, Cologne: Johann Birckman, 1572

Lhwyd, Edward, ed. Rupert H. Morris, Parochialia being a Summary of Answers to “Parochial Queries” [&c], part 1, London: The Cambrian Archaeological Association, 1909

Morris, John, ed./transl., Nennius: British History and The Welsh Annals, London and Chichester: Phillimore, 1980

Owen, Elias, 1899: “Ffynon Leinw, an Ebbing and Flowing Well”, chapter in The Holy Wells of North Wales, unpublished manuscript NLW 3290D

Pennant, Thomas, Tours in Wales, vol. 2, London: Wilkie and Robinson [&c], 1810

Powel, David, Pontici Virunnii Britannicae Historiae libri VI; Itinerarium Cambriae, Cambriae Descriptio; De Britannica Historia recte intelligenda Epistola, London: Henry Denham and Ralph Newbury, 1585

Rattue, James, The Living Stream: Holy Wells in Historical Context, Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1995

RCAHM 1912, 1914, 1925 = An Inventory of The Ancient Monuments of Wales and Monmouthshire. II. – County of Flint; IV. – County of Denbigh; and VII.- County of Pembroke, London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1912, 1914 and 1925

Rees, Eiluned, and Gwyn Walters, “The Dispersion of the Manuscripts of Edward Lhuyd”, The Welsh History Review 7, no. 2 (Dec. 1974) 148-78

Richter, Michael, Giraldus Cambrensis: The Growth of the Welsh Nation, rev. ed., Aberystwyth: The National Library of Wales, 1976

Schwyzer, Philip, ed., Humphrey Llwyd “The Breviary of Britain” with selections from “The History of Cambria”, London: Modern Humanities Research Association, 2011

Spalding, Ruth, The Improbable Puritan: A Life of Bulstrode Whitelocke, 1605-1675, London: Faber & Faber, 1975

Spalding, Ruth, ed., The Diary of Bulstrode Whitelocke, 1605-1675, Oxford: Oxford University Press/The British Academy, 1990

Speed, John, The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, London: 1611/12

Stephens, Meic, ed., The New Companion to the Literature of Wales, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1998

Walsham, Alexandra, The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity, and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland, Oxford: University Press, 2011

Whitelocke, R.H., Memoirs, Biographical and Historical, of Bulstrode Whitelocke [&c], London: Routledge, Warne, and Routledge, 1860

[Williams, John] Ab Ithel, “Holy Wells”, Archaeologia Cambrensis 1 (1846) 50-4

Williams, Moses. Humfredi Llwyd, Armigeri, Britannicae Descriptionis Commentariolum [&c], London: William Bowyer, 1731

Wynne, Glenys, Cilcain, Mold: Cilcain W.I., 1944

 

Ffynnon Fair, Llandecwyn by Tristan Gray Hulse

In 1994 after a period of absence Source was reborn under the helm of Tristan Gray Hulse and Roy Fry. Under their stewardship Source became more academically minded and in particular focused more on monograms of specific sites which were merticulously researched. Tristan himself due to his monastic background contributing some important pieces as well as questioning some long held folklore views in the subject such as head cults. After source went on to research and write a number of scholarly pieces on saint cults and holy wells including a piece on votive offerings at St Trillo’s well in the folklore journal as well as being involved with St Winifred’s well in Holywell. So it is with great pleasure and a great honour that his unpublished monogram on a north Welsh well – and how Welsh wells doyen Francis Jones could get it wrong – in my celebration of Source. 

Immediately to the north of Plas Llandecwyn, on the side of an ancient lane leading uphill towards the church of St Tecwyn, Llandecwyn, Merioneth, a short distance away, is the holy well of St Tecwyn. It is still just as it was described 100 years ago by the Royal Commission Inspecting Officer.

Ffynnon Decwyn … The antiquary Edward Lhuyd, or a correspondent of his, writing about the year 1698, has the note “Fynnon Deckwyn by plas Ll. Deckwyn not far from ye church”.

Near Plas Llandecwyn is a spring which flows into a cavity about 3 feet at the front and 2 feet at the back by a breadth of 21 inches; the water stands in its rock cistern to a depth of 14 inches, and as there is a slight but steady overflow the water is kept sweet. There can be little doubt that this is the well noted by Lhuyd, but the name of Tecwyn is now not connected with it … Visited, 15 August, 1914 (An Inventory 1921, 82, § 214).

The name Ffynnon Decwyn is apparently now in common use for the well once more.
The Inspecting Officer continued his entry by noting

a spot about 330 yards north-east of the church where is a hole about 21 inches square cut into the rock at the level of the road, water dripping within and overflowing the road”.

This unnamed well also survives much as described, though it is now covered with small rough slabs of stone, for protection. And a few yards south of the lych-gate is another spring, rising at the northern or upper end of what appears to have been a regularly rectangular tank, now choked with water-weeds. It is initially tempting to guess that one or other of these unnamed springs represents a further sacred well claimed for the parish, Ffynnon Fair, listed by Francis Jones in his The Holy Wells of Wales (1954).

Jones, citing Edward Lhwyd in reference, included the well in his list of Ffynhonnau Mair in Merioneth in his gazetteer of Welsh holy wells:

Ff. Fair … 2. ‘By ye Church’ in Llandecwyn parish – Lhuyd Par. ii. 105 (Jones 1954, 191).

However, it turns out that this well is no more than a “ghost”, created by Jones’ trusting but careless reading of Lhwyd in the at-this-point potentially confusing editing of the Parochialia texts by Rupert Morris. As the printed edition stands (Lhwyd Paroch., part 2, 1910), the entry for “Llandekwyn” runs from p. 103 to the foot of p. 106, and notices “Fynnon vair by ye Church” on p. 105 and “Fynnon Deckwyn by plas Ll Deckwyn not far from ye church” on p. 106. The Llandecwyn entry is immediately followed by that for “Mantwrog” (top of p. 107), which, as it stands, consists of only six lines.

But it is clear that a section of this arrangement (from p. 104 line 7 to p. 105 line 30, reproducing pp. 131-133 of the original Lhwyd ms as seen and edited by Morris) has been displaced in the original Lhwyd ms; this section all refers to Maentwrog parish, not to Llandecwyn, and must originally have followed and completed the now minimal Maentwrog entry (at the bottom of original ms p. 137) printed at the top of Lhwyd 1910, p. 107. This restores the original reading, a complete text, of the normal Parochialia format, for Maentwrog immediately following a complete text of familiar format for Llandecwyn (thus, originally: Llandecwyn, ms pp. 129-130, 136-137; Maentwrog, ms pp. foot of p. 137, 131-133).

This explains why the mentions of Ffynnon Decwyn and Ffynnon Fair are separated in the Morris printed text. It also means that “Fynnon vair by ye Church” was in Maentwrog parish, not in Llandecwyn; and that, therefore, there is no mention of a Ffynnon Fair in Llandecwyn parish. The Llandecwyn Ffynnon Fair is an inadvertent creation of Francis Jones, who then duplicates the well by separately noticing the Maentwrog well, from the Royal Commission Inventory for Merioneth:

Ff. Fair … 7. About 80 yards SE of Maentwrog church: it supplied the neighbouring houses – Anc. Mon. Mer. (Jones 1954, 191).

The Maentwrog well still survives, basically as per the Inventory:

Ffynnon Fair … This well is situated on sloping ground about 80 yards south-east of the church, and north of a terrace called Bron Fair. It is now enclosed in a square slate cistern, and [in 1914 still, but no longer] supplies the neighbouring houses (An Inventory 1921, 154, § 498).

Tristan Gray Hulse
25 April 2016

References

An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire. VI. County of Merioneth, London: HMSO, 1921
Jones, Francis, The Holy Wells of Wales, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1954
Lhwyd, Edward, Parochialia, being a summary of answers to “Parochial Queries in order to a Geographical Dictionary, etc., of Wales”, ed. Rupert H. Morris, part 2, London: The Cambrian Archaeological Association, 1910

Ancient and holy wells of Porthcawl, Glamorganshire part two

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In our final post on the noted wells of the area, we cover perhaps the most famous well around the town that of St. John or Sandford’s Well. Despite its fame it is the most unattractive of the town’s surviving sites. Charles Davies describes it as thus:

The well, oval in shape, of 6½ft. and 4½ft. diameters and 13½ft. in depth below the surface, with a covered flight of 20 steps, is about 85 yards south of the Church, and about 500 yards from the shore : its position is marked on a map of Dutch origin of 1646.”

Charles Davies in his 1938 The History of the Ancient church situate at Newton Porthcawl states:

The Holy Well in close proximity to the Parish Church at Newton, and possessing a like Patron, has also a lay name “Sandford Well” – which sheds considerable light on the time of the Church’s original foundation. Now it is Impossible to seriously doubt, when certain external evidences are considered, that Sir Thomas de Sandford had as much to do with the original foundation of the Church as with that of the Well. Dre-Newydd, Nova Villa, New Town, by whichever name be it called, was a dowry on his marriage, a “dot” of a new village, and it is not likely that he confined his legacy to it to the mere well, when we remember its intimate connexion with the Church.”

Who was de Sandford?

It is believed that De Sanford, was a crusading Knight of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, who in the 12th century founded the church being granted land by William Earl of Gloucester between 1147 and 1183.

Rituals at the well

The legend of the well is inscribed on a large plaque by its side as seen below:

A number of traditions are associated with the well. It is reported that May Day or rather one would presume Beltaine bonfires were lit close to the well, although one would have thought Midsummer – or the feast of St John would have been a more obvious time. Those visiting the well would use the water to wish away sins and if water removed from the well was spilt bad luck would ensue

Ebbing and flowing

The well is mainly noted for being an ebbing and flowing well. Author R.D.Blackmore wrote of the well:

“It comes and goes, in a manner, against the coming and going of the sea, which is only half a mile from it: and twice a day it is many feet deep, and again not as many inches. And the water is so crystal clear, that down in the dark it is like a dream. – The children are all a little afraid of it… partly because of its maker’s name… and partly on account of its curious ways and the sand coming out of its “nostrils” when first it begins to flow”.

It is possible that this deep well is connected via fissures in the rock with the sea where the tide would force water up into the well. It is probable that the two were linked and that if there was a time difference, that it is contrary to the tides this could be explained by the time taken for the water to flow through the cracks to the well.

The well today

For such a famed well and especially when compared with the other wells in the area, St John’s Well looks a little forlorn and long overdue a repair. The well consists as described by pastscape as:

“a gated rubble stone entrance doorway to, and side walls of, a long descending flight of stone steps with stone slab roof and limewashed interior. At street level to side right set in a walled recess is a semi circular stone basin with iron pump in wall to rear and stone drainage channel right.”

The pump is dry and it is impossible to access the waters and indeed one cannot see it as the grill is too narrow and the depth too deep. The door is rusty and unsightly as is the attempt to extend the walling to include an electric substation. St John’s Well is long overdue an improvement.

The final site appeared to base its reputation on the above site this being St. John’s Spa. Davies (1938) again records:

“The water discharged on the beach deserves notice. Recent investigation has confirmed the tradition that the waters of this particular issue have extraordinary healing powers over external and internal ulcers, old wounds, rheumatisms, neuritis and various other ailments. Cold and clear as crystal, the scores of analyses that have been made in hospitals and by specialists, throw not the slightest light on the cause of the water’s efficacy. Its temperature is about 51 degrees Fahrenheit at all times of the year, a sensation of intense cold is felt by the hand which, after a deep immersion lasting for about ten minutes, regains its warmth, and, for a considerable length of time after withdrawal, shows a decided redness. Investigation may prove the presence of isotonic properties which may account for the beneficent effect on the many visitants with divers ailments, who drink the water or immerse the affected parts.”

He continued to note that:

“St. John’s Spa is renowned ; countless invalids have benefitted by their visits to “Doctor Dwr” (Doctor Water), who is always at home when the tide is out, and overs free treatment in a surgery which is thoroughly cleansed twice a day. In all probability, the therapeutic value of this water would be unknown in these days, were it not for the chance discovery of Dr. Hartland who has proved, beyond doubts, its curative properties.”

Whatever happened to the latest instalment is unclear but St John’s Well survives albeit massively in need of some TLC!

Ancient and holy wells of Porthcawl, Glamorganshire part one

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The modern seaside town of Porthcawl is classic British seaside and in the summer the eateries swam with visitors, surfers ride the waves and children clamber over rocks in search of crabs…a few miles from this buzz of seaside fun are three watery relics which have survived the spread of the town. How many of those seaside visitors come and examine them is unclear but if they did they would be privy to a magic otherworld..quite literally in fact!

The first of our wells really does appear to contact to another world being Ffynnon Fawr. A flight of stone steps descend into a world deep beneath us into a pool where light just about penetrates. Inside a large chamber brimming with clear water. Ffynnon Fawr lives up to its name – it is indeed a large well!

It is not the easiest to find. My sources pinpointed it on a modern roundabout on the outskirts, but on the wrong side so I spent a fair time looking in the wrong place and resigned myself to not finding it. However, I was determined and returning found it below the level of the ground at the roundabout.

 

The well is a rectangular grey stone building with a camber headed doorway with an iron gate. On the side it reads:

“Y Fynnon Fawr”

“Mae Dwr Yn Fendith Angenreidol Rhoddes Duw Inni Ar Lawr; Cofiwyn ‘Awdur Pob Daioni’ Wrth Yfed Dwr O ‘r Fynnon Fawr’

“Water Is A Necessary Blessing Which God Has Given Us On Earth; Let Us Remember ‘The Author Of All Goodness’ As We Drink From Fynnon Fawr”.

The well provided water for the older village of Newton Nottage now absorbed into the Porthcawl sprawl however no legends or traditions are recorded.

Not far away is St. David’s Well sitting just beside the edge of a lane but still feeling from a distant age. This is a true holy well and its present fabric albeit early 20th century doubtlessly includes medieval work as noted by Charles Davies in his 1938 The History of the Ancient Church situate at Newton, Porthcawl in the Parish of Newton Nottage.:

A few years ago there was but a muddy heap of stones by the way-side; lately a partial restoration has been attempted, but without even indicating the name that gives it importance and interest.”.

Charles Davies further states:

“We are justified in surmising that the Well at Nottage owed its origin to the Memory of St. David, for the axiom of archaeology states that, when found in proximity, the shrine and its adjacent spring both commemorate the identical saint. A chain of evidence is available showing that such was the case. The remains of an ancient roadway bearing the significant name of “Heol-y-Capel” (Chapel Road), can be traced through the Croft leadmg from The Holy Well to the site of the Vanished Chapel and the adjoining “Cwrt Offeiriad”. Now this Chapel was situated on the west bank of the little valley, watered by Ffynnon Dewi (David’s Well), which is known today as “The Rhyll”, but in the 12th century was named “Dewiscumbe”. These facts prove an intimate relationship between the little hamlet and the National Saint of Wales in Pre-Norman days the nourishing of a Davidian Cultus – and all that is implied by Saint David having been its Patron Saint.

It is regrettable that the memory of the Shrine and Valley has completely faded ; not without shame do we remember our neglect of the Holy well itself, which has been the means of our resurrecting the past. …. Many are still spared who can remember It as it was some forty years ago. The limped water, of a constant depth, flows to the rough stone font, unaffected by winter flood or summer drought, incapable of gain or decline The rivulet still makes tremulous music as it meanders down the little valley of Dewiscumbe. Here, in mediaeval days, many a pilgrim quest found its consummation, and even today the idyllic surroundings appear to summon up the long-vanished atmosphere of the Welsh Saint.”

The site consists of a small stone enclosure with a style, said to be the church’s old altar, to prevent animals access it. The well itself is an ancient looking structure whose roof is made of large stone slabs and steps again go deep into the ground to a roofed chamber.

It is said that the ghost of a girl peering into its waters in the evening having been seen on a number times. She may have drowned in its deep waters. Today this is not possible as access again to the waters is no longer possible.