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Time to save St. Edith’s Well, Church Eaton, Staffordshire?

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Search Staffordshire Past website and the photo below can be found St. Edith’s Well. The picture shows something which composes of a well chamber enclosed in a wicker fence having a thatched rectangular roof placed upon it. This structure was supposedly designed and built in the 1950s and indeed field investigators for the Department of Environment in 1958 noted:

“St Edith’s Well is a rectangular water-filled stone basin, 2.1 m by 1.5 m, apparently recently restored; a flight of steps descends into the water. It is covered by a modern openwork timber structure with a thatched roof. Coins are still thrown into this well and several were seen on the bottom.”                               

Tim Cockin in his 1992 article One country man to another in The Countryman records that the well house was built and thatched by a Tommy Brayne, the landlord of the village pub, in about 1950, with the encouragement of the people at the manor house. Today this is not the case. The site is well-known enough to find a place in Janet and Colin Bord’s seminal 1985 work Sacred Waters where they record:

“As it is on private land, permission to visit it should be sort by the nearby farm. The rectangular stone basin is covered by a thatched timber structure. The well was visited for eye problems and the King’s Evil, and visitors still throw coins into the water.”

Armed with this book during a visit in the 1990s, I did indeed visit the nearby farm and was greeted by a ‘why would you want to visit that then’ response. However, I was granted access and directed across the fields. Nearby farm was clearly in relative terms! Despite the author’s note what I found was a well in a very sorry state.

Much of the superstructure from the photo had gone. Sadly, it was a rather dilapidated well structure, consisting of what was clearly, although I probably didn’t realise at the time, that fallen wooden structure laying over a brick-lined rectangular pool where steps into the structure could just be traced. It was still there but was not perhaps as spectacular as I expected.

Local traditions

The well is first mentioned in 1696 by Francis Plot in his History of Staffordshire he notes:

“many other waters…performe unaccountable Cures…the water of… St Ediths well… in the parish of Church Eyton.”

The well has some curious local traditions. One stating that the waters did not cause rusting. One I had not heard of before and possible being unique. As stated by the Bords it was good for eyes and the Kings Evil. The Victorian County History records a local legend notes that near this well was the site originally chosen for the church but that, but the stones brought there by mule-back by day were removed to the present site by night. This parish church was dedicated to St Edith by the nuns of Polesworth Abbey after it had been granted to them in about 1170, although whether this because a local St. Edith, rather than that associated with Kemsing Kent, or not is unclear. Interestingly according to  Cockin  (1992) records that the Bishop of Chester visited the well to bless it, and its water was used for baptisms by the family at the manor house.

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Save St Edith’s Spring

The problem being clearly as I found in the 1990s this is not the best positioned holy well. In the middle of a field, several fields in from the road with no clear route to it and no holy well. I can more than understand the farmer not wanting hoards of curious onlookers crossing fields to have a look. However, that does not explain or justify the deplorable state of the well. According to Tim Prevett on Megalithic portal it has been allowed to fall derelict since the late 1980s despite pleas from the local Parish council and the site is slowly perhaps being forgotten. He states:

“Speaking to the church warden and flower arranger at St Edith’s they said the well had been largely been forgotten by the village, and were unsure in what condition it would be found. Also, permission needs to be gained to visit, I think from a bungalow just next to the canal side nearest the well, having left Church Eaton”

Speed forward another 20 years or so I have learnt things have not improved. The local concerns were sadly true; thanks to some locals I was provided with the opportunity of an update, although I note it is away from footpaths and on private land so I am not recommending you trespass. Much of the wood has been cleared, although some sections remain, but it is long beyond repair. The well chamber is still full of water, albeit sluggish and algae covered. Steps could be seen however. We must be thankful that its fabric remains but surely some compromise can be reached to save this notable Staffordshire well.

For more information on Staffordshire’s holy wells look out for

Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Staffordshire – forthcoming

Searching for the Lady Well of Wombourne

One of the great pleasures in researching our sacred springs is the field work. In a world where the internet is said to have all the answers and this blog is just as responsible for forwarding the information, it might be surprising to find that not all the information is available.  As I am close to completing my work on Staffordshire Holy Wells and the weather is getting nicer I thought it as a good idea to share one of the more interesting sites.

A few years back at the beginning of my Staffordshire research I came across a site a Wombourne. The site according to Hope’s Legendary Lore of Holy Wells  (1893) was a spring was ‘known by the name of “Our Lady’s Well” or “Lady Well”. Hope (1893) states:

Another famous local well, which has fortunately escaped the destructive hand of time, is that near Wombourne, known by the name of Our Lady’s Well, or Lady Well. It is cut out of the solid rock, which crops out at the top of a lofty hill, situate between Wombourne and Lower Fenn. The well is of considerable antiquity, and several species of cryptogrammic plants give to the surface of the stone a venerable appearance. It is supposed to have been sacred to the virgin in mediæval times, and its waters to have possessed curative properties. Here, ages ago, a holy hermit is said to have dwelt, and to have been visited by many persons in search of consolation and instruction. The well is still a favourite resort of local pleasure-seekers, who go to drink of the cooling and delicious beverage, and ruralize in the adjacent wood.”

Of course in the last 130 odd years quite a lot has happened. Wells drained, filled in or absorbed into the domestic supply. Land urbanised, agriculture changes boundaries and forests torn from the landscape…so it can be very unlikely for a well to survive.

The first place to look is always the current ordnance survey map however, no well is marked on the current OS one but the name Lady Well Wood is still marked. This concurs with the field-name Ladywell Hill on the 1840 Tithe map. Being a wood is a good sign as the pressures of building and agriculture are less likely to have had an impact. Better still on the 1883 OS map W is marked beneath Ladywell cottages on the escarpment. However, there might propose an issue. Clearly the cottages were built to utilise the water as a domestic source. Such an activity can often result in destruction as the source is tanked and modernised. I hoped for the best.

Field research

There appeared to be a footpath which based close enough, if the land was not enclosed to be useful. However, it could not be seen whether the land was enclosed in someone’s garden. This path lay up Orton Lane beside a house called Orton Springs house (although it is not signed) which passes up the hill.  The name sounded promising but I think it was more likely woodland spring rather than water spring.

The ruins of Lady well cottages

The ruins of Lady well cottages

I climbed the hill which provided great views of the valley. Taking a right hand path I followed it as it appeared to lead to what could be the cottages. As moved closer it was very evident there were not any cottages, but the foundations were to be seen by the path. Was the well similarly destroyed? Looking at the 1883 OS the well appeared to be down the slope from them and my eye was cast that way. A few yards away was something which did not fit into the general scene, for the hill was covered by a mix of deciduous trees but there in front was a yew. A solitary yew. This appeared to be very significant was this where the well was?

The solitary yew...a sign for the well perhaps?

The solitary yew…a sign for the well perhaps?

I scrambled down a muddy slope, nearly losing my footing at one point and got closer to the yew. The yew was growing romantically on a rocky ledge, the only rocky ledge I could see, I scrambled closer and could see some evidence of water flowing from beneath the rocky ledge. There was definitely some water source here but would be a brick municipal structure, a simple spring or something a bit more interesting.

look up into the yew

look up into the yew

Peering around the rock, the spring appeared to flow into a small square brick built chamber, which appeared to probably date from before the time of Hope’s account.  It was full of clear water, the stream is currently constant running from a fissure in the rock; around it are the cryptogrammic plants, mosses, growing in profusion. The spring over fills the chamber and forms a small stream which flows down the hillside. A number of names, possibly dating back from Hope’s time are carved into the rock and sadly the site has fallen afoul of graffiti artists.

Lady's Well Wombourn (9)

A lost pagan site?

A lot of commentators construct the view that many Christian sites derive from pagan ones. Sadly, the evidence is lacking. However, here I was struck by the circumstantial evidence which appeared to point in the direction of the well being depicted to a female deity. The first piece of evidence is perhaps the name of the settlement, Wombourne, deriving from bourne meaning a stream or river but the first bit is more elusive, officially it derives from ‘valley’ but could it have a more feminine origin? Could this be the spring entering from the mother earth’s womb? The only problem being that the wom brook, thought to be the origin of the name is somewhere else.  Interestingly, the VCH (1908–1984) suggest that this site is to be identified with a Wodewelle recorded near Orton in the thirteenth century, but this might easily have been a different well. If it is the same of course the name easily derived from wood, which explains its location, however it might be from Woden? Unlikely though.  The second piece of evidence is the presence of the Yew tree with its roots entering the spring. Neo-pagans would see it as Yggdrasil, the sacred tree and it’s certainly significant as it is the only one, although Wombourne is a Saxon not Norse foundation. Yews were also sacred to the Celts as well.  The third piece of evidence is that a holy hermit lived there, perhaps descending from some pagan wise man? The fourth that the festivities were possibly ancient in nature although Hope give no clues on dates and what actually went on.

Lady's Well Wombourn (15)

Whatever the conjecture, the Lady’s Well is a great survival and a taster of what fascinating sites exist in the county. My work on Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Staffordshire is hopefully out this year!

Lady's Well Wombourn (19)

A ghost story for Christmas…The Nun’s Well of Cannock Wood

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I did become a bit pixy led looking for this one…it was the hottest day of the year so far, fortunately the walk to the well, or rather what I could assign to it poorly marked on the OS, was down hill! Good job as it was very hot. A long way from the weather today…

The Nun’s Well is a fascinating site. I have yet to find any concrete facts about its history, yet its local legend of a ghost which is most appealing. Legend tells that a local nun was pushed down the well and it was covered over, only to be discovered by farm labourers, some years later. As a result she has said to have haunted the area. I have been unable to neither substantiate the origins of this story or the nun in question, neither F. W. Hackwood’s 1924 work nor Jon Raven’s 1974 work, both on the folklore of the county, record a ghost or the well, despite the latter’s detailed notes on wells in the county. Only Duignan (1884) suggests a grant of Henry II to a priory of Farewell and the spring may have gained its name from then, suggesting the origin of the story. Nuns immured in wells are not unique in well folklore and it is possible that they mask a more ancient tradition.

A hidden source

DSC_0015This is perhaps the most hidden of all the springs and wells I have investigated.  Accounts are misleading, some accounts on the web suggest it has been destroyed, but that is far from true. It is however, difficult to come across for the well arises beside, not under as some accounts state, an oak tree. Despite having a photos of the said tree I walked past it and went into the wood beyond which led to the Nun’s well car park..which was locked! I followed my instincts and took a path which looked well trod, but led to the edge of the wood but to a man mowing a lawn. After disturbing him, in more ways than one, he said he did not know where exactly it was but it was not here! Tracking my route back I noticed the tree I passed had a blue sign upon it:

“Nun well. End of permissive path.”

I had found my tree and the well. This tree was surrounded by a small white fence which I at first feared may have been electrified. It wasn’t fortunately. However the area was surrounded by tall nettles. I gently lay them down so that I could have a look for the well.

More substantial than first thought

???????????????????????????????I found the narrow hole described by Tim Prevett on Megalithic Portal, with one or two bricks around it and thinking this was the only hole used by 33mm camera to get some shots. This is a bit disappointing if it’s the only viewing point. However, it was only when I took some shots upwards to capture I thought the chamber’s roof that I noticed I had taken a shot of sky. There was another viewing area! Sure enough the other side of the tree was a much larger opening about two feet square which was covered with boughs for safety. Removing one or two of these boughs (replacing them back afterwards) I could see a better view of the well. The first aspect I observed was the remains of a brick arch and it was clear that well was still partly covered by a barrel roof made of bricks which was in quite good condition. Using my SLR camera I took some shots. From these it is clear that the chamber is quite a large one, partly cut from the sandstone rock from which the spring arises, although some of this wall appears to be made of dressed stand stone blocks, particularly at the back I thought. Towards the front a piece of corrugated iron and some barbed wire has been placed there, when it is difficult to gage but it must have done by someone in the well chamber and presumably to prevent the earth back filling. The brick work is said to be 16th century and came from a local iron works. The tree’s roots have clearly grown partly over the roof at some time and causing it to collapse resulting in the rubble of stones around and the large hole to the north of the tree.  One could climb down into the well but I thought twice, one could I climb out? Probably. Secondly, peering down the well I felt a little disquiet. Had I disturbed the nun?

Healing water

The well contained a considerable amount of water which was quite clear despite the considerable amount of debris and leaf litter within. Access the water is difficult and one needs to stretch so clearly access was better from the front before the tree. Despite this its waters were said to cure eyes.

An interesting site pity despite the park being named after it no one thought of putting an information sign up!

Taken and amended from Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Staffordshire – forthcoming 2015.

 

A Staffordshire field trip: some holy and ancient wells of Staffordshire

I am plough ahead with my work on Staffordshire, some fascinating sites there. Here are some well known and not so well known sites…all worthy of investigation.

BRADNOP

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA small village just outside of Leek lies the Egg Well (SK 005 540), a secular healing well which have been developed into a local spa but exact details are difficult to find. Local tradition believes that the site was used by the Roman, but the older fabric was set in place by William Stanley, the owner of Ashenhurst Hall between 1744 and 1752. On the basin is his monogram and an interesting Latin inscription which reads:

“Renibus, et splenui cordi, jecorique medatur, Mille maelsi prodest ista salubris aqua.”

The translation being:

“The liver, kidneys, heart’s disease these waters remedy. And by their healing powers assuage full many a malady.”

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The name of the well is curious; it could refer to the shape of the basin, but could also refer to sulphurous waters although I could not detect a smell. Today, a rather ugly 19th century brick built structure surrounds this stone lined bath shaped structure, this was roofed at a later date.

LEEK

DSC_2137South of the town east of the Cheddleton road is the delightful but little known Lady Well or Lady o’ th’ Dale well (SJ 887 145). It was called the Weaver’s Well. The age of this well is difficult VCH (1996) records that it was named in the Middle Ages, it is recorded as Lady Wall Dale in the late 16th century (1587) and there was a farm belonging to Dieulacres abbey along the Cheddleton road, but the presence of St. Mary’s RC church above the well and 19th century fabric suggests it was developed by the local Catholic community. Indeed, a May Day procession was taken by children from the church every May Day, although when it ceased is unclear.  The site is grade II listed and the cartouche above the well has the 1855 and some unclear initials in Gothic writing. Its structure is rusticated ashlar 2 metre high with a slightly recessed niche below originally a water spout collecting water from the spring through which water still flows.

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The spout is made of a worn circular structure which may be carved head, it appears to be surrounded by stylised hair or possibly is a sun. Its waters were used for healing by local people. The approach to the well has been improved with a wooden walkway and it appears to be well preserved.

SUGNALL

imageIn Sugnall Park, on the edge of Bigwood, is a Holy or St. Catherine’s Well (SJ 798 306). The well is unmarked on the current O/S and only as W on earlier editions, where the dedication originated is unclear but it is known as such in the village and in Stafford County Archives. The well is source of a small brook which flows to fill Cop Mere. It is covered by small square sandstone well house with pyramidal roof. The roof was said to have been surmounted by cross of which only base remains, but there does not appear to be any evidence of breakage. The well looks like an ‘improvement’ made when the estate was developed in the 1700s with a Gothick boathouse and walled garden. The well is thought to date from 1770 when a temple was constructed in the park. It has been given a grade II listing.

UTTOXETER

imageUttoxeter boasts a very interesting holy well called variously Maidens, Marian’s or Mary Well (SK 094 264). It is situated on the hill along High Wood road above the town and now enclosed in the front section of the garden of 21a Highwood Road. The spring arises in a roughly two feet wide circular well basin lined by old brickwork, Although I could see no evidence of running water, the water is nevertheless clear and the well has a sandy bottom. A mesh cover has been placed over the well to prevent leaves fouling it and it is well looked after. Its water is thought to be curative.  A local legend records that it is haunted by a ghost of a young women, who may be significant, perhaps it remembers the dedication. The Rykenald Way runs past the well, suggesting a great history and indeed it is also called Maiden’s Way.

This is only the tip of a very large number of sites which have received very little coverage so please look out for the book in the future.

The mysterious Gawton’s Well

A romantic site

If you park in the first car park at Greenaway Country Park past the lake, and then walk along the road taking the footpath on the left around the lake, continue until one crosses a bridge, just below the Warden’s Tower taking a path which follows a small stream, past a pond and then continue until there is a bridge on the left and just after this is a path on the right you will reach Gawton Well (SJ 898 555) voted one of the most mystical places and certainly one of the most atmospheric of Staffordshire ancient wells is found on the remains of the Kynpersely Estate.

The spring fills at first an elliptical stone basin, then a small rectangular basin and then a larger one which could have formed a bath. There is a semi-circular stone just after this and then flows through a number of large rocks forming a stream. The site has an excellent arrangement the juxtaposition between the man-made and the natural.

A druid grove?

Perhaps what makes this well one of the most evocative and interesting is the fact that it arises in an oval grove of yew trees. Some folklorists and New age Antiquarians have seen this as being evidence of some pagan origin of the well and although it is interesting that the site is unconverted to the Christian faith. However, one must be careful. Firstly the trees do not look that old and secondly the presence of a nearby Warden’s Tower, a folly suggests, that this is perhaps a 18th century piece of antiquarianism.

A hermit’s house?

This suggestion of the site being a folly may be justified by the presence of Gawton’s Stone. This is just up from the spring, being a large stone supported by three other stones. Some antiquarians identified erroneously this as either a druidic altar or megalithic structure (it would be impossible to lift the structure). However it is here that legendarily a hermit lived called Gawton who used the well. Often landowners would employ a hermit to add some romance to the estate, although the stone does not particularly look like a comfortable place. Certainly local tradition states that the man came from Knypersley Hall in the seventeenth century, although the house is 18th century and no name is recorded as living there of any note! The house itself dates from the 12th century.

 

 

 

 

Curative water

Plot (1686) states that:

“There are many waters such as the water of the well at Gawton Stone…which has some reputation for the cure of the King’s evil..”

The King’s evil was a skin complaint generally called scrofula which was only thought to be cured by the touch of the reigning monarch. Now rarely do I try out springs but at this time my little boy was suffering with eczema and having tried all sorts of creams I said flippantly try some of the well’s water. I collected it from near the source in a drinking bottle, it felt unusually silky to the skin, and applied some to an area of dry peeling skin on his cheek. Remarkably by the time we had walked from the well to the car the area have healed itself rather miraculously. I only wished I had collected some more to use later, although the area on his face disappeared for good….

In all Gawton’s Well deserves to be more well known, a magical site of which my only clue to its existence before reaching it was a circle on the OS! A site which may reveal its secrets with greater research which I plan to undertake whilst preparing for the Holy wells of Staffordshire.

The Lord’s Well Burton on Trent

In researching the Holy wells and healing springs of Staffordshire, my research brought me to Lord’s Well (SK 220 230) at Burton on Trent. It appears to have been called variously God’s or St Anne’s Well. This is found below Sinia Park House, a black and white wooden building set high on a hill above the Town. A footpath passes from the end of Lord’s well lane off the Shobnall lane, second turning on the left after the A38, however the causal visitor would be unable to see the well and the grounds are surrounded by tall trees and the well lays on private land. However, I was fortunate to be granted an opportunity to investigate the site by the present owners of the house, Mr and Mrs Newton.

They took over the house and have done a fantastic job repairing this noted building believed to have been granted to Burton Abbey, the original house appears to have been used as a grange for retreating monks who were undergoing blood-letting! It seems very likely they would have used the spring, but no firm evidence exists of this. At the Reformation, the land was sold to the Pagets who used the house as a hunting lodge. The present structure dates from the mid to early 1700s, probably as a bath to ease pain after a day’s hunting.

Certainly the structure appears to be a plunge bath, approximately nine feet by six feet made of squared sandstone blocks. There is a series of six or so steps to the west end of the bath. The spring appears to arise to the north in a small chamber, which according to Mr. Newton is blocked by a large rectangular stone. Over the chamber is a small plaque carved into the stone. This appears to have had a carved inscription but it is difficult to read, Mr and Mrs Newton said it was decipherable when they told over the estate and indeed took a photo but have mislaid the photo!

Mr Newton informed me that when he pumped out the well he uncovered a large number of stones which were covered with carved graffiti, most of these dated from the late 1800s and presumably record inhabitants of the house. He also revealed two metal hooks which look like the remains of a structure which help a sluice gate enabling the bath to fill so it could be used. A drainage hole was located near here and the water emptied a few yards in a small copse.

Like many sites the well has a good legend, here a local tale tells that the house had a secret tunnel to Burton and indeed local people told the Newtons that there chamber could be the start of this tunnel. It seems very likely considering the height of the spring that it records some account of a conduit to the town.

The origin of the name would appear to be clearly secular, (cf Lord’s Well Southwell in Holy wells and Healing springs of Nottinghamshire), but record of the site being called St. Ann’s and God’s well is significant but I have been unable to trace the earliest use of these names.

Directions: The Lord’s Well lies in the private grounds of Sinai Park House. This is currently owned by Mr and Mrs Newton who open to the grounds on special days.

Different engraved stones said to jave been from the well.