Many claim to be the oldest holy well but by virtue of its association with the first Christian ministry of the Saxons, St. Augustine’s Well Ebbsfleet is perhaps according to tradition the obvious claimant for the oldest ‘English’ holy well.
However early records are rare and its first reference appears to be on the 1874 OS map and its earliest written account is George Dowker in 1897 article for Archaeologia Cantiana On the landing place of St, Augustine records:
“Formerly Ebbsfleet was supposed to be situated where the farm-house of that name stands, and is so placed in the Ordnance Maps of Thanet; of late the spot has been shifted to near ” The Sportsman,” and by a spring of water called St. Augustine’s “Well, chiefly on the representation of the late Mr. W. R. Bubb, who resided at Minster; he walked with me to the spot where the present memorial cross is erected, and explained his reasons for concluding that the landing must have been there, and not at or near the Ebbsfleet Farm, as usually represented. These reasons were chiefly the presence of a large oak tree that was said to have formerly grown there, and the proximity of the place to Cotting-ton-field, which he thought a corruption of Godman-field.”
Interestingly it almost suggested that it was Bubb who coined the well and it would appear to be a possible invention by revived Catholics. This is supported by Rev Boggis (1907) in A history of St. Augustine’s College Canterbury,, as a Catholic revival:
“The next station is made at St. Augustine’s Well — just to quaff a draft from the spring which he is fabled to have brought bubbling up through the briny sands.”
The account also adds a piece of folklore similar to the tradition that like Becket at Otford he perhaps prayed for water, which is related by Goscelin of Saint-Bertin who states the saint was able to provide water for his thirsty followers by striking the ground with his pastoral staff but this could equally be another site. Iggleseden (1901-1946) Saunters in Kent. He describes:
“..a stagnant pool, the remains of a well, which had the reputation of miraculous healing powers, while the water was also used for baptismal purposes.”
However, Howarth (1938) who notes:
“near which is a well (known locally as St. Augustine’s well). This will continue to delude people into the notion that there is a real foundation for the view.”
Yet, Certainly by Stanley (1956) in The London Season pilgrimage was formalised:
“Near to the fifth green is a little spring of clear water which is known as St. Augustine’s Well, which legend holds appeared miraculously to slake the Saint’s thirst. Every year this site is the scene of the pilgrimage headed by the Warden of St. Augustine’s College, Canterbury, who, in his role of Bishop Knight, kneels by the spring to drink the water.”
Why wonder what connection that has with what James Rattue (2003) in his Holy wells of Kent records:
“Apparently local nuns used to clear it out, but this has ceased to happen for almost twenty years.”
I was also informed by some members that this site was where a drunken vicar drowned, but have not substantiated this story.
St Augustine or St Mildred’s Well?
Howarth (1938) does not support the fact that Ebbsfleet was the location where on Whitsun A.D. 597, Augustine baptised heathen Saxons, amongst them, possibly King Ethelbert in the area. However, local lore recognised first a tree and now an ornate carved cross dating from the 1800s which depicts the story however there is a possible another association. James Rattue (pers com) suggests that the well may have originally been dedicated to St. Mildred, daughter of Queen Ermenburga, who was given land at Thanet, by the converted King Egelbert, as an apology for killing her brothers. Here, she founded a monastery, and became the Abbess of Thanet Minster; latter becoming their patron saint.
The view that the well was dedicated to her is based upon local tradition that a stone, located within proximity of the well, bore the footprint of the saint, made miraculously as she set foot on the land at Ebbsfleet, from France. One tradition associated with St. Mildred’s stone is that it could never be removed. Whenever it was it returned to the same position! This is a common folklore belief only spoiled here by the fact that St. Mildred’s stone has not been seen since the 1800s!
The site today
When James Rattue visited he described it as:.
“a pit, now usually dry, but which represents St Augustine’s Well.”
Now on the 17th fairway of St. Augustine’s Golf Course St. Augustine’s Well is a large circular steep sided pool, from which a sluggish stream arises, flowing to the sea. I found it full of water but not very pleasant more recent photos have shown cleaner water.
It is a small community. Blink and you’d miss it on the way to Penistone. It does appear to be able to agree on its name Midhope cum Langsett or Midhopestones? There’s an even smaller church, really a chapel and even smaller congregation. But what it lacks in size it certainly makes up with atmosphere and devotion – no other church in the region blesses its wells without a dressing. Furthermore it boasts two of the county’s more substantial healing springs.
Springing from somewhere?
The history of the custom is an obscure one. There is record of this being a revival. When it was revived local people who recall it being done in their lifetime and local belief is that the blessing of the well was done in the 1800s. Perhaps like the Bisley well blessings it was the brainchild of a local High Church clergyman who wanted to return a bit of colour back into these mundane mining landscapes. Sadly despite the conviction of this being an old tradition nothing is written down to support the view. Sadly, the only history of the area Joseph Kenworthy’s (1935) The Lure of Midhope-cum-Langsett fails to mention it although it does discuss St. James Well. Mind you it is worth noting he does not refer to the Potters well so it might not have been that comprehensive. Indeed he does state that the customs of the village have not been recorded. Was he hinting something?
“At Nether Midhope in the Precincts of the Manorial Homestead of Midhope-in-Waldershelf, may have been held in superstitious reverence long before Anglo-Saxon, Dane or Norman came on the scene” (Kenworthy)”.
It is worth noting that Joseph Kenworthy was apparently a local historian in this area however he does not appear to have written or discovered a great deal about the well. The genuine belief of its age suggests to me that this was a revived custom otherwise well dressing would have been done instead or as well when it returned. As it was across this part of South Yorkshire at Dore, Norton – itself in 1972 and close by in Penistone. Tony Foxworthy Folklore of Yorkshire (2008) states that the two well are dressed in June. However, I cannot find any corroboration of this in the usual sources such as Nayor and Porter’s Well dressing book! This suggests an older origin to me.
Rob Wilson (1990) in his Holy Wells and spas of South Yorkshire notes that the custom was revived on the 1st October 1972 but appears now to be fixed firmly on the third Sunday of September. Why this date was chosen is unclear as it is not a patronal day or a date associated with well customs. He also notes that both wells are “decorated rather than dressed’ however this aspect of the custom does appear to have fallen into abeyance. The chapel now appears to be dressed in bouquets and wreaths and makes an evocative site.
Holy and healing springs
Oddly very little is known of St. James’s Well but the Potter’s well on which the plaque reads:
“A spring harnessed in 1720 when Midhope Old Pottery was built south-east of the bridge by M.W Gough, Potter. It is said the troughs came from the manorial hall. Until 1919, it was the only water source in Nether Midhope.”
“A publication of approximately 20 years ago gives some additional information about the Potter’s well: The water in this well was known as Idle Water it is known fact that you can boil an egg in it but it wont face another one.”
The spring was believed to be healing one:
“it is very fine add to children who suffer with whooping cough. Take a pint from the well, and give the patient a sip each day until it is gone and the result is a good recovery.”
Such customs can easily disappear from a parish as quickly as they begin, often being the initiative of an enthusiastic curate, who dies or moves on and the new incumbent either fails to keep it up or in some cases in openly in opposition to the custom. This is certainly true of the Church of England. And certainly true of customs associated with wells…the celebration of which is not to everyone’s taste. Fortunately, the revival was due to an Anglo-Catholic incumbent and the ministry here has remained High Church ever since….it’s probably unlikely to change and so the custom remains safe.
I arrived in the small village just as the service had started in the delightful old chapel of St. James. The lane up to it was packed with cars such that passing along it was difficult. Indeed at one point a combine harvester wanted to pass and came millimetres from the wing mirror of a parked car – I should think they are used to that around there.
I came into the chapel just as the Canon was discussing holy wells and was remarking about Harrogate and Buxton and what was known of their holy well, St. James. After around 40 minutes of the service the congregation assembled outside with the Loxley Silver band.
On this autumn afternoon, the weakness of the sun can be felt, leaves are beginning to fall….the bright red colour and sounds of the Locksley Brass Band give a vibrant jab in the arm on a grey afternoon. The hymn O Praise Ye the Lord is sung heartily at the entrance to the lane where the well is located. The band remained at the road way as the congregation lead by the clergy walked down the well. The well is located below this lane and is accessed by a gate and steps…down into a very muddy field…not surprisingly many of the attendees watched the ceremony from lane above. The well itself is surrounded by metal railings. One of the clergy stated we can get inside and opened a gate and one by one they entered. It is not a large enclosure and I wondered if they were attempting some sort of world record ‘how many clergy can we get in an enclosed space.’ Once there the following was recited:
“ Bless the Lord all created things, Sing his praise and exalt him forever, O Let the earth bless the Lord, Sing his praise and exalt him forever, Bless the Lord you mountains and hills, Sing his praise and exalt him forever, Bless the Lord all that grows in the ground, Sing his praise and exalt him forever.”
A porcelain cup was produced and at this point the Venerable Steve Wilcockson bent down and parting the green slime on the surface filled it with remarkably clean water. Fortunately he did not partake in it but upon saying the blessing poured the water to libate the well and effectively make it holy again! The blessing went:
“We give thanks to the Virgin Mary, Jesus St Paul, St Peter, John the Baptist and particular St James under who’s patron this well brings forth water and brings it to this water to the parish….In the faith of Jesus Christ we dedicate this well to the glory of god, in the honour of St James, in the name of the father, the son and the holy ghost. Heavenly father, we thank you for the gift of water to refresh the earth and make things grow Bless hallow and sanctify this well.”
The group then traipse down the hill to the other well – the Potter’s Well – a decidedly more secular affair. Here the water was drawn by the canon and then poured to the ground again. Here not only was the well blessed but so was the Parish. The band was put to fine use with the playing of the Hymn Glorious things of these are spoke and then the National Anthem was sung and everyone retired to a light tea at that other great British institution – the pub!
A brief custom but a delightful one. Just as the celebration finished an out of breath man arrived ready with his camera…”have I missed it?” He had…but it’ll be on next year, the community clear recognise the importance of their waters. I cannot agree more when Wilson (1990) notes:
“An event such as decorating and blessing a well requires very little financial outlay, and whatever money is spent is amply compensated for by the enjoyment and community spirit which the event engenders. Bradfield Parish council must be congratulated for their vision and initiative. Other councils take note.”
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!
There were a number of attempts to capitalise on the fame of Tunbridge wells perhaps the most curious was Adam’s Well. The earliest reference to the site is found in Thomas Burr’s (1766) History of Tunbridge Wells:
“on forest a little beyond the Rocks, a spring of water was discovered, which was palled in and called Adam’s well. For what particular reason this spring was taken such notice of, it is not now very easy to determine.”
Burr (1766) perhaps implies that the well was discovered within living memory, and its fame being established before that of Tunbridge. However, Alan Savidge in his 1995 Royal Tunbridge wells stated that it ‘enjoyed local repute’ long before the arrival of the Tunbridge spa.
Richard Onely’s 1771 General guide to Tunbridge wells stated that it was:
“very lately a medicinal water, called Adam’s Wells has been inclosed and made convenient for the remedy of scorbutic cases, and cutaneous eruptions; and which, from its well known and tried quantities, it is thought may answer in many cases, as well as sea water.”
Jasper Spange’s 1780 Tunbridge wells guide makes a small note of it.
“ADAM’S WELL which is a pure limped spring of a most soft pleasant drinking water issuing from a very high hill in a small farm in the parish of Speldhurst.”
Interestingly he adds:
“Those ingenious practitioners in physic the celebrated Doctors Pellet Shaw Lamont Blanchard & c always recommended it as fine drinking water and made use of it themselves for that purpose the last of whom has been overheard to declare to Mr Sprange Bookseller & c in his shop that there was no better drinking water in the neighbourhood”
Thus suggesting there was some attempt to promote the spring In John Russell Smith’s 1837 Bibliotheca Cantiana he states:
“SPELDHURST Adam’s Well at Speldhurst being as circumstantial a History of its Original and the cause of its present improvements the high esteem it has always been held in as a drinking Water and its salutary effects in the various Cases and Disorders herein described and attested as can at present be produced 12mo pp 29 London 1780”
John Evans in 1821 Recreation for the Young and the Old records:
“Adam’s Well distinguished for its transparency is in the vicinity.”
Alan MacKinnon (1934) in his History of Speldhurst, perhaps drawing upon an earlier source as well as describing it in greater detail, clearly indicates it origins as a holy well, in the use of the words holy water below:
“Adam’s Well is situated in this Manor, it was famous long before the Tunbridge Wells waters were discovered, and issue from high ground at Langton. In much repute in ancient times, it is impregnated with no mineral, saline, nitrous or earthy matter, whatever, it is quite free of sediment, and was called in old times a ‘holy water.’ In 1765, the owner of this well, on digging into the rock to enlarge the pool or bath came upon an ancient stone arch, whose date could but mere matter of conjecture. This arch can be seen at the present day.”
Combined with the traces of medieval stonework, the medieval origin is supported by its name: Adam, being taken from a local fourteenth century landowner, John Adam. Fortunately, Adam’s Well still exists, much as MacKinnon (1934) describes, now enclosed in the private grounds of Adam’s Well House: a bungalow, built in the nineteenth century, after a bout of vandalism, to house a caretaker for the well. The well itself arises in a shallow, square brick-lined chamber. Enclosing this is a large stone alcove, built to allow a sheltered access to the well during inclement weather. The back wall of this shelter is of a crude nature, indicating that it may indeed be of considerable age. A stone set in its arch notes: ‘ADAMS WELL 1868.’
This date presumably refers to when the well was repaired, and the house built. In front of this is a much larger and deeper rectangular stone chamber. I was informed by the then owner in the mid-1990s, Mrs Wolf, that dogs and horses were washed within this. Over this chamber is an iron grill with the letters ‘AW’ in its centre. Mrs Wolf also told me that the quality of the water was so good that it was bottled and stored on ships for long periods. Much of the popularity of the water came from the fact that it lay along the busy old road from Peacehaven to London.
Burr (1766) implies that its powers, to cure human ailments, were largely forgotten and:
“…at present it is only famous for the cure of mangy dogs, in which case it is esteemed an infallible remedy.”
Yet, John Britton (1836) in the Descriptive sketches of Tunbridge Wells and the Calverley estate; with brief notices of the picturesque scenery, seats, and antiquities in the vicinity describes it as being noted for:
“its transparency of its waters, and for its efficacy in some cutaneous disorders.”
Recent analysis showed that the water contains copper, which perhaps explains its lower popularity compared to Tunbridge, as copper salts were not as efficacious as iron salts. This is supported by Mrs. Wolf who noted that it had not cured her rheumatism!
Extracted from Holy wells and healing springs of Kent
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.
October 2021 marks 10 years of blogging about holy and healing wells. The site now has 374 blog posts over 193 pages and thus thousands springs and wells recorded.
So each month I plan to do something a bit special for the next year or so. Ten years on from the first blog post and 10 books on I thought I could celebrate with a special downloadable volume XI – Holy wells and healing springs of Rutland – for a limited time only!
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.