Some Wells in the South and West – 5

by James Rattue

St Cyprian’s Well, Ashill, Somerset

Seen 17th August 1987.

   This well is on strictly private land and the owners would not like the location to be too widely publicised – it is shown on the 1:25,000 map in any case. The well lies in the south-west corner of one of the fields. It consists of a two-foot square stone basin a few inches deep, with several large flat slabs set into the earth around; the water trickles out across a stone lip and forms a small stream which winds away into the bushes. The red stain left by the water reveals its chalybeate nature. The water was in times past used for the cure of scrofula and digestive complaints, and was drunk on the first three Sundays in May for its curative properties; it also had the useful ability of being able to predict national disasters by its ebbing and flowing. Today it is not quite forgotten, but far less regarded than once it was. It is a lonely but very peaceful and tranquil site.

There is doubt about the well’s dedication. It appears on maps as Skipperham’s Well at present but Horne derives the variant names (St Nipperham’s, Skivverton’s etc.) from St Cyprian. There are two saints of this name, one a martyr bishop of Carthage, the other a converted magician and bishop martyred at Antioch. It is unclear which of these is the patron of the well, or indeed why it should be dedicated to either, as they are not exactly popular saints in England and the parish church is dedicated to St Mary.


Monk’s Well, Swell, Somerset     (ST 367 234)

Seen 17th August 1987.

The hamlet of Swell lies south of the main Taunton-Langport A378 road. If you come south along the minor road from the A378 and past the farm containing the tiny St Catherine’s Church, and turn right at the junction, the well is opposite the Old Rectory, on a patch of neat grass and in the corner formed by two hedges. The well is constructed from brick-sized stones and seems well-tended; at the back is a metal pipe with water streaming in the basin below. This clear liquid also seeps in at the rear of the well; the whole structure is overshadowed by the hedge and is a cool, attractive spot. This little Holy Well is not marked on the 1:25,000 map and seems unknown to any of the authorities.


St Catherine’s Well, Swell, Somerset     (ST 360 231)

Seen 17th August 1987.

From Monk’s Well continue westwards towards Fivehead village; the well cannot be missed, sitting as it does in a neat triangle of grass by the roadside where a lane meets the road from the north. The water flows into a stone tank a few feet long, set down into the grass, and thence beneath a slab into a stone-lined channel overhung by grasses; it continues under the road into a stream which joins the Fivehead River. This is an exceptionally beautiful place and a pleasant spot to visit.

According to the folklorist Ruth Tongue, St Catherine’s was; ‘a wishing well. You must go round it three times at sunrise, but if it was crawled round counter-clockwise it brought an ill wish’. John Michell and Christine Rhone wrote an account of the well in Source 7 (First Series): I can but concur with their statement that the ‘sensitive restoration has resanctified the spot and made a worthy shrine to St Catherine’.


Pople’s Well, Crewkerne, Somerset     (ST 435 099)

Seen 17th August 1987.

From the information board in the town centre, turn onto the A356 and left into Abbey Street. Continue westwards, over the hill and down. On the left, beside the path and next to a field, you will find Pople’s Well at the foot of the hill. The well, which it is said rises in the churchyard but is not regarded as ‘Holy’, consists of steps leading down to the outlet and drain into which the water drips. It was named after a prominent local family, yet was held in a superstitious awe, albeit of an undefined nature.


Beauty Spring/Codwell, Crewkerne, Somerset     (ST 437 100)

Seen 17th August 1987.

From Pople’s Well, continue along Abbey Street and turn left up the small lane to Bincombe. Codwell is in one of the fields on the right of the lane but I could see nothing over the hedge. There is a rivulet running along the right of the lane and this emerges from the bank, so perhaps the water has been channelled along here and the source capped off. This is the only water source shown anywhere around on the 1:25,000 map, so it may be the ‘Beauty Spring’ of Horne’s account. This spring was reputed to ‘bestow beauty on those who bathed their faces therein at sunrise on the first of March’, and, like Codwell, or at least Cadwell’s outlet, it was surrounded by nettles and brambles.

Text & Illustrations © James Rattue (1989)

Designed & Maintained by Richard L. Pederick (© 1999) | Created 23/12/99

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