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Rediscovered/Restored: Another St. Anne’s Well near Buxton. Was there a Roman water shrine at Brough, Derbyshire?

Whilst researching for the book Holy Wells and Healings Springs of Derbyshire, I came across a reference to a holy well which appears to have been ignored. Much had been written of Bradwell’s well customs and even consideration made for its thermal spring, but this was unrecorded by authors over the years only being noted on the first series OS map. I was eager to see it if it survived and doubted it had considering I had heard nothing of it.

Overlaying the old map for the new OS map I pinpointed the location and went exploring. Taking a few steps off the main road I was pleased to see there was a well approximately where the well was marked on the older map. Also unlike other such forays this was not some boggy weed filled morass but a substantial structure and over the overflowing trough was carved into a stone the name – St. Anne’s Well. However this was a forgotten or at least unknown St Ann Well for it appears to have been completely missed from previous surveys including the most recent Jeremy Harte (2008) of English Holy Wells. However, a stone erected over the well clearly reads: Town Well or St. Anne’s Well. 1859. What was more interesting, furthermore, across the road from the well was a noted Roman settlement, Navio was there a connection?

A forgotten holy well?

The well is quite a substantial structure consisting of two separate chambers. The spring fills at first a five foot, two foot rectangular stone trough enclosed in a small walled enclosure, which presumably was constructed for people. The overflow from this fills the trough beside the wall enclosure and beneath the large stone where the well’s name is carved. The arrangement is not an uncommon one to prevent contaminating domestic and animal supply.

How old is the dedication?

Bar the inscription, there appears to be very little concrete evidence. The most official being its notation as noted in copperplate writing on the first series of the O/S map. This suggests that the site was an antiquity when the map was drawn, however the Victorian love of antiquarianism as a form of vindication it is dubious. Possibly more convincing is are the names of the houses around, both are 1700s in date and are named after the well.

The support for an ancient well.

Yet despite the lack of any concrete written evidence it is possible that this site is a very ancient one associated with the Navio settlement. Let us look at the support for that argument. Firstly, its position. The spring arises on Batham Gate the Roman road to Buxton and a few yards from the Roman settlement. It would indeed seem odd that the Romans did not know it flowing as it does so close.

Significantly perhaps, in Navio an altar was found dedicated to goddess Arnomectis who has been seen as an adopted Celtic Water deity however authorities believe this is related to the river Noe, but why not the spring? The inscription reading:


“To the goddess Arnomecte Aelius, willingly, gladly and deservedly fulfils his vow”

It is also probable that it is the same deity, Arnemetia, which was celebrated at Buxton, so perhaps this is a memorial from there but that it does not preclude the deity being celebrated here.

It is worth noting that on the outskirts, Brough does have another noted well which has been considered a thermal spring utilised by the Romans as a bath. It survives as a campsite pond, called Bath Spring, it is more likely that the bath was that constructed in 1830 by a Robert Middleton of Smalldale.

The evidence against

The main evidence against the theory is the lack of note of this. However evidence of absence is not absence of evidence. It may be also questioned why the well was not enclosed within the Navio enclosure. It may be that it formed a separate temple precinct and so would be kept separate. Of course there is always the possibility that some local antiquarian, decide to re-dedicate it. If they did why then not publicise it? Victorian works are full of these sorts of self-supporting arguments on antiquity so why does no one mention it? It is surprisingly absent from the main work on Bradwell – ancient and modern by Seth Evans (1912). This is surprising because the author took care to include notes on the well traditions of the community. Although he does relate that the settlement may take its name from a well at the Roman settlement. Interestingly, it is worth noting that Nottingham’s lost Saint Anne’s Well may have been called Broadwell (Bradwell?) may have been associated with the well, but it would be strangely coincidental even more so considering the well is dedicated to St. Anne (as is Buxton), this view is supported by Clarke and Roberts (1996) but they are unaware of the well!

Yet here it is a great discovery – a St Anne’s Well a few miles from the famous Buxton one – but all but unknown!


Blessing the Wells at Tissington Well dressing

Tissington in Derbyshire claims to be the oldest continued well dressing tradition. Well dressing being almost a Derbyshire speciality (although it has spread to neighbouring counties and beyond these in the twentieth century) is for those unfamiliar where clay is placed upon frames and an image pressed into this by using flowers, leaves and seeds. The art work produced can be of fantastic, but due to the spread of the tradition this quality varies greatly as do the themes, unsurprisingly the Olympics and Jubilee figure largely in 2012 designs. One of the best places to see the tradition is at Tissington, where not only is the art work very high quality, but the theme is very tradition taking biblical themes.

Furthermore, it is considered the oldest location. Local tradition, although I have been unable to verify states that the springs were dressed as a thanks for survival from an outbreak of the Black death in 1349, the local populace believing that the quality of the water was the reason for their survival, apparently only one person died whilst it ravaged through the local area. This notwithstanding, a severe drought, recorded in nearby Youlgreave parish registers where between the 25th March and August 1615 when only three showers fell may be the source of the custom. However, the earliest written reference, quoted by Christian (1966) states that in 1748 Nicholas Hardinge, clerk of the House of Commons recorded:

At Tissington, FitzHerbert’s village we saw springs adorned with garlands; in one of these was a tablet inscribed with rhymes, composed by the local schoolmaster in honour of the fountains, which as FitzHerbert informs me are annually commemorated upon Holy Thursday, the minister with his parishioners praying and singing over them.”

Certainly this reference suggests that the tradition was older then 1748 and although the dressing may have been cruder than today’s effort it does appear to have been showing some development beyond garlands. It is reported in 1758 that the well nearest the church was certainly dressed and perhaps given their name of St. Helen may have been some a left over from dressing of a holy well (although Lord St. Helens was the brother of the first Tissington baronet so it would be a big coincidence!). A report in the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1794 noted:

“it has been custom, time immemorial, on every Holy Thursday, to decorate the wells with boughs of trees, garlands of tulips and other flowers, placed in various fancied devices; and after prayers for the day at the church, for the parson and singers to pray and sing psalms at the wells.”

Today there are five wells dressed, certainly in their own right without the dressings, a number of these wells are quite interesting and impressive. The most impressive being that as noted dressed the longest the Hall or St. Helen’s, Hand’s Well named after a local family (as our the following) with its oval basin, Yew Tree or Goodwin Well, Coffin or Frith’s Well and Town Well.

However, it is not until 1817 that a report makes it clearer that boards were being reused each year, in Brayley’s Graphic and Historical Illustrations in The Mirror of Literature, amusement and instruction:

“The well that pleased me most was one that stood in a retired garden, it had an arbour formed from trees with wreaths of laburnum and the common blue hare-bells thrown over, at the top was a picture of pity (holding a medallion of the King), bending to Hygeia, with her accustomed offerings of fox gloves. The drapery of the figures defied all description. The colours were so well chosen.”

A report in 1839 appears to be the earliest definite report of the dressing being a design. A local report stating:

“The stems and flowers are closely inserted, and a brilliant mosaic is thus prepared, forming as it were, a ground work for various ornamental designs, as crowns and stars, and appropriate mottoes, chiefly from scripture, which are most imperiously introduced.”

Indeed, it is clear that the blessing of the well was well established in its modern format by then. One thing that these early reports emphasis is the hospitality of the local people where all and sundry opened their houses, including Tissington Hall, to the visitors indeed it is noted there is

“Open house was kept by everyone according to their means and all comers are received with welcome.”

Indeed many people did come to the wells and that in 1800s that Ashbourne people were ‘ keen to get a lift on a horse, or anything that pulled, in order to get there with the least inconvenience’. Indeed, as the Revd Ward noted in 1827 that the day was ‘concluded with utmost hospitality and festivity.’

Little has changed in the intervening 150 or so years and the village whether on the morning of the blessing of any day until their dismantling is a throng of people, car parks are full, coaches line the main street and although it does sometimes look like all of Darby and Joan has descended upon the village, children can be seen taking full advantage of any ice-cream available!

Interestingly by the end of the nineteenth century Tissington was described as where “the spiritual character and quaint simplicity of well dressing is maintained..elsewhere in Derbyshire has degenerated.”

Perhaps this was a statement on the quality of the dressings or the maintenance of the tradition which has apparently only been broken three times in the last 100 years. The obvious times being the Wars, indeed the last war appears to have caused a considerable gap in the proceedings as Porteous (1949) in his ‘The Beauty and Mystery of Well dressing’ counts himself fortunate that he did not seek out the Tissington dressings before other lesser known sites, as the tradition being in abeyance in the village may have led him to the belief that it had died out elsewhere. He notes that it was hoped that Tissington would start dressing again in 1950. The third time was during the Foot and Mouth Outbreak of 2001!

Ten years only from that cancellation, 2011 I was able to see the blessing, traditionally held on Ascension Day every year (a variable date in either May or June-it was June 2nd in 2012). After a service in the church, the procession led by the vicar Revd Andy Larkin with the Archdeacon of Chesterfield, the Venerable Christine Wilson, the FitzHerberts and choir left the church and made their progress around the village to bless the wells. At each a reading was given, a hymn sung and a blessing made with a large congregation of onlookers.

All in all a delightful day, the artistry of the wells particularly that of the Hands well with its topic Royal Wedding theme was much to admired…as was the Stilton Sandwich…which had virtually a wedge of Stilton! Hospitality is still considerable on Well dressing days..

Derbyshire holy wells and healing springs – an overview

The following is taken from the introduction to Holy Wells and healing springs of Derbyshire.

The first book to cover sites in the county was Naylor (1983) in his ‘Ancient wells and springs of Derbyshire’, however this did not contain many holy wells (13 true holy wells) and appears more concerned with industrial uses of water. Hope (1893) covers a number of sites and the author himself was a Derbyshire man and after his death, his notes made for a second edition, were passed onto the Reverend Binnall. Thanks to him, these additional notes as well as those already published were collated for an article for the Trans. Derby Antiq. and Nat Hist. Society. Harte (2008) provides the most complete survey giving 39 sites, but as this research notes is still not complete. Hence this work, hopes to draw together all references, and fresh research to provide the definitive work.

The nature of this work, indeed all volumes, is thus to describe the sites under the respective parishes giving historical details and present conditions (with directions if the sites can be accessed).  I have adopted Francis Jones’s (1954) category system for wells. The main body of the text covers Class A (saint’s names, those named after God, Trinity, Easter etc), B (associated with chapels and churches), C (those with healing traditions which in this case includes spas and mineral springs) and some E (miscellaneous with folklore) sites The second part includes a list of named ancient wells with explanatory notes (mostly Class D i.e. those named after secular persons but possibly also holy wells and E).

There are 190 or so sites in the gazetteer which follow these criteria. This would give a density of  Compared to Nottinghamshire 1 well every 8.8 squares miles, and Leicestershire 9.9 (6.1 removing controversially those probably not holy wells, healing springs or associated with tradition (Rattue 1993) In consideration of holy wells, the range of dedications is wider than Nottinghamshire, having a spread similar to Yorkshire. The order is Holy wells (15 confirmed sites although some may be holwells as well as 9 possible sites including possibly halig drivations.), and those with names are restricted to presumably foreign or biblical saints: St. Mary (or rather Lady Wells) (8), St. Anne’s Well (5), St. Helen (3), St. Thomas’s (3), St. Peter (3), St. John (2), Jacob (2) and one of St. Michael, St. Alkmund, St. Cuthbert, St. Martin, St. Osyth and two dedicated to the Trinity (a rare dedication although in both cases it probably derives from the location) and three to the Gospel. To add to this is the possibility of other sites hidden in place name changes to add to the list, such as a Moses Well. Compared to Nottinghamshire there does appear to be local dedications or native saints such as Alkmund (there is a St Bertram’s well just over the border in Ilam, Staffordshire).

The age of well dedications is always problematic. Derbyshire has a small number of sites whose name is suggestive of pre-Roman but this is only based on possible pagan names (class D). Roman sites are suggested at Buxton, Bradwell, doubtlessly erroneously at Stoney Middleton (there are Roman wells in Derby but these do not have any traditions and like others found in the county purely domestic). Unlike Nottinghamshire, there appear to be less sites associated with Danes (only one possible at Daniel Hay) as noted by Herewell in that county, this is to be expected as I hypothesis in that work they are indicative of tribal borders and as such these do not exist in Derbyshire, although some are suggested in the appendix. The majority of secular dedications appear Anglo-Saxon and Mediaeval in origin with a few interestingly named sites such as Harvestwell which may suggest some folk importance at this time of year. There are also a small number of wells given numerical names such as seven (3) or five (3). There appear to be none in neighbouring Nottinghamshire and although this maybe due to geological reasons (Hemswell in Lincolnshire shares much of the same geology as parts of Nottinghamshire where there are no numerical springs but boasts a seven springs suggesting that perhaps this is not a factor.) This has been seen as significant by Briggs (2007) as suggesting a cult importance.  Interestingly, there are a number of Gospel Wells in the county, which is interesting as none are recorded in Nottinghamshire suggesting a continuation of rogation or beating of the bounds traditions.

Derbyshire appears to be particularly rich in folklore compared to neighbouring Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. One custom which was fairly widespread in the county, variously called ‘bottle day’, ‘sugar cupping’ or not named at all was generally carried out at Easter. This tradition of adding sugar, liquorice, sweets or oatmeal to spring water is, although not unique to the county (it was done a far afield as Oxfordshire), was in the county more common. At least nine sites retain memory of the tradition (Castleton, Belper, Tideswell, Chapel-en-Frith, Ashford in the Water, Doveholes, Stoney Middleton, Little Hucklow) and there appears possibly a connection to Lady Wells. Another custom associated with wells across the country is the dropping of pins, done at Little Hucklow, Castleton (in pindale!) and Bradwell. Of course the most famous tradition associated with Derbyshire wells is well dressing which can trace its history at least to the 14th century. It is a tradition now extended beyond the White peak were it was mainly endemic (as well as neighbouring parts of Staffordshire). However, very few sites dressed could be considered holy wells or commemorate those with healing or folklore traditions. (According to Naylor and Porter (2002) who list well dressing sites and (2009) which list well dressing sites of those in the county. From these sources only 18% (although the work does not list all wells and so the figure is probably inflated) and 6% respectively record known holy or healing wells. Those with current well dressing traditions which are certainly within the remit of this work are to be found at Buxton (St. Ann’s Well), Chapel-en-le Frith (Nanny well), Youlgreave (Holy Well), Wyaston (Bishop Well), possibly Wessington (Moses’s well) and Bradwell (whose dressing mark the location of some of the lost pin wells). Other locations have a long tradition and may have had associations with holy wells. These may include Belper, Baslow and Roston.

The county has a number of other traditions associated with water. Possible pagan figures are remember with three sites possibly deriving from Thor (variations of Thurs pytt), two sites derived from goblins (grime and puck),  three derived from Hob, sites derive from elementals such as possibly Jenny Well, Hell hole, and another two derived from prophetesses, Sparken well, Tungleswalle and Olrin well. More obscure is Tommy-Raw-Head Well named after Rawhead-and-Bloody-Bones, a water-demon commonly used in Yorkshire to frighten children haunting deep ponds.

Many of the rivers in the county have interesting traditions. The Trent was thought to desire an annual sacrifice and an elemental which was said to frequent it around Swarkstone. (where the substantial bridge was built by two sisters who lost their lovers in its waters).Indeed ghosts associated with bridges may be seen as significant there is Ashbourne’s hanging bridge, Derby’s St. Mary’s Bridge (in the form of a nun), Bamford Bridge, Cromford bridge, (where an evil spirit called Crocker existed in the form of an Ash tree by the Derwent. It would attack travellers as they crossed the nearby bridge, until someone stuck St John’s Wort into the tree!).Of spring sites only White Lady Spring has an associated ghost although one waslaid to rest in Lumby Pool in 1760. It is said that an exorcist from Bradwell was invited to help when the ghost of a young girl was terrifying the village. He raised the ghost and told it to turn into a fish and go to live in Lumb Brook which fed the pool.  Each Christmas Eve the fish changes into a bird and fly to Lumbly Pool. To add to this collection of water lore of course is the Mermaid’s pool.  At Edale the River Noe is haunted by the sounds of a screaming followed by splashing noises and a more traditional ghost haunts Turnditch’s Carsington Water, being a phantom black dog. Why are there so many well traditions in the county? Perhaps this is an indication of the remoteness and wildness of much of the county where ancient traditions continued for longer, perhaps even in some remote areas the full effect of Christianity never reached them!

Derbyshire is famous for Buxton Spa and Matlock Bath, but not surprisingly there were several attempts to establish similar large scale (Bakewell) to medium sized (Derby, Stoney Middleton, Quarndon, Kedleston) to small affairs (the largest amount with 25 sites). Therefore there are 32 C sites in the county, although this does not include sloughs which were used to utilise their thermal waters. The trend seen in Nottinghamshire of naming all mineral waters, spas, irrespective of how slight they are is continued into the county. Derbyshire’s spa and mineral waters has received greater recognition and the high number of sites is clearly this time geographically based due to the nature of the minerals in this area. Lists exist (Farey (1818)) of notable water supplies but very few appear to have been frequented or acknowledged beyond such these texts, most I have referred to as sulphur or mineral water according to his descriptions. Again as argued elsewhere, some of these mineral waters may have originated as holy wells, the strongest evidence being that of St. Anne’s Buxton of course.

Derbyshire’s last exploitation of its waters was the Hydro. Although in a sense out of the scope of this book, they are worth a mention. There were three major Hydros in Matlock:  Smedley’s, the largest, near Matlock Bridge Station; Davis’ at Matlock Bank; and Roger’s at Matlock Green. A number of smaller hydros were established, Rockside Hall, Bank House and Laburnum Hydros. All of which ceased around the mid to late 1930s, Smedley’s finally becoming the Town Hall in the 1950s. Just outside of Matlock, Darley also had its hydro which after seeing life as a girl’s school is now flats. Matlock Bath had Ashover had two successful ventures: Ashover House Hydro and Ambervale or Prospect House Hydropathic Institution Boarding House. The former was established in 1869 and continued until 1963 when it was divided into private apartments. The later was established in 1877 and continued until the early 20th century. Baslow had a Hydro established in the late 1800s being based in a hotel surrounded by spacious grounds. It was a profitable enterprise until the First World War and was closed in 1936 was demolished. Only the two stone gateposts and Hydro Lane remember the enterprise.

To learn more about the healing and holy water history of the county read   Holy wells and healing springs of Derbyshire.