Some Wells in the South and West – 2
by James Rattue
Abbot’s Well, Frogham, Hants. (SZ 179 129)
Seen 19th February 1986.
South-east of Fordingbridge is the small village of Frogham, set among trees, straddling a winding road – very lovely! This road finally terminates in a series of tracks leading across the heath towards the New Forest, and just south of the road at this point, set in the centre of a puddle of cow and horse dung, are a pair of springs. One of these is a small bucket-sized pool of water lined by rotting wooden’ slats, open to the elements – and other things; the other is Abbot’s Well.
On gingerly lifting the wooden lid of the Well, a brick-lined cube of very clear water was revealed, about 2’x2’x2′. It could be most picturesque, set as it is under the trees in such lovely countryside, but there was nothing around to claim the Well as a Holy one, nor any indication as to its nature or history.
I have only found one reference to Abbot’s Well as yet – it is shown on a map, but not mentioned in the text, in Local Papers Archaeological and Topographical Hants-Dorset-Wiltshire by the great Heywood Sumner (Chiswick Press, 1931). There is therefore no indication who the Abbot was, why he has a Well devoted to him, and whether the Well has any special properties or legends.
St Michael’s Well, Sopley, Hants. (SZ 157 969)
Seen 29th June 1986.
The Well is easy to find; if you walk up the lane from the church away from it and the mill, and over the small bridge across the river, the well can be seen on the east side of the B3347 on the right of the gateway of the Bible College. This is quite an impressive structure consisting of red-brick steps leading down to a basin filled with mud, leaves and a little water, into which the water dribbles from the metal head of some fabulous animal. The whole is surmounted by a red-brick arch, part of the wall of the college, on the rear of which is a stone plaque inscribed with a drawing of Christ with another figure; on either side of this are the Alpha and Omega signs, the former almost invisible. The water itself as it issues from the head is very clear and, as far as I could judge from the taste, chalybeate.
The church of St Michael and All Angels is rather unusual and is well worth a visit, the best feature for me being the little statue of St Michael above the door. During the Saxon era, the church was endowed by (among others) Earl Godwin, Harold II’s father; in the Middle Ages, the entire area was included in the gigantic parish of Twynham (Christchurch Priory) which stretched from Poole to Lymington and as far inland as Ringwood. Oddly, the Church Guidebook has no reference to the holy well, which at a glance I would guess was built around the same time as the College. The structure could be of more modern foundation but surely the chalybeate nature of its waters suggests the spring itself was of ancient sanctity.
St Mary’s Well, Burley Street, Hants. (SU 205 041)
Seen 28th July 1986.
From the central crossroads in Burley take the minor road which runs north towards Burley Street, and the third turning on the right is Tyrell Lane. After about 150 yards the lane forks and you must then take the left fork on foot. This leads to a bridleway, very muddy when visited and not far along this is a Well, on the right.
St Mary’s, or Lady Well, is a sort of dirty hole set into the ground enclosed by red bricks, which give it at least a little respectability. The Well is about two feet across and 15 inches deep; the water is clear but infested with water fleas, and it overflows from the Well to form a stream feeding the Ober Water. There are innumerable streams around, none particularly memorable. The bridleway goes on to join up with a road which goes past a house called Heron’s Pool, but I do not suggest attempting to reach it from that side. A couple of branches had fallen into the Well, which we removed.
I only discovered this Well from a notice in the awful, Victorian red-brick, Burley Church, which spoke of ‘a spring known as Lady Well on the outskirts of an area called Chapel Hayes where the ruins of a medieval chapel have been found’ (paraphrase). The area was apparently owned by the Manor House at one time. Opposite the Tyrell Lane bridleway entrance is Lady-well Cottage, the owner of which kindly gave us directions and told us of a theory that the name was originally ‘Ladle Well’. I am also grateful to the owner of the Burley Gallery who found Chapel Hayes for us, and to the owner of the Farm Shop at Chapel Hayes who told us of a local man living in the last house on the left as you approach the Well, who has tried to have the Well cleared up.
St Catherine’s Well, Exbury, Hants. (SU 422 007)
Seen 2nd November 1986.
The Well is situated in Exbury Gardens, west of Exbury village. The Gardens are well signposted and there are maps at the entrance and along the paths at strategic positions. The spring is in the northern half of the grounds, at the head of a small stream with ponds and little waterfalls; it consists of a pipe set in a bank at the head of a channel, emitting clear but sluggish water. The gardens are closed from October-March and it was only through the kindness of the attendant at the Plant Centre that we were able to visit the spring. The saint (spelt with a ‘K’) is the patron of Exbury and its Church. There is also a St Mary’s Well in the gardens (SY 422 997) not yet visited.
Abbot’s/Monk’s Well, Hilltop, Beaulieu, Hants. (SU 397 030)
Seen 2nd November 1986.
From Beaulieu take the B3054 towards Hythe and Dibden Purlieu; before the road to Exbury there is a turning on the left with signs reading ‘Abbey Spring’ and ‘Abbott’s (sic.) Well’. Follow this road and the first turning on the right after the tennis court leads to the Well. This is a large building about 15-20 feet long all overgrown and covered by an earth mound. There is an entrance arch of large stones, sealed by a metal grille. Inside may be glimpsed pipes, wheels and pumps, but although the Well itself is dry the water runs all around and there are numerous shafts covered by slabs which give access to the water. There is a curious smell to the water and I have a terrible feeling it is in some way connected with sewage. The Abbot was, I suppose, the Abbot of Beaulieu nearby, but I have found no legends attached to the Well. It is marked as ‘Monk’s Well’ on the 1:25,000 map.
Buckland Spring, Lymington, Hants. (SY 313 967)
Seen 2nd November 1986.
Take the A337 from Lymington to Brockenhurst/Lyndhurst and then a minor road on the left just north of the town before the roundabout, which leads towards Sway. Keep a look out for Buckland Rings Cottage on the right; directly opposite is a little wood, on the western side of which is a long ditch, dry when visited, which runs along the wood and continues along the edge of a field via a built-up pipe. This appears to be all that remains of the Buckland Spring, the water of which was used to cure eye diseases. I must emphasise that this site is anything but a certain one. It was (on the map at least) the only feature resembling a spring anywhere in the vicinity; of course it may be a common-or-garden drainage ditch, but its proximity to the ‘hillfort’ of Buckland Rings does suggest something more. The actual source must be somewhere in the little wood. Perhaps it would be better to seek access to this spot via the farm to the south as the way through the wood is only for the highly motivated.
All Saints’ Well, Hordle, Hants. (SZ 269 923)
Sought 28th September 1986.
This site is just east of the entrance lodge of Hordle House School just off the B3058. The lodge has been enlarged twice in the last 20 years (this from the helpful owner) and the Well, which was still in existence in the 1960s, has now been covered over. The ruins of the ancient All Saints’ Church are across the road and this Well must have been a ‘patron well’ which served the Church. All Saints’ stood from 1080 to 1830 when the site was moved inland to the modern Hordle village; many graves survive. There are other old wells at the Tudor Manor House, but none are noted. The guardian of this Well appears to be a great black and orange cat with one golden paw, which we encountered sunning himself proudly on a gravestone. Note that the sanctity of this well is only surmised, from its position near the church; there is no recorded authority for this.
Other Hampshire Wells
Hope records St Clare’s Well, Soberton (marked on the O.S.), St Mary’s Well, Steep, St Mary’s Well, Sheet, Water Cross Well, at Waterwell Cross, Holy Bourne spring, Holybourne (described by the Bords), and St Jacob’s, Hensting – I have not yet found Hensting on any map! There is also a holy well in Winchester Cathedral crypt.
Text & Illustration © James Rattue (1986)
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