In Search of Holy Wells

by Janet & Colin Bord

When we began researching a book on holy wells. we had no idea how many wells had survived in England, Wales and Scotland to the present day. We knew that in Ireland many wells were still actively visited and the old rituals performed, but this did not seem to be the case elsewhere, and chances were that neglect had meant the disappearance of most holy wells. We knew from experience that even wells marked on the Ordnance Survey map proved impossible to find on the ground in many cases, and so we were not expecting many to have survived. In the event, we were pleasantly surprised to learn how many wells have not only survived but have been tidied up and restored by responsible local people with a sense of history. Admittedly most of these wells are no longer visited by pilgrims and being unused they have an aura of sadness and neglect despite a tidy appearance – it is the wells which are both cared for and used which are the most exciting to visit.

It is to be hoped that 1985 marks an upturn in the fortunes of British holy wells. With the formation of the very welcome Holy Wells Research & Preservation Group and the publication of our book Sacred Waters more people will become aware of this largely ignored aspect of our heritage. Among them we hope will be people keen to rediscover and restore their local wells. Is it too much to hope that we might build a network of holy well enthusiasts throughout Britain so that the situation in each county is researched and a complete listing of the surviving holy wells prepared? Ruth and Frank Morris have already after years of hard work produced a book Scottish Healing Wells (excluding the islands) and Francis Jones’s classic The Holy Wells Of Wales lists most of the wells known to have existed there, but without noting which are lost and which still survive. In England, some individual counties have already been the subject of close attention. The gazetteer in our book lists around 200 surviving wells in Britain and Ireland, but we know they represent only a small percentage; we look forward to the day when a complete gazetteer of this kind can be published.


Text © Janet & Colin Bord (1985)

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