A phantom black dog usually much larger than an actual dog, often said to be the size of a calf, with glowing red eyes is a folklore standard being recorded from across the country. Whether they be called Black Shuck, Barguest, Gytrash, Trasher, Padifoot or many other names often there is an association with water. As a brief introduction I have again attempted to included as many as I have uncovered.
It Lincolnshire often they are associated with bridges such as Brigg, Willingham (Till bridge) or banks of streams. At Kirton, there is a black dog was reported as living in a hole in the stream bank near this Belle Hole farm. Ponds were often associated with it such as the fish pond in Blyborough Lincolnshire. Rudkin in her 1937 Lincolnshire folk-lore notes a site called Bonny Well in Sturton upon Stow Lincolnshire which was an unfailing supply even in the great drought of 1860. One assumes that the site derived from O.Fr bonne for ‘good’. The site in the 1930s was a pond down Bonnywells Lane and was associated with a number of pieces of folklore; that it was haunted by a black dog and sow and litter of pigs which appeared on Hallowe’en. In the same county, Hibaldstow’s Bubbling Tom had a black dog protect it. Edward Bogg’s 1904 Lower Wharfeland, the Old City of York and the Ainsty, James tells how near St. Helen’s Well, Thorpe Arch:
“padfoots and barguests…..which on dark nights kept its vigil”
In Elizabeth Southwart’s 1923 book on Bronte Moors and Villages: From Thornton to Haworth, she talks about Bloody tongue at Jim Craven’s Well, Yorkshire:
“The Bloody-tongue was a great dog, with staring red eyes, a tail as big as the branch of a tree, and a lolling tongue that dripped blood. When he drank from the beck the water ran red right past the bridge, and away down—down—nearly to Bradford town. As soon as it was quite dark he would lope up the narrow flagged causeway to the cottage at the top of Bent Ing on the north side, give one deep bark, then the woman who lived there would come out and feed him. What he ate we never knew, but I can bear testimony to the delicious taste of the toffee she made.”
She relates one time:
“One Saturday a girl who lived at Headley came to a birthday party in the village, and was persuaded to stay to the end by her friends, who promised to see her ‘a-gaiterds’ if she would. As soon as the party was over the brave little group started out. But when they reached the end of the passage which leads to the fields, and gazed into the black well, at the bottom of which lurked the Bloody-tongue, one of them suggested that Mary should go alone, and they would wait there to see if anything happened to her.
“Mary was reluctant, but had no choice in the matter, for go home she must. They waited, according to promise, listening to her footsteps on the path, and occasionally shouting into the darkness:
““Are you all right, Mary?”
““Ay!” would come the response.
“And well was it for Mary that the Gytrash had business elsewhere that night, for her friends confess now that at the first sound of a scream they would have fled back to lights and home.”
The author continues:
“We wonder sometimes if the Bloody-tongue were not better than his reputation, for he lived there many years and there was never a single case known of man, woman or child who got a bite from his teeth, or a scratch from his claws. Now he is gone, nobody knows whither, though there have been rumours that he has been seen wandering disconsolately along Egypt Road, whimpering quietly to himself, creeping into the shadows when a human being approached, and, when a lantern was flashed on him, giving one sad, reproachful glance from his red eyes before he vanished from sight.”
In Redbrook, Gwent, Wales, at Swan Pool after the crying of a baby and then the appearance of a women holding a baby, a large black dog appears circles the pool and heads off a to kiln. In the Highlands a pool containing treasure is guarded by a hound with two heads and it is said to have haunted a man who drained the pool and discovered the treasure. He soon returned it! A moat near Diamor County Meath is said to contain a nine kegs of gold protected by a large black and white spotted dog. One could collect the gold if the dog was stabbed three times on the white spot. Another white dog is found, described as the size of a bullock, at Bath Slough Burgh in Suffolk.
Water appears also to be a place of confinement. At Dean Combe waterfalls in Devon the ghost of local weaver was banished by a local vicar and when he turned into a great black dog was taken to a pool by the waterfall. Here it was told that it could only concern people once it had emptied all the water using a cracked shell! At Beetham a local vicar banished a spirit called Cappel which manifested itself as a dog into the river Bela in the 1820s. Equally one wonders if the account associated with St Eustace’s Well, Wye Kent has more significance:
‘swollen up as it were by dropsy’ came to a priest, whom upon seeing her urged her to go the spring. This she did and no sooner had the women drunk the holy water, she recovered but vomited forth a pair of black toads, growing into black dogs, then black asses! The woman surprised vented her anger against these manifestations and the priest intervened, sprinkling the holy water on ‘they flew up into the air and vanished, leaving no traces of their foulness.’
A possibly un-investigated sub-genre associated with holy wells and varied water bodies are the coach and horse phantom. The phenomena is wide spread. And in lieu of a longer elaboration I thought I’d introduce some examples here and please feel free to add other examples in the comments. The furthest south one I have found is association with the Trent Barrow Spring, in Dorset Marianne Daccombe in her 1935 Dorset Up Along and Down Along states:
“One dark and stormy night a coach, horses, driver and passengers plunged into this pit and disappeared, leaving no trace behind. But passers-by along the road may still hear, in stormy weather, the sound of galloping horses and wailing voices borne by them on the wind”.
However, the majority appear to be in the eastern side of England which is not surprising as these were and in some cases are boggy, desolate marshland areas which clearly were treacherous in olden times.
In Lincolnshire, the Brant Broughton Quakers (1977) note a site in their history of the village. This was found on the corner near the allotments on Clay road was a deep pond called Holy well pond or All well or Allwells. They note that
it was haunted by a coach and horses which plunged into its waters. I was informed by Mrs Lyon, the church warden that the pond was filled in at least before the writing of the above book.
In Lincolnshire, most noted site is Madam’s Well or Ma’am’s Well. Wild (1901) notes that this was a blow hole which Charles Hope’s 1893 Legendary lore of Holy wells describes as a deep circular pit, the water of which rises to the level of the surface, but never overflows and such it is considered bottomless by the superstitious. Rev John Wild’s 1901 book on Tetney states that they were connected to the Antipodes, and relates the story which gave the site its name:
“In one of these ponds a legend relates how a great lady together with her coach and four was swallowed bodily and never seen again. It is yet called Madam’s blowhole”
Wild (1901) also tells how:
“a dark object was seen which was found to be a man’s hat…when the man was retrieved belonging to it….my horse and gig are down below.”
Norfolk has the greatest amount. Near Thetford a coach and four went off the road and all the occupants were drowned in Balor’s Pit on Caddor’s Hill, which they now haunt. On the right-hand side of the road from Thetford, just before reaching Swaffham, is a place called Bride’s Pit, after a fathomless pool once to be seen there. The name was actually a corruption of Bird’s Pit, but tradition says that a couple returning home from their wedding in a horse drawn coach plunged into the pond one dark night, and the bride was drowned. An alternative origin is that it may be a memory of the Celtic Goddess, Brede or the early saint St Bride.
The picturesquely named Lily Pit was found on the main road from Gorleston to Beccles (A143), hides a more ominous tradition, that it was haunted by a phantom. The story states that at midnight a phantom pony and trap used to thunder along the road and disappear into the water. What this phantom is confusingly differs! One tradition states the phantom was a mail-coach missed the road one night and careered into the pit, vanishing forever. This may be a man named James Keable who lost in the fog fell into the pool in 1888 his body never being recovered. Or a farm-hand eloped with his master’s daughter, who fell into the pool and drowned. He so racked with guilt later hung himself on a nearby tree. This may be the a man from Gorleston who went mad after his only daughter was lost in the pool, and so hung himself from an oak tree which stood there into the 1930s. There is an account in this Youtube video.
In April I examined a well know rag well but as research for my Holy wells and Healing Springs of Lincolnshire regards the county is a hot bed for rag wells. In this first part I will examine those found in the far north of the county
Perhaps the oldest account of such a rag well is that associated with the Holy Well at Winterton not far from the ragged springs at Healing. Winterton’s Holy Well (SE 944 178) was undoubtedly an ancient one, recorded as the fieldnames as 13th Century Haliuel, c.1200, Haliwelle Daile, early 13th century and gives its name to Holy Well Dale on road to Appleby. The earliest account by a Mr Joseph Fowler, of Winterton, who was born in the year 1791, remembered people who had seen rags on the bushes near. Andrew (1836) notes:
“There are excellent springs about Winterton, one of which, lying in a field eastward of the town, called “the Holy-well Dale”, has the property of petrifying vegetable matter”
Edward Peacock, 1877), A Glossary of Words Used in the Wapentakes of Manley and Corringham, Lincolnshire, English Dialect Society 15 which describes it as accounted useful in the cure of many sorts of sickness. Fowler (1908) notes that:
“an old lady of eighty-one years tells me of how people frequented that spring, hung fragments of linen or cloth or ribbon on the hedge or bushes near, and took its healing water away in bottles.”
Charles Edward Hope (1893) in his Legendary Lore of Holy Wells takes a number of sources, some hitherto unknown. These are:
“WINTERTON : HOLY WELL DALE. There is a spring at Holy Well Dale, near Winterton, in North Lincolnshire, formerly celebrated for its healing properties; and the bushes around used to be hung with rags.
Sadly this is a site which despite still being marked on the current OS has apparently been recently removed in the last 15 years by drainage. The fate of the well emphasizes the need for preservation of such sites. In a report by Pastscape, they note that Mr. Herring, a local farmer indicated this spring on the ground at and said it ran following rain. They noted more modern piped spring nearby probably accounts for the mainly dry state of the old spring. It is interesting that in Hilary Healey (1995a), Lincolnshire holy wells in Lincs. P & P 19 pp. 3–6. they record the attachment of a rag to a nearby signpost.
Nearer to Scunthorpe at Bottesford is a site which has been discussed before on this blog by Ian Thompson under his examination of the Templar’s Bath nearby. Near the church is St John’s Well, a grade II listed approximately five foot high stone and brick well house, whose spring arises in the garden above it and flows towards the wall where the well is situated. Its masonry is mainly of Victorian date with possible older stones. A fairly recent gate is set across the entry but one can still peer inside to see the water inside in its sunken trough, although the actual well which is said to be eight feet deep is inaccessible in the garden of St. John’s House as noted. Locally I have heard it called St. John’s Ragwell but no authority can justify it but I would suggest that as its rag well and not clootie well it is probably authentic.
One of the most intriguing rag well is to be found to the north east of the village of Utterby along Holywell Lane. It is simply called the Holy Well (TF 317 937) and here it is said that coins were dropped and it was formerly a rag-well of great repute for its medicinal qualities. Peacock (1895) notes quoting White’s directory that:
“The surrounding bushes used to be tufted over with tatters left by people who visited it to benefit by its waters. Three or four years ago, if not later, remnants of clothing might still be seen on the shrubs. Persons yet living have taken their children to this well, and, after sprinkling them with water, have dropped a penny into it for good luck.”
This would appear to be the same site which Cordeaux, J., (1876), Anatolian folk-lore, Notes & Queries describes as a rag well near Great Cotes, Ulceby.
The springs appear on the first 6” O/S map as Holy Well (chalybeate) and remained until 1951 edition, when it disappeared. Thorogold and Yates in the Shell Guide of Lincolnshire (1965) describe it as a holy well full of sticks in a spinney. A correspondent to Collins (2011) called Steve, notes of the site:
“Finding it amongst the dense thorn bushes is another thing, dowsing helped me locate it back in the early 1990’s. I cleared out a 6 foot deep hollow many leaves and cans etc. and it was very dry. I returned about 6 months later to find it full of bubbling red rich water….”
When researching the site for Holy wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire I could not find any evidence of a site. Indeed the site according to the Utterby Heritage group is now is dry and rather overgrown, hidden and no longer traceable. A return visit in early December always a good time to search for holy wells enabled me to get into the thicket and despite some promising hollows I could not claim to have found the exact site. However, clearly someone in the Utterby group know the exact location as they stated there would be a plan to restore the site at some time in the future.
In the next instalment we shall travel southwards and explore why rag wells are prevalent in Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire is not the first place on thinks of concerning holy and healing springs but as my research for my book on Holy wells and Healing springs of Lincolnshire showed closer examination can reveal some interesting sites and traditions. One such site now completely forgotten is found in the aptly named Welton. Here the Old Man’s Spring and five wells, which the spring head supplies, in the village were the source of a local little known and forgotten well dressing custom. A correspondent of Maureen Sutton in her excellent Lincolnshire Calendar (1996) a resident of Welton notes:
“The custom of well dressing was an annual event which took place on Ascension day. Five wells in the village were dressed including one in the churchyard, one in the grounds of the vicarage, two in West Carr and one in spring cottage in Sudbeck Lane. The origin of the source being ‘old man’s head spring’ in Welton Cliffe (Westhall Farm) The dressing of the wells took a different format to that of neighbouring counties, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. In Welton each area surrounding the well was marked with an arch formed from a tree branch and decorated with lilac and laburnum. A linen, white calico cloth on which was depicted a text taken from the bible was put into each arch; this was put up by the men in the village early on Ascension Day morning. The ceremony began with a service in Saint Mary’s Church followed by a parade to the decorated beck in the churchyard. Each well was then dressed in turn and a prayer said and a hymn sung. The local Sunday school children took part in the ceremony by placing wild flowers at each well. ”
“On Ascension Day we again propose to continue the custom of ‘Well dressing’ as an act of thanks-giving to Almighty God for the blessing of bountiful supply of pure water to Welton. Celebration of Holy Communion 8 am; Well dressing service 2pm; Procession to the wells 3pm; Public and Day school Tea 4.30pm; Children’s concert and Prize distribution 6.30 pm We pray to God to favour us with fine weather for the festival”.
It is a great pleasure to start 2016 with a return of the guest blog post and this year I am honoured by a piece by holy well author, Ian Thompson, who having published four works on the subject, is a great authority. Based in Lincolnshire, where he runs Bluestone Books (http://www.bluestonebooks.co.uk/index.php), he has published a number of local history works, hagiography and guides to Eastern Orthodoxy. However it is his works , the first co-written with his wife- Water of Life: Springs and Wells of Mainland Britain and Lesser Known Holy Wells and curious water sources and Springs and Wells of Lincolnshire, the important Hermits and Well Churches and Saints, Chapels and wells which makes him more than qualified,…and so in this article he discusses the history and mystery of North Lincolnshire’s Templar Bath.
There is no doubt in my own mind that the Templar’s Bath is a folly and an imposture, though the imposture was almost certainly the result of miscalculation. Edward Peacock, on whose property the Bath was situated, was a man well known and respected in academic circles and a noted collector of archaeological material. He probably misrepresented the Bath to a colleague or visitor for reasons of vanity or local patriotism, never dreaming that the matter would get into the public domain. He must have been horrified when it did so, for it threatened his very standing within the scholarly community. All that he could do was to retreat into silence and try to cover his tracks, and this he did with remarkable success. For more than a hundred years people scratched their heads and speculated about the Bath but no-one seems to have guessed the truth – no-one, that is, except for a very few persons ‘in the know’. However I must stop talking in riddles.
Edward Peacock FSA of Bottesford Manor (near Scunthorpe) was a distinguished Victorian antiquary. He rebuilt the Manor House, giving it a romantic ‘Tudor’ skyline, added a coach house and library complete with baronial turret, and improved the village in certain small ways. It is almost certainly to Peacock that we owe the Cornish-style well house which now covers St John’s Well, the ancient church spring. Also, and since Peacock is the culprit of my story, it is necessary to say some things in his defence. Though largely self-taught he was a leading member of various learned societies and a pioneer in the study of Lincolnshire dialect. A young man once presented himself at the British Museum Library without a reader’s ticket, and was given the freedom of the manuscript room without one when it was discovered that his parents were known to Peacock.1 Among other qualities Peacock had a rare talent for bringing a subject to life. His Glossary of local dialect words abounds in delightful illustrative anecdotes and the second (2-volume) edition of this work (1888-89) contains two chapters of the Old Testament rendered in the North Lincolnshire dialect of Peacock’s day. It is to Peacock that we owe the Diary of Abraham de la Pryme (Surtees Society 1869) which he rescued from obscurity and helped to edit. In short, he had a well-deserved and solid reputation.
To return to the Templar’s Bath. What we now see is a stone-arched spring in a grassy hollow on a new housing estate, the hollow itself being the result of recent landscaping. In winter the water forms a circular pool several feet wide, sometimes entirely submerging the arch, but in a hot summer the site can be virtually dry.
However most of the Templar’s Bath now lies beneath the soil. A much-faded photograph in the possession of the North Lincolnshire Museum, dating from about 1925, shows the Bath to be a roughly circular stone structure about five feet deep, consisting of several stone steps curving downwards to a narrow arched doorway. Beyond this doorway lay a domed chamber perhaps three feet in diameter. (Better to visualise the Bath, imagine a stone structure nearly twice as big as an old-fashioned bathroom cistern, with the front cut away to allow access to the interior. Or think of a medieval lock-up). No water is visible in the photograph but we may assume that the lower steps and the chamber itself frequently enclosed a pool several feet deep. Only the top of the arch protruded above ground level.
The subterranean nature of the Bath and its lack of any protective enclosure must always have rendered it liable to silting. Moreover the field in which it was situated was, until fairly recently, permanent pasture. Cattle grazed it and drank from the water, and the Bath rapidly filled with mud. In 1925 (presumably just before the photograph was taken) the then owner of the field, Mr John A. Jackson, dug out the infill and executed some repairs to the structure. Thereafter it was again neglected and quickly reverted to its former state. Then, in the 1980s, the field was sold for housing, and although the Bath and its surrounds were exempted from development and eventually grassed over, no attempt was made to clean it out again. In retrospect this was probably wise since it saved the Bath from the likelihood of damage by vandals. The road by which it is now approached is called Crispin Way.
The Templar’s Bath puzzled historians and archaeologists for much of the last century. Harold Dudley, in his History and Antiquities of the Scunthorpe and Frodingham District (1931) had this to say about it:
“In the Manor Field at Bottesford is an ancient spring, arched over with stone, known variously as the ‘Roman Bath’ and the ‘Templar’s Bath’, the latter name being given on the Ordnance Survey map. I remember seeing, twenty or more years ago, two or three stone steps leading into the water, but it is now filled up with mud. This curious little structure is described in Lyell’s List of Roman-British Architectural Remains as a hypocaust, or furnace for heating a villa, something after the style of modern central heating, and it is further referred to as such in the Archaeological Review. There is, however, no suggestion of a hypocaust in the little arch, and it has more probably been a dipping well [ie. an immersion well] connected with the Preceptory of the Knights Templars which formerly existed at Bottesford. Certain Roman remains have, nevertheless, been found around the village.”
In fact the photograph above shows at least five and possibly six or seven steps leading down to the interior of the Bath, so that what Dudley remembered seeing was merely the upper part of the structure. More significantly we now know that the Templars never had a preceptory at Bottesford. The land which they owned in the village was merely rented out to provide revenue for their preceptory at Willoughton, ten miles to the south.
The first public doubts about the antiquity of the Bath were voiced in 1983 when a local newspaper carried an article about it,2 incorporating the reminiscences of Mr Reg Coggan of Scotter (now deceased). He was the grandson by marriage of a local bricklayer, Alfred Lawson, and according to Coggan, Lawson claimed to have built the Bath from scratch, in or about the year 1880, to Peacock’s specifications. We know, from an entry in Peacock’s account book, that Lawson was employed to undertake work on the Bath, but the wording of the entry implies that Lawson merely renovated and capped the structure. So which version are we to believe?
Now all the evidence suggests that Lawson was telling the truth and that the Bath is a Victorian folly; that it was built by Peacock for his own use (see below) but that the matter leaked into the public domain and got seriously out of hand. There are many reasons to question the antiquity of the Templar’s Bath but consider just the following:
- The Bath was a mud-trap – ie. a totally impractical structure, and must have required constant maintenance to prevent it from silting up. No ancient well would have been constructed on this principle. (Semi-subterranean springs are invariably protected against infilling, usually by the provision of strong retaining walls.)
- For sheer impracticality the Templar’s Bath is probably unique. But the design itself, though certainly untypical, is not without precedent. At Little Cawthorpe near Louth there is a strikingly similar structure (though without steps), enclosing a spring within the garden of the former Vicarage. Here, however, the well house is built into the side of a bank and its chamber acts as a protective back wall. In front of the well house the ground falls away and so there is no danger of silting. This particular well house was built by the Vicar of the parish, the Revd Edmund Huff, c.1858, and it transpires that Huff and Peacock were not entirely unacquainted. We cannot say whether they were ever close friends, but they were leading members of a society dedicated to the reunion of the Church of England with the Church of Rome, and they both played a prominent part in a meeting held for that purpose in London in 1872.3 There are also entries in Peacock’s Journal recording visits to Louth at about this time. The coincidences are, to say the least, suggestive.
- There is also one piece of negative evidence and it seems to me very telling. Nowhere in Peacock’s private papers (apart from the isolated entry in his account book) and nowhere in his published writings did he ever refer to the Templar’s Bath. This is all the more surprising when we consider his consuming interest in local topographical features. Several local springs are mentioned in the first edition of his Glossary – in fact they are the subject of special entries4 – and he also published a paper on the dedication of wells to St Helena; yet with regard to this most curious structure, almost literally on his doorstep and the very stuff, one would suppose, of antiquarian interest, Peacock is strangely and persistently silent. Why?
Now of course there is no reason why a distinguished antiquary should not build a private folly if that is how the fancy takes him. What he must not do is mislead the public or connive at an imposture. And I say this because in 1887 – ie. soon after the Bath was either restored or created – it, and also St John’s Well, were shown for the first time on an Ordnance Survey map, both springs being accorded gothic lettering to denote sites of historical importance. There is something curious even here because neither the OS archives nor the archives of the National Register of Ancient Monuments contain any supporting documentation to say why these sites were so designated; and that, I am told, is highly unusual.
Who saw the Templar’s Bath and communicated with the OS? And if we accept that it is indeed a sham, why did not Peacock intervene to put the record straight? He must surely have been consulted. Was he too embarrassed to admit that he had perpetrated a folly and passed it off as a genuine antiquity, and did he subsequently visit the OS archives and remove the documentation? This or a similar scenario seems to me the most likely one, for again if we accept that the Bath is spurious it is hard to believe that Peacock would have risked his very considerable reputation by communicating with the OS on his own account. Indeed, his consistent silence on the matter of the Bath tells strongly in favour of some outside intervention.
Thus far the case against the antiquity of the Bath. No doubt it falls short of absolute proof but it is, I believe, a convincing case, and one that is now widely accepted. However what follows is pure speculation and I offer it simply as an intriguing possibility, though it would help to explain one or two odd little puzzles.
An argument which was often advanced in the years following the newspaper article went something like this: that the Templar’s Bath may indeed be a fake, but at least it encloses a spring, and the spring itself is an authentic part of the history of the village. And perhaps this is so. Yet there was one other curious feature about the Templar’s Bath, or at least about the Templar’s field (ie. Manor Field) before it was consigned to housing development. Over a period of more than twenty years I paid regular visits to the Bath and I was never able to find it without a good deal of searching. Sometimes I was almost ready to swear that it must have been moved! And this was odd because springs are usually quite easy to locate. All one has to do is to find the valley created by the spring-fed stream and trace it backwards to its source. Even semi-subterranean springs, like St Withburga’s Well at East Dereham in Norfolk, leave traces of their underground course in the form of a shallow depression on the surface of the land. In the case of the Templar’s Bath however, not only was there no surface stream, there was no valley either. The land around the Bath was featureless and flat. I have often found myself wondering: is the Templar’s Bath really a spring, or could it be a culvert?
In former times Bottesford was rich in springs and the valleys created by several of them can still be traced. In three cases we can even identify the former back wall of a spring. However at different times during the nineteenth / early twentieth century these springs were all culverted into Bottesford Beck; mostly by routes which would not take them anywhere near the Templar’s Bath. The exceptions were the springs in the vicinity of the Manor House itself, of which again there seem to have been several. These gave rise to a stream which flowed through the Manor House grounds and then turned away eastwards. If this stream was culverted along the line of its bed (as one would expect) the culvert would pass some way north of the Templar’s Bath. But there could have been (then or later) a distributary culvert to divert some of its water into the Templar’s field. The Templar’s spring is not a very active affair and might perhaps be the result of a distributary culvert. Or there could have been a separate culvert from just one of the Manor House springs.
I say this because somewhere in Bottesford there used to be a spring called the Craikle Well – a rag-well,5 once highly esteemed for its curative properties. It was reputed to have restored the sight of a woman who had gone stone blind and to have brought health to a chronically sick child. In the eighteenth century ‘folks used to come in their carriages to it.’6 Yet at some time between about 1860 and 1890 the Craikle Spring disappeared. Shortly after the latter date a palsied man visited Bottesford to obtain a supply of the water, ‘only to find, to his intense disappointment, that it was drained away through an underground channel which rendered it unattainable’.6 These are the words of Peacock’s daughter Mabel, the well-known Lincolnshire folklorist, and a further reference to the Craikle Spring is to be found in a dialect word-list compiled by Peacock’s son Max, viz: ‘Craikle. Spring and Well: now filled in and drained into Bottesford Beck’.7 In the light of this last statement it might be thought fanciful to suggest that the Craikle Spring could have something to do with the Templar’s Bath – except that if the Bath was a folly, then by the time these words came to be written everything connected with it would have become part of a closely-guarded family secret. And here is another odd thing. For as with the Templar’s Bath, Peacock never referred to the Craikle Spring in his writings although the name itself must have intrigued him and would have furnished obvious material for his dialect Glossary. Was he personally responsible for its culverting? He was, at that time, the largest landowner in the village, and although not much interested in farming and also, we may suppose, unlikely to have culverted a rag-well for anything other than compelling reasons, he did undertake some culverting in the vicinity of the Manor House in order to build his ambitious new library wing (completed c.1866 and involving the realignment of a part of Manor Road). Yet further. According to Lawson, Peacock did not simply create the Templar’s Bath; he was in the habit of immersing himself in it on a daily basis. This statement could be significant in the light of some evidence that Peacock was – or believed himself to be – prone to a recurring infirmity, for we know from his Journal that he often considered himself to be unwell and kept to his bed. If the Craikle Spring was one of the Manor House culvertings, did it occur to him that its water might prove beneficial in his own case – thus supplying the germ of the idea for the Templar’s Bath? There are several ‘ifs’ here and one is obliged to speculate with a good deal of caution. We do not even know that the Templar’s Bath is in fact fed by a culvert. But if it could be shown that it is, then the case for supposing the Bath to be the outfall of the Craikle Spring would at least merit serious attention. Sadly the Bottesford Enclosure maps are of no help to us in determining the whereabouts of the Craikle spring or in showing whether the Templar’s Bath (or Spring) was then in existence since the land within the village itself had been enclosed long before by private agreement.
- See P.B.G. Binnall, Edward Peacock of Bottesford Manor (typescript, available in some local libraries). The young man in question was George Walshaw.
- The Scunthorpe Star, 29 July 1983
- See Bishops at Large by Peter Anson, Faber 1964 pp.64-65 and Peter Binnall’s typescript lecture (mentioned above) which contains a reference to the London meeting and Peacock’s part in it. A notebook kept by Huff, containing information about his own well house, lay for many years in the parish chest but has recently gone missing. A photocopy survives in private hands.
- On the face of it, the decision to exclude these entries from the second edition of the Glossary is puzzling since they were of obvious local and topographical interest. Was Peacock by that time anxious to divert attention from topographical matters because of the Templar’s Bath? The first edition of the Glossary appeared in 1877 – ie. about three years before Lawson was employed on the Bath. The second edition appeared in 1888-89, just after the publication of the OS map. Again the dates are suggestive.
- A rag-well is a curative spring at which small pieces of cloth used to be left, usually on a nearby bush. They were originally torn from the clothing of those seeking benefit from the spring.
- E. Gutch and M. Peacock, Examples of Printed Folklore Concerning Lincolnshire, FLS 1908, pp.8-9. Mabel called it the Craikell Well.
- Eileen Elder (ed), The Peacock Lincolnshire Word Books, Scunthorpe Museum Societ
Lesser-known Holy Wells and Curious Water Sources
A companion volume to the authors’ ground-breaking survey The Water of Life: Springs and Wells of Mainland Britain, Llanerch Press, 2004. It is an invaluable reference tool for anyone interested in our ancient water-sources, classifying them by type, dispelling myths and misconceptions, and offering insights into the changing nature of the well cult throughout the ages. The gazetteer section is meticulously researched and contains information about many wells which have not previously featured in national surveys.
With 25 coloured and 32 black and white illustrations.
£ 8.00 AVAILABLE HERE http://www.bluestonebooks.co.uk/history.html
Sometimes there are some curious places for find an ancient healing well. Tucked in a sub-urban park on the outskirts of London is one such location. Nestling as an oasis of calm between busy streets and shops is Valentine’s Park. This is dome shaped red brick structure, rendered in flints, quartz and concrete. In some reports called a grotto. Others might confuse it with an ice-well. However, it is a very small one if it is any of these. As water flows from the site, it clearly is a well and digging deeper a name can be found Jacob’s or the Wishing Well (TQ 435 880). The report by Oxford Archaeology survey (http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-841-1/dissemination/pdf/oxfordar1-58853_1.pdf) notes:
“The well retains water and there is an opening within the side of the structure c.0.75 m wide by 0.9 m tall, beneath a rough segmental brick arch. There is a metal grille fixed over this entrance although this appears to be of mid 20th-century date and is presumably a secondary alteration for safety reasons since the area became a public park. The opening has a stone sill. The internal faces of the structure are of brickwork although this now has extensive algae colouration….. The cement mortar used with large grit inclusions suggests that the structure has undergone considerable repairs since the park was purchased by the council in 1924. The condition of the feature is poor and it has suffered from the misguided use of cement mortar in the repairs. In areas this has cracked and come away from the main structure to reveal patches of the brickwork behind.”
An early report records by G. E. Tasker, Ilford Past and Present in 1901 notes:
“(The well) stands by itself in the grounds, protected by an alcove of bricks overgrown with ivy. The water is clear and runs off with a strong current through a pipe into a pond. This well has never, so far as is known, been frozen over, even in the severest winter, but during sharp frosts it gives out a steam or vapour.”
The account suggests that the spring was a thermal one, although I have found no evidence to support this. What is more interesting are the traditions associated with it.
Much frequented in the 1920s a number of wishing rituals appear to have developed around it. Of which A Smith (1959) in Some Local Lore Collected in Essex in Folklore notes:
“For the last fifty years at least the well has been known among children as a wishing well. The ceremony was for a child to go to the well alone, throw in a small stone, and make a wish. Today children sometimes scratch a wish on a laurel leaf and throw that in. Whether the well is old or new, we have not been able to ascertain. The tradition about it is, however, strong.”
Scratching a wish on a leaf is an unusual activity and I have found no other such rituals. Another account, recorded by a Dr Raine about the pre-1914, recorded in http://www.valentines.org.uk/valentines_park/about_us/newsletters/vpcn14.pdf mysteriously reports that in the early part of the twentieth century a bent pin would be thrown in and that it this had something to do with ancient Egypt but what that was is unclear! Again very curious.
A lost holy well?
The park was enclosed in the late 1600s so it may preserve an old holy well but this is only speculative. Interestingly, fifteenth century records that Stephen Atte Well, nearby suggesting possibly a hint at an important spring or stream in the location.
The brick work does certainly appear quite old, but I have been unable to trace a date. The estate was landscaped in the early 1720s by a Robert Surman which is highly suggestive of a non-holy well origin. The fabric being the same as a nearby grottoes and alcove. It first appears in on a 1854 Estate Plan.
The name Jacob is not promising for supporting a holy well of any age. Although some have identified the name as vulgarisation of St James, the name is too frequently encountered at sites associated with folly wells such as Jacob’s Well at Hagley Hall, Worcestershire and that in Grosvenor Park, Cheshire – both dubious in their antiquity.
Whatever its origin, since 2009, the little Wishing well is looking a lot better than when I first remember it back in the 1970s and the restorations and improvements are much to be commended.
St. Christopher’s Well (SK 861 320) is an interesting well! St. Christopher is an unusual dedication for holy wells and one supposedly exists in a small backwater of the Lincolnshire and Leicestershire borders. I say supposed because it’s true origin is unclear.
Much of what we know of the well is from various contributes to Lincolnshire notes and queries in the 1920s. Key to these was Welby (1926-7), who was the owner of the estate. He states that a two storey tea-house was erected over the site, the under one having an inner arch over the spring and the upper having two tall sash windows, glazed with large panes with a sloping roof on all four sides meeting a ridge. Welby (1926-7) notes that his father remembered using the structure and states no older building such as a chapel could be seen inside. This tea house did not last long, and a small summer house was constructed in the 1840s but no sign of it can be seen now. Welby (1926-7) describes this as being tall and wooden, open at the front and having small side unglazed windows. This also did not last long as was removed in 1850 when he claims the present grotto was constructed. However, this clear has older fabric. This is without doubt the grandest structure over a well, especially in Lincolnshire and it’s sad to note it no longer remains.
The well today
Although, the summer house has gone, the well is still marked on the map in gothic italics suggesting something substantial remains. Exploring around the edge of the pool, soon the site can be seen. This is no simple spring, boggy hole, as sadly in the case of many other Lincolnshire, this is still something more. Despite being cloaked in undergrowth, an arched grotto or cave can be seen. It is four metres by two metres high which is lined with cement rubble stone. At the back of the structure is a circular 50cm diameter well with an overflow channel set out by large flag stones set below the ground surface by 5cm, its water a sluggish stream, running into the lake. This channel is set out by large flag stones either side of the channel. Above the basin is a stone tablet, which is heavily worn by water action it would appear that it is difficult to read cemented around this are small ammonites and possibly a stone head although it may be a large stone resembling a head. Set into the walls of this structure is a large ammonite. The stone tablet according to Headley and Meulenkamp’s (1999) book on Follies has a poem Huius Nympha Loci:
“Approach you then with cautious steps, To where the streamlet creeps, Or Ah! Too rudely you may wake, some guardian nymph that sleeps”
As started the name is an odd one and the first mention of a spring in the area is from for in the 1700s the site was simply called spring wells according to a book of furlongs in 1784. The first mention of the site as both a medicinal and holy well appears to be Howett (1801) in A selection of views in the county of Lincoln which is accompanied with a sketch so apparently it was already been ‘improved’ by the landowner as a folly structure. Marrat (1816) History of Lincolnshire rather than White (1852) as Welby (1926-7) notes, perhaps suggesting either its discovery then although there is no evidence of exploitation here, a case more common with older springs in this period. None of these sources name it St Christopher’s Well but the name may not be that old, although Antiquarius Rusticus names it Sancaster and unusual name again and perhaps a form of consonantal drift -Saint Christopher = San C…ster..the reader can be the judge! However, inspection of the actual tablet would suggest otherwise. Of what can be read:“Here fairies dance and sport…” is the clearest! It is probable that the name was affixed when the spring was transformed into an estate folly at the beginning of the 1800s, although why St. Christopher was used is unclear it is not a common dedication associated with springs. Today there is certainly no sign of the summer house.
Away with the fairies
Antiquarius Rusticus (1926–7a) informed by the Rev C.C. Buss notes that:
“… The children call it “The Fairy Well”… After a drink of the Fairy Well “your first wish is sure to come true”
He also adds
“St Christopher’s Well, the water of which is said to resemble that of Tunbridge… was once in great request for its curative virtues… An ancient dame who has lived all her married life in Denton went… a few miles away and while there she was taken ill…. She told me how greatly she had longed for a drink of the water from St. Christopher’s Well as she was sure it would have hastened her recovery. The spring issues from a smaller vault or cave.”
Sadly the associated manor was demolished many years ago but the site is still marks and remains being part of land belonging to Sir Bruno Welby. Despite its dubious origins, traditions have associated with it and it is said that the spring is very pure and is similar to that of Malvern waters. In the basin appear to be coins suggesting that ‘well wishing’ is still undertaken here, although by the verdi-gris on the coins some appear very old! Water sluggishly flows from this basin into a stone lined channel into the lake below. The site is one of the best in the county and is surprisingly little known. copyright Pixyledpublications and thanks to Holywell@megalithic portal for the photos
The following post is derived from the preface to Holy wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire, which has been recently published.
To date there has been a number of attempts to provide a complete guide to Lincolnshire sites, despite a small number of sites is recorded by Hope (1893), Lincolnshire has fared better than other counties he describes, with a sizeable gazetteer in Gutch and Peacock (1908) and various editions of Lincolnshire Notes and Queries (Antiquarius Rusticus (1926–9)). Interest in the topic picked up in the 1990s by two excellent articles by Healey (1995) and subsequent notes and queries contributions in Lincolnshire Past and Present which extended work by the previous authors and notes made by the noted folklorist Ethel Rudkin. The 1990s culminated in Thompson’s excellent Lincolnshire Springs and Wells. However this work covered very few holy wells or healing wells compared to those listed in previous authors (although did give an excellent analysis of sites in its appendix) mainly focusing on ‘noted springs’ such as those at Helpringham whose religious heritage is unclear. Although it worked wholly with surviving sites it rather perplexingly omitted some still extant and accessible sites (perhaps suggesting he was working on a second volume). Nonetheless, it is a worthy book. This work intends to combine the relevant finds of all previous researchers as well the usual sources such as field names located in maps and documents, village histories and other topographical works. Thus it hopes to be the most comprehensive of the topic (with the usual inventory of named wells.)
Harte’s excellent magnus opus, although focuses on holy wells only, records 34 genuine sites and 7 probable and 12 dubious (some of these dubious sites are possible and I have not included some such as St. Guthlac’s Well, Crowland which I concur is a misreading!). Healy (1995), in a survey more akin to this volume than Harte, records 88 sites but many of these are records of parishes with no details (see appendix of this volume) and one presumes that they may have had significance but the original recorded Rudkin made no further details. This survey makes a total of 55 holy well sites. Indeed, Lincolnshire can claim a low concentration of wells per square miles. This is compared to Nottinghamshire which has a density of 9.3 wells per square miles, Derbyshire wells per square mile, Leicestershire 9.9 wells per square mile (Rattue 1993).
Dedications consist of Holy well (24 although includes some dubious sites) St Helen’s Well (3), Virgin’s well (3) Lady or St. Mary (3), St. Ann(e)’s well (3 including one possible 4 with a possible Anniel), St. Chad (2 but possibly just Cold wells) St John (2), St Peter (2) the others, although some may be named after chapels or churches nearby rather than wells have one dedication each: St. Michael, St Thomas, St George, St. Clements, St. Winifred, St Margaret, St Hugh, St. Trunnian. It is possible that other sites remain to be confirmed in the county, whose firm dedications appear to have been forgotten but their location is strongly indicative of holy wells or possibly pre-Christian sacred springs. Everson, Taylor and Dunn, (1991) suggest All Saints Heapham and St Chad’s Church Harpswell, both sit on springs and All Saints is isolated from the village. These are probable sites, especially Harpwell with its pre-Conquest dedication and unusual well dedication. However, one must be careful to make assumptions because statistically with the large number of churches in the county, some must be associated with spring heads especially as it may be that the original foci of the settlement would be such springs and churches naturally would be situated near these original focuses.
Although one naturally considers such sites to be of Christian origin, one does not nor should not exclude sites which indicate associations with other religions. Such a consideration is particularly important in the British Isles, where one can clearly see that a number of our holy wells have endured a long popularity. However, it should be stressed that the general lack in archaeological interest in such sites, such claims cannot be ascertained. No claims are made for pre-Roman sites in the county, but Lincolnshire’s Roman remains are often found in close proximity to a number of sites: Brigg’s St. Helen’s Well, Greetham’s St Margaret’s Well, Ancaster’s Lady Well, Winterton’s Holy Well, close to Ermine street and St Pancras Well, Scampton. More significant perhaps Kirton Lindsey’s Diana’s head possibly named after the Roman goddess. The strongest association, however, is Danish with noted Kell Well and By-Well being clearly inheriting their names from Danish settlers. Other sites mentioned in the inventory, such as Keld Ash, could also claim this association but details are scant. One has also includes sites which are associated with religious ritual beyond Catholic usage, a sites connected with Baptist and Judaism are included (although sadly not a Medieval mikah site).
There are only appears to have been three real spas in the county, i.e those with established rooms or baths made for public convenience: Stainfield, Braceborough and Woodhall. However, the use of Spa or spaw as a term for a minor spring with medicinal qualities is used here as in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. In all there are 14 such sites, but to this one can add chalybeate and mineral springs with no other names.
Research shows that Lincoln is an interesting city for well researchers, having a number of interestingly named sites, despite very little tradition. Unlike nearby mediaeval settlements (Nottingham), the city does not have a well known holy well, which survived the Reformation and became known outside of its community. The nearest to this was St. Hugh’s Well, although very little appears to be known of this in comparison to St. Anne’s Well at Nottingham and indeed that site may be questionable and may be a Victorian fabrication.
Folk traditions and legends are considered in this volume as suggesting some past importance to the site. Some sites for example, often ponds are associated with the traditions of hidden treasure or haunting. Many spectral water figures in the county are called Jenny. For example, Stanny Well, Hibbaldstow, has one described as a woman carrying her head under her arm. This spectre is supposed to be Jenny Stannywell, who once upon a time drowned herself in the water. At least two other well or pond ghosts of the feminine sex are known in Lincolnshire, but so far as is recorded they carry their heads in orthodox fashion. The site is suggested to be Roman is this significant? At a bend of the Trent at Owston Ferry was haunted by Jenny Hearn or Hurn or Jenny Yonde. This little creature was like a small man or woman, though it had a face of a seal with long hair. It travelled on the water in a large pie dish. Similarly, the unusual blow holes in the north-east were said to be haunted by a coach and four and a grey lady. Pilford Bridge between Toft next Newton and Normanby, a ghost of a witch which attacked anyone who crossed the bridge was trapped in an iron pot.
The Trent itself has the Aegir (see also Holy Wells and Healing springs of Nottinghamshire) named after a Norse God. (There are of course a number of sea serpent sitting around the Lincolnshire coast). One wonders whether this god is associated with Jenny Hurn above. The most famed of the county’s ghost folklore which is often associated with water is the black dog or as called in the county Shuck (although this can describe any unworldly creature). Rudkin (1936 and 1937) notes Black Dogs at Bonny well (Sturton by Stow), the fish pond (Blyborough) and Hibaldstow’s Bubbling Tom. A number of Black Dogs are associated with bridges such as Brigg, Willingham (Till bridge) or banks of streams such as at At Kirton, there is a black dog was reported as living in a hole in the stream bank near this Belle Hole farm. Old Nick has an association with water lore in the county at The Devil’s pulpit, Tealby where he appears at midnight and drinks from a nearby stream perhaps suggesting that the stream had some significance. There are of course a number of blow holes in the county, although some such as Tetney have received some folklore, others have not, therefore I have not included as many as Thompson (1999).
Recording of customs associated with springs is good in the county by Gutch, Peacock, Rudkin and Sutton, but as Thompson (2009) notes probably too late and much later than other counties. However, this lack of information is common, after all as a study Holy wells did not receive a classic text until 1895. Indeed, the study of Lincolnshire holy wells did not receive attention until the 1920s, by which time many traditions could have been lost. One could argue it did not real attention until the 1990s with works by Healey and Thompson, where neighbouring East Riding had work done in 1923 (similarly Nottinghamshire had its first work until 1988 and lacks in many recorded traditions, indeed it was perhaps not until 2008 that a complete survey was made by this author. However, one must look on the positive side at least three works recorded folklore in the county as opposed to neighbouring Nottinghamshire where no folklore volumes have been produced similarly! Such some traditions are recorded Well dressing, in a more primitive form compared to Derbyshire, perhaps recording an ancient origin is recorded in Welton, Glentham and Louth. The placing of rags on wells appears to have been fairly widespread occurring in Aisthorpe, Winterton, Healing, Utterby, Kingerby. At Kell Well, Alkborough, Ashwell, Kirton-in-Lindsey, Halliwell, Scotter, By-Well, North Kelsey, and the holy well at Mavis-Enderby, and many other springs beyond the limits of the county, the quality of giving those who drink of it an irresistible desire to live in its neighbourhood. There are records of rag-wells at Kingerby, Nettleton, Burton-upon-Stather, Healing, Holton Le Moor, Utterby and Winterton, in the north of the county. Another tradition, recalled in a Lincolnshire saying is that whenever water is drawn from a well a little should be thrown back into it
In the neighbourhood of Kirton-in-Lindsey another water superstition may be recognised in the opinion sometimes expressed that no washing ought to be done on Ascension Day, since, if clothes are hung out to dry on Holy Thursday, some member of the family concerned will die. And only a few years ago a woman, who was born about 1812 in a parish lying within three or four miles of the southern bank of the Humber, presented one of her carefully-hoarded bottles of ‘June- water’ to a friend, with the assurance that it was a household remedy of the greatest value for bad eyes and other ailments, and that it had been caught as it had fallen direct from the clouds.
I encourage the reader to explore, but implore local parishes to preserve these sites before they disappear as Lincolnshire is perhaps one of the counties were ancient wells have been largely ignored.
Extracted and edited from holy wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire available now!
March is a time when the Trent Aegir is at its strongest with the High Spring tides with heights ranging from 8 feet to 13 feet. However in 2013, July and August have the highest predicted Aegir and much of its impact has been reduced by dredging. Brown’s (1874) Notes about Notts describes it as:
“Near the mouth of the Trent at spring-tides the influx of sea water causes that of the river to mount up into a tidal wave six or eight feet high which rolls on its onward course between the confined banks in a remarkable manner. Boatman call it the Eagre, and woe betide the craft that upon such occasion has not a man standing by to pay out a sufficient of cable.”
Firth’s (1915) Highways and Byways of Nottinghamshire notes:
“At Littleborough if you have good fortune, you may see the Aegir. This is the bore, or wall of water, which rushes up the Trent during the spring tides, followed by a series of waves known as the ‘Whelps’. It is caused by the tide moving up the Humber to the mouth of the Trent where they are met by the big volume of water coming down. A wall rises and flows rapidly up the river, sweeping round the bends with great speed and with a curious rippling sound. Sometimes the wall of water is six feet high, and it brings disaster to any boats which it catches unprepared. George Elliott speaks of the Aegir and the floods in the Mill on the Floss, for the Floss is the Trent.”
Swinnerton’s (1910) Nottinghamshire History notes:
“The influence of the spring tide is felt as far as Sutton, but for some miles above Stockwith it is shown as remarkable bore.”
Sadly although West and East Stockwith is still a good place to see it, weirs to the north of Newark and dredging beyond means that locations such as Littleborough are no longer good view points.
Origin of the name
Marsden’s Lincolnshire stated that it derived from a Norse god of the sea, Kaye in Lincolnshire and South Humberside, suggests that it took its name from ‘Oegir the Terrible’ a Danish god and significantly refers to St. Oggs in the Gainsborough area. It could itself also mean Og suggests it is the same as the sea-giant Hlér, who lives on the isle of href. Aegir is said to be the brother of Logi (fire), Kari (wind) and his wife a sea goddess”Rán”Their children were nine billow maidens who were Unnr (or Uðr, wave), Bára (or Dröfn, wave), Blóðughadda (bloody sea), Bylgja (large wave), Dúfa (the pitching wave), Hefring (the surging wave), Himinglæva (reflecting) Hrönn (the grasping wave) and Kólga (cold wave) doubtless waves which may have gone up the Trent.
A sacrifice to appease the god
The suggestion of an origin from a pre-Christian god, is indicated by the fact that sacrifices were given to the Aegir. This is recorded by Sutton in her Lincolnshire Calendar. Animal sacrifice was according to Sutton (1996) to be celebrated in the Gainsborough area within living memory:
“It was said that the river Trent was a greedy river and would take seven lives a year, so in March when many of the lambs were born a farmer would sacrifice to the river a cade or weak lamb. He believed that by his action a human life would be saved.”
Latter perhaps the giving of a coin was good enough:
“It was the custom to throw a coin into the Aegir to appease the anger of the flow. A number of people believed that the more money the less angry it became.”
From Gainsborough in the 1920s:
“When I was a boy it was the custom to throw a piece of silver into the Trent during the Aegir at the high spring tide and the autumn tide (the equinox). The piece of silver was a toll fee to prevent you from drowning in the Trent. I’ve done it a few time myself as a bot; the silver was a silver three-penny bit, or a tanner (6d). I was once out on the river in a cob-boat diring an Aegir and was lifted very high on the tidal wave. It was very scary at the time but being a kid I didn’t realise just how lucky I was to get away with it. The Aegir always dumped plenty of mud along the river bank and when the mud dried out it was like Fuller’s Earth, a kind of fine powder. It was custom for local mothers to gather this mud for babies’ nappy rash: it was very effective for a sore bottom.”
The Aegir and King Cnut
Another legend is that whilst Gainsborough castle, now covered by Gainsborough Old Hall, King Cnut annoyed by the flattery heaped upon by his courtiers asked to be carried down to the sea in his throne. It is thought that the Aegir was what he was trying to repel. He was of course unsuccessful, noting:
“Let all the world know that the power of monarchs is vain…no one deserves the name of King but He whose Will the Heavens, Earth and Sea obey.”
Other Trent traditions
It was at some point believed to be lucky to cross the river by boat and it conferred healing in some cases, this as may explain why the ferryman across the Trent received a very warm welcome at Clifton, where every Christmas he received a free meal and hospitality on the Parish. The family at North Clifton were famously said to be haunted by a great fish which appeared in the river as a harbinger of doom for one of its members. Notes on it suggest it was a considerable sized surgeon.
Similarly at a bend of the Trent at Owston Ferry was haunted by Jenny Hearn or Hurn or Jenny Yonde. This little creature was like a small man or woman, though it had a face of a seal with long hair. It travelled on the water in a large pie dish.
The Trent is still a mysterious and foreboding river, much of its route quiet and remote…that is until the sound of the tidal wave appears.
During my research into Holy wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire book (available now), I made contact with the Brigg Local history society, who in turn put me in contact with the owner of perhaps one of the counties more unusual sacred springs.
St Helen’s well (TA 013 077), it can be suggested is the most significant of the county’s springs with evidence of its usage going back to Bronze age periods. However, the first recorded account of it is in 1697 being noted in the diary of Abraham de la Pryme (published in 1870). He notes:
“having passed through Brigg on our way towards Melton, we went by a great spring, famous in days of old, called St Helen’s Well.”
It is unknown what the spring consisted of when Pryme visited, or why it was famous is unclear. It probably filled a large pool, rather than be associated with any structure, or possibly as the topography suggests a great fountain head, as suggested by it being considered a great spring. The next note of the site is probably that of Helingwell noted 1724 may derive its name from a vulgarisation of Helen or else O.E halig meaning holy. Interestingly, White (1856) refers to the site as St Anyan’s spring, and Peacock (1895) later spoke to:
“an old man brought up in its vicinity …. says that its true name is St Anyon’s Well”.
Although, he suggests that both authors have confused this site with St Trunnian’s Well at Barton-upon-Humber or St Aniel’s Well at Burton upon Stather. However, being a substantial spring, it would be identified in the 1850s as being a suitable source for a public water supply for the growing town of Brigg. Therefore in 1852, a Robert Cary and Cary Charles Elwes built a pumping house. This is what remains of St Helen’s well today: a plain rectangular building without windows built of yellow gault brick with a Welsh slate roof and York stone gable copings. The structure sits upon a large earthen mound.
However this is not all what it seems for with the door opened to the pumping house a deep chamber is revealed. Upon descending by means of a ladder, this deep chamber opens up to something far more impressive a large rectangular chamber with an oval roof burrowed deep within the hillside. The floor is inches deep in water and with the light of a torch only I followed this flow to its source: the springhead.
The spring arises via a pipe, set about four feet in the back wall, through which a considerable flow of clear water emerges. A large circular shallow basin, looking like a quern obviously from the nearby mill but possibly a precursor to the present structure, is found beneath the outflow. It may have been set up to be filled by the spring water but even with the present considerable volume and force it currently does not fill it. It may be setup to be filled by an outflow higher above the source. The present spring water now hits a slate stone tablet beneath it and forms a stream in the middle of the tiled floor, slanted to allow this. The spring filled the whole chamber at one point I was informed when the chamber was not opened up to allow it to now flow to a stream below.
Mr Day, the present owner gave an unlikely story that it was named by Emperor Constantine on his journey up to York. What is clear that the site lies within the area Jones (1986) describes as his core zone (containing 25% of Helen site) although it is missing from his gazetteer. Archaeological remains and finds suggest it was an important site. Mr Day informed me of the presence of a Roman settlement in the field adjoining the spring and showed me a number of coins of Constantine so perhaps this is an early site to be Christianised. Recently was found a more significant Bronze Age find, which is currently treasure trove, and so I cannot comment. However it was an object of some value to its owner and had been bent. He was told by a local expert that it had been damaged to prevent it being reused, but it is more obvious that it was so treated as a offering. If so it is a significant find and emphasises Thompson’s belief that the spring was cultic.
This site has clearly much yet to reveal and perhaps will become one of the most important of such sites in the county.
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