Posted: November 1, 2002

Threatened ancient Jewish ritual bath in Bristol
achieves protected status

It is with great delight that we can report that the well and spring complex near to Brandon Hill (Jacobs Well) has recently been scheduled as an Ancient Monument (No. 28881) and therefore has statutory protection. The site (at NGR: ST 5769 7286) was rediscovered in 1987 by the Temple Local History Group and for some time was considered to be the only known medieval Jewish ‘Mikveh‘ (a bath used Jews for ritual purification, often by women after their monthly period).

According to experts at English Heritage, the site is now considered to be a ‘bet tahara‘ or cleansing house associated with Jewish burial ceremonies. In a press release, English Heritage say that ‘the re-intrepretation of this site as a ‘bet tohorah‘ [sic.] is a significant addition to the understanding of Jewish life in Medieval England, and as such is a unique example of this class of monument in this country, possibly being the only one from an early period existing outside the Holy Land’.

So a big congratulations to the Temple Local History Group for the investigations leading to its discovery, and well done English Heritage for recognising its importance.

[Thanks to Julian Lea-Jones of the Temple Local History Group]


Posted: November 1, 2002

Jewish ritual bath discovered in London

Just as good news reaches us about Jacobs Well, we also discover that it is not the only medieval Jewish ritual bath in the country. Archaeologists from the Museum of London, working on what was thought to be a routine excavation of the site of the former gold bullion vault of the State Bank of India in preparation for office development, have discovered a second bath site. The bath only survived because it escaped later construction work by being built far under ground, just above the Roman level on which the medieval cellars and bath were built.

Three steps of the original seven that led down into the semi-circular bath survive, each made of finely cut greensand stones. It measured four feet across and was four feet deep. Several Jewish scholars, including Dayan Ehrentreu, head of the Court of the Chief Rabbi, have visited the site and have confirmed it as a genuine mikveh, a ritual bath for purification before attending a synagogue. It would have been filled with rain or spring water and used by the women of the house and their friends after menstruation or childbirth, and before going to synagogues or weddings.

The bath is the only surviving evidence of the City of London’s first Jewish colony which ended after Edward I issued the Edict of Expulsion in 1290. It was situated under a thirteenth century house facing on to Milk Street. There are no records of who owned the house, but its neighbour was owned by a man called Leo Le Blund the Jew, and then by the four sons of Abraham the Jew, until it passed into Christian hands in 1251. The bath went out of use and was backfilled in the late 13th century. The area, off Cheapside, was the heart of the Jewish colony, reflected in place names such as Old Jewry.

The bath is thought to be the only identifiable structure that has survived from the Jewish community in medieval London. Although it only survives today because Bevis Marks, the oldest synagogue in Britain, paid for the stones to be lifted and reconstructed in the courtyard of the synagogue.

The dig has also revealed the well preserved remains of two Roman wells and water lifting devices, and the gilt bronze arm of a large statue of an emporer, (possibly Nero), that was destroyed when he fell out of favour.

[Thanks to The Guardian, October 25 2001]


Posted: November 1, 2002Baptismal pool restored in Alabama, USA

After forty-five years of neglect the original outdoor baptismal pool at Bluff Springs Baptist Church, Ashford, Alabama has been restored. The ten feet by four feet brick-lined pool, built in 1875, was used for baptisms up until 1955 when a new church with an indoor baptismal pool was built a short distance away. Local church members decided to hack their way through the encroaching undergrowth and restore the old baptistery as part of the church’s 125th celebrations. The original estimate of  $1,500 more than doubled as the project proceeded, and may rise further if the churchgoers decide to add benches and cultivate a meditation garden at the site. Lanelle Wiggins Folkes, a local resident, tells ‘I was baptised in 1939 when i was twelve years old and the water hasn’t gotten any warmer’!

[Thanks to Charleston Post & Courier, 24/09/2000 – cutting supplied by Bonnie and Tom Campbell]


Posted: November 1, 2002

Update on the Sancreed well access dispute

Readers may be aware of the dispute surrounding access to Sancreed Well, down in the West Penwith area of Cornwall. At the beginning of 2001, the disputed footpath leading from the church to the well was blocked with a barbed wire fence by persons unknown. Then, Mr and Mrs Hoskins, the owners of Glebe Farm were granted planning permission for a driveway leading from the road opposite the church hall to their holiday cottage. This driveway crosses the footpath and has now been constructed.

However, visitors were still able to visit the well via a permissive path running south from the layby at Sancreed Beacon. This path was signposted thanks to the Hoskins’, but we hear that there is some concern about the barbed wire fence running alongside the path.

In the summer of 2002, the churchway path was placed on the Definitive Map. This ensures that the path can legally be walked along its entire length, ensuring that visitors can reach the well by the route it has likely always been accessed.

It is believed that the Hoskins’ will apply for the old footpath to be diverted along their new driveway. If this happens then a public enquiry will ensue. It is believed that the local community is in favour of retaining the path as it is, but time will tell.

[Thanks to Meyn Mamvro, 44, p.4; Meyn Mamvro, 46, p.3; Meyn Mamvro, 49, p.4]


Posted: November 1, 2002

Millenium marker stone placed at Cerne Abbas well

A block of rough ashlar stone was installed at St Augustine’s well (‘Silver Well’), Cerne Abbas to mark the new millenium. The millenium stone was placed between the water culvert and the back wall. The marker bears the words of Jesus from John iv. 14: ‘But whosoever drinketh of the water that i shall give him shall never thirst.’ The organising committee hopes that the stone will become something to view, sit on and contemplate which will add to the atmosphere of the holy well’.

[Thanks to Dorset Life, 261, p.15 – cutting supplied by Jeremy Harte]


Posted: November 1, 2002Bodmin’s Holy Wells restored

There is good news from Cornwall as no less than five wells in the town have recently been restored. A £100,000 scheme to refurbish and restore the ruined and derelict wells was completed in the summer of 2002. And what’s more, a ‘Well Trail’ has been created to link the wells into an easy to follow walk so that pilgrims can once again visit and enjoy these healing sites.

The wells restored to their former glory include St Petroc’s Well in Priory Park, St Guron’s Well in St Petroc’s Church, the Eye Well off Dennison Road, Cock’s Well at the corner of Chapel Lane and Dennison Road, and Bodmin’s most famous well, Scarletts Well off Scarletts Well Road.

[I hope to bring more details of these restorations in LSJ 3 – Ed].

[Thanks to Meyn Mamvro, 49, pp.6-7]


Posted: November 1, 2002Pre-Christian Holy Well discovered in Yorkshire

An Anglo-Saxon settlement at West Heslerton, Yorkshire has been found to be built around a water shrine. The settlement area was large enough to house around ten to fifteen families, and has at its heart a double apsidal building thought to be associated with a large spring. Dated to around the fourth century CE, the building is believed to be some kind of shrine complex, similar to the Romano-British water shrines found elsewhere in the country (e.g. Chedworth, Gloucestershire or Funtingdon, Sussex).

Northern Earth contributor Mike Haigh postulates that it is possible that this site may be part of a chain of such pilgrimage sites stretching across the area.

[Thanks to Antiquity, 75, pp.305-8 and Northern Earth, 87, p.7]


Posted: November 1, 2002More trouble at Sancreed Well

It seems that Sancreed Well, Cornwall, just cannot stay out of the news recently. This time though the news is not so good. It has been noted that the water level in the well has been decreasing in recent years. So much so that by the summer of 2001 the bottom of the well was clearly visible for the first time. The level does rise again in the winter, but it appears to be in general decline. The Sacred Sites Network Group are investigating the possibility that additional water is being extracted locally, and why the general water table is now at such a low level.

As if that wasn’t enough, in autumn 2001, the cloutie tree overhanging the well was subject to an attack by persons unknown [them again! – Ed]. Some of its branches were sawn off and the clouties removed and burnt in the nearby chapel remains. Nobody has come forward to admit t the damage, but it is believed to be the work of born-again Christians.

[Thanks to Meyn Mamvro, 47, p.3]


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