Holy Well, St Michael’s Churchyard, Longstanton, Cambridgeshire
by Phyllis Brown
Readers may be interested to have further details of this well, which as mentioned in Source (First Series) issue 5, was restored and dressed for the first time in September 1986.
While working on the repairs to the well, Mr A.E. Brown discovered that the roofing bricks of the canopy were, in fact. 400 year old brick floor tiles. Replacements for damaged tiles were obtained from a wonderful yard we are fortunate to have in Cambridgeshire where old bricks, tiles, stones (and even complete staircases etc.) can be found, removed from demolished houses of all types and all periods. Although we believe the Victorians probably built the well canopy they must have incorporated in it much old material. We also have pieces of old mill stone in the steps leading down to the well. There was a mill a short distance away from the Well, until the eighteenth century, when it blew away in a gale. The mill stones have been used for the entrance to the churchyard gate also. Mr Brown found the well to be quite shallow, and apparently fed from an underground stream or spring. An old map showed this stream on the surface around the well area, but it cannot be found now. During the summer months the water level varied considerably, sometimes becoming very low indeed. As the well is beneath a huge chestnut tree it was full of leaves and debris, and this and lots of house bricks were removed. Luckily, some of the well’s missing stones were also found. Mr Brown re-gravelled the well bottom and tidied up the site generally. He used the old type mortar mix for his repairs, and painted the new roof tiles with a liquid fertiliser to encourage moss and lichen growth. These tiles, six months later, blend in well with the rest.
As a few pieces of the original railings were still in existence it was possible to have them copied exactly by a local blacksmith. The well now has a fine set of new railings with a double gate across the steps, plus a grille across the well front. This grille will help prevent leaves and debris from choking the well in future. Our local council’s conservation committee were most helpful, and when the planning department had passed the plans, and the work had been inspected and approved, they made a grant of fifty percent of the cost. The village found the remainder by fund-raising events.
During the Festival weekend, Mr Brown met an elderly lady who said her mother had been baptised in the well one hundred years ago. Within living memory water has been taken from the well for use in the church font, for baptisms. On the opening day of the Festival, the Rector of Longstanton blessed the well and schoolchildren sang songs with water as their theme. About nine hundred people visited the well during the Festival. I wonder how that compares with the famous Derbyshire well-dressings?
Text © Phyllis Brown (1987)
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