Well Walk in Bradford

by Val Shepherd

The ‘Northern Earth Moot’ was held in Bradford on Saturday 22nd October 1994, when there were talks on cup-and-ring-marked rocks, stone heads, megalith builders, ley lines and solar alignments.

The next day I took a group of Moot attendees on a ‘Well Walk’. The first stop was the Boar’s Well Urban Wildlife Reserve in Bradford. The well (SE 1645 3435) is traditionally associated with the killing of the last wild boar, said to have frightened the residents of Bradford in the 13th century. As far as I know it has always been a natural spring and has been restored to look natural. Large blocks of stone have been arranged to make a little waterfall with a pond below. When I first saw it after completion a year or so ago, I instantly saw a ‘face’ in the stones, and others pointed out another simulacrum (which shows up well in the photo in my book).

Next was the nearby Spinkwell (SE 1653 3410) which was a healing spa with a small bath-house in the 18th century – alas no more! – but the spring is to be restored to flow from a stone wellhead designed by Edna Whelan (the author of Yorkshire Holy Wells and Springs). Looking across the valley one can see Valley Parade, the home of Bradford City Football Club, underneath which was the Holy Well Ash.

Bingley was the next stop to see Ailsa Well (SE 1058 3931): newly restored but unfortunately contaminated by leaking drains. I noticed on a previous visit, though, that someone had given an offering of 5p to the spout of the well.

Fortified by a pub lunch, we walked in single file up a narrow busy road towards the St Ives estate, where I directed the group off the road, through a thorny hedge with barbed wire, into a wild wood. We struggled through dense undergrowth with uneven footage up to Bell Bank Well (SE 1028 3910) where a grotto awaited. This is a beautiful natural well which once supplied the whole of Bingley with water. The setting and atmosphere demands the well to be ‘holy’ though no traditions have survived. The only thing which spoilt it was a few half-broken layers of brick. After musing at the site some of the ‘strong’ men decided to attack the offending brick and together demolished most of it, hiding the rest with moss and leaves. Then it became photogenic. That left the more easy task of clearing out the stone trough below to myself and a companion on another visit.

Prince of Wales Park, once Brown Hill, the site of a post-Roman ‘entrenchment’, was our next point of exploration. Here we saw Brown Hill Well (SE 1155 4010) in which I recently discovered a stone head issuing water. Our expert in stone heads, John Billingsley, was quick to suggest that it was a 19th-century ‘Green Man’, probably made when the well was ‘Victorianised’ into a little waterfall and pool. I was a little disappointed that the head wasn’t older, but then a little distance away was an older stone head fixed to a building, which was originally found in the park, though not quite a ‘Celtic’ head. A visit to the nearby Spa Well (SE 1121 4005) completed the day much appreciated by the group.

Text & Illustration © Val Shepherd (1995)

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