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Is Whitwick Spring a Holy Well?

No photo description available.Bob Trubshaw’s trailblazing 1990 work on the Holy wells of Leicestershire and Rutland was the first time I had heard of this fascinating spring arising beneath the church. He recorded it as follows:

“Where the footpath leaves the churchyard to cross the brook there are five steps down and a spring gushes from a recess in the churchyard wall, draining away into the brook. This is about thirty yards to the east of the chancel. The spring originates under the crypt of the church and piped to the churchyard wall; during the nineteenth century the water was used to power the organ. The crypt was rebuilt in 1848 and now contains the heating boilers etc. There were apparently never any tombs or graves in it. 

Where the water issues from the churchyard wall is densely shaded by trees and is muddy underfoot as a result of the water flowing towards Grace Dieu Brook. The water maintains a good flow and is quite cold (about three gallons per minute at 10C on 4th February 1989); it is pleasant tasting.

No photo description available.

But despite Trubshaw’s inclusion is it a holy well? 

Well Trubshaw does not explicitly call it a holy well but does its location suggest so? Many holy wells do arise from beneath churches – there are examples across the country but more are not of course. Although it is interesting to note that springs associated with churches would suggest an origin from the earliest days of the church. The wikipedia site for the village notes:

It is possible that this site was regarded as sacred in pre-Christian times, thereby influencing the choice of location for the church.”

I am not sure who it is specifically regarded by though to be honest! Thomas Charles Potter in his work on 1842 The History of Charnwood Forest: The Villages Of The District  includes a drawing of the church with the spring clearly shown but makes no reference to it at all in the text. 

How old is the church?

One of the earliest mentions of the place, as Witewic, is in the Domesday Book and the fragments of a pre-Norman cross shaft appear to be found in the wall of the chancel suggesting the site was Christianised at least in the Saxon times. A recent visit I was given access to the crypt to explore whether there was any evidence of a spring. However, nothing could be found and as Trubshaw noted it was probably removed in the Victorian period. 

No photo description available.

What is in a name?

What is particularly significant is that the church is called John the Baptist. A saint who of course was decapitated. Heads and sacred springs have a considerable connection according to some researchers, Does this indicate a previous association with the spring of a headless saint as can be found in other sites or is it pure coincidence? Is this a further indication of the site being a holy well? Of course there are plenty of St John the Baptist churches without associated springs. 

A lost mineral spring?

Interestingly Whitwick had three firms who specialised in mineral waters. Wikipedia notes:

“The largest of these was the firm of Bernard Beckworth on Cademan Street, which was established in 1875 and ran until the 1970s; it is listed in Kelly’s Directories of Leicestershire from 1904 through to 1941 as ‘Beckworth and Co. Ltd, Charnwood Mineral Water Works’.

By 1904, the firm of Stinson Brothers, based on Loughborough Road, had appeared. By 1912, this firm is listed as simply Horace Stinson and it had disappeared from the Whitwick Directories by 1928.

The firm of Richard Massey appears from 1916, listed at 36, Castle Street, Whitwick. Massey’s has disappeared by 1941.

A Stinson Bros codd bottle appeared among lots listed for auction in Barnsley (BBR Auctions) on Saturday 8 January 2006. It was described as a 9 inch tall emerald green glass codd bottle, embossed, ‘STINSON BROS/WHITWICK.’ The guide price was £80 – £100, the relatively high estimate presumably reflecting the rarity of the glass, but the bottle was in fact sold for £515. The bottle was turned up by a plough in a field opposite A.W. Waldrum’s Coal Merchant’s premises on Grace Dieu Road, Whitwick and is the only known example.

There is also known to have existed a ‘Botanical Brewery’, though it is believed that this may have been a part of the Stinson or Massey enterprises, both of which later moved to Hermitage Road. Both firms are listed on Hermitage Road (under Coalville) in a trade directory of 1941. There are also known to have been examples of 19th-century bottles bearing the name of McCarthy and Beckworth, Coalville.”

Does this suggest that the spring itself is a medicinal water? Strangely despite these firms no one appears to have tried it! So there is nothing to suggest that the Whitwick spring is a holy well but as a remarkable survival in the 21st century of a flowing urban spring it is no doubt miraculous!

Ten Year Anniversary of Blogging- Holy wells and healing springs of Rutland

October 2021 marks 10 years of blogging about holy and healing wells. The site now has 374 blog posts over 193 pages and thus thousands springs and wells recorded.

So each month I plan to do something a bit special for the next year or so. Ten years on from the first blog post and 10 books on I thought I could celebrate with a special downloadable volume XI – Holy wells and healing springs of Rutland – for a limited time only!

Download below

Holy Wells and Healing springs of Rutland Insearchofholyandhealingwells download copy

The loveliest spot on this blessed Isle….St Lawrence’s Well, Ventnor

Hidden down a small lane signposted from the main road is one of the most impressive holy wells in Hampshire and certainly on the Isle of Wight – St Lawrence’s Well. A Victorian chapel well house structure covers the well in a Gothic revival style it is described on the current signage as follows:

“It is a simple structure of local sandstone, surmounted by a cross molline, with the water issuing from a dolphin’s mouth.”

Pevsner’s The Isle of Wight guide records it as:

“Near the entrance to Marine Villa is ST LAWRENCE WELL, an Early Victorian grotto-like structure with finely moulded, heavily hooded Gothic entrance to a rib-vaulted interior.”

The structure being a folly of sorts. The well house was built by the first Earl of Yarborough who was a significant landowner at St Lawrence in the early 1800s although the exact date is unknown. One of the first accounts appears to be Asenath Nicholson’s 1853’s Loose Papers; Or, Facts Gathered During Eight Years’ Residence in Ireland, Scotland, England, France, and Germany which records:

“Two miles from town is St. Lawrence Spring; a gate opens and shows a basin of water which is supplied from a rock; the stream runs through an aperture, and the basin is excavated from the rock, elevated so high that the precious draught is offered without stooping; here upon stone benches, under the shade of trees, the traveller may sit, read, take his lunch, and drink his water at pleasure.”

It had attracted considerable romantic interest in the mid 1800s being compared to deified groves and springs of Hellas and the Sabine springs of ancient Rome. Of course the spring is named after St Lawrence, a third century Roman martyr killed on a gridiron.  This is particularly evident in the work St. Lawrence’s Well: A Fragmentary Legend of the Isle of Wight’ by Henry Brinsley Sheriden published in 1845. Which records in a lengthy poem:

“From Ventnor stretching scarce a mile, The loveliest spot on this blessed Isle , And near unto the castled pile ; A little trickling rill doth play, Through the worn rock — and dash its way, Into a basin formed to hold. The crystal stream so pure and cold , Where running through the tunnelled clay , It passes from the light of day. The basin’s like a scallop shell- The fount is called “St. Lawrence ‘ Well .”Art hath done much to deck the place, With carvings and with forms of grace ; The Norman arch is shaded oʻer, By bending willows , and before, The gates are seats for those who tire ; There they may rest , and still admire, The magic beauty of the spot, Which looks like some magician’s grot, And listen to that murmuring sound, The falling water echoes round, And note the dark – leaved ivy winding, Its trailing tendrils there , and binding, Its circling arms around the trees That rock at every passing breeze. And many a heart no doubt hath been, Charmed by the beauty of that scene.”

It was again immortalised in poetry by Albert Midlane’s 1860 The Vecta Garland, and Isle of Wight Souvenir:

“Hail, lovely grotto ! Hail Elysian soil! Thou fairest spot of fair Britannia’s isle.”— Tickell. Turn aside, poor weary traveller, Drink, and be refresh’ d; On these rustic shaded benches, Sit thee down and rest; All around conspires to assure thee, Thou’rt a welcome guest

 Sit thee down and I will tell thee, What of late befel; One who came to drink the waters. Of this crystal well,— Streaming from the rocks above us, Where the sea-gulls dwell.

What his name, or birth I wot not, What he did I know; This bright rill of cooling water, Thou to him dost owe; Had he lacked the free-man’s spirit Hidden it would flow.”

Temporary loss of access

The poem goes on to record how access to the site was once restricted by the Earl of Yarborough, it is said as a consequence of ‘various depredations having been committed at the well’. It said that:

“During the summer of 1843, the following lines were written by a person unknown, and placed over the door, which, on being taken down by a gentleman in that neighbourhood, were handed to his Lordship, who was so much pleased with the jeu d’esprit, as to give directions for the Well to be unlocked, and it has ever since been open to the public: —

“This Well, we must own, is most splendidly placed, And very romantic we think it; The water, no doubt, too, would pleasantly taste If we could but get at it, to drink it!”

We wish that the person who owneth this Well, May walk a long way, and get ‘ knocked up;’ And then, if its pleasant or not, he can tell, When he comes to some water that’s lock’d up !”

Access was restored because no mention of it is made in William Henry Davenport Adam’s Nelson’s 1864 Hand-Book to the Isle of Wight

“On the road, to the right, in a recess under a Gothic arch, and overshadowed by some fine trees, bubbles and gushes most refreshingly an abundant spring, long celebrated as St. Lawrence’s Well. The quaint little edifice which encloses it was built by the late Earl of Yarborough.”

Permanent loss of water?

My visit after a rather heavy rain period showed no sign of water in well house. The interior which is now looked forever it would appear is very mossy and algae covered and the spout appears to indicate the calcified nature of the water by being encrusted. However there is no water. Yet there is plenty of water nearby and just up the lane a lot of water can he heard entering the drain. Just across from the signpost to the well on the other side of the road is a natural spring head with water emerging romantically from under mossy stones. This clearly was the original source. The original St. Lawrence’s Well? If there was an original of course I feel this site is a romantic invention back invented from the village name. This notwithstanding it is a delightful site.

A well dressed site.

In the 21st century a well-dressing tradition has been established at the site but details have been difficult to find about when it started and whether it will continue after the pandemic. The site has been connected to the Island’s other well-known holy well – Whitwell by a pilgrim path.

 

 

 

Mysterious creatures of springs and wells – Frogs and wells

Frog and toads not unsurprisingly you might think are associated with springs. Two old English words O.E frosc meaning frog or O.E paddock for a ‘toad’ and their derivations can be found across the country.

In Essex there are a number of Freshwell derivations which suggest from Frosc. The earliest being a Freshwell mentioned in 1086 in Great Sampford, Freshwell in the 13th century and another in Saffron Walden first mentioned in 1605. In Panfield there was a Froshwell mentioned in 1586 and Upminster a Frogwell.

There seems a strange conglomeration of such sites in Essex and elsewhere it is more common to find toads. In Staffordshire, Padwalle first mentioned in 1481in Longnor and Padwell in Barborough, as Padwell (1830) and Edwalston and Wyaston a 1314 Padewalle. In Leicestershire there is a Paddock Well noted in 1638 in Church Langton, Leicestershire and Padwell in Fulstow (from the 1840 Tithe map) and Tadewell a 13th century mention in Ferriby. Kent’s Birling has a Puddle Well noted in 1837 and a Tadwell in Minster in Sheppey (noted in 1840).   There are surely others but why?

The obvious answer is that frogs and toads live in springs. However, they do not or rather very rarely. I’ve never seen one in a spring or well – perhaps the rarity offers a reason but it may be deeper than that. Toads in particular have supernatural connotations and a clue may be found in the Frogwell at Acton Burnell in Shropshire which folklore suggests the well was a guardian. Did people visit these wells to utilise the frogs for magical practices or was the frog seen as some sort of harmful creature.

Another possible source is that these animal represent totem animals which specific prehistoric groups associated with – akin to the spirit animals of first nation groups such as in the USA and Canada. This might explain the frequency of them in areas such as Essex perhaps.

Mysterious creatures of springs and wells – Phantom Black dogs

A phantom black dog usually much larger than an actual dog, often said to be the size of a calf, with glowing red eyes is a folklore standard being recorded from across the country. Whether they be called Black Shuck, Barguest, Gytrash, Trasher, Padifoot or many other names often there is an association with water. As a brief introduction I have again attempted to included as many as I have uncovered.

It  Lincolnshire often they are associated with bridges such as Brigg, Willingham (Till bridge) or banks of streams. At Kirton, there is a black dog was reported as living in a hole in the stream bank near this Belle Hole farm. Ponds were often associated with it such as the fish pond in Blyborough Lincolnshire. Rudkin in her 1937 Lincolnshire folk-lore notes a site called Bonny Well in Sturton upon Stow Lincolnshire which was an unfailing supply even in the great drought of 1860. One assumes that the site derived from O.Fr bonne for ‘good’. The site in the 1930s was a pond down Bonnywells Lane and was associated with a number of pieces of folklore; that it was haunted by a black dog and sow and litter of pigs which appeared on Hallowe’en. In the same county, Hibaldstow’s Bubbling Tom had a black dog protect it. Edward Bogg’s 1904 Lower Wharfeland, the Old City of York and the Ainsty, James tells how near St. Helen’s Well, Thorpe Arch:

 “padfoots and barguests…..which on dark nights kept its vigil”

In Elizabeth Southwart’s 1923 book on Bronte Moors and Villages: From Thornton to Haworth, she talks about Bloody tongue at Jim Craven’s Well, Yorkshire:

“The Bloody-tongue was a great dog, with staring red eyes, a tail as big as the branch of a tree, and a lolling tongue that dripped blood.  When he drank from the beck the water ran red right past the bridge, and away down—down—nearly to Bradford town.  As soon as it was quite dark he would lope up the narrow flagged causeway to the cottage at the top of Bent Ing on the north side, give one deep bark, then the woman who lived there would come out and feed him.  What he ate we never knew, but I can bear testimony to the delicious taste of the toffee she made.”

She relates one time:

“One Saturday a girl who lived at Headley came to a birthday party in the village, and was persuaded to stay to the end by her friends, who promised to see her ‘a-gaiterds’ if she would.  As soon as the party was over the brave little group started out.  But when they reached the end of the passage which leads to the fields, and gazed into the black well, at the bottom of which lurked the Bloody-tongue, one of them suggested that Mary should go alone, and they would wait there to see if anything happened to her.

“Mary was reluctant, but had no choice in the matter, for go home she must.  They waited, according to promise, listening to her footsteps on the path, and occasionally shouting into the darkness:

““Are you all right, Mary?”

““Ay!” would come the response.

“And well was it for Mary that the Gytrash had business elsewhere that night, for her friends confess now that at the first sound of a scream they would have fled back to lights and home.”

The author continues:

“We wonder sometimes if the Bloody-tongue were not better than his reputation, for he lived there many years and there was never a single case known of man, woman or child who got a bite from his teeth, or a scratch from his claws.  Now he is gone, nobody knows whither, though there have been rumours that he has been seen wandering disconsolately along Egypt Road, whimpering quietly to himself, creeping into the shadows when a human being approached, and, when a lantern was flashed on him, giving one sad, reproachful glance from his red eyes before he vanished from sight.”

In Redbrook, Gwent, Wales, at Swan Pool after the crying of a baby and then the appearance of a women holding a baby, a large black dog appears circles the pool and heads off a to kiln.  In the Highlands a pool containing treasure is guarded by a hound with two heads and it is said to have haunted a man who drained the pool and discovered the treasure. He soon returned it! A moat near Diamor County Meath is said to contain a nine kegs of gold protected by a large black and white spotted dog. One could collect the gold if the dog was stabbed three times on the white spot.  Another white dog is found, described as the size of a bullock, at Bath Slough Burgh in Suffolk.

Water appears also to be a place of confinement. At Dean Combe waterfalls in Devon the ghost of local weaver was banished by a local vicar and when he turned into a great black dog was taken to a pool by the waterfall. Here it was told that it could only concern people once it had emptied all the water using a cracked shell! At Beetham a local vicar banished a spirit called Cappel which manifested itself as a dog into the river Bela in the 1820s. Equally one wonders if the account associated with St Eustace’s Well, Wye Kent has more significance:

‘swollen up as it were by dropsy’ came to a priest, whom upon seeing her urged her to go the spring. This she did and no sooner had the women drunk the holy water, she recovered but vomited forth a pair of black toads, growing into black dogs, then black asses! The woman surprised vented her anger against these manifestations and the priest intervened, sprinkling the holy water on ‘they flew up into the air and vanished, leaving no traces of their foulness.’

Farnborough’s St Botolph’s Well

During my research for Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Warwickshire one of the surprising discoveries is St Botolph’s Well at Farnborough. Surprising because in P.M Patchell and E.M. Patchell’s 1987 ‘The wells of old Warwickshire’ in the first series of Source 1 note that:

“The well is chalybeate and reputed to cure eye ailments, but is now only a cattle drinking place on private land. It is just a little way down the lane leading south from the church, at a little bridge.”  

I had read this perhaps as being no more than the site being is an uninspiring boggy hole but this was not the case!

The earliest reference however to the site is William Dugdale in his 1730 The Antiquities of Warwickshire. He notes that: 

“Near the house of Mr Holbeach there rises a Chalybeat Spring, called… St Botolph’s Well.”

As the parish church is dedicated to St Botolph and the settlement was in existence at the time of the Domesday book and it is probable that the well dates from this period being associated as it is with a Saxon saint. There is certainly a traditional relationship with the holy well as the relic of a path which leads down to the well from the church can be traced in the grass the other side of the road from the estate. This leads to a wooden door close to the well – although interestingly the handle is on the estate side suggesting permission in more recent times was needed. As noted by Stephen Wass in their 2012 thesis A Way With Water: Water Resources and the Life of an Eighteenth-century Park.
http://www.polyolbion.org.uk/Farnborough/Dissertation/A%20Way%20With%20Water.html#2

“Of further significance was the exclusion of the community from access to St. Botolph’s Well (Fig. 33). The arrangement of church, holy well and connecting thoroughfare was probably an ancient one which reflected the communal use of this spring for practical and spiritual purposes. What is striking today about the spatial relationship is that the seventeenth-century park wall cuts across the bottom of the former route and effectively restricts access to the well as it is now on private property.
A door in the wall, which by analogy to other local properties, appears to be eighteenth century (Wood-Jones, R. B. 1963.  Traditional Domestic Architecture of the Banbury Region), was provided to allow some access. This door could only be opened from the park side. Even allowing for the fact that the Reformation brought about a divorce between the established church and the idolatrous practice of visiting a holy well one must assume that on some level of superstition the well still occupied an important part in the community’s consciousness. What was communal has become private.”

Healing waters and development as a spa

Francis Smith in their 1825 Warwickshire delineated

“A chalybeate spring rises at Farnborough, known by the name of St. Botolph’s Well, which was formerly resorted to by the credulous and superstitious, for its wonder-working miracles!”. 

According to C.S. Wharton (cited in A.W. Bates’S 1993, ‘Healing waters: holy wells and spas in Warwickshire’ in Warwickshire History): 

“its’ reddish water is said to be coloured by rust from the nails of the Cross”.

Which is an interesting and as far as I am aware a unique tradition. Does it suggest an association with a nearby relic?

Bates (1993) says that it had only a very limited reputation as a spa, and had fallen out of use by 1890, certainly there is no evidence of people visiting it and perhaps this was associated with the development of the estate by Sanderson Miller, the folly architect. However, its current structure although not a boggy hole is perhaps a little lacking the panache of a structure one would associate in a folly estate.

The current state of the well

The well is now enclosed in land owned by the National Trust. St Botolph’s well consists of an archway of red sandstone built into the wall surrounding the park which is a surprising arrangement and one would have imagined if it was developed a spa a more impressive arrangement would be found.  The water arises in a two foot deep rectangular chamber in a recess in the park’s wall. An arch of dressed stone covered the well but this has all but gone and either lays beneath it or else robbed. This notwithstanding the site was certainly more impressive than what Patchell and Patchell suggested and there were no cattle in sight! However, perhaps due to its ruined status it might not be far off becoming a boggy hole if its not repaired soon. 

The ancient and healing wells of Cuffley and Northaw – St Claridge’s Well and the Griffin’s Hole

In part one we discussed the famed King’s Well in this second part we explore three possible sites which are possibly all one site notwithstanding the possibility that one is completely made up.

The most curious one to disentangle is St. Claridge’s  Well Our sole source is Charles Lamb more of which in  moment who claims it is described in the Black Book of St Albans although I could not find it there. In a letter to Charles Cowden Clark in 1828 he records that saint would entertain angels and hermits for the blessing of the water, who sat of mossy stones called Claridge Covers.

Who is St Claridge?

St. Claridge may have been another name for Sigur, who was a hermit who lived in Northaw Woods. Mrs Fox-Wilson in her 1927 Notes on Northaw and district in the East Hertfordshire Archaeological society journal records that the hermit built a cell  near a well of pure water in Berevenue forest. This is recorded in Gesta Abbotum  Mon Sci Albani 1 105 (1119-1149), dating it around the 12th Century. There is accordingly, a tomb in St. Alban’s Abbey which reads: “Vir Domini verus jacet hic  hermeita Regerus et sub eo clarus meritus hermita Sigarus.”

Where was the well?

The exact location of the above is not clear, it is hinted to the south east of the  church by Lamb but if he was travelling from Buntingford, it would appear to be the  same as Griffin’s Hole which lays in Well Wood, a small private part  of the Great Wood. A footpath from Well Road leads directly to the well and  nowhere else, which suggests a great past importance for the site being the main  supply for the village. This path appeared to have been recently re-opened, and the  well itself has been repaired. The site consists of a roughly square pool of muddy  water with an edging of old red bricks, possibly Tudor. A fence of rhododendrons has  been erected around the site to prevent people falling in, but it does not deflect from  the mysteriousness of the site: which is very odd and eerie. Today a metal frame is placed over it which makes it less evocative I would say. However, is it the St Claridge’s Well of Lamb?

Griffin's Hole

The letter Charles Lamb wrote may help  locate it as he appears to have encountered the well on a four hour walk to “the  willow and lavender plantations to the south-east of Northaw Church.” However, this  is confusing as it would appear to suggest that the well is to the south-east but that  depends on where he was travelling from! He is known to have visited Buntingford.  He refers to Claridge’s covers:

“Clumps of the finest moss rising hillock fashion, I  counted to the number of two hundred and sixty…not a sweeter spot is in ten counties  around”.

Some authors suggest that the name is some sort of joke, this note withstanding, Fox Wilson states that this site was called John’s Hole, and that in the  1920s requests were still made to the landowner for the water as it cured rheumatism.

Unfortunately I have been  unable to find out why the site is called the Griffin’s Hole (one assumes it is a  personal name) or whether it is indeed The Hermit’s Well, John’s Hole or St.  Claridge’s Well in the 10 years on since publication.  However I do feel that this is at least the John’s Hole site if not St. Claridge’s Well

 

Mysterious creatures of springs and wells – the Griffin of Griffy’s Well

Griffy’s Well can be found signposted along the Bottom road in the small settlement of Griffydam. A natural spring which arises from the sandstone and is enclosed in a stone chamber. The earliest reference appears to be Edward Gibbon’s revised 1722 edition of William Camden’s Britannia:-

In this Parish of Cole-Overton (became Coleorton) is a noted mineral water call’d Griffy-dam. (as others also have been lately discover’d in this County, at Dunton and Cadeby.)”

Thus suggesting that the site was being exploited as a mineral spring although it was more likely to have been a domestic water supply. The Post Office Directory of Leics & Rutland 1855 states that:

“Griffy Well at Griffydam is worthy of some attention”.

The London General Gazetteer of 1825 makes mention of Griffydam mineral waters. In the “Beauties of England 1791 by Philip Luckombe he states that:

near the town of Ashby de la Zouch is a noted mineral water called Griffydam”.

​However, the well’s main notoriety is to do with its association with a legendary creature – a griffin, a beast with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. An account is given in Leicestershire legends retold by Black Annis

“The story goes that an old well at the side of the road got taken over by a griffin – a mythical beastie with the bottom half of a lion and the top half of an eagle. The villagers were a bit put out because this meant they had to walk two miles to the next village to get water. Anyway, one day a knight comes by and asks for water for himself and his horse. When he hears the problem he obligingly went along and put an arrow straight through the beastie’s neck – though don’t ask me why the villages couldn’t have done this themselves anyway, suppose it just makes a slightly better tale.”

As a result the well was restored to the villagers. It is unclear what reward the knight received however! The earliest account would appear to be Eric Swift’s 1954 Folk Tales of the East Midlands and perhaps as such could the author made it up? The above author stating that:

“Seems quite likely someone’s imagination ran away with them and thought the name Griffydam had something to do with griffins, which it doesn’t, it’s a corruption of “Griffiths’ Dam”, though no one seem to know who Mr Griffiths was.”

However,  Roy Palmer in his 1985 Folklore of Leicestershire and Rutland states that nearby Breedon church has a column with a griffin carved on it and I was said that that the skin was hung in the church and that every bride passed beneath it on their wedding day. This tradition perhaps suggests a greater age to the tradition and significance. Does it record some pagan tradition?

Will the real patron of St Gudula’s Well stand up?

First noted by P.F.S Amery in his 1882 Old Ashburton: Being Recollections of Master Robert Prideaux, (Attorney-at-Law) 1509–1569 as:

‘Gulwell, a short distance down the Totnes road, in the corner of the vicar’s glebe field, which was called after St Gudula, the ancient patroness of blind folk. A stone cross… stood by… The tall stone still gives the name of Stone Park to the vicar’s field’.

St Gudula’s is one of the best known of Devonshire wells but whether it is a holy well or back derivation of its name is a matter of discussion as well shall discuss.  

Who was St Gudula?  

The most likely source recommended by Sabine Baring-Gould in his 1899–1902 A Book of the West is a little known 6th century Celtic evangelist who is claimed to have converted Brittany called St. Gudwal as Terry Faull, 2004 Secrets of the Hidden source, emphatically states:

“local interpretation of St. Gulwell who is also known as St. Wulvella, and was sister of Saint Sidwell of Exeter. They are claimed to have been the daughter of royalty being probably born in Wales.”

However, the site is dedicate to St Gudula who was born in Hamme, Flanders in around AD 648 and was associated with healing the blind. This appears to be what the plaque at the well claims:

 ‘This Well, The Waters Of Which Are Said To Be Good For Weak Eyes, Was Dedicated To St Gudula, The Ancient Patroness Of The Blind. The Cross (Probably 14th Century) Was Removed Prior To 1510. It Was Restored, Re-Erected, And Presented To The Parish Of Ashburton, 1933’.

However, this seems very unlikely and it would be more reasonable to assume that some learned antiquarian, probably Amery, has associated the saint with the site due to its name and properties – the name is being more likely be descriptive about it forming a gully.

The origins of the cross

William Crossing in his 1902, The Ancient Stone Crosses of Dartmoor and its Borderland, says:

‘we shall not find the cross here, but at a farm a little further on, which bears the same name as the well… This consists of the shaft only, and… I learnt in 1892 from the late Mr Perry, the owner of Gulwell, who was then eighty-three years of age, that it was in its present situation in the time of his grandfather’

Another site?

Even more confusing is that there is a well at Gulwell Farm and it is possible that this the real site especially if we re-read what Crossing states he suggests that the cross was brought from another site. “and if it really was brought from the spring it must be long ago”, does that suggest that someone decided to transfer the site to another spring and to emphasise it move the cross! Faull (2004) states it was returned to its original site in 1933 as noted by the plaque of course.

The current situation

Even more confusing is that there is a well at Gulwell Farm and it is possible that this the real site especially if we re-read what Crossing states he suggests that the cross was brought from another site. “and if it really was brought from the spring it must be long ago”, does that suggest that someone decided to transfer the site to another spring and to emphasise it move the cross! Faull (2004) states it was returned to its original site in 1933 as noted by the plaque of course as noted by the 10th March 1933 Western Times. It recorded that it was re-erected by some unemployed men after being recovered from the location where it had been for several generations. It also notes at the same time it was planned to restore the well but there was not enough money available.

Mysterious creatures of wells and springs – Mermaids of the Peak District

Mermaids are traditionally thought of as a marine phenomena but there are a number of freshwater accounts such as that noted in Herefordshire, three in Suffolk (Bury St Edmunds, Rendelsham, Fornham All Saints) and another in Gloucestershire at Timsbury. The peak district probably because of its remote and desolate landscape claims two!

The first is associated with the Black or Blake Mere a small pond of irregular shape, lying in a little hollow on the summit of the high hill of Morridge, about three and a half miles. from Leek in Staffordshire. The pond appears to have a reputation of being haunted. In the pages of The Reliquary, Camden quoting Nicham, says it is:

“A lake that with prophetic noise doth roar; Where beasts can ne’er be made to venture o’er— By hounds, or men, or fleeter death pursued, They’ll not plunge in, but shun the hated flood.”

Robert Plot in his 1689 Natural History of Staffordshire notes that:

“no Cattle will drink of it, no bird light on it, or fly over it; all which are as false as that it is bottomless; it being found upon admeasurement, scarce four yards in the deepest place; my horse also drinking, when I was there, as freely of it as ever I saw him in any other place; and the Fowls are so far from declining to fly over it, that I spoke with several that had seen Geese upon it; so that I take this to be as good as the rest, notwithstanding the vulgar disrepute it lies under.”

Neither account mentions a mermaid and it is unclear when this creature is first applied to the site. One of the first accounts perhaps is Charlotte S. Burne 1896 notes in her “What Folkore is, and how it is to be collected” in the North Staffordshire Naturalists’ Field Club, Annual Report and Transactions. Two origins for the existence of this mermaid are given. One account states that she was a women ,who during a stormy night was drowned there by her lover after he discovered she was pregnant with his child. Another story suggests that she was a witch and was drowned by the local people. It is said that as she drowned she cursed the person who accused her and days later he was found clawed to death in the pool.  Local people state that she can be seen combing her hair and enticing people to their death. She is also said to have warned locals who were draining the lake to check its depth by threatening to flood the local town of Leek – they subsequently stopped!

Mermaid's Pool - geograph.org.uk - 247324.jpg by Dave Dunford

Mermaid’s Pool – geograph.org.uk – by Dave Dunford

Perhaps the more famous of the Peak’s merfolk is found in The Mermaid’s Pool a mysterious pool at the foot of  Kinder Scout, a strange site which appears to be a relic of pre-Christian water worship particular  as the water is said to have healing qualities. Charles Hope in his 1893 Legendary lore of holy wells notes:

“There is a local tradition that a beautiful nymph ….who comes to bathe daily in the Mermaid’s  Pool, and that the man who has the good fortune to see her whilst bathing will become immortal.”

It is likely that Hope is sourcing Henry Kirke’s 1869 article “The Mermaid’s Pool” in The Reliquary notes:

“At Old Oak Wood, near Hayfield, Derbyshire, is the Mermaid’s Pool, where a beautiful woman is said to enter the water every day, and whoever has the good luck to see her will become immortal and will never die.”

Hope records a tradition of someone who had seen the mermaid thus:

“The old folk of Hayfield, moreover, have a long story of a man who, sometime in the last  century, went from Hayfield over the Scout, and was lucky enough to meet this mountain  nymph, by whom he was conducted to a cavern hard by. Tradition adds that she was pleased  with this humble mortal, and that he lingered there for some time, when she conferred on him  the precious gift of immortality.” 

The best time to find visit the Mermaid’s Pool is midnight on Easter eve when she could favour  you with your wishes, but if she did not favour you she will drag you to your death!

It is possible of course that local production of methane gases produced willo-the-wisps which were seen as the mermaid but that would ruin a good story would it not? Or perhaps you might argue that someone caught the said mermaid and put it in Buxton museum! – go along and have a look!