Category Archives: Well hunting

In search of rag wells: The Ragged Springs of Healing, Lincolnshire

There are records of a considerable number of rag wells in Lincolnshire and as such a cluster can be identified. In a couple of posts we shall be exploring the sites focusing on some in detail such as the significantly named Ragged springs near Cleethorpes to the north of the county which is the focus on this blog post.

First it is worth considering the name. The springs themselves whilst possibly being an ancient site, noted by the fact that the earliest name for the parish is Heghelinge. One may make the assumption that perhaps this derives from the springs. However, this is at variance to the view of the Cameron (1985-2002) as it is noted that Hægelingas is derived from ‘the sons or followers of a man named Hægel’ rather than healing, although it is of course a strange coincidence perhaps.

The first reference appears to be Charles Edward Hope (1893) in his Legendary Lore of Holy Wells, which of course takes a number of sources, some hitherto unknown, but often from local accounts. He records it confusing under another nearby village and states?

“Lincolnshire GREAT COTES, ULCEBY. Here is a spring celebrated locally for its healing properties. It rises from the side of a bank in a plantation, and is overshadowed by an ancient thorn, on the branches of which hang innumerable rags, fastened there by those who have drunk of its waters.”

Gutch and Peacock (1908) note that a:

“Mr. Cordeaux visited them not long since for the purpose of discovering whether pins are ever dropped into them, but the bottom of the water in both cases was too muddy and full of leaves to allow accurate examination.”

According to Gutch and Peacock (1908) each well had a different use, one spring being a chalybeate one was done for eye problems, whereas the other was for skin problems. They continue to note that a:

“F S, a middle-aged man, who grew up in an adjoining parish, states that when he was a lad, one spring was used for bathing, and the second for drinking. The latter was considered good against consumption, among other forms of sickness. . . . What the special gift of the bathing well was F S cannot say. He often plunged his feet into it when a boy, but he does not venture to assert that it had any great power in reality, although ‘folks used to come for miles,’ and the gipsies, who called the place Ragged Spring or Ragged Well, frequently visited it. A Gentleman who hunts with the Yarborough pack every winter, says that he notices the rags fluttering on the shrubs and briars each season as he rides past. There is always a supply of these tatters, whether used superstitiously or not, and always has been since his father first knew the district some seventy years ago.”

The custom apparently continued until the 1940s, indeed a visitor in the 1920s noted that even the trunks were covered with longer pieces of rag. A picture in Healy (1995) shows a number of rags on the bushes as seen below.

It is worth noting that perhaps the presence of a large thorn perhaps suggests a great antiquity to the site   The springs are still marked on the current OS map, as Healing Wells, in a small plantation, but they are, as the photo shows, only marked by circular indentations in the ground, the first spring being the easier to trace and appears to have holes, although these may be made by animals.

The springs are now quite dry, perhaps that the clogging of the springs noted above continued as the springs were forgotten, resulting in the current situation. Lying around the springs are a range of metal buckets in various stages of decay and some metal pieces which may be remains of a metal fence around it. I was unable to find any sign of rags although the man I asked in the whereabouts referred to them as the ragged springs. So there name maybe remembered even if the custom has long since been forgotten.

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

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

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

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

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

Finding the holy well

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

A pilgrim route?

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

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

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

Holy Well or not?

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

Was there a prehistoric water shrine in the Medway?

Despite the thundering sounds of motorways nearby, the industry of Aylesford and the urban sprawl of Maidstone and Rochester not far away the triangle of area trapped between this modernisation clinging to the edges of the ancient pilgrim’s way still has a feel of something ancient and mysterious. Many people visit the area to see its megalithic remains – Kit’s Coty, lower Kit’s Coty and the White horse stone, but in this area are a number of springs which tantalisingly may suggest a similar ancient ritual use.

Many years ago I picked up a delightfully named volume A Tramp in Kentish Pilgrim Land by Coles Finch. A 1925 book whose research and details are of much interest. One of the sites he discusses is the Pilgrim’s Spring, (TQ 731 614) in the old community of Tottington, which he describes a pool surrounded by sarsens believed to be of ancient origin:

“Spread around this beautiful spring head in plenteous disorder is a large number of huge stones, some thrown into the bed of the stream, others supporting its margins. Some half buried and peep through the ground. With Cromlech and altar thrown down and heaped around the spring, it is left to our imagination to picture this site of ancient water worship in the dim and distant past. The stone circle appears to have completely encircled the principal spring; hence there are reasonable grounds for concluding that too was devoted to water worship.”

Earlier in 1872 a James Fergusson visited the area and noted:

…nearer the village [Aylesford] exists or existed, a line of great stones, extending from a place called Spring Farm, in a north-easterly direction, for a distance of three quarters of a mile, to another spot known as Hale Farm passing through Tollington [sic], where the greater number of the stones are now found. In front of the line near the centre at Tollington lie two obelisks, known to the country people as the coffin stones – probably from their shape. They are 12 feet long by 4 to 6 broad, and about 2 to 3 feet thick. They appear to be partially hewn, or at least shaped, so as to resemble one another.

Of course, the description is perhaps tainted by the ‘Druid’ obsession of Victorian antiquarians, so perhaps the stones are natural, although close to recognised ancient monuments, they are still to be found in area some up righted by the farmer The springs still exist too, but the number of sarsens associated with them appears to have been reduced, and one would suggest that a number have been dragged from their position and placed on the Coffin Stone.

Another similar site is a Spring (TQ 745 599) which is also situated by the Pilgrims way, and was probably associated with the nearby lost chapel of St. Michael, Alfred John Dunkin in his 1846 History of the County of Kent describes it as a Druidical pool:

“East of the Medway at Cossington, at the base of the hill on which Kits Coty House stands, water of the spring is intensely cold in summer and very warm in the winter.” He records that stones and similar objects placed in the water become coated in a red tinge, which undoubtedly created deep superstition regarding their powers.”

He also notes that around the spring head:

 “still lie many of the massive boulders of their temple in a well preserved semicircular form.”

Dr. Thorpe’s work of 1788 cited in Hasted (1797-1811) History of Kent describes Cossington’s spring as:

“At the bottom issue several springs, which are so cold and sharp that the water is said to cramp and kill ducks, and the flints that lie in it are tinged red as blood, and to try the experiment stones have been marked and put in, which, in less than a year’s time, were of the same colour.” 

Finch (1925) believes that these properties were exaggerated, and were certainly not considered when the water company took charge of the water; he describes the stream as now only flowing at a meagre flow and only feeding some pools by the ruins of Cossington Manor. Sadly, the site was been taken over by the waterworks and consequently at the spring head there is nothing of interest. Near Cossington farm, there are the ruins of the ancient manor and beneath this a rag stone pool, built to grow watercress. Yet, these are the only artefacts of interest, as the spring head itself is of no longer interest.

Below Boxley’s All Saint’s Church, Finch (1925) recorded a Pilgrim’s Pool (TQ 775 589) where the pilgrims would have presumably refreshed themselves or bathed. This pool has become over grown and rubbish strewn, compared to Finch’s (1925) time. The railings that lined the pool as shown in Finch’s photo are now bent, buckled and rusty. Overall, the pool is largely forgotten, and not even mentioned by the church guide. Hasted (1797-1811) notes two Petrifying Springs in the vicinity, and these are presumably the ones which arise inaccessibly in a small copse near the ruins of Boxley Abbey and the old vicarage garden (TQ 766 591, and TQ 774 589).

All of these sites potentially suggest the location of the Haly Well of Haley Garden. This has caused a fair amount of confusion from Kent historians being some discussion has occurred regarding its exact location, although Hale Farm may have taken its name from it. Harris (1719) in his work on Kent Topography notes that a well, that had many virtues, in particular cleansing sin:

“Under Boreham (Burham, Burgham) formerly there was a fountain in this Parish (South Philipot) at a place called Haly or Holy Garden, which was accounted mighty sacred by common people, and had very uncommon virtues ascribed to it, and in the 17th year of King Richard II, The Friars Carmelites of Aylesford obtained a grant by letters Pateill to bring the water from to their monastery.”

The nearby Friars at Aylesford are also said to have built an aqueduct from the site.  Finch (1925) believes that the well lay eleven hundred yards due west of the Kewland Wheel Well house. Although, he also states that other authorities believed that this wheel well itself was the site. This belief was discredited, however, when its well shaft was explored: no chambers or tunnels were found to lead off of from it. Sadly, there is no evidence of Great Kewland house, although some house debris down a nearby wooded quarry can be located, although being tightly fenced in, one is unable to find any remains of a well or local knowledge.

Another possible site is  a Roman or Ancient Draw Well, (TQ 741 809) According to Finch (1925), there is a legend connecting the well with another that of Kewland by a secret tunnel. Finch (1925) notes that there is:

“…an elm tree and some stones of various sizes, beneath which is a well only some two feet in diameter, but tested to be 113 feet deep. This doubtlessly was sunk for a water supply for the Roman occupants hereabouts.”

Finch (1925) expected that this well was a local myth but was fortunate to find a sixty year old man, who as a boy, used to drop flints down it. He notes that:

“The elm tree is bowed over with age and its sinuous roots have all but closed the entrance to the well, leaving but a tiny aperture through which one could see the rough coping stones. With a little dexterity, one could drop a stone, time its fall, and hear the thus as it fell upon the accumulated debris on the bottom no casual visitor could find the well, even though accurately marked upon a plan, without a guide.”

Certainly, it is unmarked on the present maps, and attempting to uncover its location I was hindered by considerable ivy cover and rubbish. I did locate a large amount of brick and stone debris at one site and possibly remains of a dead elm, but conclusively. Its location and indeed the location and meaning of the springs remains a mystery. Much of my field and archival research was done in the 1990s and detailed in Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Kent but even with the power of the internet these sites have not revealed themselves.

The Nine Wells Shelford Cambridge

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Although it is not strictly a holy well nor apparently healing, its name, Cambridge’s famous Nine Wells (TL 463 542) has a name which suggests cult significance which we shall explore in a moment. The water from these springs which appear not to have the required number forms part of the Hobson’s (of Hobson’s choice fame) conduit which dates from 1610-14 as part of a ‘new river’ a scheme first devised in 1574 by the then Master of Peterhouse to provide clean water for Cambridge (similar schemes were constructed in Hertfordshire). The springs arise at the foot of White Hill in an area which was recognised by the Town and University as worth preserving as they did purchasing it in 1835 after the 1834 Great Shelford Inclosure Act.  In 1861 an obelisk, was erected which details the scheme. The water is accessed from an ornate conduit house called Hobson’s conduit house at Lensfield Drive in the city of Cambridge and runs through channels called runnels in parts of the city. Thompson and Thompson (1999) note of the flow of the waters hence:

“From this point three conduits conveyed the water to the King’s Ditch: one along Trumpington Street (originally in the middle of the road by replaced by the side runnels c.1800); a second, slightly further east, which was later culverted; and a third (dug in 1631 to improve the scouring of the Ditch) which originally ran above ground from Lensfield Road to St. Andrew’s Street and entered the Close Ditch close to St Andrew’s Church. This channel too is now mostly culverted through runnels survive at two points in St. Andrew’s Street: beside the Post Office, and by the taxi rank opposite Hobson Street. This channel now supplies water for the swimming pool in the Fellow’s garden at Christs.”      

The monument records:

“Andrew Perne, Master of Peterhouse, who first (in 1574) suggested taking water from here into Cambridge, in order to clean out the King’s Ditch, on the southern and eastern edges of the town. The filthy state of the King’s Ditch was seen as being responsible for recent outbreaks of plague in Cambridge.

Thomas Chaplin, Lord of the Manor of Trumpington in 1610, who signed a “tripartite agreement” with the town and the university giving them rights over the newly made watercourse and the soil either side in order to maintain it in good order.

Thomas Hobson, the well known Cambridge carrier (referred to in the phrase Hobson’s choice). When Hobson died in 1631 he bequeathed land so that its income could be used to maintain the supply of water to the market place, for in 1614 some of the water from the original stream had been diverted to the market place where it was used as a public water supply. This splendid portrait of him hangs in the Guildhall in Cambridge.”

 

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The importance of nine wells

The nine wells thus was the city of Cambridge’s sole supply of clean running water for several centuries supplying the King’s ditch and providing a conduit through the streets of the city and providing the Cold Bath or Fellow’s Pool which still survives in Emmanuel College Fellows’ garden which was constructed in 1690 and is claimed to be the oldest swimming pool in the country. As a piped water system was developed the old supply system became less important and finally a modern system was developed although interestingly water is still pumped from this area to supply the city.  Ironically, the flow was sadly much reduced as the water is now extracted at the Babraham Cambridge Water company extraction.

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How many springs are there?

Numerical named springs are not uncommon in England with Seven springs or wells being the commonest, nine wells or springs are rarer. However, it is interesting to note there is a cluster around the Hertfordshire-Cambridgeshire area with a Nine Wells at Hitchin and a Nine Springs at St Paul’s Walden. None have an obvious nine springs so what is the name. One possible is that it has the same derivation as the Noon, a Roman word for ‘fate’ suggesting the springs were possibly used to foretell. This is interesting as the area is also noted for woe waters whose rise and fall were used to predict major events. Does this support the origin? Another possible suggestion is that it derives from a Celtic word meaning ‘bright’. This is supported by the alternative name for the Nine springs at St Paul’s Walden white is also called ‘whytewell’, with ‘whyte’ meaning in Old English ‘white’ as in pure. Furthermore the River Purwell has its source at the Nine springs! The two linked names suggest a considerably coincidence if they were not linked for a reason and suggests it was a way of describing the clearness of the water and hence its purity. Certainly water passing through the chalk is very clear. This seems a more sensible and likely origin. The fact that the springs arise on White hill may also be significant. An alternative maybe that the scholars at the University gave it such a mystical and romantic name.

 

Carshalton hidden holy wells part three – the grotto springs and Bagnio

In the final instalment of the examination of Carshalton’s healing, ancient and holy waters. In the first we examined the Queen Anne Boleyn’s Well and the second a possible holy well with St. Margaret’s Well. In this final instalment I explore what might be the less likeliest of holy wells but certainly not the less interesting.

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The most intriguing nomenclature wise is not terribly picturesque or noted in its history is a dip in Carshalton Park. Often dry, the name Hogpit Pond is interesting. It was first mentioned in the 15th century as Hoggpytte, and is certainly springfed. James Rattue in his Holy Wells of Surrey notes that such sites are often indicative of holy wells. The hog being derived from Old English halig for holy and the pit similarly being an old word for a well or spring. It does appear to have an entry or exit lined by stones. Sadly no legends or traditions are associated with the site to give any indication.

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A more significant site is the Scawen Grotto also found in the park. The grotto once had a statue of Neptune with a marble sea shell basin and was decorated with flint, glass, shells and coral. Although the construction only dates from 1724 it utilised the spring which once provided the source for the river Wandle, a river possibly sacred to the Romans. Flow channels brick lined can be seen under the grotto and to the side.

The next two sites, are located in the grounds of Carshalton House. One of these is an ornamented spring head called the Springhead. This is first recorded on the Arundel Castle Map of the mid-Seventeenth century although clearly it is older. The present structure may either originate from Sir John Fellowes estate improvements of 1716 and the work of landscape architect Charles Bridgeman or the 1690s-1700s work of Edward Carleton or even Dr Radcliffe who purchased it after Carleton. It is recorded that both Radcliffe and Fellowes employed hydrologists being Captain Thomas Savery and George Devall respectively.

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The springhead is made of a wide outer channel leading under the embankment into three narrower inner tunnels parallel in a westerly direction under the lawn and may have continued further, their function is unclear but they may have been involved with a waterfall which water cascading from the tunnels as seen in Chiswick house not that far away. The outer of these tunnels have a small bay set at right angles to the tunnel’s line. The ends are blocked with a mixture of clunch, stone, flint and brick walling. If Bridgeman was involved it is likely that he created a circular pool as a feature in front of the hermitage along with canals. These canals were removed in the mid 18th century and the current Roccoco style lake area was formed and it is possible that the outer tunnel was added as an extension to the original three tunnels bringing water into the air in front of the house and allowed visitors to walk over the spring head at almost water level to the hermitage. The similarity in the flint work of the sham bridge at the other end of the lake to the springhead supports this view. Over time the water table dropped and now the spring rarely fills the lake and in the summer it is mostly dry. The spring head was restored by the Carshalton Water tower trust in 2015.

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The last site was fed by a unique spring fed water tower and is an 18th century bath house lined by deft tiles called a Bagnio. Enclosed with the water house it was erected by Sir John Fellowes by 1721. It was described in 1724 by a John Macky as ‘curious waterworks in Fellowes garden’. Little is known of this plunge pool and no reference is made by Rattue and its first mention is only in 1839. The building pumped water from a spring nearby into a lead tank in the tower which then fed the bath. The original engine was replaced many years ago and only partial remains of mid-19th century water wheel survive in the wheel pit which can be seen. The bath itself is sunk below a marble floor to a depth of 1.37m and is lined with plain tiles, it has a marble floor and is reached by marble steps. under which are hidden lead inflow and outflow pipes It measures an area of 3.28m by 2.58. How it was heated is unclear as no hot water system survives however it may have simply functioned as a cold bath. Now water is found in the bath and has not for some time it would appear. Its secrets and stories are yet to be discovered in a suburb full of fascinating water history.

 

The Everlasting Well of Papillon Hall, Leicestershire

One of the most fascinating lost Leicestershire holy wells was St. Mary’s Well or Everlasting well – although there is no clear evidence they are one and the same I should add but it is more than likely. Why is it more fascinating than most? It was because it was associated with David Papillon, said to be a local mystic.

Who was David Papillon?

David Papillon (1691-1762) was great-grandson of the builder of Papillon Hall, locally he was called Pamps and stories state he had psychic powers and that he had the power to bewitch people with his ‘evil eye’. One local tale tells how he criticised two farm labourers for ploughing a field poorly and so mesmerized them so they could not move all day and only released them at the end!.. As a result villagers made the sign of the cross in dough when baking bread to protect them.  It is not clear how he used the well but it was probably thought he cast spells over it!

Holy well come evil well?

Pen Lloyd 1977, in their The History of the Mysterious Papillon Hall, Market Harborough, notes:

“A chalybeate spring in the grounds used to be known as St Mary’s Well”

The site of the Hall was thought to have been on  the site of a Leper colony established by Leicester Abbey. Another name of this was the “Everlasting Well”, which was reported to be David Papillon’s magic well, which was supposed to possess great medicinal virtue. In my research for my Holy wells and Healing springs of Leicestershire volume I aimed to discover if the site survived and what remained of it.

History of the well

The first account is John Nichols (1795–1815) in his The History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester:

“within a few yards of the Welland… in a stone cistern, formerly in some repute for weak eyes’

But he fails to suggest its name or refer to it in reference to David Papillon. Lloyd (1877) records an account by a Mr Walker, a previous owner of the Hall, who had a fragment of the well cover which still showed a P and one of the butterflies from the coat of arms. He gave it to Pelham Papillon who lived in Sussex in 1908 and the stone was supposed to have been built into a stone wall in the garden at Catsfield Place. Why it was given away is unclear and perhaps suggests at this time the well itself had become derelict and being removed. Whatever,   it is also reported that he experienced some misfortune followed and he was forced to return it. However, where it is now is unclear.

What happened to the well?

In Old Pamp and the Slippers of Papillon Hall by David Allen or Lubenham.org.uk states:

“around 13 years ago (1988). It was at this point I decided to take a closer look…… I was surprised at what was still standing including……… the remains of St Mary’s well”

So it would appear it probably survived when Bob Trubshaw was recording it in his 1990 Holy wells of Leicestershire. No photo or drawing exists of the well that I can find but it must have been large enough to have a slab over it or on its enclosing wall.

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Does the Everlasting Well last today?

Contacting a Mrs Barbara Burbidge, Secretary of the Lubenham Heritage Group I was informed that the well no longer existed. She also informed me of a local man called Bernard remembered when his parents and many others would get water because the mineral content was supposed to have therapeutic healing powers. Bernard’s mother used it to bathe her eyes. Even Jack Gardiner the famous boxer from Market Harborough is reported to have used it after his fights to help him recover.

She continued by informing me:

“Unfortunately I can verify that  the well itself was removed several years ago and when I visited the site about five years ago doing research on Papillon Hall, all that remained was a slight staining in the ground and a few pieces of brick and rubble. I expect ploughing in the field in subsequent years has removed even those traces.”

According to Mrs Burbidge the well was situated about a mile to the west of Lubenham and south of what is now the A4304. The site can be found by following an avenue of trees from the road (opposite the entrance to Papillon Hall Farm and Branfield Residential Park) towards the River Welland. As you approach the river, turn left into an arable field and the well was in that corner of the field. Following those instructions I could not find any evidence and it looks like the Everlasting well lasts no more.

300th Post – the original Pixy Led well, Fitz’s well, Dartmoor

 

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It’s great to record that this is the 300th post of this holy well blog and as this month is also its 8th Birthday I thought it would be worth making it clear why the posts are by Pixyled Publications or more precisely why Pixy led! What does this mean and why is it used? Well for this 300th blog post and on the blog’s 8th birthday I felt it was appropriate to describe the well where the term is most commonly associated with. This is Fitz’s Well laying in the desolate moors of Dartmoor at Princetown overlooking its foreboding prison. Charles Hope in his 1893 Legendary lore of holy wells aptly explains:

John Fitz, of Fitzford, near Tavistock, who was one day riding with his wife, lost his way on the moor. After wandering in vain to find the right path, being thirsty and fatigued, he at last found a delicious spring of water, whose powers seemed to be miraculous, for no sooner had he partaken thereof than he was enabled to trace his steps correctly homewards.”

Getting lost was often thought to be due to elemental spirits and Hope continues to note:

“John Fitz erected the memorial stone marked I. F., 1568, which, with a few other slabs of granite, protects it, for the advantage of all pixy-led travellers.”

Image may contain: outdoor and natureComically Sabine Baring Gould in his 1899 Book of Devon recorded that when he came to the well in the 19th century, some of his party including officers from the Ordnance Survey complete with their surveying equipment went astray in the mist and were completely lost. He noted:

“pixy-led out of pure mischief to show how superior the pixies were even to the most scientific equipment.”

However, you may still ask what does Pixy-led mean? British novelist Anna Eliza Bray first recorded the Pixy or Pixie in her 1837 The Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy. It was recorded that Pixies would enjoy the prank of leading people astray and getting them lost. Thus the terms pixy led or rather amusingly for modern ears, pixilated, meant someone lost on a familiar route which lead to a state of confusion or bewilderment. If one thought they would be pixy led they would turn their coats inside out.

Hope goes on to describe the site as:

about 3 feet deep, and lies in a swamp near the remains of an ancient bridge, or clam, the bridge being partly swept away by a flood in 1873”.

Sabine Baring-Gould notes:

Fice’s Well, which I remember in the midst of moor, is now included within the new take of the prisons, and a wall has been erected to protect it. This deprives it of much of its charm.”

In 1826 an engraving by P. H. Rogers shows no sign of the enclosure wall. This must have been built by the prison’s intake post this date and before Baring Gould’s visit. The Field Investigators of State Environment in the 1954 note:

A well constructed granite dipping chamber of drystone masonry. Internally it is 0.8m. square and 0.8m. high with a slab roof and a lintel over the open S side bearing the initials “IF” for John Fice and the date 1568. The well is enclosed by a circular protection wall, probably of much later date, and access is by steps over the wall which effectively precludes a photograph of the build.”

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Confusingly, Okehampton and Tavistock also have Fitz’s well, although only the former could claim to have a position which might match the legend, but these are for another blog post perhaps. Finally, apart from removing the powers of the Pixy or as Sabine Gould calls it ‘Pixy glamour’ in an account obviously borrowed from Hope, it is also said to have:

“possess many healing virtues”.

No authority says what.

Today the well is a lot easier to find following the footpath from the road but I have only visited it on a warm and clear summer’s day. One could still imagine the Pixies would be about on a cold and misty November.

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An East Kent Field Trip

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

ALDINGTON

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

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

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

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

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

APPLEDORE

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

BILSINGTON

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

GREAT CHART

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

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

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

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

In search of the healing and ancient wells and springs of Folkestone part one – The holy well

The seaside Kent town of Folkestone has three notable water sites The first is perhaps the commonest picture postcard available and there are several versions as can be seen here. This is surprising as the site is not particularly well known or celebrated. Indeed its’ provenance may be perhaps a little dubious.  This is the Holy Well or St. Thomas’s Well (TR 221 382) is. Its first description by S. J. Mackie in their 1856 Handbook of Folkestone gives the greatest detail and describes the scene around the well:

“Whence we look down its sheep trodden sides into the deep dell, where, sheltered by the rank rushes lie the dark un-ruffled waters of Holy Well. Do these raise tracings on the grass cover the remains of some lonely hermitage. The Country people tell you something about the pilgrims to Becket’s Shrine, it is called also St. Thomas’s Well, resting here on their way to Canterbury.”

Watt (1917) in discussion of the town notes in Canterbury Pilgrims and their ways:

“..also on the hills above it we have St. Thomas’s Well, but such are scattered all over the district.”

Samuel J Mackie records in 1856 A description and historical account of Folkestone

“Sheltered by the rank rushes lie the dark waters of Holy Well Do those raised tracings in the grass cover the remains of some hermitage The country people tell you about the pilgrims to Becket’s shrine it is called St Thomas’s Well resting here on their way to Canterbury I confess it seems to me slightly out of road but there it is and all I can tell about it is there is nothing now to be told.”                           

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In the 1865 an illustrated hand-book to Folkestone and its picturesque neighbourhood by H Stock

“A short distance from this to the immediately at the bottom of Sugar Loaf Hill a remarkable spring of beautiful water known as Well or St Thomas’s Well Why so called saith not By some it is thought that it was resting place of the pious souls who worshipped shrine at Canterbury but how those worthies here cannot be conjectured It is now used as sheepwash”.

This latter point would explain the odd concrete structure, now lost, seen in some postcards.

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In the 1925 Wonderful Britain by John Alexander Hammerton he noted:

“Folkestone’s Holy Well, sometimes called St. Thomas’s well…the old highway to Canterbury runs close by and tradition says that pilgrims to the shrine of St Thomas a Becket used to drink here and that Henry II himself did so when he went to do penance at the Cathedral whose Archbishop he had murdered and martyred.”

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When visiting in the 1990s the information board states that the name holy well is a modern name for these springs, and 80 years ago one was called St. Thomas’s Well but the account above disagrees. There appears to be some confusion over the site. Consequently it is difficult to pinpoint the exact site. I was informed by a local in his late 60s that, when he was a boy, the second now dry spring was called Holy Well. The spring arose in a deep gully, now covered with bramble and heavily eroded at the source. However, continuing the path around to the base of the hill, one comes across a large pool, fed by all the springs. This is the site called the Holy Well on an early 1900s postcard. So perhaps there were two sites after all?

When William Parsons of the excellent British Pilgrimage Trust visited the site was largely overgrown and derelict as can be seen here in 2016, he repairing it with some stones found around which may have been part of the original structure.

Next time we shall be exploring Folkestone’s attempt to develop a spa.

 

The sacred landscape of Ilam Staffordshire – the Holy Well of St Bertram, his shrine and cave

Just a small distance from the highly visited Dovedale is a sacred landscape of hermitage, holy well and shrine. Ilam boasts a rarity in England a largely intact shrine with its foramina (holes in which the pilgrim could insert ailing limbs and get closer to the holy person). The shrine is that of Beorhthelm or Bertelin, Bettelin or more commonly Bertram. The patron saint of the county town of Staffordshire, Stafford.

Who was Bertram?

Bertram is an interesting local saint, dating from around the 7th-8th century in what was the Mercia. Briefly, he is said to be of Royal Irish lineage but after making a princess pregnant, escaped to England where he sheltered in the woods around Ilam.  The story is told by Alexander, a monk, in the 13th century who notes:

“They were in hiding in a dense forest when lo ! the time of her childbirth came upon them suddenly ; born of pain and river of sorrow!  A pitiful child bed indeed!  While Bertellinus went out to get the necessary help of a midwife the woman and her child breathed their last amid the fangs of wolves. Bertellinus on his return imagined that this calamity had befallen because of his own sin, and spent three days in mourning rites”.

As a result he became a hermit living in a cave in the valley near Ilam.  Despite the earliest mention being Plot, the local geography is suggestive that this is the site of an early Christian hermitage site, although no mention of a well is noted in his legends it can be noted. The cave itself still exists but reaching it appears to be problematic. Only being accessible when the river Manifold dries which suggests a very useful hermitage site. However, it is worth noting that some accounts have the cave being Thor’s cave further up. Perhaps this is significant as it suggests a Christianisation of a pagan site.

Two wells?

One well up on the hillside has perhaps the greatest provena is surrounded on four sides by varying low stone walling, about two feet or so at its highest (although it appears to have been built up and down over the time I have visited the well).  The spring flows from a small, less than a foot square chamber, enclosed in stone and set into the bank through a channel in the rubble flow and out along the path towards it.

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Since the 1990s, on the first Saturday in August, the Orthodox Church makes a pilgrimage to the site and blesses the well.

Interestingly, literature available from the National Trust shop fails to mention this well, but notes a more substantial second St Bertram’s Well. This is close by the church and surrounded by a rectangular stone wall with steps down, the water arises here at greater speed and flows into the nearby River Manifold. Visually it is more impressive and more accessible but whether there is any long tradition of this second well is unclear, but authors such as the Thompsons’s (2004) The Water of Life: Springs and Wells of Mainland Britain and Bord (2008) Holy Wells of Britain appear to have fostered its reputation.

Little is recorded of the wells, but Browne (1888) in his An Account of the Three Ancient Cross Shafts, the Font, and St Bertram’s Shrine, at Ilam, noted that the ash had gone, but the water was still being used.  He states that:

“The late Mrs Watts Russell always had her drinking water from it.”

Since the 1990s, on the first Saturday in August, the Orthodox Church makes a pilgrimage to the site and blesses the well.  Interestingly, literature available from the

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Sacred tree

More is recorded is rather curious. Plot (1686) in his The Natural History of Stafford-Shire, the earliest reference of this fascinating site and he records that a

“St Bertram’s Ash… grows over a spring which bears the name of the same Saint… The common people superstitiously believe, that tis very dangerous to break a bough from it: so great a care has St Bertram of his Ash to this very day.  And yet they have not so much as a Legend amongst them, either of this Saint’s miracles, or what he was; onely that he was Founder of their Church”

Such ash trees are commonly associated with holy wells. It is worth noting that in North myth, the sacred Yggdrasil was an ash tree associated with divination and knowledge. In some places rags would be tied to such trees but no such record exists here. By the late 1800s as noted in A general collection of voyages and travels digested by a J. Pinkerton in 1808 that the:

“Ash tree growing over it which the country people used hold in great veneration and think it dangerous to break a bough from or his in the church which are mentioned by Plot I did not hear of it at the village.”

Thus suggesting by that time it had gone by this time

A final observation is that in the 1800s a Roman relic found there:

“In the parish of Ilam near the spring called St Bertram’s there was found an instrument of brass somewhat resembling only larger a lath hammer at the edge end but not so the other This Dr Plot has described in the XXIII Tab 6 This he takes to have been the head of a Roman Securis which the Papoe slew their sacrifices.”

Does this suggest that sacrifices were made at the spring by the Romans?