The Source: Bristol Springs & Wells Group
by Annie Wildwood
The group germinated in 1993, when Christine Bowles and I were discussing environmental problems. We were concerned, as Pagans, that there was no practical work being done by Pagans in terms of physical effort or basic action. There was much talk of Mother Earth and saving the Planet, but nobody was actually DOING anything.
My interest was the environment in general, and the promotion of traditional skills such as hedge-laying and drystone-walling. Christine’s was more particularly water-oriented, especially with regard to holy springs and wells.
Thus we decided to pool (sorry!) our ideas and form a springs and wells conservation group – The Source – with the objectives of researching, exploring, collating information, and of doing physical work such as rubbish clearance, renewing access, and restoring built structures. The ultimate aim was to honour the spirit of the sacred wells by means of practical care and heartfelt respect.
As anyone who visits neglected holy well sites will know, there is also a lot of holy mud, goo, weed, undergrowth and litter. Our first projects simply involved the group, armed with bin-bags and a shrimp-net, collecting vast amounts of rubbish – anything from crisp packets and lager cans to assorted items of underwear (obviously the fertility aspect of the wells is still going strong).
Our first attempt was the Abbots’ Fishpond near Bristol: not a holy site, strictly speaking, but we felt we needed the practice. Various friends, partners and dogs were dragooned into helping and we eventually amassed 5 sacks of assorted detritus and a lot of mud.
The group is now properly constituted as a voluntary organisation with an elected Management Committee, and has a database containing information on nearly 400 springs and wells in the Avon/Somerset area. We have been awarded a small grant by Avon County Council and have decided to focus our efforts on two wells in particular: The Buckle Well, Shirehampton (grid ref: ST 538767) and St Anne’s Well, Brislington (grid ref: ST 622723).
The Buckle Well has a history going back to Neolithic times, and may have been connected to a Roman temple complex at Blaise Castle, Henbury. At present it is a silted-up pool in a cave beneath a limestone outcrop, though it was dug out during the Second World War to provide a water supply to nearby allotments. There is a fox den in the back of the cave, and a large badger sett close by, and access is via a steep, brambly, wooded slope from the allotments above.
For further information on this well I refer readers to Paul Dewer’s excellent and informative article in Source, New Series issue number 3, pages 17-19.
Access to the Buckle Well is via a steep, precarious and overgrown muddy path; our work here has therefore focused on improving this access by creating simple board-and-peg steps cut into the slope. At present we have got halfway up the path and hope to finish the job by the end of May. Regarding the presence of foxes, badgers, etc., we have worked as unobtrusively as possible as we have no wish to publicise the site and thus bring unwelcome attention to the animals.
St Anne’s Well is situated in a public park, so access is not a problem; indeed, the rusting remains of burnt-out cars testify to its accessibility (burnt offerings? St Anne may after all be the replacement for Santan, a Pagan fire deity! ). There are the vandalized remains of a hideous ‘wishing well’ structure built in the 1920s, when the well was capped, and this needs to be removed and the water source redefined via a borehole.
St Anne’s was a fairly prestigious well in medieval times, when folk would travel by boat up the Avon to benefit from its healing waters. The local church still upholds the tradition of visiting the well on St Anne’s Day, July 26th.
Our aim here is to restore the well to its original position, at the foot of a large earth bank nearby. This will be a very complex operation and we are liasing with Bristol Water, Bristol University Archaeology Dept., the City Engineer’s Dept., and the Brislington local history group, amongst others, to establish exactly what is required.
The Source, Bristol, is at present a small but dedicated group (some Pagan, some not), and we would love to hear from anyone in our area who would like to join us in our practical work for the local springs and wells. You can also support us by taking out a subscription for £5.00 p.a., and donations are always welcome – as are enquiries, advice, and general networking contacts. Further information is available from: Christine Bowles (0117) 924 5248, or myself (0117) 9411557.
With thanks to Paul Dewer, Phil Quinn’ Marilyn Morris.
|1.||Janet & Colin Bord, Mysterious Britain, Paladin 1974, pp. 115, 261.|
Also Francis Hitching, Earth Magic, Picador 1976, p. 139. Cf. Alfred Watkins, The Old Straight Track, 1924.
Text © Annie Wildwood (1995)
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