Notes & Queries

compiled by Mark Valentine

New Well Dressing Festival

From Friday September 19th to Sunday September 21st this year (1986), the well in the churchyard of St Michael’s, Longstanton, Cambridgeshire, is to be part of a ‘dressing’ ceremony and flower festival to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the first appointment of a Rector of the other village church of All Saints’. A local resident and member of the Parochial Church Council is organising the dressing of the well, with the help of the village Gardeners’ Club. As the well resembles the better-known one at Holywell, near St Ives, the assistance of the well-dressers there is being sought.

Mr A.E. Brown, the local resident involved, also intends to restore the iron railings which originally enclosed the steps down to the well, for the safety of children. The church of St Michael is a charming small church, with a thatched roof. It is cared for by the Redundant Churches Fund, but the churchyard is the responsibility of the Parochial Church Council. Furthermore, any work on the well requires permission from the District Council, because it is a listed ancient monument. The age of the well is not known but it is thought to have been respected for many centuries. The church is mainly of the 1230 period. The well canopy is Victorian and was probably added when extensive rebuilding of the Chancel was undertaken in 1884.

Members of the Holy Wells Group are welcome to attend the Festival and visit the newly-dressed well.


Bisley Well Dressing, 1986

From Kevin Lock

Bisley, Gloucestershire, is about four miles from Stroud. It holds its well dressing ceremony every year on Ascension Day (see Source 2). The Seven Wells gush from a hillside into a lane in the village via a system of spouts set in a semi-circular stone enclosure, which has weathered nicely and looks like it might have been there for ever. In fact, both the current structure of the wells and the ceremony itself date back little’ over 120 years, and owe everything to the Revd. Thomas Keble, who became vicar of Bisley in 1827. He appears to have been one of those Victorian worthies blessed with unlimited energy and ideas. Apart from a programme of building and restoration around his church and local school, he channelled the wells into their present form and introduced the well dressing in 1863…. it appears to have been his idea entirely, rather than a revival of an earlier local custom.

The ceremony started with a church service, after which a procession wound its way down to the wells, led by a brass band, schoolchildren bearing garlands of flowers, the vicar and church officials, all followed by the general public. At the well the garlands are placed around the enclosure and when all were in place they were seen to read ‘Ascension Day 1986’. A short outdoor service is then held, lessons are read, the wells are blessed, hymns are sung, and the procession then retraced its steps, leaving the onlookers (about 200, I’d estimate) to drift away or stay and admire the dressed wells at close quarters.


Text  © Mark Valentine & Kevin Lock respectively (1986)

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