Holy Well: OS Grid Reference – SD 6636 1994
Take the A675 road to Bolton from Abbey Village, going up the track opposite Piccadily farmhouse until you reach the ruins in the woods. The site can also be reached by going south down the Tockholes Road car park following the sign for Hollinshead Hall on your right.
Archaeology & History
Associated with Hollinshead Hall, which is now a ruin, the well is made of the same sandstone rubble as the hall with a stone slate roof. The building a single cell is built into a slope from which the spring arises and is encapsulated by it. Either side a high walls creating a sort of forecourt with side benches with inward-facing chamfered piers with ball finials at the ends. The well house itself is quite an attractive building and is certainly not thrown up, having a symmetrical facade with chamfered unglazed widows which are fitted with spear-headed iron bars and clearly the building has never been glazed. The gable end has a large oval opening with a matching one at the rear. In the centre is a heavy board door with a chamfered doorway. This doorway unfortunately is locked baring any entrance to the well house.
Peering in through the windows one can see how strong the vaulted roof is, adorned by a pendent ball in its centre. The spring’s water flows from a crudely carved lion’s head, either side of a reredo of Ionic colonnettes, with a sunken stone tank beneath or each side a rectangular recess which enclose rectangular pools. There is a diamond-paved floor with a central gutter draining from this well or trough at centre of rear wall.
Local tradition accounts that there was a site here from Medieval times and indeed, that the name Hollinshead was derived from a version of holy well although O.E hol, for hollow is more likely although there is a Halliwell Fold Farm nearby being derived from O.E halig for healing. The pool with steps down above the well house may be the original well of course. The discovery of a hoard of medieval coins in 1970s would support the date and perhaps they were an offering.
Abram’s Blackburn (1877) is perhaps the first to state that the water was curative. However, anonymous quote in Nightingales History of Tockholes describes the well as:
“Here no less than five different springs of water, after uniting together and passing through a very old carved stone representing a lion’s head, flow into a well. To this Well pilgrimages were formerly made and the water which is of a peculiar quality, is remarkable as an efficacious remedy for ophthalmic complaints.”
Another tradition is that the site was a resting place for pilgrims to Whalley Abbey and that the trough was used as baptistery, however, this would be more likely to be the spring above the well house. It is probably a spring house, a structure built over a natural source of water for the storage of dairy products and other foods that needed to be kept fresh.
Reculsancy, was very prevalent in Lancashire and the well house does the bear the coat of arms of the Radcliffes . It would suggest why the structure is so ornate and suggest a 1600s date although many authorities suggest an 18th century origin. The site would be a secret baptistery and its design as a dairy, would also help as well as being still function, certainly the presence of benches suggest this functionality. It appears to be too close to the house to be a garden folly such as a grotto! The suggestion of stained glass in the windows suggests something more significant discovered during the present stone roof’s construction. Indeed, the choice of the lion’s head is possibly that of the ‘Lion of Judah’, meaning Jesus providing rich and valuable water, although this is a common motif on many drinking fountains of course! Interesting, Cramshaw (1994) tells us that the site was in the 1980s the site of a well dressing, although what type is unclear and no other author has mentioned it as far as I am aware. Perhaps we shall never know the real origin of this delightful building.
- Abram, William Alexander, History of Blackburn, Toulmin: Blackburn 1877.
- Billington, W.D., From Affetside to Yarrow, Ross Anderson: Bolton 1982.
- Crawshaw, J., “Hollinshead Hall Holy Well”, in Source new series Issue 2, Winter 1994.
Edited from – Holy & Healing Wells
© R.B. Parish, The Northern Antiquarian