In Issue One David Staveley asked whether there were any wells associated with the Scandinavian goddess Freya. Several readers responded to this request and helped us to identify the sites mentioned in Gelling (1961) and Hutton (1991).  So in answer to…

Are there any ‘holy wells’ associated with the Scandinavian Goddess Freya?

Jennifer Scherr of the English Place-Name Society replies with some more background, suggestions and examples…

Walters (1928), pp.91-2 lists Friday Street Well in Painswick, Gloucestershire. He also mentions a Friday Well at Roston, Derbyshire (Walters 1928, p.92-3) and makes an implied link with St Frideswide.

I did wonder what Friggle Street, Frome, Somerset might be, but it was recorded as Frilingestret 1230. Others may have more information about this, but it seems at any rate not to be a -well name.

Margaret Gelling (1977, pp.99-114) wrote more on pagan names. Here she lists Fretherne, Gloucs; Fryup, Yorks; Freefolk, Froyle and Frobury. Hants; but their derivations are not certain and she omits them in her section on pagan place-names in Signposts to the past.

Margaret Gelling now thinks that it may indeed be worth reinvestigating for formerly unproven Frig names. A 10th century form for Friden (Db), in a charter discovered in 1983, has the spelling Frigedene, ‘and “Frig’s valley” is almost certainly the meaning’ (I quote MG in a letter to me). She has also acknowledged Fryup as “Frig’s remote valley (OE hop)” in her new book (Gelling 2000).

Does anybody know of any more?


Gelling, Margaret (1961).   Place-names and Anglo-Saxon paganism. University of Birmingham Historical Journal, 8, pp.7-25.

Gelling, Margaret (1977). Further thoughts on pagan place-names. IN Cameron, K. ed (1977). Place-name evidence for the Anglo-Saxon invasion and Scandinavian settlements. Nottingham: EPNS, pp. 99-114.

Gelling, Margaret (1978). Signposts to the past. London: Dent.

Gelling, M. and Cole, A. (2000). The landscape of place-names. Stamford: Shaun Tyas.

Hutton, Ronald (1991). The pagan religions of the ancient British Isles. Oxford: Blackwell.

Walters, Skyring (1928). The ancient wells, springs, and holy wells of Gloucester: their legends, historyand topography. Bristol: St Stephen’s Press.

Robert Carter sent us the following gem:

A Nugget

The Walkworth Chronicle, a well-known chronicle of the first thirteen years of the reign of Edward IV, penned by John Warkworth, a Master of (the then) St Peter’s College, Cambridge (1473 to 1498), contains a digressionary reference to waters which some here may find quite fascinating and an illumination of the late mediaeval mind-set.

I recently acquired an edition of the work printed in 1839, and edited by James Orchard Halliwell, a Fellow of the Royal Society and antiquarian, a pamphlet released through the Camden Society. Here, then, I present (with Halliwell’s explanatory notes) my own rendering which might better suit the modern eye – if not for style or enjoyment, at least so far as making sense of it is concerned. For comparison the original Middle English (as
jacketted into the ASCII character set) is appended [Click here for the Middle English text].

‘Also in the thirteenth year of King Edward, [1] there was a great hot summer, both for man and beast; by the which there was great death of men and women, that in field harvest time men fell down suddenly, and universal fevers, aches, and the bloody flux, in several places of England. And also the heat was so great, that it burnt away wheat and all other grains and grass, in south parts of the world, in Spain, Portugal, Granada, and others, &c. that a bushel of wheat was worth twenty shillings, and men were fain in that country to give away their children for to find them. But, blessed be Almighty God, no such dearth was in England, nor in France.

Also in the same year Womere [2] water ran hugely, with such abundance of water that never man saw it run so much before this time. Womere is callede the woo water: for Englishmen, when they did first inhabit this land, also soon as they see this water run, they knew well it was a token of dearth [3], or of pestilence, or of great battle; therefore they called it Woo Mere; (for in the English tongue ‘woo’ and ‘mere’ meaning water, which signifies woe-water) for all that time they saw it rain, they knew well that woe was coming to England. And this Womere is seven miles from St Albans, at a place callede Markayate; and this Womere ran at every field before specified, and never so hugely as it did this year, and ran still to the 13th day of June next year following.

Also there have run several other such waters, that betoken likewise; one at Lavesham [4] in Kent, and another beside Canterbury called Naylborne, and another at Croydon in Sussex [5], and another seven miles this side the castle of Dodley, in the place called Hungervale; that when it betokens battle it runs foul and trouble water; and when it betokens dearth or pestilence, it runs as clear as any water, but this year it ran right trouble and foul water, &c. Also there is a pit in Kent in Langley Park [6] against any battle he will be dry, even if it rain ever so much, but if there be no battle about to come it will be full of water, be it ever so dry weather. And this year he is dry [7] &c. Also this same year, there was a voice crying in the air, between Leicester and Banbury, upon Dunmoth, and in several other places, heard a long time crying, “Bowes! Bowes!” which was heard of 40 men; and some men saw that he that cried so was a headless man; and many other several tokens have been shown in England this year, for amending of men’s living.’


1 Edward was crowned at Westminster Abbey, on the 29th of June 1461.
2 Womere. So in MS. but should be Wemere. This would seem to beg a question regarding the etymology of the otherwise unconnected place name ‘Woburn’. St Albans, of course, would at time of writing have been ‘in shock’ still due to the two savage battles fought there in 1455 and 1461.
3 ‘A tokene of derthe.’ See Mr Thoms’ Anecdotes and Traditions (p.122), for one instance of this curious superstition; Mr Thoms refers to Grimm’s Mythology for more examples.
4 Lavesham = Lewisham.
5 Suthsex. A mistake in MS. for Surrey.
6 ‘A pytte in Kent, in Langley Parke.’ This is probably the place where the small stream mentioned in Hasted’s History of Kent (II p140) took its rise, and joins the river Medway on the south side of it, about half a mile above Maidstone.
7 ‘And this yere he is drye.’ This passage shows that these notes of prognosticative prodigies were penned in the same year in which they happened.

The extract in the ‘original’….

‘Also in the xiij. yere of Kynge Edwarde, ther was a
gret hote somere, bothe for manne and beste; by the
whiche ther was gret dethe of menne and women, that
in feld harvist tyme men fylle downe sodanly, and
unyversalle feveres, axes, and the blody flyx, in
dyverse places of Englonde. And also the hete was
so grete, that in brent awey whete and all other
greynis and gresse, in southe partyes of the
worlde, in Spayne, Portyngale, Granade, and othere,
&c. that a bowsshelle of whete was worthe xx. s.;
and menne were fayne in that cuntre to yeve away
there childeryne for to fynde them. But, blessede
be Almyghty God, no suche derthe was nogt in
Englonde, ne in Fraunce. Also in the same yere
Womere watere ranne hugely, withe suche abundaunce
of watere, that nevyr manne sawe it renne so moche
afore this tyme. Womere is callede the woo watere:
for Englyschmen, whenne thei dyd fyrst inhabyde
this lond, also sone as thei see this watere renne,
thei knewe wele it was a tokene of derthe, or of
pestylence, or of grete batayle; therefore thei
callede it Womere; (for we as in Englysche tonge
woo, and mere is called watere, whiche signyfieth
woo-watere;) for alle that tyme thei sawe it renne,
thei knewe welle that woo was comynge to Englonde.
And this Wemere is vij. myle frome Sent Albons, at
a place callede Markayate; and this Wemere ranne at
every felde afore specifyede, and nevere so hugely
as it dyd this yere, and ranne stylle to the xiij.
day of June next yere followynge. Also ther has
ronne dyverse suche other wateres, that betokenethe
lykewyse; one at Lavesham in Kent, and another
byside Canterbury called Naylborne, and another at
Croydone in Suthsex, and another vij. myle a this
syde the castelle of Dodley, in the place called
Hungervale; that whenne it betokenethe batayle it
rennys foule and trouble watere; and whenne
betokenethe derthe or pestylence, it rennyth as
clere as any watere, but this yere it ranne ryght
trouble and foule watere, &c. Also there is a pytte
in Kent, in Langley Parke: ayens any batayle he
wille be drye, and rayne nevere so myche; and if
ther be no batayle towarde, he wille be fulle of
watere, be it nevyre so drye a wethyre; and this
yere he is drye &c. Also this same yere, ther was a
voyce cryenge in the heyre, betwyx Laicetere and
Bambury, uppon Dunmothe, and in dyverse othere
places, herde a long tyme cryinge, “Bowes! Bowes!”
whiche was herde of xl. menne; and some menne saw
that he that cryed soo was a hedles manne; and many
other dyverse tokenes have be schewede in Englonde
this yere, for amendynge of mennys lyvynge.’

David Bell asks when the poem ‘The Legend of the Holy Well Haw‘ was written.  He has seen it attributed to a poet named Spencer but is unable to find details of him/her.  He adds that ‘it is obviously not Edmund Spencer [who wrote the Faerie Queen], as the language seems Victorian.’

Do any of our readers know? If so then comment

The poem was printed anonymously in Source way back in March 1985, and is reproduced here again:

The Legend of the Holy Well Haw (Leicestershire)

The oaks of the Forest were Autumn-tinged,
And the winds were at sport with their leaves,
When a Maiden traversed the rugged rocks
That frown over WOODHOUSE EAVES.

The rain fell fast – she heeded it not –
Though no hut or home appears:
She scarcely knew if the falling drops
Were rain drops or her tears.

Onward she hied through the OUTWOODS dark –
(And the OUTWOODS were darker then:)
She feared not the Forest’s deep’ning gloom –
She feared unholy men.

Lord Comyn’s scouts were in close pursuit,
For Lord Comyn the Maid had seen,
And had marked her mother’s only child
For his paramour, I ween.

A whistle, a whoop, from the BUYK HYLLS’ side,
Told Agnes her foes were nigh:
And, screened by the cleft of an aged oak,
She heard quick steps pass by.

Dark and dread fell that Autumn night:
The wind-gusts fitful blew:
The thunder rattled: – the lightning’s glare
Showed BEACON’S crags to view.

The thunder neared – the lightning played
Around that sheltering oak;
But Agnes, of men, not God afraid,
Shrank not at the lightning’s stroke!

The thunder passed – the silvery moon
Burst forth from her cave of cloud,
And showed in the glen “red Comyn’s’ men,
And she breathed a prayer aloud: –

‘Maiden mother of God! look down –
List to a maiden’s prayer:
Keep undefiled my mother’s sole child –
The spotless are thy care.’

The sun had not glinted on BEACON HILL
Ere the Hermit of Holy Well
Went forth to pray, as his wont each day,
At the Cross in Fayre-oke dell.

Ten steps had he gone from the green grassy mound
Still hemming the Holy Well Haw,
When, stretched on the grass – by the path he must pass –
A statue-like form he saw!

He crossed himself once, he crossed himself twice,
And he knelt by the corse in prayer:
‘Jesu Maria! cold as ice –
Cold – cold – but still how fair!’

The Hermit upraised the stiffened form,
And he bore to the Holy Well:
Three Paters or more he muttered o’er,
And he filled his scallop shell.

He sprinkled the lymph on the Maiden’s face,
And he knelt and he prayed a her side –
Not a minute’s space had he gazed on her face
Ere signs of life he spied.

Spring had invested the CHARNWOOD oaks
With their robe of glist’ning green,
When on palfreys borne, one smiling morn,
At the Holy Well Haw were seen

A youth and a Lady, passing fair,
Who asked for the scallop shell:
A sparkling draught each freely quaffed,
And they blessed the Holy Well.

They blessed that Well, and they fervently blessed
The holy Hermit too;
To that and to him they filled to the brim
The scallop, and drank anew.

‘Thanks, Father! thanks! – To this Well and thee,’
Said the youth, ‘but to Heav’n most,
I owe the life of the fairest wife
That CHARNWOOD’S bounds can boast.

The blushing bride thou seest at my side,
(Three hours ago made mine)
Is she who from death was restored to breath
By Heav’n’s own hand and thine.

The Prior of ULVESCROFT made us one,
And we hastened here to tell
How much we owe to kind Heav’n and thee,
For the gift of the Holy Well.

In proof of which – to the Holy Well Haw
I give, as a votive gift,
From year to year three fallow deer,
And the right of the Challenge drift.

I give, besides, of land two hides,
To be marked from the Breedon Brand:
To he held while men draw from the Well in this Haw
A draught with the hollow hand.’

The Hermit knelt, and the Hermit rose,
And breathed ‘Benedicite’ –
‘And tell me,’ he said, with a hand on each head,
‘What Heav’n sent pair I see?’

‘This is the lost de Ferrars’ child,
Who dwelt at the Steward’s Hay;
And, Father, my name – yet unknown to fame –
Is simply EDWARD GREY.’


Page designed by Rich Pederick (© Living Spring Journal, MM)
Written  by Rich Pederick

Gill Burns informs us that she has recently completed her research on the St Helen’s spring and ruined chapel near Bamburgh in South Yorkshire. She continues to tell us that she is now trying to find the location of all St Helen wells, springs churches and chapels in England. She would be very grateful for any information.

The editors have already informed Gill of James Rattue’s The Living Stream which briefly discusses St Helen dedications (he notes 43 such well dedications, ranking St Helen as second in the league table of holy well dedications). Her attention has also been drawn to the work of Edna Whelan (see the Source Online Archive) on the wells of Yorkshire, the county which has a large number of St Helen sites.

Does any reader know of any St Helen sites not listed by Rattue or Whelan? In particular, does anybody know of any St Helen sites not in the North of England?

Gill will be pleased to receive information by email.


Created November 1, MMII

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