WHOLLY WELL READ – Christina Martin (2000)


WHOLLY WELL READ – Christina Martin (2000)

Wooden Books, 2000.

1 9024182 8 X

18cm, hardback,
58 pages, line drawings, gazetteer.



a wholly charming, reliable introduction to the subject, well-written and with luscious illustrations



Holy Wells

Written and illustrated by Christina Martin

   Wooden Books are known for compressing a huge amount of ‘taster’ information plus illustrations into a very attractive small package: this book is no exception. In only thirty-three pages of text, Christina Martin has managed to pull together a well-chosed selection of wells from all over the British Isles, even cramming in a gazetteer of sites to visit, complete with OS grid references. Her beautiful illustrations capture the magic of a range of our best wells: some will look familiar as Martin has used photographs from several websites (I recognise my own shot of St Margaret’s well, Binsey, for one) as the basis of her drawings.

The introduction takes the form of a brief essay on holy wells in general, what they are, how they arose, where to find them, legends, customs, offerings etc. The main body of the book looks at specific wells, but there are also sections on curative wells in general, spas, and well-dressing. The information given is necessarily sketchy, but it is reliable and clearly Martin has a good grasp of her subject. In fact she has very skilfully summarised a complex subject in the small number of pages available to her. The final gazetteer section is a case in point: in just five pages she lists over 180 wells with brief locational details and wherever possible a grid reference. There is no bibliography, and the author has (by email) expressed her regret that there was no space for this or any other acknowledgement of her many sources for the text and illustrations. However, this is not a serious failing in what was not intended as an academic work.

This book will not be of primary interest to the serious wells researcher. It is definitely a starter book: one which will introduce the subject nicely to those who ask ‘so what exactly is a holy well?’ The well-informed text, the evocative illustrations and in particular the useful small gazetteer, all make it quite a practical field guide, something to slip into the glove pocket of the car when you’re on a touring holiday. But more than anything else this is a book of great charm, lovingly written and illustrated, beautifully produced and presented (and all in recycled materials), a true work of art. And this is why it earns a rare four-droplet rating.

Available from Wooden Books at http://www.wooden-books.com/


Reviewed by: Katy Jordan


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