Notes and Queries

compiled by Mark Valentine

Canker Well, Ilkley, Yorkshire

From The Guardian, 09/01/1986.

The Guardian reports that Canker Well, the spring feeding Ilkley, Yorkshire, once of great repute medicinally, has re-emerged 100 yards from it’s original site after years of neglect; ‘once more visitors will be able to drink the chilly chalybeate water in the shade of the town’s only walnut tree’ as the the Council will channel it through a plastic pipe.


Response to the Orthodox News Editorial

From Barry Millard in response to the Orthodox News editorial on holy wells.

“Wells, healing and holy, are here for the use of. Not simply for ‘the glory of God’ nor as an outstanding example of antiquity’. This is not to say that folklorists shouldn’t investigate wells or their legends, and Christians shouldn’t recognise the hand of God in the holiness of them. It is just that they should realise the origins and functions of these places. Wells were worshipped for their healing properties and for their abundance during times of drought. Wells were attended and cared for, the spirit of the well being recognised as another aspect of the Earth Mother, the Great Goddess. Wells are here, now and alive today, some are neglected. some hidden away, all are alive and just waiting to be renewed with energy. Get in touch with the spirit of the waters and the surrounding area, use the waters’ healing power and, in taking from the well, give back something – an offering of flowers, energy or love. To be touched by the presence of Bride/ Brigid is a beautiful experience and it is open to anyone who is open to it. All this doesn’t apply just to wells, but to all holy places, be they mounds, standing stones, mazes, trees, any ancient place of worship that have throughout time been usurped by the newer religion of Christianity or encased in Victorian-style spiritless collections of antiques and curios.

The editorial in Orthodox News spoke of “a duty to see that water is used to promote Christianity rather than folklorist superstition” and cautioned against “the rebirth of indigenous forms of superstition and occult beliefs”. Superstition in my experience is usually based on half-forgotten facts and it seems that Christians always assume that belief in older religions has died out. This is not so. And most occult practice has very little to do with holy wells.

I’ve been to Christian “well-dressing” ceremonies where no-one knew the actual location of the well they were supposed to be venerating, if one existed. At Whitwell they have a well-dressing at a stand-pump and at Rowsley they dress a horse-trough! But when all is said and done, please remember that all gods are but one God, and all goddesses but the one true Goddess.’

[I have not reproduced the brief review of the Orthodox News periodical which was (and maybe still is) the newsletter of the St George Orthodox Information Service which originally appeared in Source (First Series) Issue 3 in this archive. Essentially, in the words of Mark Valentine ‘….[the editorial] acknowledges that “holy wells….have been places of worship time out of mind”, reasserts “Christian belief in miracles associated with the saints and holy wells”, proposes that there is “a duty to see that water is used to promote Christianity rather than folklorist superstition” and cautions against “the rebirth of our indigenous forms of superstition and occult beliefs”‘. So now you know! – RLP].


Spas Interest

From Alan Cleaver.

Alan Cleaver reports on a recent upsurge of interest in spas, many of which have their origins in ancient holy or healing springs;

‘Business people led by Earl and Countess Spencer are restoring many of Britain’s spas in the hope of attracting tourists and clients seeking help from their therapeutic powers. The Grand Metropolitan group has just spent £3.5 million on restoring the brine baths at Droitwich and other spas are reviving in Bath, Buxton, Cheltenham, Harrogate, Matlock and elsewhere. The Earl told the British Tourist Board, “Britain’s spas far from being relegated to the realm of half-forgotten nostalgia, are re-emerging as an important factor in this health and fitness era.”

A British Spas Federation has been formed, and proceeds from the book The Spencers on Spas (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £9.95) will go towards refurbishing spas.’


Text  © Mark Valentine (1986)

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