Holy Wells in Yorkshire – 6
by Edna Whelan
Ell Well, Bainton (SE 9561 5222)
This name is thought to be a contraction of ‘Elf Well’, meaning Fairy Well. Rev. Smith in 1923 says ‘This well is situated on the Glebe and at one time was felt by the people of Bainton to be the best of all their several springs. It was then a large, nicely kept pool with many willows growing round it but now the people who lived near it are gone and their houses demolished and the well almost deserted.’ The well is certainly deserted now and lies in the middle of farmland, but is still bordered by five or six willows and surrounded by a profusion of tall grasses and wild flowers. ‘No tradition lingers with regard to it,’ says Rev. Smith, ‘save that found in its name, but it is interesting to note that Torre records a burial in Bainton church of a fifteenth century Rector “against the Holy water-pot” which pot would most probably have been supplied from Eli Well.’ The well features as a terminal point of a ley.
Hessleskew Well, Market Weighton (SE 9263 4047)
There is no mistaking this well as it lies in an area of ploughed, almost hedgeless, agricultural land and with a tall elder marking the spot it stands out in the landscape. The name of the area is Old Garths but how long ago the Garths disappeared is anyone’s guess. Less than a mile away is the famous Arras Barrow Cemetery of the La Tene period but there is not a trace of a mound to be seen above the ground today.
The well beside the elder is covered over with wooden sleepers for about four square yards but there is the sound of running water and to drop a small stone through a chink in the sleepers is to hear it splash into water a few feet down. With the intensive ploughing and monoculture around no-one can tell what the well was like even a hundred years ago, and now only the name (shared by the nearby farm and surrounding area) remains. This well is also the terminal point of a ley.
Fogglesyke Spring, Millington (SE 8269 5765)
This named spring lies 400 yards west of Millington village and emerges from level grassland. Cattle drink from its water and so it can be very trampled and muddy, but still the running water makes a clear channel through the quaggy patch. A few yards below, the flow of its water has been fenced around, and here there is a great abundance of trees, shrubs and tall thickly-growing reeds and bulrushes, a delightful picture.
The name Fogglesyke has some purposeful meaning as the word ‘fogle’ is slang for a pocket handkerchief and maybe we can translate this into the suggestion that this was once a place where rags were tied to a tree. The well is the terminal point of an alignment from St James Church, Nunburnbolme.
Ludhill Spring, Warter (SE 8696 4990)
Only a short step from Lady Spring at Warter (Source 7 [First Series]) we find another spring with an ancient name, Lud. Was this spring once connected with the pagan God Llud-Nuatha, or Nodens? There are a few remaining stones around the spring. The strong stream which issues from it pours into the same beck which takes the flow of water from Lady Spring. The whole of this woodland area is redolent of ancient worship and water lore.
Bellerby’s Spring, Millington (SE 8319 5120)
Another named spring which flows vigorously from the foot of the chalk slope above it, in a charming valley to the south of Millington village. Cattle and sheep graze here and take advantage of the clear spring water, but not many people pause, on the narrow lane above, to watch its sparkling dancing way down to the stream which fills the bottom of the valley. No traditions or medicinal qualities known.
Thulla Spring, Millington (SE 8323 5198)
Many ancient wells and named springs emerge from hillsides, and Thulla Spring is no exception. The hillside it runs from is part of Thulla Hill and on that hill is the site of a Roman temple to Diana. The name Thulla seems to have a Norse ring to it, but if there is any connection between Thulla Spring and the Temple of Diana, the spring itself holds the secret.
In two slightly separate places the water runs slowly at first from the base of the hill, beside a group of bushes and trees, but then gains a steadier flow, crosses beneath a bridle road leading downhill, and tumbles through a miniature ravine between large blocks of stone. At the bottom of the hill there once stood an old mill. The modernised mill house remains, and the mill dam which held the water to turn the wheel. Several alignments end at Thulla Spring.
St Helen’s Well, Kirkby Overblow (SE 3238 4920)
This well was previously featured in Source 3 (First Series), and erroneously stated to be a dry, stone trough. Nothing could better illustrate the importance of actually visiting each well personally, because on doing so, with Ian Taylor and Mark Valentine, it was discovered from enquiring at the nearby St Helen’s cottage that the well is hidden away in the corner of a recess a few yards back from the road and next to the cottage. Two steps lead down into an outer chamber and well house containing an inner stone trough full of clear water. The well is kept reasonably clear by the owner of the cottage, although it is actually on council land. The entrance to the well is being rapidly overgrown by a cotoneaster, and the council have been asked to attend to it.
The guide to the nearby All Saints’ church states that the waters of the well never fail and have medicinal properties. It says: ‘From pagan times it must have been associated with fertility rites and the track between it and Almscliffe Crag, which lowers on the horizon, must have been well worn for that too was a pagan place of worship, high and lifted up.’ The church has a St Helen’s chapel but the well doubtless predates the church.
Bird Well, Kirkby Overblow (SE 3228 4920)
About 100 yards to the west of St Helen’s Well, and on the same side of the road, lies Bird Well. The water runs into a trough which, when we visited, had recently been cleaned out. A big frog jumped in as we watched. Across the road is Bird Well House; a lady living there remembered catching frogs at the well as a child, but knew of no healing properties or traditions attached to it. To her knowledge, however, it never runs dry. The only intimation we had of this well was the name Birdwell Farm. on the O.S. map.
Wareholes Well, Kirkby Overblow (SE 3133 4953)
This lies in at the top of a beautiful small valley in a natural and uncultivated hillside, and once more was discovered only by map reading. The fact that it is named suggests some significance, but also its very atmosphere prompted thoughts of ancient sanctity. Water from the hillside is caught and held in a large, very deep stone trough which is very clean and may possibly receive attention from local people. Other stones are set in the ground before the well. Hawthorn and elder trees grow nearby. The quietness of the place invites one to linger and seems timeless. However, an old boundary stone dated 1767 stands on top of the slope above, a witness to time gone by.
Snape Well, Kirkby Overblow (SE 3070 4984)
The only place that this well could be by its siting on the map is under a fallen crack willow. Here beneath the rampant undergrowth could be seen water flowing from a spring but there were no evident signs of kerb or other stone work. The amount of lush growth which can quickly cover a well is very evident from past experience and short of using a hacksaw to clear away, if possible, the fallen willow, nothing could be done to find the exact source of the water. The well is marked on the O.S. map, and nearby is Low Snape Farm.
Many thanks are due to Andy Roberts of Brighouse for the help given to me in handing over his invaluable notes on Yorkshire holy wells. Thanks are also due to Ian and Rosi Taylor for all the help they continue to give in searching out the wells.
Text & Illustrations © Edna Whelan (1988)
Designed & Maintained by Richard L. Pederick (© 1999) | Created 23/12/99