The plants and trees on the surrounding banks seem to lean towards St Aldhelm’s Well in perpetual veneration. The effect is of being at the heart of a leafy hermit’s cell. The magic of the place is hidden from irreverent eyes by a wall through which the water trickles in a trough in the lane. In May the wooded slopes are lush with pungent wild garlic and all year round the steady sound of running water offers a refreshing reward even for the most world-weary modern pilgrim.
The village of Doulting (Somerset) lies about two miles east of Shepton Mallet on the A361. The name means ‘dark water’ and until the eighteenth century the river Sheppey was known as Doulting water. The village is famous for its stone which was used in the building of Wells Cathedral and Glastonbury Abbey. In previous years Doulting St Agnes fountain (another holy well) was reputed to cure the ‘quarter-all’ (cattle paralysis) but not if the cattle was stolen.
St Aldhelm, after whom the well is named, was a Benedictine monk who died in Doulting in 709. He is immortalised in the present church in stained class and in a statue; standing beside his spring, which he often visited to pray and to baptise the faithful. It was customary until recently to use the wall water for all christening; these days this only happens at the special request of the parents.St Aldhelm was the first Englishmen to encourage classical study; writing lengthy prose in a flowery and extravagant Latin style. He moved in high circles and was a relative of Ina, the heathen King of the Saxons, as well as being Abbot of Malmsebury and later Bishop of Sherborne.
He also appears to have had an eccentric side to his character. Gloria and Favid Bowles are residents of Doulting and have made an extensive study of the saint and his well. They hold the spot in high regard and due to their strong sense of connection with the place, are keen to see it preserved as a sacred shrine. David told me that Aldhelm used to nuddgle and eat fire to attract would-be converts, as wella s being remembered for lying up to his neck in the ice-cold well bath, whilst reciting the Psalter. Hewent on to say, with an impish smile, that he cherishes a mental picture of St. Aldhelm juggling three balls before a fascinated audience while muttering ‘ Father, son and holy ghost’
The well is now under the management of the Shepton Mallet Amenity Trust which bought it from Wells Cathedral for £1. The trust tried to interfere as little as possible with the site, doing minor repairs to the walling and felling some dangerous trees. Test on the water proved it free of contaminants and good to drink. Plans a few years ago to bottle the water for wider distribution were not met warmly by the village and were abandoned.
In 1893 R. C. Hope in his Holy Wells of England described the water as ‘wonder-working; and there are legends about its ability to cure blindness. Fred Davies of the Amenity Trust told me that less than ten years ago a Shepton woman of his acquaintance bathed her child’s severe eczema with the water from the well and the condition cleared. There appears to be no recent mineral analysis of the water, which seems a worthwhile task, in view of the well’s reputation.
According to Janet and Colin Bord in their book Sacred Waters (Granada 1985) the earliest water cults can be traced to around 6000 BC with an increasing awareness of the importance of unpolluted water, we are today seeing something of a revival in interest in water lore. Most ancient cultures developed ritualised ways of honouring the value of water. Divinities and the guardian of sacred wells was recognised as female and revered by many names the world over. Some of the old deities’ names still remain hidden in the names of our rivers today. Ceremonies were regularly performed beside wells and springs – to improve one’s fortune, gain insight into the future, seek healing or even make a curse. Often wells are attributed with specialised healing properties; eye complaint, infertility and children’s ailments being most usual. In less cynical days than ours, pieces of clothing from the sick would be bathed in water and bound to the ailing part or tied to the branches overhanging the well. These days rags and offerings can sometimes be found in the vicinity of ancient holy wells and the tradition of well dressing surviving only in Derbyshire is now reappearing in other parts of the country.
For many years St. Aldhelm’s Well was a site of pilgrimage and in the 30s and 40s Dom Ethelbert Horne, a Downside monk and enthusiastic antiquarian, took parties of visitors to the well. He recorded its existence for posterity in his book ‘Holy wells of Somerset’ (1923)Today as well as being a recreational spot and a water hole, for many in the village and beyond the well continues to be a place of pilgrimage and, from tome to time, local people have decorated it with flowers and candles to honour it as a natural spring
(The above was the first draft of a booklet entitled St Aldhelm’s Well published by Ms Sherwood (Shepton Mallet 1991) and is printed her by kind permission of the author.
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.“
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.
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!
Professor Charles Thomas Holy Wells of Cambourne extracted from Christian antiquities of Cambourne H.E Warne Ltd 1967 pp120-6 by kind permission of the author Originally published in Source – The Holy wells journal New Series No 2 Winter 1994 Part Two
In my aim to restore the lost articles from the Source archive this is the second part of the Holy Wells of Cambourne article
8 Maudlin Well
Just north of Roseworthy is the tenement of Cornhill, and in the valley bottom, on the Camborne side of the Connor street where a large field meets the uncultivated moor by the river, there is a spring now enclosed in a modern concrete housing. On the 1840 Tithe Map, this appears as ‘Maudlin Well’(field no. 435) miscopied as ‘Moudlin Well’ on one version. Henderson noted a version Medlenswell; but does not state where he found this. It is hard to think of any Cornish word which could have given rise to this way by corruption, and looks like as if this well was formerly ascribed to Mary Magdalene, sister of Lazarus and Martha.
9 Sandcot Well
In the extreme north-west corner of the Parish, there is a small steam flowing on the southside f the B3301 road, opposite the small one-storey cottage called Sandcot (below Pencobben) down the Red River bridge, or Gwithian Bridge, which divides Camborne from Gwithian. The stream comes out from under a rock in an overgrown quarry, and issues with some force,
The writer is indebted to Mr W. J. Furze of Beach House, Gwithian, for the information that this was at one time thought to be a holy well. The physical situation is certainly not against this theory, and it is interesting to note that there is no holy well otherwise known to be connected with the nearby chapel of St. Gothian, patron of Gwithian. This may be St Gothian’s Holy well.
The history and development of this site was fully discussed in Chapter V. It is worth stressing again that this may have been a medicinal well. Edward Lhuyd merely comments that ‘the well was call’d FentonIa in the psh of Cambron’ but fifty years later, Dr Borlase described it as a ‘well notated for Physical virtue’ and again as ‘…a rude well noted for its physical virtues.’ It is pity that we are not told what these virtues specifically were.
11 Fenton- Veryasek
The evidence for the existence of St. Meriasek’s holy well in Camborne, a shrine of some renown, rests not only in passages in Beunans Meriasek (a late mediaeval miracle play in Cornish detailing the life of St Meriasek/Meriagog -ed) but a wide range of independent accounts. The earliest is provaky that of Nicholas Risarrck writing in circa 1600 who says ‘there is a well wch also bereth that name and it is called St Marazaak’s Well’ Lloyd does not appear to have regarded the well as worth noting, but it appears in his notes as his chapel no 4 (at Rhoszwerb ie Rosewarne) and that some kind of structure was still visible about 1700 is confirmed by Tonkin
Thomas Tonkin of St Agnes in his unpublished Parochial History of Cornwall wrote between 1702 and 1730, the following passage concerning Camborne:
“I am inform;’d that there is a walled Consecrated well in the Parish called Mearhagos…and yearly the young People of the Parish frequent thai well, drink the water, and perhaps Cast some kind of offering in it, besprinkle themselves and then for the future are reckied true Parishioners and called Meerhagicks.”
Tonkin clearly shared an informant with William Hals who in the published portion of his county history, stated this
“CAMBURNE a Rectory, Is situate in the Hundred of Penwith etc. For its modern name Camburbe, which was not extant at the the of the Norman conquest, it signifies crooked or arched burne or well pit of water, so named from the famous consecrated spring of water and wall’d well in this parish call’d Cam-burne Well; to which Place Young People, and some of the Elder Sort,, make frequent Visits, in order to wash and besprinkle themselves with the Waters thereof…viz such as have been much sprinkled with Sprigs, Shrubs or Branches, viz, the shrubs, or Branches of Rosemary or Hyssop with which they are besprinkled. These are again by others also nick-name Mearagacks alias Meraragiks, that is to say Persons erring, straying, doing amiss, rash, fond, perverse, wilful, obstinate.”
This strange and much embroidered passage contains a good deal of hidden information. Tonkins Meerhagicks,, Hals Mearagacks and Lhuyd’s spelling of the Saint’s name as ‘Meradzock’ all confirm that by the 18th century, the last stage of Spoken Cornish, in intervocalic -s-in Meriasek’s name has become an English -J- sound, As Nance commented the colloquial pronunciation would now be ‘Mer -aj -ek’(probably with a strong penultimate stress). Hals gives at least two false etymologies ; that of the name Cambourne taking burne as a well or well-pit (OE burne stream, brook, fountain, well), an idea which was also expressed by Borlase; and an indigeneous attempt to translate Mer-rasick as a compound word instead of a proper name. As he appears to think it means ‘much sprinkled’ presumably be seen as VC mur, meor ‘great’ or meor ‘many much’ and an invented adjective ‘rasick’ possibly intended as a united form of crasyk (?crysek) from ModC crys, ‘a shaking, a shir’? Cf W crony vb to shiver and in Middle Ir creasach ‘ shivering. ‘Mearagacks alias Merargiks, on the other hand, he translates by a string of not wholly related adjectives, and it is hard to see what Cornish words, real or imagined, he had in mind here.
The special virtue of this well, as we know from Beunans Meriasek lay in the power of its water to cure insanity (lines 005-8 ‘likewise the water from my well/I pray that it may be a cure/For a man gone out of his mind/to bring him back to his wits again.). This reflects an original facet of Meriasek cult. At Stivalin Brittany an early mediaeval bell attributed to the saint is used to cure headaches and deafness, and at St Jean – du -Doigt, a mediaeval reliquary in the form of a bust of the saint contains what is alleged to be a piece of his skull. This head motif is thus central to some lost tradition it seems, in this respect to have been commissioned to both Cornwall and Britany. In Camborne, by a simple transference of ideas, those frequently Fenton-Veryasek would be jocularly regarded as in need of this specific cure, and the name ‘merajick’ must by Hals and Tonkin’s time have bee a local synonym for a hot-head or giddy fellow of any kind.
It is also seems clear from what Tonkin says that this well was in some way central to the life of Camborne; one suspects that the young people who frequented it ‘yearly’ did so in particular in early June, on the occasion of Meriasek’s feast-day.
Neither the well nor chapel are mentioned at all by Borlase, and all subsequent accounts derive either from Hall’s florid passage quoted above, or (more recently) from a minor elaboration of Hal’s remarks by Robert Hunt in his folk-lore collection. The chapel may have been in ruins as early as the 16th century, even if some kind of structure – as Thomas Tonkin suggests – even remained around the well itself until after 1700. In some form or other, the actual well was both known and identifiable until the last century, and gave its name to a house (St Maradox Villa) at the bottom of Tehidy road, Camborne.
The well was not, as tradition sometimes asserts, inside the present wall around the grounds of Rosewarne House. It stood on the opposite (west) side of what is now Tehidy Road, probably within the front garden or gardens of the late 19th century dwellings there. There is made clear from an interesting and unpublished paper by the late Tomas Fiddick, JP of Cambourne, a precis of which is fortunately preserved in Canon Carahs notes. The paper read to the Camborne Old Cornwall Society on 15th June 1925 states:
“St Meriadoc’s Well, which until existed until about 70 years ago was then a wishing well and children dropped pins into it, and expressed some wish, hoping to have their desires fulfilled, This well was inside a wall on the left of what is now Tehidy Road, going from the town, and just opposite St Meradix Villa. It appears to have been drained dry by mine adits and pumping operations at Gustavus mine. The water of the well was thought to have miraculous powers and especially for the insane.”
An interesting account of 1872 comes from the Rev John Bannister (vicar of St Day and author of A glossary of Cornish Names,18721) Reviewing Stokes edition of Beunans Meriasek, he wrote
“At the foot of Fore street also, east of the parish church, is a well still vulgarly called St. Merijicks, and the first Friday in June (some say July) is Teeming-day in Camborne, Some fifty years ago, I was told by an old habitant (who when a youth learnt orally from his uncle, the Cornish numerals up to 20, which he can now, though upwards of 80 years, repeat fluently from memory), no one could pass up the street on this day without having a pitcher of water thrown at him. Something o the kind though not quite so bad is still kept up; and old Hals yells us that persons washing in Camborne well, for the relief of some maladies were called Mereasicks or Mearagasks, though ignorant of St Meriasek, he gives his usual, some strange derivation for it, making it means something like sprinkled with rosemary.”
Bannister must be regarded as a reliable informant and this takes the life of the well a decade later than Thomas Fiddick states ‘Teeming day’ means ‘Pouring day’ from the obsolete dialect word ‘’teem’ pour (out) water preserved only in the English phrase ‘ teeming with rain’.
The famous well is now recalled only by a bronze plaque into the wall of the farmer Rosewarne park, a short distance away on the opposite side of the street. Erected by the late ,Mr James Holman who bought Rosewarne in 1911, it commemorates the starting point of Richard Trevithick’s first run in his road locomotive in 1801 – the birthplace of the modern railway system- and is dated ‘Peace day July 19th 1919’ it concludes ‘Also near this spot was the once famous Well of St. Meriadoc supposed to possess healing qualities of great virtue.
12 Bodryan Well
Henderson recorded a ‘Bodryan Well’ for both 1608 and 1650 as being in Camborne parish. Despite the most intensive search, the writer has been unable to find any other occurrence of this place name, either with reference to a tenement or to a field. It may represent ‘bos plus dreyn ‘ thorns’ or ‘house by the thorns’ but this scarcely helps in locating it.
A note on the locations of the wells listed
The following is based on the new (1963) Ordnance Survey 6 in. revised edition; N.M indicated not marked.
|1||Vincent’s Well||SW 67683776||N.M|
|2||Newton Moor Well||SW 6713873||W|
|3||Peter James’ Well||SW 65633728||W|
|4||The Reens Well||SW 65203834||N.M|
|5||Treslothan Well||SW 65143784||N.M|
|6||Silver Well||SW 65253744||N.M|
|7||Pendarves Well||SW 64703812?||N.M|
|8||Maudlin Well||SW 61413986||Spring|
|9||Sandcot Well||SW 59304230||N.M|
|11||Fenton -Veryasek||SW 64604052?||N.M|
Opened in 1838 the Swiss gardens was a popular location for those visiting the seaside town. Like other seaside locations it would appear that as well as bathing in sea water a chalybeate spring was available for visitors. However finding more details regarding it has been challenging.
The gardens like many earlier Georgian ‘spring gardens’ in London the proprietors established Assembly rooms, boating lakes, lawn games, fishing, shooting, aviary, mazes, bowling and other activities.
Arthur Freeling in his 1839 Picturesque Excursions; containing upwards of Four Hundred Views at and near Places of Popular Resort, with Descriptions of each Locality gives the first account of the site:
“SWISS GARDENS The lake covered with pleasure boats of which is a miniature steamer is the first object which the eye on entering the gardens by the principal gate boats are for public accommodation and are perfectly Upon our way to the Cottage which from hence our view we shall pass the Aviary by passing the gate to our right and keeping the lake side the adjoining it contains rooms for the games of Chinese and bagatelle a reading room in which may be seen a of papers and a variety of other apartments We now the Directors Office and the Kitchen the next object demanding attention being the GROTTO which is covered with moss suckles and other odoriferous shrubs its interior boasts Chalybeate Spring the virtues of which are of course indescribable.”
Roy Sharp in their 1992 account of ‘The Swiss Gardens, Shoreham by Sea, Sussex Industrial History paints a colourful account:
“A Grotto containing a Chalybeate Spring surrounded by fragrant roses and overflowing with sweet smelling Honeysuckle and other odouriferous plants and shrubs lay in a secluded part of the garden, the entrance to the grotto being guarded by large stone effigies of those legendary British giants, Gog and Magog; cleverly apt perhaps, as these huge guardians of the overgrown entrance of this ‘magic cave’ were supposed to be the wicked draughters of the Emperor Diocletian, who were captured and kept hidden and chained by Brute.”
The account records:
“However, if the visitor baulked at the thought of entering the grotto it could at least be externally viewed to some extent from the safe distance of the picturesque ‘Bridge of Steps’ spanning the stream. Close by, those who wished could pass through a low door covered with more mystical characters, to consult with the discreet and esoteric ‘Lady of the Temple of the Oracle’ – but only between 11.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. and 2.00 p.m. and 6.00 p.m.”
Sadly by the early 1900s the gardens had gained a poor reputation and numbers fell. By 1905 they were closed and the area developed in part resulting in the loss of the grotto and the chalybeate spring.
One lake survives behind the Swiss Gardens pub but everything else has been swept away by development.
Tamworth is noted for its splendid castle which dominates the public park, but once in the park was another notable antiquity St. Ruffiany’s Fountain or Ruffin’s Well (SK 207 039) The earliest reference for the site is in a 1276 Court Roll:
“Will’s Chelle obstruxit viam q’ ducit ad fontem S’ci Ruffiany.”
“William Chelle has blocked the way which leads to St Ruffianus’ Well”.
The site is supposedly connected with a King Wulfhere may have had the site as a Mercian royal residence and so may have dedicated the well as a holy well in penitence for the murder of his sons.
Who was St Ruffin?
St Ruffin was said to be a Saxon convert who was converted along with his brother, St Wulfhad in 670 being baptised by St Chad the Bishop of Lichfield. Both were said to have been killed whilst at their prayers. However there is some question mark over whether the saints really existed and were invented as a metaphor for martyrdom.
Destroyed, restored, destroyed.
Robert Hope in his 1893 Legendary Lore of Holy wells notes it was destroyed by fire on June 15 1559 and its restoration took 40 years, but soon fell into disuse.
Lindsall Richardson (1928) Water supply of Warwickshire states that the site is a pool enclosed with brick walls, about 15 ft by 12 ft. It was thought to be covered by a high- pitched roof over it. This may explain the account that on the 15th June 1559 it burnt down. A flight of six steps descends to the pool from a doorway in an adjacent building. He continues to note that the pool is filled by a spring which overflows into River Anker.
The well lay on what was the eastern side of the castle’s lower lawns, beneath the Ankerside shopping centre. The surroundings of the well were improved in 1960 to commemorate the 1200th anniversary, three years previously, of the accession of Offa to the Mercian throne. The structure is modern and does not look much like a well, rather a raised plant bed being now situated on the south-west exterior of the Ankerside shopping centre.
A commemorative plaque reads:
“St. Ruffin’s Well. According to tradition this well was dedicated to St. Ruffin. The Martyred son of Wulfhere who was King of Mercia in the seventh century. The restoration work was carried out to commemorate the 1200th anniversary of the accession to the Mercian throne in 757 a,d of King Offa whose Royal palace stood in the northern part of these grounds when Ramworth was the capital of that Kingdom.”
However a recent visit has found that this has been removed and all sign of the well has vanished.
To be restored again?
Then in 2012 a Facebook group was formed with its aim to restore the well. However, the following post suggested the issues about restoring
“Well, well, well (excuse the pun) – here is a long overdue update for you folks who are in support of the campaign to re-instate St Ruffins well. The campaign is still alive and kicking – the situation at the moment is:
1. Tamworth Borough Council are not opposed to the idea!!!
2. They want empirical proof that the spring is still there before we can do anything
3. Having spent the best part of a year talking to University archaeology depts, county archaeologists, English Heritage, private companies etc etc, we are in a catch 22 position –
There is no test or survey that will show whether the spring is still there, at best all that would show up is whatever they capped it with (probably a lump of concrete) – the best way to find this is to dig a hole – SO – we need to dig a hole to find the empirical proof for the council that will lead to them giving us permission to …. dig a hole – you see the problem.”
However despite a positive campaign as noted from below
- “The Tamworth Herald say they have had lots of emails in -supporting the campaign to ‘Free St Ruffins Well’ and are publishing an update of the situation in tomorrows Herald, so will purchase a paper tomorrow with baited breathe.”
And indeed we have because St Ruffin’s Well remains unrestored and the campaign to revive similarly appears to have hit a hiatus! It is a shame because as the photos show a restored St Ruffin’s well could become a real feature in the castle grounds.
In this article to celebrate 10 years of blogging I am selecting 10 of the best sites I have discovered and detailed since I had begun blogging on the topic
The Monk’s Well, Southam – Nothing can prepare you for what I could describe the most unusual of all holy wells. Hidden deep in the landscape and under a nondescript metal cover a deep shaft of squared stone plunges deep into the ground to a small well chamber below.
‘St Helen’s Well’, my house! I had to include this one as it is a possible holy well under my own house. Read how I discovered the spring and how the name of the house is suggestive of an ancient and lost St Helen’s Well
St. Anne’s Well, Brough. Often a name of a ‘unknown’ well on a map leads the explorer to discover a boggy hole overgrown and difficult to image its importance. Here a few miles out of Buxton and in the shadow of a Roman fort is a well which appears have been missed by many researchers but well built and likely to be very significant,
Lady’s Well, Mansfield. This time a site which all authorities had recorded had been lost for good and attempts by ‘English heritage’ failed to find it. A bit of local field work and contacting local people and low and behold one can find the best preserved Nottinghamshire holy well…hopefully news of a residential development on the site will not result in its final demise!
Lady’s Well, Wombourne. In this case a site which is well recorded but appeared to have disappeared off maps and thus thought to have gone. A bit of looking at older maps and field work revealed not only a magically placed site but a remarkable example of a natural spring carefully improved by past generations to create sometime quite evocative.
St Peter’s Well, Peterchurch. A slightly different affair this one. When I first visited in the 1990s it was a forlorn site with the bath filled in with concrete and all that could be seen was the head through which the water once flowed (and had been tanked). Roll forward 30 odd years and community action had restored the site wonderfully back to what it first looked like – a bit of a triumph.
Holiwell, Odell. Bedfordshire is a county not fully explored by holy well researchers and one I am slowly working through. This site again I had found an old photo and worked out its location as a likely place. Expecting to be wrong or find the site gone I was amazed to find it almost exactly as it was in the photo…well almost.
St Mary’s Well, Rhuddlan. I cannot claim to have discovered this as its quite prominent at the front of the stately house which is Bodrhyddan Hall but I didnt expect to find such a splendid building over the spring.
St Chad’s Well, Brettenham. It is probably not a St Chad’s well not an estate spring made into a folly holy well. Nevertheless a fascinating site.
St Christopher’s Well, Denton. Again another grotto and is an overgrown wilderness that appeared to lay unvisited for many years…it still had old pre decimal coins in it.
In 2018 I took over the Source Archive which digitally stored the articles from the Source Journal (old series) established by Mark Valentine, Source (new series) edited by Roy Fry and Tristan Gray Hulse and the Living Spring journal established by Richard Penderick who had held onto the archive at Bath University.
The archive has been an invaluable resource but the observant would not know that certain articles were missing and when I took over the archive I stated that I would try to make these available digitally for the first time since in this month’s example since 1994.
Thus at the 10th anniversary of the Insearchofholyandhealingsprings blog site I had decided to complete the task. The first article is a lengthy one so I have decided to divide it into two parts.
This week is a transcription of an article missing from the second of the new series of Source (the first missing) by Professor Charles Thomas:
Antony Charles Thomas, CBE DL FBA FSA FSA Scot was a British historian and archaeologist who was Professor of Cornish Studies at Exeter University, and the first Director of the Institute of Cornish Studies, from 1971 until his retirement in 1991. He was recognised as a Bard of the Cornish Gorseth with the name Gwas Godhyan in 1953. He sadly died in 2016. Again the copyright belongs to the author I shall remove if anyone from his estate requests so.
Professor Charles Thomas
Holy Wells of Cambourne
extracted from Christian antiquities of Cambourne H.E Warne Ltd 1967 pp120-6
by kind permission of the author
Originally published in Source – The Holy wells journal New Series No 2 Winter 1994
Over most of Cornwall, the word ‘well’ is used to describe both artificial-dug vertitical shaft, and a natural spring, whether flowing or static. The traditional ‘holy wells’ of Cornwall are seldom more than a foot or so deep, and can be nothing more than water issuing from the ground or from a rock. In Cornish, a single word normally surfices for both well and spring (OE funten, MC fenten, ModC fenton cf OB funton, ModB feunteum) derived form the Latin fontana, and apparently superseding some such purely Celtic word as that represented by the OC pol ‘pool, well’ The strict term for a dug well, Mod C pyth dialect peeth seems to be confined to domestic usage and does not occur in place names as far as is known.
The wells described in this chapter are all of some age, and have some claim to be regarded as ‘holy’ or ‘lucky’ in the broad sense, while at least three of them are, or were, thought to possess medicinal virtues. In no way can this be claimed to be a complete catalogue of which wells in the parish and there must be many others unknown to the writer – indeed unknown to anyone except the few people who live near them. The selection discussed below nevertheless forms a good representative group, such as may be found in most parishes in west Cornwall. These wells are shown on the map, and their eight-figure National Grid references are listed at the end of this chapter, as many of these wells have never been distinguished on the Ordnance Survey sheets.
- Vincent’s Well This is a copious natural spring which forms one of the sources of the Red River. It can be found, with some difficulty, on the so called Bolenowe Moors (actually a marsh with heavy scrub undergrowth), and is still esteemed in Bolenowe as being of great antiquity, and as possessing water of healing qualities. An old and choked lane leads to it from the farmlands of the Forrest tenement of Illogan, and the well itself seems to be just on the Ilogan side of the Camborne-Illogan bound. The spring issues out from under some horizontal granite slabs. Charles Henderson visited vincent;s well in the 1930s, though he confused it with fenton Io (no. 10 below) He wrote ‘ It is famous throughout the district for its healing qualities especially with regard to the eyes. One old man asserted that doctors had frequently taken some of its waters away to London (this claim is repeated to the writer at Bolenowe in 1962 by several ladies of the village)’…The spring is most difficult to find and approach….it is a fine clear copious spring issuing from the ground, and there are no traces of any building covering it….’Vincent’s Well must be carefully distinguished from ‘Vincent’s Shute’, the name of a spring and watercourse behind the house in Bolenowe village occupied (1962) by the Vincent family. In the case of Vincent’s Well, the Vincent part is probably, as in field-names, a corruption of the Cornish word fenton,
- Newton Moor Well A mile or so down the Red River Valley from Vincent’s Well there is a large patch of uncleared ‘moor’ resting on a bed of decomposed gravel. In the middle of Newton Moor, just south-east of the present Newton Farm, is this well; not very deep, but it has never been known to run dry, even in drought and is enclosed in a high granite structure on top of which is a cast-iron Victorian pump. In front of the well is a paved area of square granite blocks. There is no reason to think that this well is regarded as either holy or medicinal, but it is included here to avoid any further confusion about the well on Newton Moor, and the genuine holy well (no 10 below) on the other Newton tenement at Troon.
- Well at Peter James’ Carwynnen In an open space among several little holdings at Carwynnen, the best-known of which is sometimes named after a recent occupier (Mr P. James), there is a small shallow well enclosed in an arched or covered edifice of rude granite blocks. It is shown here as an instance of a number of wells in the southern half of the parish, all of which are probably medieval in origin. There is a very similar one (4 The Reens Well). In the lower part of the valley called ‘The Reens’, just east of the road from Killoivose to Treslothan, which once served a now vanished farm called ‘Rocks’ or ‘Rock’s farm’ and the writer remembers as a boy seeing yet another somewhere in the woodlands of Pendarves park.
- Treslothan Well The little spring in the central area of Treslothan village, hidden behind a battered iron door, is enclosed in a handsome Gothic arch, and would look more at home in a Breton hamlet than in a Cornish one. Despite the appearance of weathered antiquity, this is really Victorian, a tasteful shrine constructed at the same time as the model village of Treslothan. Visitors sometimes assume wrongly, but understandably that this is a holy well of great age.
- Silver Well No one seems to know where this picturesque name cam from. The little natural spring is so called lies immediately below, and on the west side of, the enclosed public footpath across the former Pendarves Woods at the Stennack – a footpath which runs from the lane behind the vicarage at Treslothan, across a style iontpo the field called Hound close and joins the road from Stennark to Carwynnen Water (Lower Cardwynnen) opposite a modern bungalow. The site is now choked by brushwood resulting from tree felling operations, and few people except some elderley persons in the locality could even locate this spring. Thirty years ago, the write could remember it being a lucky well into which pins had to be thrown for a wish, and it gave its name to Silver Well Lane, the upper part of the roadway from Stennack to Lower Carwynnen.
Part two to include Maudlin Well, Sandcot Well, Fenton-Ia and Bodryan Well
Mysterious creatures of springs and wells – The fairies, St. Cuthbert’s Well and the Luck of Edenhall
Fairies are often associated with springs for reasons I have explored previously but in this small Cumbrian village is a site associated with a famous legend involving fairies who frequented St. Cuthbert’s Well. William Hutchinson’s The History of the County of Cumberland started that
“In the garden, near to the house, is a well of excellent spring water, called St. Cuthbert’s well (the church is dedicated to the saint). This glass is supposed to have been a sacred chalice: but the legendary tale is, that the butler, going to draw water, surprised a company of fairies who were amusing themselves upon the green, near the well: he seized the glass, which was standing upon its margin; they tried to recover it; but, after an ineffectual struggle, flew away, saying,
If that glass either break or fall,
Farewell the luck of Edenhall.”
The glass in question is an ‘old painted drinking glass, called the Luck of Edenhall’ which was first mentioned in the Will of Sir Philip Musgrave in 1677. The legend became immortalised in poetry by Ludwig Uhland and Longfellow . The true origins of the chalice is that it was probably originated in the middle east and perhaps was brought back by crusaders in the 14th century being made in Egypt or Syria.
Whatever the origin the association with misfortune was apparently taken seriously by subsequent owners of the Hall. A Reverend William Mounsey of Bottesford records in 1791 in The Gentlemen’s Magazine in 1791 noted that it was carefully locked away and few were allowed to see it. This certainly worked as when the Musgraves owned the house the faeries’ promise was kept and the house and family were successful. However, upon selling the house in 1900, the family kept hold of their ‘luck’. Thirty-four years later the house was demolished!
It seems to me that there is much to de-clutter from this legend and I would suggest that it probably obscures Catholic practices at the house after the reformation. The collection of water from a holy well suggests water being collected for religious worship and certainly the Luck could be seen as a vessel for sacrament for secrete services at the house. The association with fairies a legend to keep curious protestant onlookers away…and indeed even today very few people visit the well; laying as it does on private property…..finding a photo has not been possible…the fairies minus their vessel can enjoy the solitude. The Luck today resides at the V and A museum in London.
It is not clear whether St. Bride’s Well takes its name from St. Bride’s Church constructed in 11th century. Certainly the name Brydewell is noted in property owned by the Bishop of St David’s in 1487. The Palace of Bridewell was built nearby and thus Stow (1598) notes:
“fell to ruine, insomuch that the verie platform thereof remyned for great part wast, and as it were, but a layestall of filth and rubbish; only a fayre Well remained there… until King Henry the 8 builded a stately and beautiful house thereupon, giving it to name Bridewell’”
The well was outside of the church until the 15th century rebuilding when it was incorporated into the south-east corner of the church. Hone (1826–7), who says:
“the last public use of the water of St Bride’s well drained it… Several men were engaged in filling thousands of bottles, a day or two before the 19th of July 1821, on which day his majesty, King George IV was crowned at Westminster from the cast-iron pump over St Bride’s well, in Bride-Lane.”
I was informed by Mr. Eric Davies informed me that the well ran dry after an enterprising local pub landlord decided to sell water from the well and perhaps this is what Hone above alludes to. The nearby Bridewell Baths were said to have been filled by the spring’s waters explaining perhaps the poor quality of the water. In the crypt museum is a pump tap said to be from the well.
According to Mr. Davies it was the custom to use the water from the well as holy water, to sprinkle on the route of Coronation Processions from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey, which went along Fleet Street and past the church. Milne (1997) it was ‘still remembered in the early twentieth century as the focus of a formal procession which left the chancel and made its way southwards towards it. A map in the crypt museum notes an unusual feature a south door installed for processions to the well, presumably when the well was at ground level.
After the post-War restoration of the church, the name was assigned to a fountain placed in the northern churchyard, which was removed in 1994. Indeed there appears to be some confusion over what happened to the well and when. Furlong (accessed 2013) states that it disappeared under modern office complexes however the church identify it as being in the crypt and according to Mr. Davies was lost over 100 years ago.
However, according to correspondent the well was still there in the 1970s and was full of water and indeed in the 1990s when a workman was asked whether there was a well there he said there was. However, there is no well to be found at the site in the crypt and indeed the flooring of this chamber appears to be modern. The loss of the well and the adamant statement that the well was there in the 1970s is clearly at odds with the opinion of Mr. Davies who kindly showed me the site. It is possible that the church filled in the well around the 1990s as a response to pagan usage of the crypt and church around St Bride’s Day, in particular the usage of the plane tree said to mark the site of the well and fed off it. The site of the well is shown on maps in the crypt museum be found in the crypt, but not the section which is open to the public.
In the crypt museum the tap from the well which provided a public water supply is shown in one of the museum display cabinets. Outside appears to be an aperture and small trough fed by a pipe which may have been fed from the spring or alternatively from the drains above. One hopes that the mooted but expensive improvements planned to be made to the church will reveal the well once and for all and restore it.
Extracted from Holy Wells and healing springs of London and Middlesex
One of south Wales’s most evocative and peaceful holy well is that of St Anthony’s Well in Llansteffan. One approaches the site by a path that leads from the castle site down to the beach.
Why St Anthony?
A fair few Welsh holy wells are dedicated to their local holy people but this one is dedicated to St Anthony. However, this still underlines its association with hermits as titular saint is St Anthony of Egypt who in around 251-356 AD was believed to be the first Christian hermit. Like modern day Catholics who take a saintly name at confirmation Celtic holy people would adopt names which had a spiritual significance. Thus locally this hermit was called Antwn; a Welsh form of Anthony who is said to have lived here in the sixth century. The plaque on the wall of the well records:
“Little St Anthony’s Well is barely large enough to get your hand inside for a drink of water. But you must wait patiently for the clear drops to seep from the mossy recess in the hillside.”
Chris J Thomas in his 2004 Sacred Welsh Wales describes it as cold and bland so it may not be worth the wait.
It is recorded that in 1811 existing stonework has been built around the natural spring in the form of a pointed arch with an offerings shelf at the back. A small recess above the shelf is where a statue of the saint was reputedly placed. Now there is an icon of the saint. Prayer flags festoon the area as well.
In more modern times the surrounding area has been rather heavily improved with extra retaining walls and a paved forecourt. It is now described as a Grade II listed site is describe as having a well chamber set within a triangular-headed recess into the southwest facing wall of the enclosure and above it are two stone shelves and a carved niche. Above it is a relief carving, presumably of Antwn, is on the rear wall of the enclosure
The shelf is full of cockle shells -and some other small votives and it is apparent that the tradition is alive and well. However, I am unaware of why they are doing so.
A hermit’s well
So this was a hermit’s well which suggests in the location there was a hermitage or at least a site of refuge. A suggested site is a cave further down the bay shaped similarly to the well arch – however there is no evidence.
Local tradition suggests that he used the water to baptise local people It is still a site of pilgrimage. Paul Davis 2003’s Sacred Springs: In Search of the Holy Wells and Spas of Wales notes that:
“frequented by lovesick travellers intent on casting a pin into the well to fulfil their hearts desires.”
Thomas (2004) notes:
“Pilgrims still visit this well for their own secret purposes, the most prevalent of which is for ‘wishing’. Romantic aspirations and reparations are what St Anthony’s Well is best at, apparently. You must be totally alone, offer a small white stone and wish very sincerely. There ae no known statistics regarding its success rate.”
It is not difficult to see why this site would not be in anyone’s top 10 of sites – the seaside location, its secretive enclosure and the sweeping gardens and sylvanian setting surrounding it mean it would be easy to spend a few hours in solitude listening to the dripping water and the sounds of the waves. A more peaceful place would be hard to find.