The Holy Well of Frome – Somerset
by James Rattue
Map Reference – ST 777 479
Frome’s Holy Well is one of the most spectacular in the West Country, and yet is completely unregarded. Ethelbert Horne’s monograph of 1922  included many of Somerset’s most notable wells, but ignored this one and all its interesting history.
Frome is an old town. The Minster, St John the Baptist’s, was founded between 675 and 700 by St Aldhelm, and there was probably a close link with the spring at the foot of the hill on which the church stood. Certainly the water was of great importance for the town, as in the 1530s John Leland visited Frome and mentioned ‘the ryghte fayre springe in the Churche yarde that by pipes and trenches is conveyde to dyvers partes of the towne’ . But the well’s holy status does not become apparent until the Rev. William Bennett arrives as vicar in the 1850s.
Bennett had been incumbent at St Barnabas’, Pimlico, and was a well-known Ritualist, so well-known that he was driven out of his church in the anti-Catholic riots of 1850 and packed off to Frome . As soon as he could, Bennett began to rebuild his new church in accordance with his Anglo-Catholic principles, and this included the Via Dolorosa, a processional stairway up the steep incline of the graveyard, beside an extension of the north transept decorated with the Stations of the Cross, and finishing at the bottom with a great Gothic arched canopy covering the ancient spring. The outlet was given a lion’s head and adorned with lines from the Benedicite – ‘O ye wells, bless ye the lord’.
This grand fabric is still intact, although the inscription is worn away and the churchyard gates are locked, denying the visitor the spectacular ascent from well to church; and the water still runs through the town in its ‘pipes and trenches’ as Leland reported. The Holy Well is one of the most splendid of those restored in the High Church revival of the last century, and could easily take being much better known.
|1.||Horne, Dom Ethelbert, Somerset Holy Wells, Somerset Folk Series 12, London 1923.|
|2.||Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed.), The Itinerary of John Leland, Vol. V, London 1913, Reprint 1967, p. 97.|
|3.||Clarke, C. P. S., The Oxford Movement and After, London 1932, pp. 145-9.|
Text & Illustration © James Rattue (1994)
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