The Lady Well, Woolpit (a Suffolk Well)
by Jonathan Foster
Suffolk is a county that has been strangely ignored by contributors to Source. It was whilst travelling through East Anglia last year that I came across the Lady Well at Woolpit near Stowmarket (O.S.G.R. 626 977, Sheet 155). The site of this well was, until about 1900, a place of pilgrimage, its waters being considered a cure for eye ailments. Sick children were also dipped in its waters. The church guide states that the well was probably in the charge of a Capellanus or Chantry Priest and tradition places a chapel beside it, but no trace remains. However that may be, two names of tax-payers in Edward III’s reign offer a subject for speculation. They were ‘Walterus atte Welle’ and ‘Sewallus ad Fontem’. Neither of these men was in holy orders.
Whilst visiting the village church of St Mary, I met a lady arranging flowers there, and asked her if the well was easy to find. She replied that she had never succeeded in locating it despite several attempts to do so. She added that five years ago some villagers had found it and had given it a brick surround.
After a long search I eventually found the shrine in the hollow basin of an ancient moat which was in a thick clump of trees in the middle of a grazing field. The land was very marshy with masses of stinging nettles, but there was the well! The brickwork surround was in good repair, but a wooden lid was ill-fitting and its hinges rusty and non-functional. The water supply was clear and about three feet deep.
The hollow was a haven of solitude. It appeared that this ancient shrine had been un-visited and neglected for many years, whilst modern travellers hurried past oblivious to the history lying just a few yards from the roadside.