A recent revisit to a holy well in Yorkshire prompted me to write this piece. About 10 years ago I started doing a survey of holy wells of East Riding and subsequently wrote this post. One of the wells was St. Helen’s Well, South Cave, then a simple wellhead surrounded by old stones with a channel meandering to a lake below. A bit overgrown and hidden but quite naturalistic. I retuned this year to see that the well had changed to a wishing well! As you may well gather I visit a lot of holy well and healing well sites, and the degree of condition varies – some are boggy holes, and may have always been so, others are medieval marvels and remain so, others remain unrestored at least since the last time and some have recently seen the hand of a restoring. And here lies an issue. A problem. Don’t get me wrong as a historian a restored well is a preserved well. However there a number of ‘restorations’ which boarder on architectural, some might say spiritual, vandalism and it’s important to get it right. So here are my top ten tips to restoring a well properly. Some helpful tips
1. Do your research. Many sites have recorded histories and some even have descriptions or old prints and photos, in most cases try to aim to imitate these. Ask local history groups or knowledgeable local people. Ask the church, if a holy well. And of course make sure you’ve included the land owner. Any research of course will allow you to do a sign and a sign always suggests to me a place well thought of and look after.
2. Ask around for advice professional can be found here http://www.scwater.co.uk/wells.html but there are groups who have restored holy wells such as http://stdyfnogswell.blogspot.co.uk/ and http://wellobsessed.com/st-agnes-holy-well-cothelstone, local archaeological groups are also worth contacting.
3. Look at the surrounding landscape. Does what you design fit in or sympathetic? Some designs would stick out like a sore thumb others look more naturally suitable. Of course the original builders of these wells probably didn’t consider this but somehow many appear to fit in or rather we have got used to them perhaps. However, often Okcum’s razor should prevail, but of course this is why we often find the wishing well structures and that’s what I’d like to avoid.
4. Practicalities -water flow. This can be the most problematic. Ever tried building a wall in a pond? You need to find the source first and then temporarily conduit away. Again these might help http://www.scwater.co.uk/wells.html
5. Reuse, reuse, reuse, if possible use original fabric it might be lying around, if not use similar from a reclaim yard. A good example was the Holy Well at Kings Newton. It will look more in keeping and maybe cheaper. New materials may of course be longer lasting which is why understandably many restorations are done with new materials and sometimes they may not be the option, St. John’s Well Bisley, Surrey was very sympathetically repaired in my opinion – although it’s previous manifestation was atrocious!
6. Consider usage. Just because no one in the village uses the water does not mean it’s not used. For centuries travellers used springs and presumably still do. Don’t lock away the water without thinking about providing access having an outflow pipe for sampling the water. Again look at St. John’s Well Bisley, Surrey. Even if it’s not used a flow of water from a springhead, this is something there should be, it can feel a bit sterile without one.
7. Have the water tested – advice on http://www.wellowner.org/water-quality/water-testing/- Always a good idea, although many people ignore the signage
8. Apply for funds. Where to look? These perhaps http://heritagehelp.org.uk/conserving/funding-advice1, http://www.theheritagealliance.org.uk/fundingdirectory/main/fundinghome.php or https://www.historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/grants/other-grants/ Some good advice here as well https://www.historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/grants/tips/
9. Once you’ve done – or perhaps whilst you are and before -publicise – local press generally are interested, but of course there’s a whole cyber world out there interested – Facebook and of course bloggers like me.
10. Have an opening event. You may wish to involve the church and do a rededication or blessing, always best to involve if it’s a holy well you are restoring. Maybe think about introducing some sort community event, a well dressing perhaps, get local children, morris men (and women) and local history groups there. Make a big thing of it. That will also increase press coverage. Make a sign to it, information board, it might all add money but it increases it’s importance.
Whatever you do please feel free to contact me on this blog and the links on the side such as the appropriate Facebook sites…Good luck!