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GUEST BLOG POST Terry Faull’s Can there be a new Holy Well? Lewtrenchard and its holy well

It’s a great pleasure once again to introduce a guest blogger. Terry Faull is a well known Devon based landscape historian, he has researched and investigated the origins of the Christians, in what is now Devon and Cornwall, for many years. His book Secrets of the Hidden Source is an excellent and long overdue look at the Holy Wells in Devon. Highly recommended!

Much holy well research in Britain seems, quite understandably, to concentrate on evidence for the historical origins of  the well. This is done by seeking documentary, place name,local tradition,topographical or religious associations which can help establish a point in time why and when it became “holy”. There is little archaeological evidence to support the still popular view that many holy wells originated as pagan cult sites which were “Christianised”  perhaps by Celtic Saints or the later church of Augustine of Canterbury. However, votive offerings found at many early water cult sites do demonstrate the significance of some primary water sources to pagan people and the proximity of many wells to church buildings is evidence of their onetime importance to  Christians. The medieval church sought to exercise control over popular spirituality and many  celebrated  holy wells can trace their development from a time when the church acted to demonstrate its authority with a willingness to benefit from gifts left by pious pilgrims.

I suggest that above all, a holy well must have its heart, a belief ancient or modern, that here is to be found something “other”, a sense of place or feeling which, for some at least, provides a possibility of experience beyond the everyday. Perhaps the apocryphal Celtic “Thin Place between this world and the Other world” is after all the best description we can offer.

Many spiritual ideologies  accept the concept of continuing revelation and  provide one possible underpinning for identification of a holy well which does nor rely only on historical authenticity. I am fortunate to live quite close to such a place-the holy well at Lewtrenchard in Devon. In 1830 the curate there wrote in the parish register  the holy well behind the church has been re-erected and formerly its water was used for the font”. Some 80 years later, just before the outbreak of the First World War,  the antiquarian vicar Sabine Baring-Gould  developed a pleasure garden around the well site and he rebuilt the wellhouse. This was part of a plan to help restore the health of his crippled wife by encouraging her to walk in the fresh air. Baring -Gould had a great interest in holy wells and  his diaries record  visits to a number including to the well and church at St Clether where he gave money for the restoration of the  buildings.

Much holy well research in Britain seems, quite understandably, to concentrate on evidence for the historical origins of  the well. This is done by seeking documentary, place name,local tradition,topographical or religious associations which can help establish a point in time why and when it became “holy”. There is little archaeological evidence to support the still popular view that many holy wells originated as pagan cult sites which were “Christianised”  perhaps by Celtic Saints or the later church of Augustine of Canterbury. However, votive offerings found at many early water cult sites do demonstrate the significance of some primary water sources to pagan people and the proximity of many wells to church buildings is evidence of their onetime importance to  Christians. The medieval church sought to exercise control over popular spirituality and many  celebrated  holy wells can trace their development from a time when the church acted to demonstrate its authority with a willingness to benefit from gifts left by pious pilgrims.

petroclew

Baring-Gould knew that the identity of the original patron saint of his own church at Lewtrenchard was unknown and he believed it may have orginally been dedicated to that foremost of West Country saints, St.Petroc. Some credence to this view arises from the fact that since at least 1261, Petroc has been the patron saint of the church of  nearby Lydford which had been one of the frontier burghs established by King Alfred. In 1928, soon after Baring-Gould’s death, his ornate structure  by then called St. Petroc’s well, was  moved  to form a centre piece of an ornamental garden at the vicarage; it is this wellhouse in a garden setting which is an English Heritage listed building.

The  original location of the well and its surrounding garden behind the church were forgotten and then lost.  In recent years, through a process of exploration, dowsing and research, the site  has  been rediscovered and it now forms a focus of a woodland walk around Baring- Gould’s forgotten pleasure garden. In 2013 a new wellhouse was erected on what were believed to be the original foundations.

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What makes a water source a  “holy well” is a matter of ongoing debate and interpretation. However I have no qualms in agreeing with Baring-Gould, that at Lewtrenchard there is indeed  a holy well; this relies not on any  established ancient origin but on the sense of the place itself. The full story can be found at http://www.forgottengarden.co.uk     If you are ever close by, do please visit our “new” Holy Well.

Lewtrenchard

Terry’s excellent book is still available through Amazon although his website is in archive form it is still available here

http://web.archive.org/web/20090627181846/http://holywells.com/index.html

 

Terry Faull August 2014

Friar Tuck’s Well…new…well actually old photos

For my 99th post I’ve decided to revisit one of the blogs most popular posts https://insearchofholywellsandhealingsprings.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/perhaps-not-so-jolly-old-well-friar-tucks-well-at-blidworth/,….with new photos and hopefully with a new appraisal.

Towards a restoration of the well?

In my post about Friar Tuck’s Well I bemoaned the lack of any good photos. Whilst my search for photos of the whole structure have drawn a blank so far an exciting discovery via fellow folklorist Frank Earp in his photo collection which will go some way to reassessing and understanding the structure if and hopefully when it is fully restored. Frank had to scan the photo in two sections and I have ‘glued’ them back together digitally (I include two different glued versions) I include the photos as they are

Friar Tuck's WellFriar Tuck's Well2 contrasted

 

friar tuck one

He believes the photos were taken between 1975-78 I have included them compared to recent photos labelled to where I suggest the lost features are.  My question being do these structures seen in the picture lie beneath the mud and mire seen in the recent photo or has all the stone work been removed. Frank described the ‘basin’ as being cut out of the sandstone rather than being built with gives hope. Sadly, the photo fails to show the position of the railings. If combined with this image from the late Bill Richard’s Book on Friar Tuck and Blidworth Forest we can just work that the railings enclosed the basin seen in Frank’s photo just traceable as a depression.

The Ash tree which damaged the well, post Frank’s photo circular late 1980s?

What the photo does go to show is the importance of those pictures taken by ‘amateur’ well enthusiasts…keep photographing. I hope one day that the land the well is on can be purchased and the site repaired and this photo will help I feel in that venture. Especially as taking a walk….I found….

Big changes at Blidworth

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A recent visit found all the trees uprooted and channels made to drain the pool above. I thought at first that the well itself had been gone, but some focusing on the area revealed it still remained but the spring head brickwork looked more dilapidated and the railings gone. No sign still of anything like Frank’s photo above however, I think the sediment needs to be removed and a long period of dryness required. Fortunately the site is listed, grade II, and on an at risk register suggesting the authorities are aware of but something still needs to be done to reveal the ashlar trough below.

Another theory?

The name Friar Tuck maybe a bit of misdirection. If we look at the word Frere Tuck this means ‘troublesome brother’ the former from tucian perhaps if we combine this with the fact that the spring is intermittent, a piece of local lore recorded in my book, does it perhaps refer to the damage caused by this flow, in short a woe water, who’s flow either caused problems or predicted trouble. Frank has also focused on the possible folklore behind the famous fight between Tuck and Robin. Rather than be a ‘historical’ event it probably has a deeper folklore message of  dark battling light or the Winter fighting the Spring.

Acknowledgements

I stress the copyright on these important photos lays with Frank. Thanks go again to Frank and I direct you to purchasing the excellent book A-Z of Nottinghamshire curiosities from http://nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam.wordpress.com website. I asked Frank to contribute his excellent article on the origins of Newark’s St Catherine’s Well, in what I hope will be a regular feature of guest bloggers

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Is it Roman? Is it Egyptian? Is it Greek? The confused Hart’s Well

Travelling down a quiet English country lanes one can often come across a surprise; however just outside of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire one can encounter a little piece of Egypt…and Roman as well apparently.

From Wikipedia

Hope (1893) again provides the origin of its name:

“There is a local tradition that when Julius Caesar invaded Britain, he found a hart drinking at a well or spring; hence the name.”

An unlikely origin, but one which pops up so often in the subject it is as if Caesar toured the country for expressly this reason, naming this and naming that well! More likely is that the well was a place where deer drank. The official stance is that it derives from O.E heorot, and wella meaning ‘spring frequented by harts or stags’. Local historian, Lipscomb suggested that it derived from a herd. However, another theory is that it is a totem well, one which is named after the tribal group who dominated the area and utilised the spring. Unfortunately, we may never know.

Despite this noted Roman association it is to the Egyptians that the owners of nearby Hartwell House turned to. The perhaps rather insignificant spring was in 1840 romanticised as a folly, albeit a functional one. The man responsible was a Joseph Bonomi the Younger an English sculptor, artist, Egyptologist, museum curator and a man who lived to 102. He created an alcove seat around the spring, akin to a small Egyptian style temple. Across the top is an inscription in Greek!! It reads:

“ΑΡΙΣΤοΝ ΜΕΝ ΥΔΩΡ”

Which translates as:

 “Water is Best.”

The reason for this being that the instigator of the construction was the eccentric Dr Lee, a noted teetotalism campaigner who states:

“Stay traveller! Round the horse’s neck the bridle fling

And taste the water of the Hartwell Spring

Then say which offers thee the better cheer –

The Hartwell water or the Aylesbury Beer!”

Rattue (2003) examining the water said that he preferred the beer to its sluggish water, but its water was thought to be curative. Hope (1893) recalls it was “supposed to cure weak eyes and several other complaints”

More Egyptian is what I was told was a genuine obelisk set as the lintel with two cartouches. However, this does not look likely especially as Smyth (1851) gives the following:

hartwell hierograph

According to Rattue (2003) interestingly by the 1890s the Greek inscription was thought by local people to relate to a saint. Even more confusing…just showing how a simple spring can be both Egyptian-Roman and a Holy Well in one misconceived moment perhaps!

More details in James Rattue’s excellent guide to Holy Wells of Buckinghamshire

Perhaps not so jolly old well…..Friar Tuck’s Well at Blidworth

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInterestingly this is the only other site within the mediaeval borders of Sherwood forest associated with the legend and its pedigree could be considered dubious.  Friar Tuck’s Well which is associated with his legendary hermitage.  The well was surrounded by ornate railings and low walling and a cascade of water would have run down a series of angled stones after arising at first to fill a small chamber above. Considerable damage was done when an ash tree fell on the site in the 1980s or before. Consequently, the low walling stones have nearly all gone, but when first visited parts of the railings lay buckled and bent emerging from the boggy water. The spring no longer appears to flow down the cascade and there is no water in the chamber above it, but its chalybeate water still emerges from the left hand side of the structure.

A local legend

Local legend suggests that the remains of the moat just before the spring head were where Friar Tuck resided. It is said that when he was ousted from his cell by a Roger de Tallibois, he cursed the springs in this area, making them dry for seven year intervals and indeed in recent heavy rainfall periods the spring has not flowed! Other sources suggest it was Danish raiders who not finding gold in the area cursed the springs.

He also notes that the spring water was still collected by local people for its healing qualities. Was it a pagan site? Does the site have some connection with the Blidworth Boulder, a nearby holed glacial erratic? This is suggested to be able to heal children with rickets and interestingly is also associated with Friar Tuck.

A forlorn folly or hopeless holy well?

It is possible that the site records a local hermit or saint who has become tangled up with Friar Tuck legend. The fact that the well may have been dedicated to a saint is supported by the Rev. R. H. Whitworth, local vicar (1895-1908) who notes to local historian Ernest Smedley that the spring was called St. Lawrence’s Spring. However, I have been unable to find any supporting evidence for this view and it may be wishful thinking by the vicar, (the original church was dedicated to the saint). It could be the Heghwelles noted in documents of 1350 at Ravenshede.Does its name possibly derive from O.E halig or is it another site? Equally the spring could have been purely an estate invention to impress visitors to Fountaindale and the name Friar Tuck attached, especially as the story of Tuck was possibly from Sussex, as two royal writs referring to a Frere Tuk survive from 1429, but of course this date is too late to be associated with Robin Hood who generally is accepted to be ‘active’….

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This is also at variance to the presence of the character in May plays in the 15th century such as that from 1475’s Robin Hood and the Knight or Robin Hood and the Sheriff, which suggests either a rapid rise to fame or else the Sussex friar was an actor playing the part in this play and using a pseudonym.

Fountain dale or Fountain’s abbey?

The other problem is that it is possible that there is a confusion occuring over the location.  It is possible that Fountaindale has been confused by Fountain’s Abbey, and this may be the fault of authors such as Washington Irving who stayed at Fountaindale house and did much to support the legend. The obvious problem with this location is that it was Benedictine and not a Franciscan establishment; they were of course established in Nottingham in the 13th century. It is also worth noting that Fountains Abbey does have a Robin Hood’s Well and a notable stream to cross. The most famous story, of their encounter to refer to Fountaindale however is recorded by Arthur Quiller-Couch, in the Oxford Book of Ballads (1910).

‘But how many months be in the year?
There are thirteen, I say;
The midsummer moon is the merryest of all
Next to the merry month of May.
‘Shoot on, shoot on, thou fine fellòw,
Shoot on as thou hast begun;
If thou shoot here a summer’s day,
Thy mark I will not shun.’
 
IN summer time, when leaves grow green,
And flowers are fresh and gay,
Robin Hood and his merry men
Were [all] disposed to play.
Robin Hood shot passing well,
Till his arrows all were gone;
They took their swords and steel bucklers,
And fought with might and maine;
Then some would leap, and some would run,
And some use artillery:
‘Which of you can a good bow draw,
A good archer to be?
From ten o’ th’ clock that day,
Till four i’ th’ afternoon;
Then Robin Hood came to his knees,
Of the friar to beg a boon.
 
Which of you can kill a buck?
Or who can kill a doe?
Or who can kill a hart of grease,
Five hundred foot him fro?’
A boon, a boon, thou curtal friar!
I beg it on my knee;
Give me leave to set my horn to my mouth,
And to blow blasts three.’
Will Scadlock he kill’d a buck,
And Midge he kill’d a doe,
And Little John kill’d a hart of grease,
Five hundred foot him fro.
‘That will I do,’ said the curtal friar!
‘Of thy blasts I have no doubt;
I hope thou’lt blow so passing well
Till both thy eyes fall out.’
‘God’s blessing on thy heart,’ said Robin Hood,
‘That hath [shot] such a shot for me;
I would ride my horse an hundred miles,
To finde one could match with thee.’
That caus’d Will Scadlock to laugh,
He laugh’d full heartily:
‘There lives a curtal friar in Fountains Dale
Will beat both him and thee.
Robin Hood set his horn to his mouth
He blew but blasts three;
Half a hundred yeomen, with bows bent,
Came raking over the lee.
 ‘Whose men are these,’ said the friar,
‘That come so hastily?’
‘These men are mine,’ said Robin Hood
‘Friar, what is that to thee?’
‘That curtal friar in Fountains Dale
Well can a strong bow draw;
He will beat you and your yeomen,
Set them all on a row.’
‘A boon, a boon,’ said the curtal friar,
‘The like I gave to thee!
Give me leave to set my fist to my mouth,
And to whute whutès three.’
Robin Hood took a solemn oath,
It was by Mary free,
That he would neither eat nor drink
Till the friar he did see.
‘That will I do,’ said Robin Hood,
‘Or else I were to blame;
Three whutès in a friar’s fist
Would make me glad and fain.’
Robin Hood put on his harness good,
And on his head a cap of steel,
Broad sword and buckler by his side,
And they became him weel.
The friar he set his fist to his mouth,
And whuted whutès three;
Half a hundred good ban-dogs
Came running the friar unto.
He took his bow into his hand,
It was made of a trusty tree,
With a sheaf of arrows at his belt,
To the Fountains Dale went he.
‘Here’s for every man of thine a dog,
And I my self for thee!’ —
‘Nay, by my faith,’ quoth Robin Hood,
‘Friar, that may not be.’
 
And coming unto Fountain Dale,
No further would he ride;
There was he aware of a curtal friar,
Walking by the water-side.
Two dogs at once to Robin Hood did go,
T’ one behind, the other before;
Robin Hood’s mantle of Lincoln green
Off from his back they tore.
The friar had on a harness good,
And on his head a cap of steel,
Broad sword and buckler by his side,
And they became him weel.
And whether his men shot east or west,
Or they shot north or south,
The curtal dogs, so taught they were,
They kept their arrows in their mouth.
Robin Hood lighted off his horse,
And tied him to a thorn:
‘Carry me over the water, thou curtal friar,
Or else thy life’s forlorn.’
‘Take up thy dogs,’ said Little John,
‘Friar, at my bidding be.’—
‘Whose man art thou,’ said the curtal friar,
‘Comes here to prate with me?’
The friar took Robin Hood on his back,
Deep water he did bestride,
And spake neither good word nor bad,
Till he came at the other side.
‘I am Little John, Robin Hood’s man,
Friar, I will not lie;
If thou take not up thy dogs soon,
Ile take up them and thee.’
Lightly leapt Robin Hood off the friar’s back;
The friar said to him again,
‘Carry me over this water, fine fellow,
Or it shall breed thy pain.’
Little John had a bow in his hand,
He shot with might and main;
Soon half a score of the friar’s dogs
Lay dead upon the plain.
Lightly leapt the friar off Robin Hood’s back;
Robin Hood said to him again,
‘Carry me over this water, thou curtal friar,
Or it shall breed thy pain.’
‘Hold thy hand, good fellow,’ said the curtal friar,
‘Thy master and I will agree;
And we will have new orders taken,
With all the haste that may be.’
The friar took Robin Hood on’s back again,
And stept up to the knee;
Till he came at the middle stream,
Neither good nor bad spake he.
‘If thou wilt forsake fair Fountains Dale,
And Fountains Abbey free,
Every Sunday throughout the year,
A noble shall be thy fee.
 
And coming to the middle stream,
There he threw Robin in:
‘And chuse thee, chuse thee, fine fellow,
Whether thou wilt sink or swim!’
‘And every holy day throughout the year,
Changed shall thy garment be,
If thou wilt go to fair Nottingham,
And there remain with me.’
Robin Hood swam to a bush of broom,
The friar to a wicker wand;
Bold Robin Hood is gone to shore,
And took his bow in hand.
This curtal friar had kept Fountains Dale
Seven long years or more;
There was neither knight, lord, nor earl
Could make him yield before.

One of his   best arrows under his belt
To the friar he let flye;
The curtal friar, with his steel buckler,
He put that arrow by.

Slowly vanishing from view..

The site really should be better looked after and could make a good local project if the site could be bought from the local landowner to avoid trespass. However, I have been unable to find an old photo or illustration to suggest what the structure looked like when in best order (according to local historian Mr. Richards there is not one). Something needs to be done soon as even in the last year the iron railings which once surrounded the site have been removed. It would be sad to see this noted spring, whatever its provenance, fall to vandals and apathy. Sign up below to show your support.

New article with old photos discovered

The mysterious Gawton’s Well

A romantic site

If you park in the first car park at Greenaway Country Park past the lake, and then walk along the road taking the footpath on the left around the lake, continue until one crosses a bridge, just below the Warden’s Tower taking a path which follows a small stream, past a pond and then continue until there is a bridge on the left and just after this is a path on the right you will reach Gawton Well (SJ 898 555) voted one of the most mystical places and certainly one of the most atmospheric of Staffordshire ancient wells is found on the remains of the Kynpersely Estate.

The spring fills at first an elliptical stone basin, then a small rectangular basin and then a larger one which could have formed a bath. There is a semi-circular stone just after this and then flows through a number of large rocks forming a stream. The site has an excellent arrangement the juxtaposition between the man-made and the natural.

A druid grove?

Perhaps what makes this well one of the most evocative and interesting is the fact that it arises in an oval grove of yew trees. Some folklorists and New age Antiquarians have seen this as being evidence of some pagan origin of the well and although it is interesting that the site is unconverted to the Christian faith. However, one must be careful. Firstly the trees do not look that old and secondly the presence of a nearby Warden’s Tower, a folly suggests, that this is perhaps a 18th century piece of antiquarianism.

A hermit’s house?

This suggestion of the site being a folly may be justified by the presence of Gawton’s Stone. This is just up from the spring, being a large stone supported by three other stones. Some antiquarians identified erroneously this as either a druidic altar or megalithic structure (it would be impossible to lift the structure). However it is here that legendarily a hermit lived called Gawton who used the well. Often landowners would employ a hermit to add some romance to the estate, although the stone does not particularly look like a comfortable place. Certainly local tradition states that the man came from Knypersley Hall in the seventeenth century, although the house is 18th century and no name is recorded as living there of any note! The house itself dates from the 12th century.

 

 

 

 

Curative water

Plot (1686) states that:

“There are many waters such as the water of the well at Gawton Stone…which has some reputation for the cure of the King’s evil..”

The King’s evil was a skin complaint generally called scrofula which was only thought to be cured by the touch of the reigning monarch. Now rarely do I try out springs but at this time my little boy was suffering with eczema and having tried all sorts of creams I said flippantly try some of the well’s water. I collected it from near the source in a drinking bottle, it felt unusually silky to the skin, and applied some to an area of dry peeling skin on his cheek. Remarkably by the time we had walked from the well to the car the area have healed itself rather miraculously. I only wished I had collected some more to use later, although the area on his face disappeared for good….

In all Gawton’s Well deserves to be more well known, a magical site of which my only clue to its existence before reaching it was a circle on the OS! A site which may reveal its secrets with greater research which I plan to undertake whilst preparing for the Holy wells of Staffordshire.

Holy Well, Wishing well, Dairy or Grotto? The mystery behind Hollinhead’s holy well

From the car park one has an evocative if a little muddle journey to the ruins of Hollinshead Hall and its so called Holy Well, although it is well worth it. My knowledge of this curious well being drawn by an excellent article by Cramshaw in the now defunct Source. The house has virtually been raised to the ground all bar a few foot high walls criss-cross the field they lie and by far the most substantial remains is the holy well. As such it is the largest holy well in the county yet for certain is known regarding it.

It can be described as being built in the same sandstone rubble as the hall with a stone slate roof. The building a single cell is built into a slope from which the spring arises and is encapsulated by it. Either side a high walls creating a sort of forecourt with side benches with inward-facing chamfered piers with ball finials at the ends. The well house itself is quite an attractive building and is certainly not thrown up, having a symmetrical facade with chamfered unglazed widows which are fitted with spear-headed iron bars and clearly the building has never been glazed. The gable end has a large oval opening with a matching one at the rear. In the centre is a heavy board door with a chamfered doorway. This doorway unfortunately is locked baring any entrance to the well house.

Peering in through the windows one can see how strong the vaulted roof is, adorned by a pendent ball in its centre. The spring’s water flows from a crudely carved lion’s head, either side of a reredo of Ionic colonnettes, with a sunken stone tank beneath and each side a rectangular recess which enclose rectangular pools. There is a diamond-paved floor with a central gutter draining from this well or trough at centre of rear wall:

Curative water

Abram’s “Blackburn (1877) is perhaps the first to state that the water was curative. However, anonymous quote in Nightingales History of Tockholes  describes the well as:

“Here no less than five different springs of water, after uniting together and passing through a very old carved stone representing a lion’s head, flow into a well.  To this Well pilgrimages were formerly made and the water which is of a peculiar quality, is remarkable as an efficacious remedy for ophthalmic complaints.”

Post-Reformation holy well or is it a diary or grotto

Local tradition accounts that there was a site here from Medieval times and indeed, that the name Hollinshead was derived from a version of holy well although O.E hol, for hollow is more likely although there is a Halliwell Fold Farm nearby being derived from O.E halig for healing. The pool  with steps down above the well house may be the original well of course. The discovery of a hoard of medieval coins in 1970s would support the date and perhaps they were an offering. Another tradition is that the site was a resting place for pilgrims to Whalley Abbey and that the trough was used as  baptistery, however, this would be more likely to be the spring above the well house.. It is probably a springhouse, a structure built over a natural source of water for the storage of dairy products and other foods that needed to be kept fresh.

Reculsancy, that is practising Catholicism in secret, was very prevalent in Lancashire and the well house does the bear the coat of arms of the Radcliffes . It would suggest why the structure is so ornate and suggest a 1600s date although many authorities suggest an 18th century origin.  The site would be a secret baptistery and its design as a dairy ,would also help as well as being still function, certainly the presence of benches suggest this functionality. It appears to be too close to the house to be a garden folly such as a grotto! The suggestion of stained glass in the windows suggests something more significant discovered during the present stone roof’s construction. Indeed, the choice of the lion’s head is possibly that of the ‘Lion of Judah’, meaning Jesus providing rich and valuable water, although this is a common motif on many drinking fountains of course! Interesting, Cramshaw tells us that the site was in the 1980s the site of a well dressing, although what type is unclear and no other author has mentioned it as far as I am aware. Perhaps we shall never know the real origin of this delightful building.

Bexley’s Gothic Bath house

One of Kent’s oddest monuments can be found hidden in the garden of an ordinary semi-detached house in Bexley. For here, at the end of its garden, one glimpses this unique garden ornament: a gothic bath house. This may not be considered a subject of this site, especially as it is not spring fed, but fed by a river, it nevertheless has an interesting folklore akin to a holy well.

The bath house was a feature of the Vale Mascal estate, dominated by the rather modest Georgian house, built in 1740 by Thomas Tash, son of Sir John Tash, an alderman and ex-Lord Mayor of London.As he was marrying the cousin of two local wealthy men, Felix Calvert of Mayplace, Crayford and Sir Richard Calvert of Hall Place Bexley, a fine estate was needed to suit. Consequently the house boasted extension grounds of thirty acres, incorporating the river Cray. Today, sadly the grounds have been reduced, only five acres remaining.

This estate was laid out in a formal manner with walks, cascades and small islands. When this was undertaken is uncertain, but it is thought to have been between 1790 and 1775. The first written account of the grounds is by Hasted (1778) which refers to the estate’s beautiful cascade. Later in the 1790s, the Reverend Mr. Henry Hunter writes that this cascade was greatly admired.

The Andrews, Dury and Herbert map of 1769 illustrates an extra-ordinary complex of loops and channels of the River Cray within the Vale Mascal Estate. The map shows formal bath ways around a pond, later the spring of Springplace-which was built much later on the ground. It is possible that as the drawing of the bends cannot be reconciled with later maps, the scheme was taking place during the map’s surveying.

The grounds extended from Wollett Hall, North Cray, to within a quarter of a mile of the Bexley Mill. Along the stretch of water one encounters their weirs, a cascade and a water wheel to pump ater from the river Cray. Towards the north-east end of the estate there was a boat house, long pulled down, but shown on the 1860 OS map. Its landing steps were rediscovered in the 1960s during vegetation clearance. It is, however, the sturdy bath house which is now the estates most fascinating relic.

The building itself is of a Gothic style representing a small chapel, complete with a sham tower, buttressed walls and gothic windows, and indeed bears similarity to a number of countrywide holy wells. It was constructed of thirteen and a half inch brick wall, with an eighteen-inch west wall-thickened to support the extra weight of the tower. The external walls are also flint-faced to a depth of four-and-a-half inches, as the splayed corner buttresses, with flint patterning between the quoins. Inserted into each of the walls are typical period small blocked windows of rubbed brick, with two gothic cinque foiled glazed windows set high to protect the bather’s privacy. Another ‘blind’ window is to be found on the east side, but flint filled. There are neat brick label mouldings above all three windows.

The tower, which is flint-faced, is adorned with narrow brickwork slots and lozenge decoration to suggest that it is a belfry. Above the doorway and set into the lower portion of the west side of this tower are lozenge-shaped panels, in the corners opf which one can trace faint inscribed numerals. There were probably once gilded and doubtless record the date when the Reverend Mr, Egerton restored it in the last century.

One enters the bath from the west. This doorway once had a substantial heavy oak door, which was removed to Frank’s Hall, Farningham by the former owner of Springplace in 1935 (where it is still there is unclear). The floor of the bath house is nine inches below the door sill, and to the right-hand side is the rectangular cold plunge, entered by a series of steps. Unfortunately one cannot ascertain whether the plunge bath was tiled or brick-lined as it is obscured by silt and mud. The cold plunge is fed by the stream through an arch set low down in the south wall, and empties though the sluice, replaced around forty years ago. Above the sluice are two oak horizontal beams, spanning the building some five feet above the floor. There were erected to support two upright pieces from the original sluice gate, which was two feet further from the north wall than the present one. Interestingly, in the left hand corner there is a small fireplace to warm the bather. Its flue leads up into the mock tower.

Theories suggest that the estate may have been landscaped professionally by Capability Brown or a disciple. This has been suggested because of the nature of the river improvements suggests a great skill. Vale Mascal was noted for its creative use of water, utilising sub-streams, cascades and lakes to produce a number of islands. The bath appears to be situated on one of these islands. It is known that Brown was working locally. He landscaped North Cray Place in 1792 and Danson in the 1760s, where he built a small cottage in the shape of a chapel called Chapel House, so it is possible.

The site has attracted considerable folk tales, some more likely than others. Some antiquarians have suggested a Roman origin, fancifully describing it as a Roman Bath! Other local beliefs are that it was used by St. Paulinus to convert pagans and that it was a path used by pilgrims travelling the routes to and from Canterbury. All these pieces of lore hand upon some pre-eighteenth century origin for this site. Unfortunately there is no evidence for this.

A more probable piece of religious lore is that it was used by Charles Wesley during visits to the district. This is better supported by parish records, which refer to a Charles Welsey baptizing by immersion in March 1742.

After the suicide of Robert Burdett in 1806, the state began to fall into decay. As a result the land was broken up and portions sold individually. The estate house was taken up by the magistrate for the county, Sir James Charles Lawson. Its final and present fragmentation occurred in 1935, leaving the bath house with its island belonging to the semi-detached house of 112 North Cray Road, now owned by the Yun family.

Previous owners, the Reverend Mr Egerton and Robert Cooper, had fortunately carried out any restoration work needed for the house. Despite this, by the twentieth century vegetation had taken control, which although gave the site a rustic appeal, was causing damage to the fabric. This was precipitated in 1987, when on 16th October, the Great Storm struck down an ash tree. This broke through the roof and considerable damage result. This at first was thought to the end for the bath house, repairs being too costly! Fortunately, however money became available from Bexley Council’s Heritage Fund, Mr. Yun’s insurance and English Heritage. In the spring of 1990 restoration was carried out. So this enchanting relic still stands, rather incongruously in a private garden, for the delight of anyone who makes an appointment to see it in the summer months.

The above article with some amendments first appeared in Bygone Kent