Pickel Well, Birstall, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 2180 2633

Archaeology & History

The Pickel Well at Monk Ings, 1847

The Pickel Well at Monk Ings, 1847

Seemingly built over in recent years, the Pickel Well was one of the main water supplies to the people of Gomersal and Birstall in earlier times.  Getting its name, probably, from the northern dialect word pikel or pickel, meaning “very heavy rain” (Joseph Wright [1903] associates it with the expression “raining cats and dogs”), this may be a description of the heavy flow of water which helped feed the large man-made ponds either side of the road.

The Monk Ings Field in which it was found, derives its name from the monks from Nostell Priory who lived here, centuries ago.  They would, no doubt, have drunk the water from this well.


A very curious legend relates to this place. H.A.  Cadman (1930) told,

“that whenever a birth was expected in Great Gomersal, a pad-foot came out at night from the Monk Ing fields and shouted out, ‘Thee first or me first!’  This was said to be a warning to people not to go out.”

Padfoots were phantom black dogs, stories of which occur all over northern England and beyond.  They were ostensibly interpreted as omens of doom and bringers of Death.  This example at Gomersal is peculiar in that it is equated with birth, as well as giving warnings for local people to stay indoors, as is more usual.

Incidences of black dogs at wells are not uncommon. In West Yorkshire alone we find them haunting the waters at Low Moor, Idle, Thorp Arch, Eccleshill, Heaton and others.  Their nature is quite complex, but ostensibly derives from animistic cyclical notions of death and rebirth—hence their emergence sometimes from wells; and in this instance, presaging a local birth.


  1. Cadman, H. Ashwell, Gomersal, Past and Present, Hunters Armley: Leeds 1930.
  2. Eliade, Mircea, Zalmoxis – The Vanishing God, University of Chicago Press 1972.
  3. Wright, Joseph (ed.), English Dialect Dictionary – volume 4, Henry Frowde: London 1903.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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