A search for fresh water
When landowner Mr S. H. Godson was looking for a better supply of water in , he exposed a brine mineral water which although not good for drinking could have potential. Then Dr. A. B. Granville took an interest. In 1837 he had written a book on The Spas in Germany which aroused much interest and in 1839/1840 he undertook a tour of England and in the Midlands section he toured Buxton, Matlock, Woodhall, Spa, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Tenbury, Malvern, Leamington, Cheltenham etc. He wrote of the waters describing the effect on them on his digestive system:
“Immediately upon swallowing half a tumbler of Tenbury water, a disturbance, or rather a commotion, is set up in the abdomen, which, upon a repetition of the same quantity of the fluid, after a proper interval, will be found in most cases to end in a way desirable in the circumstances.”
Visiting the site 1839 Grenville advised on modifications to the well structure in which would prevent contamination from other springs and prevent dilution of the mineral properties. His analysis suggested it contained Iodine and as such would have healing properties. To be successful, Grenville suggested that to be successful the town needed:
“baths pump rooms and a promenades, lodging houses, walks roads and other accommodation in order to constitute a Spa of the first class.”
There was a problem with such an enterprise, Godson’s land at The Court could not be expanded as there was local opposition. Grenville however was so keen it seeing the site developed that his son, an architect, was sent but this was to no available Mr. Price of the adjacent Crown Inn decided that one well was not enough to supply the amount of bottled water needed. He commenced sinking a well on his premises and on August 24th 1840 at a depth of 42ft he reached the mineral water layer. This opposition was soon bought out by Septimus Godson. They and the small red brick bath house was constructed in 1840, and by March 1841 they published the rules and regulations for using the well, the Court ground were used for promenading after drinking or bathing often listening to a band. Then by 1850 a London surgeon was in residence running the Spa and two wells were now available. However, financial difficulties made the site close albeit temporarily in 1855, but the coming of the railway revitalised it. Local businessmen developed the ‘Tenbury Wells Improvement Company’ in December of 1860 and built the present pump room on the meadow by the Swan Hotel. In A Mr. James Cranston of Birmingham in 1862 was behind the design of new Spa, consisting of 2 halls with a Pump Room including a recess with a fountain. The Spa. An octagonal tower was built containing the well and pumps. the whole were surrounded by pleasure grounds. The building costing approximately £1000.
Taking a 99 year lease on the site, the Tenbury Wells Improvement Company asked Mr Thomas Morris, well sinker, to remove the whole of the bricks, curls and ironwork from the old mineral well by the Swan Inn and used at the new site. However, the Crow’s well was cleaned and established as a reservoir. The Well was 58ft from the surface and produced mineral water at the rate of 20 gallons hour. The smell was said to be something like when a gun was discharged.
The Tenbury History website state:
“He got the idea for the design of the Spa from some greenhouses he was designing at Holmer, near Hereford. In 1862 he published a book about a newly patented design for Horticulural Buildings and he used this principle for The Tenbury Spa replacing glass panels with those of sheet steel, It was erected on a pre-fabricated principle being one of the first in the country. The wrought iron plates and cast iron clips with foliated ends were made in Birmingham and erected on site. The building was described as being ‘Chinese Gothic’. The roof was painted in French Grey with rolls between being deeper and bluer in shade. The Spa was supposed to attract the ‘Middle to Working Class’.”
On May 1st 1883 the baths opened for the summer season, they consisted of six hot baths cost 9/- ( 45p) and six cold baths 5/- (25p). It was suggested by the 1916 Medical Times that after the first world war, convalescent soldiers should go to Tenbury Wells and by 1913 the name of Tenbury Wells had stuck becoming official later. Ironically the Pump rooms were about to decline. During the war it was used for bathing evacuees but this was the last time it was used for any bathing albeit not medicinal. Despite plans as late as 1931 the wells were filled in in 1939.
Slowly the building fell into decline, becoming a brewery, a tea room and Women’s institute but by 1978 it was in serious decline and decay. Kathleen Denbign in her A hundred British Spas wrote in 1981
“In such a bad state of decay that it was bolted and barred and threatened with demolition – though not without protest from local residents.”
It was purchased by the Leominster District Council in 1986 but that did not halt the decline. Repairs were finally done in 1998/9 with funds from English Heritage, Advantage West Midlands, the European Regional Development Fund, Malvern Hills and Leominster District Councils and Teme Rural Challenge. The Tenbury wells history website note the problems with the repair:
“The major problem that the architects responsible for the repair had to deal with was a major sag of one of the portal frames over the conservatory glass. It appears to have been due to bad design. Each roof structure now has a steel member going down to a concrete block cast at foundation level.
There was also a big problem with regalvanising the wrought iron sheets. After being regalvanised they buckled and would not fit the structure. This was solved by sending the sheets to specialist car body firm in the Medway who were used to dealing with very thin steel. Another big problem was to ensure that the roof was watertight. The roof was an extremely complicated shape, there were valleys and areas of flat roof and all sorts of unusual angles between one part of the building and another. It never was watertight originally, but hopefully, all the problems have now been solved.
All the wrought iron sheets now have spaces between them to try and stop any rust problems recurring and it has been fully insulated. A lot of the brick work was only 1/2 brick thick and so would always have been rather wobbly. This has all been straightened, but still keeping the exterior as it was built in 1862.
With insulation, damp barriers and other weatherproofing measures means that it is now up to modern building standards and hopefully now as an office and tiny museum one can now peer into the well, see its ornate foundation, baths and read all about it. It was probably originally designed for a life of only 25 years, but has lasted 137 years.
Warwickshire does not perhaps have the greatest reputation for holy and healing springs and appears to be hide in the shadows of nearby Gloucestershire. However, my research into the county has revealed there’s more to the county’s healing waters than Leamington Spa. Here are a few lesser known sites towards the Banbury side of the county; any further information on them is gratefully received. Hopefully the book is out this year!
Many of the county’s healing springs are compared to Leamington, the Stockwell is no exception, being saline in nature it was bound to be compared such, as Leamington was. However, that is as far as the comparison goes for little other than it made a decent cup of tea is recorded of it. It currently arises in a three feet by three foot roughly square chamber with stone surrounds. Old railings enclose the spring head and steps go down from the road.
It is worth contemplating on the thoughts of Bob Trubshaw on the origin of Stockwells Old English stoc meaning ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’ being the apparent same derivation as stow. That would give the site an explanation perhaps for the belief in its healing waters but it could equally derived from the place cattle stock were watered or even less interesting Old English stocc for ‘spring by stumps’, a description which could describe it today.
Not far away is St. Anne’s Well which arises a small stone chamber beside the footpath from the hamlet of Arlescote. The well consists in a shallow square basin and flows downhill forming a muddy area beneath. A stone set into the back of the fabric reads:
“ST. ANNE’S WELL / Reparavit M. L / A. D. / MCMXI”
However, beyond that nothing is recorded. It is likely to be ancient as it found below an iron-age earthwork and clearly the footpath past it is of some age and past significance, yet the early forms of the OS only record spring.
Considering that the hamlet above the well is called Knowle End it is possible that the legend recorded considering fairies moving the stone is related to this site and not the Knowle End in Birmingham as reported by folklorists. Again little is recorded but it must have been thought well enough in the 1930s considering how far the spring is from any houses. A site to visit in the winter or spring however, because it gets very overgrown!
The next holy well is a considerable find and it is surprising that no photo exists of it or more recorded, considering it survives in a popular National Trust garden and is quite strikingly unique. Found in the Bog Garden in the grounds of Upton Hall is an 18th century stone Monk’s Well. The Bog Garden consists of a number of ponds originally Stew ponds fed by this spring improved in the 17th century. Trace the flow back and be ready for a surprise. For the spring erupts from the base of a rock face in a cave/grotto and flows over mossy stones to fill the ponds. The spring head is enclosed in an early C18 red brick vaulted chamber (listed grade II) set into the rock face laying c 100m west of the House. All in all pretty unique and surprisingly unheralded. Indeed the Bog Garden was closed off when I visited but the gardeners were happy to allow me over to see it. I cannot say whether access is achievable without asking however. The well is so named because Upton was held in the twelfth century by the canons of St Sepulchre’s at Warwick but it may have a grange property as no one has worked out where any house would have been located. The site does not have any recorded properties and it is only holy by its name association
The last well is a bit of an enigma, in the deserted Burton Dassett village in Northend, is found a substantial well head which has claims to be a ‘Holy Well’ although the provenance is unclear. Burgess (1876) in his Warwickshire History simply notes that it was used for baptism and immersion. Whilst Bord and Bord (1985) Sacred Waters appear to be earliest to refer to it as such stating:
“the holy well with its stone cover will be seen on the left-hand side of the lane as you approach the church”.
The present stone well house is of a considerable size being constructed of local red sandstone around 1840 in a Grecian style. The central doorway is party below ground level and has steps down into a square chamber. Over the stone lintel but the worn instruction is an inscription with carved flowers. It possibly states 1534 but it was not clear. It is evident that the well was part of an estate improvement but when and by whom? And did it exist before? If it does say 1534 that is an early date for a landed estate improvement. It certainly is still visited by well wishers as coins are found in its waters. Sadly, despite a substantial water supply it did not stop the demise of the village and now only the substantial church remains, which incidentally is worthy of a visit.
With many more sites yet to explore…Warwickshire is proving to be another interesting County.
Wellingborough as its name suggests is related to wells and the town celebrates five main wells and there is a mosaic recording the wells in the town centre. However, which five wells appears to be a matter of contention. However most cases appear to record the Red well, Whyte well, Stan well, Buck well and Lady well to be the specific wells. There are however many more wells/springs noted in other surveys however not all of them (as indeed the list above) below the main text of this volume. These are, Ancient well, London Well, Whitchurch well, Harrowden Well, Burymoor well, Hemming well, Hartwell, Monk’s well, Wichus well, Rising Sun well, Hollywell, St. John’s well and Cross well of which the last six have significance.
The most famed spring here is the Red Well being noted in a number of works and was the closest the county appears to have developed a spa in competition with Astrop. Allen (1699) in his work on Mineral springs of England records that:
“This water weigh d at the Spring eighteen grains lighter than common water in a quantity of about twelve ounces with a few drops of Tincture of Logwood gave a black with Syrup of Violets a deep green with Syrup of Cloves blackish with Galls a violet.”
Fuller (1662) in his Worthies records that the the town was called Wellingborough from a sovereign well therein which was of ancient origin, lost and rediscovered in the 1600s. Cole (1837) in his The History and Antiquities of Wellingborough in the County of Northampton noted that:
“THE RED WELL spring rises in a field from the town and centuries of highly stated that in the Queen resided in of drinking By residing it is the advantage of the times of the purpose of watering places in rooms. This chalybeate spring rises in a field about half a mile north west from the town and was in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries of very great celebrity and esteemed highly efficacious in various disorders It is stated that in the year 1628 King Charles I and his Queen resided in tents a whole season for the benefit of drinking the water pure at its source By residing it is conceived is here meant having the advantage of the tent as a place of resort at the times of drinking the water and to answer the purpose of those convenient erections used at watering places in the present day called pump rooms.”
John Morton (1712) in his Natural History of Northamptonshire records that:
“ From King’s Cliff I went to Wellingborough to make like observations upon the Medicinal Water there This on July 29 1703. The Medicinal Spring which is called the Red Well is about half a mile distant the town on the north west side of it almost at the of a hill in an open field. What the strata the water through consists of is hard to be discovered. But some parts of the hill above the spring there are strata a reddish sort of stone with iron like veins in it underneath a bed of clay. In the extreme hard frost 1683 it so far from being frozen that it ran more briskly ever. When or by whom it was first apply’d to upon a medicinal account I cannot learn Certain it is that a hundred ago it was very famous Mr Drayton a co temporary with Sir Philip Sidney supposes that the town was so called from its wells and we of none that ever was considerable thereabouts but And by the observations of Mr John Goodyer an Botanist who mentions it by the name of Red it appears to have been a water of some note in the year 1626 about which time a tradition they have there it was honoured with of King Charles the First and of his Queen who the benefit of these waters were pleased to reside whole season in tents that were erected if we may credit common fame on the side of the hill above where it is likely Sir Theodore Mayern Physician who in his writings recommends water did then attend them Dr Merret in his Nat Brit has also mentioned it. He places with the purging waters of England from which may observe it has been formerly of far greater fame than now it is not that the virtues of it are at all impaired but the true occasions seem to be the mismanagement of the water in the course of drinking &c Mr Morton then devotes several folio pages of his work to Observations and Trials I have made of it myself In addition to the recommendation of these waters by Sir Theodore Mayerne Physician to King Charles I and that of Dr Merret may be included the subjoined description of But Master Camden doth marr their mart avouching the ancient name thereof Wellingborough However thirty years since a water herein grew very famous insomuch that Queen Mary lay many weeks thereat. What benefit her Majesty received by the Spring here I know not this I know that the spring received benefit from her Majesty and the town got credit and profit thereby. But it seems all waters of this kind have though far from the sea their ebbing and flowing I mean in esteem. It was then full tide with Wellingborough Well which ever since hath abated and now I believe is at low water in its reputation.”
Over the years Cole (1837) informs us of the improvements down to the well from the Old Town Books:
“1640 Paid to Thomas Payne for timber for repair of Red well and for carriage thereof 2 19 0 Paid to Mead of Harrowden for more timber and carriage of ditto 0 13 0 Paid to Henry Batley for work and stone and cost to repair Red well 5 0 0 Paid to William Batley for timber work at Red well 1 10 0.”
He states that:
“From the above enumeration of items it seems that considerable pains and expense were bestowed upon the Red well in order to render it commodious and worthy of public patronage.”
Clearly considering the patronage of the well it was hoped that the well would allow the town to be developed into a spa and although Cole (1837) notes:
“During the reign of King Charles I there was a great influx of the nobility to drink the water and even so late as the middle of the last century the inhabitants of the neighbourhood continued to resort to the Spring.”
The English civil war prevented such a venture. Despite this in the 1800s there was some consideration of developing the site. Cole (1837) again notes of:
“Two Correspondents whose communications appeared in The Northampton Mercury under the signatures of Antiquarius and Anonymous in the year 1811 used their endeavours to re establish the celebrity of this Spring but their exertions have hitherto unfortunately proved ineffectual Their communications however demand a place in this history TO THE PRINTERS OF THE NORTHAMPTON MERCURY Sirs Some time ago I was perusing Walpole’s British Traveller and among other accounts read the following of the town of Wellingborough in this county being formerly much celebrated for its mineral springs Wellingborough is a large populous town situated on a rising ground and supposed to have received its name from the great number of springs that rise in its neighbourhood. It was formerly celebrated on account of its medicinal waters which were esteemed efficacious in various disorders and Queen Henrietta wife of Charles the First resided here some weeks for the benefit of her health her physicians having prescribed the waters as for her constitution. And it is further said that there is a chalybeate well about half a mile northward of the town. As these waters were then said to possess such singular virtues it is presumed they still retain them It is sincerely to be wished that some of the intelligent gentlemen resident there would analyse the waters in order that their virtues might be fully ascertained and that the afflicted might know where to apply for relief. Probably it would remunerate the present proprietor of the chalybeate well to erect a house bath and other accommodations on the spot that the benefit might become general. Besides the town is well calculated for the reception of visitants of every class having several capital inns in it and a plentiful weekly market lam Sirs Your humble Servant. Antiquarius August 20th 1811”
The correspondent replied:
“TO THE PRINTERS OF THE NORTHAMPTON MERCURY Sirs As I read your Correspondent’s account of the Red wells at Wellingborough in your paper of Aug 24 I anticipated an answer to his wish that some gentleman resident there would analyse the waters. Recent cases however can be produced wherein the waters have been useful and from an accurate analysis of the water and a comparison of it with that of Tunbridge and other Chalybeates it proves to be possessed of considerable virtues. Examined with the proper chemical re agents this water appears to differ from Tunbridge water in no respect except that of containing chiefly chalk carbonate of lime which being held in solution by the fixed air is deposited on boiling and also by mere exposure also it may contain more gas which gives it a more sparkling appearance than Tunbridge and Islington waters the deposition of this matter forms a calcareous crust intermixed with the ochre on the sides and bottom of the basin into which the water flows the other contents of the water are iron fixed air and a small quantity of purging salts. The best mode of taking the water is to begin early in the morning with a dose of half a pint then to walk or take exercise for an hour and after that to take a pint and to repeat the dose a third time an hour or two before dinner this plan should be continued for six weeks or two months and if the complaints are not removed after two or three months interval a second course should be gone through in the same manner. Its effects are to quicken the pulse produce a general glow immediately after being drank and to prove gently aperient more so than most chalybeates the continued use of the water increases the appetite exhilarates the spirits improves the strength and braces the whole system the water very frequently purges briskly at first but after a long use produces a costive habit of body when this is the case aperient medicines should be occasionally taken. The diseases in which the use of the Red well water promises to be of most service are indigestion with its various symptoms debility and pallid countenance listlessness and aversion to every kind of exercise so frequent among the young and particularly those of a delicate habit and are more speedily and certainly removed by a course of these waters than by any other means. Of stomach complaints flatulency an uncertain and capricious appetite heartburn and all the symptoms attendant upon irregular and incomplete digestion are such as point out the great use of this class of waters There is no occasion for any preparation to the use of the water unless the stomach is judged to be foul and then a single emetic may precede its use. It is sincerely hoped that some gentlemen will give such other information as will direct the afflicted where to apply relief and stimulate the increasing number of attendants to observe what salutary effects are produced l am Sirs Yours most respectfully Anonymous Oct 26th 1811.”
However, the correspondence was to no avail and Cole (1837) referring to the correspondence laments and suggests:
“If at this juncture a handsome pump room had been erected embellished in front we will say by an enriched colonnade of pillars surmounted by a dome and the contiguous grounds laid out in walks in a tasteful manner in order to blend utility with comfort and pleasure an attraction would have been presented to entice company to Wellingborough Red Well but I was going to observe I fear the time is gone by perhaps not so for if the proprietor would allow the water to be conducted by pipes into a pleasant part of the town some good might yet accrue to Wellingborough from this once famed spring. It is a circumstance much to be lamented that a chalybeate spring containing such alleged virtues should be now unnoticed and no benefit derived from its sanative qualities which might be the case to individuals resident here if not to the interests of the town itself if only some means were resorted to in order to revive its ancient fame for even the towns people to whom it is now freely open do not avail themselves of its advantages an effort is wanting to make even those on the spot try at this day its healing effects. Nor is this denominated the Red well the only spring of the same nature in the lordship as from the ochrey dye and similar chalybeate flavour of another near White delves the like virtues in degree it is likely would be derived.”
The well was not lost it fell into relative obscurity. According to Cole (1837) the Red Well:
“about forty years ago was a large stone watering trough which was used by the attendants upon horses previous to the inclosure as a place at which to refresh their animals. It was sufficiently large to admit twenty horses to drink together. The water was made to pass through a sculptured head and came pouring out with considerable force at the mouth.”
J and M. Palmer in their History of Wellingborough (1972) note:
“In 1823 a water mill was built not far from the Red Well and was, appropriately called Red Well Mill. It appears on a local map of 1825. The stream that fed the mill rises between Appleby Lodge and Park Farm, just south of Sywell Road. It meanders its way to pass under Hardwick Road, it then emerges at a point that was in the grounds of Hatton Hall Park and feeds a pond there. Skirting the Red Well spring, and joined by another small stream it became the millrace, by the making of a dam, and passed under the Kettering Road.”
In the Northampton Chronicle and Echo photo shows it was a substantial brick structure in the early 20th century possibly constructed for the mill’s convenience. This structure would appear to have been slowly lost as by the mid-20th century the site consisted of two troughs surrounded by broken slabs one of which one had fallen into one of the two chambers. However in 2011, Wellingborough Council with Glamis Grove Volunteers placed stone edgings over the foundations but a rather unsightly galvanised metal grid installed over it, presumably to prevent vandalism but it also presents access and a decent photo. The later is solved by the water running from the side into a stream. A sign informing passers by of the history of the Red Well has also be installed and so now this well will hopefully remain remembered!
Compared to Essex and Norfolk the study of mineral springs and their associated phenomena have been less covered in the Suffolk. Unlike Essex, there does appear to be a paucity. A consequence of poor research or geology?
Like adjoining counties, Suffolk does have some springs which are simply described as mineral springs, such as Elmsett’s Dropping Well which issued out of limestone rock, and producing fibrous crystallizations was said to possess ‘healing virtue for certain complaints’. Halesworth was unnamed but said to be good for eyes and that at Cranmore Green, was so hard it has been blamed for causing arthritis. None of these springs had a history of organised exploitation. As far as I have discovered only one spring was recorded as being chalybeate, that once at Claire priory. The tendency to have iron bearing water is however very common in Essex by comparision.
It does not appear until 1700, that a serious attempt was undertaken to develop a spa. This was at Bungay which was described by spa promoter John Kelly as:
:” …amply supplied with excellent water from numerous springs, some of which we said to possess medicinal properties. ”
The first site to be developed was a chalybeate spring in the grounds of Bigod’s castle. However, Bungay’s first attempt to develop proper facilities, John Kelly’s bathhouse lay over the border in Norfolk in the village of Earsham. Writing a promotion pamphlet ‘An Essay on Hot and Cold Bathing’ he said of the town and spa facilities,:
“Those lovely hills, which incircle the flowery plain, are variegated with all that can ravish the astonished sight. They arise from the winding mazes of the river Waveney, enriched with the utmost variety the watry element is capable of producing. Upon the neck of this peninsula, the castle and town of Bungay, (now startled at its approaching grandeur,) is situated on a pleasing ascent to view the pride of nature on the other side, which the goddesses have chose for their earthly paradise; where the sun, at its first appearance, makes a kindly visit to a steep and fertile vineyard, richly stored with the choicest plants from Burgundy, Champaigne, Provence, and whatever the East can furnish us with. Near the bottom of this is placed the grotto, or bath itself, beautified on one side with oziers, groves, and meadows; on the other with gardens, fruits, shady walks, and all the decorations of a rural innocence. The building is designedly plain and neat; because the least attempt of artful magnificence would, by alluring the eyes of strangers, deprive them of those profuse pleasures which nature has already provided. As to the bathing, there is a mixture of all that England, Paris, or Rome could ever boast of:—no one is refused a kind reception: honour and generosity reigns throughout the whole; the trophies of the poor invite the rich, and their more dazzling assemblies compel the former.”
Sadly the scheme was not fruitful despite the platitudes and no evidence can be found of the town’s spa heritage today.
Seaside towns which appealed to the healthy idea of sea bathing as well attempted to develop spa springs to varying successes. At Lowerstoft one was to be found at the Sparrow Nest, however it was to Ipswich that the greatest attempt appears to have been made. An advert in 1720s records:
“IPSWICH SPAW WATERS
Experimentally found to be good in the gravel of the kidneys, obstructions in the liver, spleen &c. Hectic fevers, the scurvy, violent vomiting, lost appetite, the jaundice, King’s-Evil, salt and hot humours in blood, pains in stomach, frequent spitting of blood, or bleeding at the nose, diarrhoea or blood fluxes. Sold at two pence per flask or quart, or each time of drinking what you will in the morning. By me, JONATHAN ELMER, living on St Margaret’s Green, Ipswich.”
“Ipswich Journal ”The Ipswich Spaw Waters is now opened by Mrs Martha Coward, and Attendance will be given every Morning at the Bath on St Margaret’s Green, from 6 to 9 at One Penny per Morning, and Two Pence for each Falk carried off.”
Around about the 1810s, reports are made of the discovery of a brick arched spring in St. George’s Lane whose water had such a foul taste it was thought to be medicinal. To ensure it was tested by three local doctors who analysis suggested it was equal to Bath. A M.D of Bury St Edmunds favourably also compares them to the German Spas as well as common comparison Tunbridge Wells. Furthermore, in Clarke’s 1830 History of Ipswich records another near the Shears Pub which was never known to freeze and analysis in London suggested its content of Iron sulphate, Iron carbonate and Sulphurated hydrogen could be utilised.
Sadly despite a promising start and some suitable extraneous facilities, the town’s urban growth and remoteness compared to other sites meant its spa aspirations disappeared and nothing remains. This means that Felixstowe has the only surviving mineral spring in the county. The Dripping Well, located in the Spa Gardens were described by the Felixstow Town guide that that its waters were good for ‘depression, nervous prostration and over-work’ and they resembled those the waters of Baden-Baden. A Spa Pavillion was built and still exists and used a theatre facility. One can still parade around the Pulmanite gardens around where the Dripping Well exist, as does the pump tap in the Pavillion, although taking the water is not encouraged.
It was soon provided with all necessary Conveniences and Accommodations, and made one of the most beautiful and convenient places of that sort in England, much and deservedly celebrated, and frequented, and it’s certain that County, nor Warwickshire have any of this class comparable to it.”
So states Morton in his 1712 Natural History of Northamptonshire. Standing in this remote part of Northamptonshire, in a field far away from any urbanisation it is difficult to picture how this site could have been developed akin to something like a Spa town. Perhaps the clue to the decline is in the line: “tho it be neglected at present.” Did it ever recover…certainly Leamington Spa developed to overshadow it! Thomas Beeby (1915) in his invaluable Peculiarities of Waters and Wells. How They Were Explained 200 Years Ago and how They are Explained To-day tells us that the water was recognised before 1670 but little used. Morton (1712) describes its location as:
“The mineral waters at Cliffe, or the Spaw, as it is there called, arises at the foot of a clayey hill in a pleasant wood about a mile south of the village.”
Morton (1712) visited it in 1703 and his account states:
“The Reverend Mr. John Broughton, formerly Fellow of St. John’s College in Cambridge was the first who observ’d it to be a mineral water. In 1670 or thereabouts, it was approv’d of, and publically recommended by the Learned Dr. Brown, a Physician, then residing at Cliff, And has ever since been apply’d to, and deservedly celebrated, for the real Services it has done the Drinkers of it in divers Distempers, and especially those arising from Obstructions. It has likewise been successfully used externally in the Way of Bathing or from the spring, to take in Water for the Use of those who have cutaneous Diseases or Ulcers.” Short (1734) in his Natural, Experimental, and Medicinal History of the Mineral Waters in states that the water rises in a round stone basin; is a clear laxative or purging water, requiring 3,4 or 5 quarts to purge strong people and that it had cured several lame people. “It was soon provided with all necessary Conveniences and Accomodations, and made one of the most beautiful and convenient places of that sort in England, much and deservedly celebrated, and frequented, and it’s certain that County, nor Warwickshire have any of this class comparable to it, tho it be neglected at present.”
He notes that:
Bridges (1791) in his History and antiquities of Northamptonshire adds that the spring was in Cock’s pits Coppice, between two hills and was made up with stone work. Beeby (1915) describes it as:
“The main chamber is a depression in the ground practically 18 feet square inside, with limestone walls and coping. Since it is on a slope, two of the walls also slope, the up-hill side sidewall being a little over 5 feet high and the downhill side one a little under 4 feet. There are five steps down to the floor from the coping on the lower side of the excavation, and the floor is cemented. On the floor is a circular, cup shaped cistern about 15 inches deep and 18 inches across, and on the rounded bottom if this, a little on one side, is a circular hole about 1 inch or more across, through the water comes. The water runs away through a trench about 41/2 inches wide and 2 inches deep, into a second chamber, which has an overflow to a drain. The smaller chamber is set an angle with the larger one the corner nearest the exit of the trench; it has 5 steps down like the larger chamber. Without the steps the chamber would be less than 6 feet square in area and taking out the space occupied by the steps there is left a space near to but somewhat under 6 feet by 2 feet, in which the water stands, also that this is scarcely a bath in the sense that Dr. Short’s remarks would lead one to anticipate; but apparently there was no other.”
He also adds that the water is still used to a small extent by people in the neighbourhood as a medicinal water, but more so for outward application in cases of cutaneous diseases and diseases of the eyes. Today, the site is forlorn but still remains much as Beeby describes although it looks when I visited during a rainy May, that the spring no longer flows.
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
For Christmas Gary Branigan’s excellent and invaluable Ancient and Holy wells of Dublin arrived and a great book it is to. A real detailed field guide revealing how many fascinating sites there are in the Dublin area, and hopefully this will be the spearhead for similar studies in all the Republic’s counties. Until then here’s some of my explorations in the city, which however brief revealed some interesting sites.
St Patrick’s Well, Dublin St Patrick’s Cathedral
Despite being the site of a well, this is an interesting site and worthy a visit. The site of the well is marked in a garden in the south-west corner with a plaque reading:
“near here is the reputed site of the well where St Patrick baptised many of the local inhabitants in the fifth century AD
The site was found during road widening when a large upright cross slab was discovered which is believed to have been over the well. This cross slab can now be found in the cathedral which berars a wheel cross and Maltese cross. Below the now prostate cross reads:
“This stone was found on 18th June 1901 six feet below the surface on the traditional site of St. Patrick’s Well ie 91 feet due north from the north-west apele of the tower.”
Lady Well, Tyrelltown
This is a delightful well sadly spoiled by its location beside a busy Church road. The building’s core is thought to date from the fourteenth century and was originally dedicated to St Cuthbert changing in the 1300sew. In the reign of Henry VI it was looked after by an order, called the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary, dedicated to repairing Marian shrines and when this was finally dissolved at his death, the Gracedieu Nunnery looked after the site. A pattern was established here on the 8th September, and according to some sources continues still, where it was tradition to crawl on your hands and knees and thus lying on one’s stomach place your hand in the well chamber and drink directly from the well. With such a busy road I cannot image it being done with any degree of sanctity or safety. Its waters were said to good for sprains, cuts and rheumatism and like many other wells those attracted turned to drunkenness and violence and in 1790 a death occurred.
The well is painted white and blue, Mary’s colours, and above the well chamber is a figure of Mary in one of the finials at the end. The back finial has a cross and the front one has written upon it:
“I H S Holy Mary pray for us
O blessed mother and ever Virgin glorious queen of the world make intercession for us to our lord Amen
Vouchsafe that I may praise thee O sacred virgin obtain for me force against thy enemies”
Legend has it that once the spring was offended and it moved to the other side of the road.
St Winifred’s Well, Eustace Street
Sometimes the best intentions do not always come best and the rediscovery of this ancient well clearly has not been welcomed by all. The plaque reads:
“St Winifred’s Well
…St Winifred’s Well was a medieval well known to have been in Eustace Street, perhaps further up towards Dame Street. St Winifred…was revered in North Wales in the middle ages and like St Bridget in Ireland, her name was associated with wells and springs. It is not clear how a well in medieval Dublin came to bear her name. It is known that Dublin had trading contacts with North Wales from the 11th century onwards and settlers from there probably came to live in Dublin after the Anglo-Normans captured the city in 1170. One of these may have given the well its name…
The present well has been covered over by the Street at some point in the past. It has been restored to expose the ground water resource that flows all the time below the foundations of the city…
Joint project involving Dublin Corporation & Temple Bar Properties Ltd.”‘
Its rediscovery in 1990s has not really created a circular well head monument but rather a good vestibule for litter!
These three sites are only the tip of the iceberg and I heartly recommend this excellent book Ancient and Holy Wells of Dublin
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.