Category Archives: Warwickshire

A Sutton Coldfield Field Trip

A visit to the enormous Sutton Park will reward any curious well researcher. The magnificent park, once a royal hunting park, and then after Henry VIII gave it to Bishop Vesey, it is now a park, which is now municipally owned and admission is free. It contains half a dozen man-made pools and three named wells The most obvious of the ‘holy’ wells is that marked at the south-west end of Bracebridge Pool called St Mary’s Well. Burgess and Hill (1893) notes that it was:

“… very popular with visitors to the Park, is that of St Mary, commonly called the Druids”.

Ribton-Turner (1893)’s Shakespeare’s land being a description of central and southern Warwickshire.notes that

“Sutton Coldfield and Park have several wells other than that of Rowton, which are deserving of notice ; of these Another well, very popular with the visitors to the Park, is that of St. Mary, commonly called the Druids’. This is at the south-west end of Bracebridge Pool (the Queen pool of the Park). How it tame to be called the Druids’ Well is not known, it is scarcely necessary to say that it can have no Druidical connection ; it is very probable, however, that it was dedicated to Saint Mary long before the dam of Bracebridge Pool was made by Ralph Bracebridge in the reign of Henry V.”

This is association with the Druids may owe something to Hutton’s History of Birmingham (1783), who suggested that there was a Druid site near Sutton Coldfield on a Druid sanctuary near Sutton Coldfield and it was said to be the seat of the Archdruid, Sadly the well has seen better days. I was informed when looking for the site by a man surveying the area that it no longer existed and that he himself had never found it. He informed me that the distinctive well house was taken away due to damage caused by vandals and stored somewhere by the local council. However, dogged searching in the underground where the site was marked on the appropriate OS did reveal something. Ducking under some Rhodendrons, I found what would certainly be the well, its spring found filling a rectangular stone lined pool which was still full of clear water emptying into a channel just beyond. Despite what I was told, the well house shown in Bord (2008) appears to be lying beside looking rather forlorn and the other side a more modern structure takes the water. Hopefully one day it can be fully restored.

Lady’s or Druids’s well. The forlorn remains of the well house which supposedly where removed to a safe place!

Rowton Well  is a medicinal pool about ten feet in diameter, with a neat low circular curb of large stones, now enclosed by a new post and rails fence. Ribston-Turner (1893) notes that:

“Rowton Well lies near the Roman Ikenild Street, and has therefore a claim to very early fame. Rohedon was the name of a family in the neighbourhood, temp. Edward I., and there was also a Rohedon Hill and a Rohedon Green at Erdington. This name, probably the origin of Rowton, may be of early derivation, and there is a tumulus near the well which favours that view, yet a dedication to the Holy Rood in Saxon days may possibly be the original source of the name.”

The  Keeper’s Well is the copious source of supply to the pool of that name.  This pool is nearly surrounded by woods of great natural beauty, and is supposed to have derived its name some four centuries ago from John Holt, who was park keeper or ranger under the Earl of Warwick in the reign of Edward IV., and probably constructed the dam. A final interesting well, not perhaps in the park but was called Robin Hood’s Well in the parish, but I have been unable to discover more information. It may have been another name from one of the other wells.

A Warwickshire field trip – the sad story of Margaret’s well

Whilst researching for a future volume on holy and healing wells in Warwickshire, I came across an interesting site called Margaret’s well. This site one would assume takes its name from a saint, but no, showing how easy it is for holy well researchers to be confused. However, this site has a far more interesting origin, it is cited by some as being the site where a local girl committed suicide. That in itself, although tragic, is not perhaps that interesting, but the suicide may have been the inspiration for the tragic character of Ophelia who drowned in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

A tragic suicide?

For those unfamiliar with Hamle: Ophelia loves and was courted by Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, but is helpless when he starts behaving strangely after his uncle marries his mother, having killed Hamlet’s father. After, Hamlet treats her poorly and abondons her she goes mad and drowns in a pool prompting the Laertes and Hamlet duel which results in both dying.

Who was Margaret?

Margaret Clopton, was the daughter of a leading Catholic family in the town and was a contemporary of Shakesphere. She was abandoned by her lover, drowned herself. News of her death would have reached Shakespeare as the family was so well known even if he was living in London especially as his wife, Anne Hathaway still resided in Statford. The dates certainly match, Hamlet is believed to have been written by the Bard in the 1590s, shortly after Margaret’s supposed death.

Searching on line for evidence, I found the following website: http://www.theanswerbank.co.uk/History/article/whats-the-evidence-for-ophelia/

In it a Dr. Bearman, who is the chief archivist  at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said the evidence was open to interpretation, but a possible link with Ophelia could not be denied. He stated that although there was a Margaret Clopton there are no records of her marriage or death which would lead you to suspect she died in infancy or early youth. However, he does note that there is a tradition of a young woman drowing in the well and the death is first recorded in  Jordan’s History of Stratford written in1790. Whether this was Margaret and whether this was the source perhaps can never be proved! Indeed the vagueness of a ghost haunting the well may suggest a religious origin? Is the Margaret St Margaret?

Nearly lost for good?

The well built as a conduit for the hall was constructed in 1686 as the inscribed stone SJC 1686 records. The SJC refering to Sir John Clopton, but is obviously a pool or well before this but nothing is recorded. The site was for many inaccessible for years due to its being immersed in thick briars, bramble and boggy underneath and only the very top of the stonework being visible. It was decided in October 2002 to restore the well and a new path was laid to it, the work being completed in 2003. Archaeological field work once the land was drained revealed the brick vaulting, steps and flagstones.  Masonry foundations were were found south-west of Margaret’s Well, and may have been remains of arbours shown on the  1848 Tithe map and estate plans of 1849.Once the private estate of Clopton house, the site now in a public park.

Visiting in 2011, the site is marked out by a fence and has a small plaque, but unfortunately this and the well itself have been vandalized. The well which consists of a barrel shaped structure over a rectangular pool has lost some of the brick work from the top and the concrete rendering. The water arises clearly from within, but I could not see the carved stone described.