Holy well hunting can be a tough activity; covered in nettles, cuts, mud and water and still you may only find a boggy hole or concreted site. Even when it seems simple ie marked by a roadside it is not always easy. Therefore this is why it is important to search for wells in the winter month summed up by this comment on Geograph by a Humphrey Bolton :
“I had looked for this in vain several times, but was eventually informed by a lady of 90 years that it is under a hawthorn bush. After cautiously entering the bush from the side, removing a few nettle stems, I was able to take this photograph. Apparently it is opened up as necessary in times of drought, so there must be a stone slab under the twigs and soil.”
Thus in February I searched for the Lady well at Hartshead.
An ancient pre-Christian well
The Rev H. N Pobjoy in their 1972 ‘Story of the ancient parish of Harthead and Clifton’, states it may well have been here before the church which dates to 500 A.D in foundation. The author also states that it is possible that its waters were used by St. Paulinus to baptism local converts. The saint was based at Dewsbury so it is possible. It is also said that the church of St. Peter is aligned to the equinoxes which may indicate some pre-christian observations at the site. In the churchyard is a venerable yew said to predate the church as well. One wonders whether the church was once dedicated to St Mary originally?
It’s Kirklees so there must be a Robin Hood association
Not far from Hartshead is Kirklees were one can find Robin Hood’s grave. Therefore it would not be surprising to hear that no only did he use the yew tree in the grounds of the church for his bow – perhaps the famed one which he shot for the location of his burial – but he drank of the spring water.
Difficult to find?
In away the well being covered by the only large tree along Lady Well Lane means it is easy to find – well in winter anyway. As such I pushed back the branches beneath. The side closest to the road appeared to be closed over and covered in earth but I had heard that the site was a trough split in two. Jumping over the fence I found the other side of the trough and this was full of water. This was in line with what has been reported about the site being purposely closed up and only opened in times of drought.
Val Shepherd in their Holy Wells of West Yorkshire and the Dales in 2002 notes that there was in 1925-7 a historical pageant enacted about the church and that the area was associated with Whitsun walks. She also draws an association with Walton Cross – a cross base – derived from O.E Wagstan meaning a ‘guide’ post and was on the boundary of Bradford/Kirklees and their may have been an association with the holy well.
It would be good to see the Lady Well be restored as stated by Shepherd but at least as long as the lane is named after it it will be remembered and easier to find!
For my 99th post I’ve decided to revisit one of the blogs most popular posts https://insearchofholywellsandhealingsprings.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/perhaps-not-so-jolly-old-well-friar-tucks-well-at-blidworth/,….with new photos and hopefully with a new appraisal.
Towards a restoration of the well?
In my post about Friar Tuck’s Well I bemoaned the lack of any good photos. Whilst my search for photos of the whole structure have drawn a blank so far an exciting discovery via fellow folklorist Frank Earp in his photo collection which will go some way to reassessing and understanding the structure if and hopefully when it is fully restored. Frank had to scan the photo in two sections and I have ‘glued’ them back together digitally (I include two different glued versions) I include the photos as they are
He believes the photos were taken between 1975-78 I have included them compared to recent photos labelled to where I suggest the lost features are. My question being do these structures seen in the picture lie beneath the mud and mire seen in the recent photo or has all the stone work been removed. Frank described the ‘basin’ as being cut out of the sandstone rather than being built with gives hope. Sadly, the photo fails to show the position of the railings. If combined with this image from the late Bill Richard’s Book on Friar Tuck and Blidworth Forest we can just work that the railings enclosed the basin seen in Frank’s photo just traceable as a depression.
What the photo does go to show is the importance of those pictures taken by ‘amateur’ well enthusiasts…keep photographing. I hope one day that the land the well is on can be purchased and the site repaired and this photo will help I feel in that venture. Especially as taking a walk….I found….
Big changes at Blidworth
A recent visit found all the trees uprooted and channels made to drain the pool above. I thought at first that the well itself had been gone, but some focusing on the area revealed it still remained but the spring head brickwork looked more dilapidated and the railings gone. No sign still of anything like Frank’s photo above however, I think the sediment needs to be removed and a long period of dryness required. Fortunately the site is listed, grade II, and on an at risk register suggesting the authorities are aware of but something still needs to be done to reveal the ashlar trough below.
The name Friar Tuck maybe a bit of misdirection. If we look at the word Frere Tuck this means ‘troublesome brother’ the former from tucian perhaps if we combine this with the fact that the spring is intermittent, a piece of local lore recorded in my book, does it perhaps refer to the damage caused by this flow, in short a woe water, who’s flow either caused problems or predicted trouble. Frank has also focused on the possible folklore behind the famous fight between Tuck and Robin. Rather than be a ‘historical’ event it probably has a deeper folklore message of dark battling light or the Winter fighting the Spring.
I stress the copyright on these important photos lays with Frank. Thanks go again to Frank and I direct you to purchasing the excellent book A-Z of Nottinghamshire curiosities from http://nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam.wordpress.com website. I asked Frank to contribute his excellent article on the origins of Newark’s St Catherine’s Well, in what I hope will be a regular feature of guest bloggers
Interestingly this is the only other site within the mediaeval borders of Sherwood forest associated with the legend and its pedigree could be considered dubious. Friar Tuck’s Well which is associated with his legendary hermitage. The well was surrounded by ornate railings and low walling and a cascade of water would have run down a series of angled stones after arising at first to fill a small chamber above. Considerable damage was done when an ash tree fell on the site in the 1980s or before. Consequently, the low walling stones have nearly all gone, but when first visited parts of the railings lay buckled and bent emerging from the boggy water. The spring no longer appears to flow down the cascade and there is no water in the chamber above it, but its chalybeate water still emerges from the left hand side of the structure.
A local legend
Local legend suggests that the remains of the moat just before the spring head were where Friar Tuck resided. It is said that when he was ousted from his cell by a Roger de Tallibois, he cursed the springs in this area, making them dry for seven year intervals and indeed in recent heavy rainfall periods the spring has not flowed! Other sources suggest it was Danish raiders who not finding gold in the area cursed the springs.
He also notes that the spring water was still collected by local people for its healing qualities. Was it a pagan site? Does the site have some connection with the Blidworth Boulder, a nearby holed glacial erratic? This is suggested to be able to heal children with rickets and interestingly is also associated with Friar Tuck.
A forlorn folly or hopeless holy well?
It is possible that the site records a local hermit or saint who has become tangled up with Friar Tuck legend. The fact that the well may have been dedicated to a saint is supported by the Rev. R. H. Whitworth, local vicar (1895-1908) who notes to local historian Ernest Smedley that the spring was called St. Lawrence’s Spring. However, I have been unable to find any supporting evidence for this view and it may be wishful thinking by the vicar, (the original church was dedicated to the saint). It could be the Heghwelles noted in documents of 1350 at Ravenshede.Does its name possibly derive from O.E halig or is it another site? Equally the spring could have been purely an estate invention to impress visitors to Fountaindale and the name Friar Tuck attached, especially as the story of Tuck was possibly from Sussex, as two royal writs referring to a Frere Tuk survive from 1429, but of course this date is too late to be associated with Robin Hood who generally is accepted to be ‘active’….
This is also at variance to the presence of the character in May plays in the 15th century such as that from 1475’s Robin Hood and the Knight or Robin Hood and the Sheriff, which suggests either a rapid rise to fame or else the Sussex friar was an actor playing the part in this play and using a pseudonym.
Fountain dale or Fountain’s abbey?
The other problem is that it is possible that there is a confusion occuring over the location. It is possible that Fountaindale has been confused by Fountain’s Abbey, and this may be the fault of authors such as Washington Irving who stayed at Fountaindale house and did much to support the legend. The obvious problem with this location is that it was Benedictine and not a Franciscan establishment; they were of course established in Nottingham in the 13th century. It is also worth noting that Fountains Abbey does have a Robin Hood’s Well and a notable stream to cross. The most famous story, of their encounter to refer to Fountaindale however is recorded by Arthur Quiller-Couch, in the Oxford Book of Ballads (1910).
|‘But how many months be in the year?
There are thirteen, I say;
The midsummer moon is the merryest of all
Next to the merry month of May.
|‘Shoot on, shoot on, thou fine fellòw,
Shoot on as thou hast begun;
If thou shoot here a summer’s day,
Thy mark I will not shun.’
|IN summer time, when leaves grow green,
And flowers are fresh and gay,
Robin Hood and his merry men
Were [all] disposed to play.
|Robin Hood shot passing well,
Till his arrows all were gone;
They took their swords and steel bucklers,
And fought with might and maine;
|Then some would leap, and some would run,
And some use artillery:
‘Which of you can a good bow draw,
A good archer to be?
|From ten o’ th’ clock that day,
Till four i’ th’ afternoon;
Then Robin Hood came to his knees,
Of the friar to beg a boon.
|Which of you can kill a buck?
Or who can kill a doe?
Or who can kill a hart of grease,
Five hundred foot him fro?’
|A boon, a boon, thou curtal friar!
I beg it on my knee;
Give me leave to set my horn to my mouth,
And to blow blasts three.’
|Will Scadlock he kill’d a buck,
And Midge he kill’d a doe,
And Little John kill’d a hart of grease,
Five hundred foot him fro.
|‘That will I do,’ said the curtal friar!
‘Of thy blasts I have no doubt;
I hope thou’lt blow so passing well
Till both thy eyes fall out.’
|‘God’s blessing on thy heart,’ said Robin Hood,
‘That hath [shot] such a shot for me;
I would ride my horse an hundred miles,
To finde one could match with thee.’That caus’d Will Scadlock to laugh,
He laugh’d full heartily:
‘There lives a curtal friar in Fountains Dale
Will beat both him and thee.
|Robin Hood set his horn to his mouth
He blew but blasts three;
Half a hundred yeomen, with bows bent,
Came raking over the lee. ‘Whose men are these,’ said the friar,
‘That come so hastily?’
‘These men are mine,’ said Robin Hood
‘Friar, what is that to thee?’
|‘That curtal friar in Fountains Dale
Well can a strong bow draw;
He will beat you and your yeomen,
Set them all on a row.’
|‘A boon, a boon,’ said the curtal friar,
‘The like I gave to thee!
Give me leave to set my fist to my mouth,
And to whute whutès three.’
|Robin Hood took a solemn oath,
It was by Mary free,
That he would neither eat nor drink
Till the friar he did see.
|‘That will I do,’ said Robin Hood,
‘Or else I were to blame;
Three whutès in a friar’s fist
Would make me glad and fain.’
|Robin Hood put on his harness good,
And on his head a cap of steel,
Broad sword and buckler by his side,
And they became him weel.
|The friar he set his fist to his mouth,
And whuted whutès three;
Half a hundred good ban-dogs
Came running the friar unto.
|He took his bow into his hand,
It was made of a trusty tree,
With a sheaf of arrows at his belt,
To the Fountains Dale went he.
|‘Here’s for every man of thine a dog,
And I my self for thee!’ —
‘Nay, by my faith,’ quoth Robin Hood,
‘Friar, that may not be.’
|And coming unto Fountain Dale,
No further would he ride;
There was he aware of a curtal friar,
Walking by the water-side.
|Two dogs at once to Robin Hood did go,
T’ one behind, the other before;
Robin Hood’s mantle of Lincoln green
Off from his back they tore.
|The friar had on a harness good,
And on his head a cap of steel,
Broad sword and buckler by his side,
And they became him weel.
|And whether his men shot east or west,
Or they shot north or south,
The curtal dogs, so taught they were,
They kept their arrows in their mouth.
|Robin Hood lighted off his horse,
And tied him to a thorn:
‘Carry me over the water, thou curtal friar,
Or else thy life’s forlorn.’
|‘Take up thy dogs,’ said Little John,
‘Friar, at my bidding be.’—
‘Whose man art thou,’ said the curtal friar,
‘Comes here to prate with me?’
|The friar took Robin Hood on his back,
Deep water he did bestride,
And spake neither good word nor bad,
Till he came at the other side.
|‘I am Little John, Robin Hood’s man,
Friar, I will not lie;
If thou take not up thy dogs soon,
Ile take up them and thee.’
|Lightly leapt Robin Hood off the friar’s back;
The friar said to him again,
‘Carry me over this water, fine fellow,
Or it shall breed thy pain.’
|Little John had a bow in his hand,
He shot with might and main;
Soon half a score of the friar’s dogs
Lay dead upon the plain.
|Lightly leapt the friar off Robin Hood’s back;
Robin Hood said to him again,
‘Carry me over this water, thou curtal friar,
Or it shall breed thy pain.’
|‘Hold thy hand, good fellow,’ said the curtal friar,
‘Thy master and I will agree;
And we will have new orders taken,
With all the haste that may be.’
|The friar took Robin Hood on’s back again,
And stept up to the knee;
Till he came at the middle stream,
Neither good nor bad spake he.
|‘If thou wilt forsake fair Fountains Dale,
And Fountains Abbey free,
Every Sunday throughout the year,
A noble shall be thy fee.
|And coming to the middle stream,
There he threw Robin in:
‘And chuse thee, chuse thee, fine fellow,
Whether thou wilt sink or swim!’
|‘And every holy day throughout the year,
Changed shall thy garment be,
If thou wilt go to fair Nottingham,
And there remain with me.’
|Robin Hood swam to a bush of broom,
The friar to a wicker wand;
Bold Robin Hood is gone to shore,
And took his bow in hand.
|This curtal friar had kept Fountains Dale
Seven long years or more;
There was neither knight, lord, nor earl
Could make him yield before.
One of his best arrows under his belt
Slowly vanishing from view..
The site really should be better looked after and could make a good local project if the site could be bought from the local landowner to avoid trespass. However, I have been unable to find an old photo or illustration to suggest what the structure looked like when in best order (according to local historian Mr. Richards there is not one). Something needs to be done soon as even in the last year the iron railings which once surrounded the site have been removed. It would be sad to see this noted spring, whatever its provenance, fall to vandals and apathy. Sign up below to show your support.