St Faith’s Well, Hexton, Hertfordshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TL 10302 30328

Also Known as:

  1. Hertfordshire Historic Environment Record No. 1926

Archaeology & History

The site of the well is now in the garden of a house on the south side of the B655 Barton Road in Hexton, south west of St Faith’s church.  Prior to the Reformation, there was a small chapel of St Faith adjacent to the well containing a shrine to the saint, which was, with the well a place of pilgrimage.

N. Salmon, writing in 1728, told us:

St Faiths Well on 1882 map

“At Ravensborough, within a Quarter of a Mile, is a fine Spring, which runs down to Hexton, and meets there another Stream rising at the Berystede near the church, which is indeed a very remarkable one.  It comes pouring out of the Earth in such plenty, that it would turn a Mill in a very little Way; and hath been since the Roman Times thought worthy of a Saint’s Name.  It was called St Faith’s Well, to which the church also is dedicated, and the Image of St Faith was placed over it.”

The well is just to the north of the iron age hill fort of Ravensburgh and near the ancient prehistoric roadway of Icknield Way, so would certainly have been a welcome stopping point for prehistoric travellers in these chalk uplands.  In line with Salmon’s contention of its having been known since Roman times, Francis Taverner, the 17th century Lord of the Manor of Hexton wrote of the well having been used for oracular purposes by people who would throw an object onto the surface of the water:

“which if swamme above they were accepted and there petition granted, but if it sinke, then rejected which the experienced Prieste had arts enove to cause to swymme or sinke according as himselfe was pleased with the partye, or rather with the offering made by the partye.”

St Faith who was a third century martyr who was beheaded at Agen in Gaul.  Her saint’s day is 6th October, and her patronage was invoked inter alia by pilgrims, so the dedication of the well and nearby church may have been to ‘christianise’ a pre-existing oracular place resorted to by travellers on the Icknield Way.

Taverner again:

“There is a small parcel of ground adjoining the churchyard called “St. Ffaith’s Wick Court,” about a pole in measurement, anciently divided from Malewick by a ditch in the same place where now a large moat is made.  The greatest parte of this Wick lying upon a bedde of springs, and undrained, was very boggye towards the churchyard; but the west side being higher, the ground was well planted with oaks, willows, and bushes, near adjoyning unto which,  the craftye Priests had made a well about a yard deepe, and very cleere in the bottome, and curbed about, which they called St. Faith’s Well.

“Now over this well they built an howse, and in the howse they placed the image or statue of St. Faith, and a cawsey they had mad (which I found when I digged and levelled the ground) for the people to passe who resorted thither from farr and neere to visitt our Lady, and to performe their devotions reverently, kissing a fine-colloured stone placed in her toe.  This Lady was trimly apparelled, and I find in an old book of churchwarden’s accounts, in the reign of Henry VIII, that they had delivered unto the St. Ffaith a cote and a velvet tippet.  The Lady had no land to maintain her, that I know of, more than i acre lying in Mill Field, called at this day St. Ffaith’s acre, which, as being given to superstitious uses, came to the King’s hands at the dissolution, and is now parcel of the demesnes.  The house being pulled down, and the idol cast away, the well was filled up, yet an apparent mention of the place remained till my time, and St. Ffaith’s Well continued as a waste and unprofitable and neglected piece of land till such time as the footpath was turned through the midst of it to the outside on the south by the highway, and their clearing and levelling the ground, having been drained, and sunk the spring, I converted the same, in the year of our Lord 1624, into a little orchard.  The Lady Ffaith was a Virgin and Martyr of Agenne, in France, a.d. 1290.”

The well may have had healing properties too.  Herbert Tompkins (1902) informed us how,

“…to folk who have never stepped out of Hertfordshire (I have known several such) the well of St. Faith is indeed the “Well at the World’s End.”  The waters of that well were of miraculous efficacy, and an image of its saint was long preserved in the chapel of St. Faith Virgin, of which no stone remains.”

The parish church of Hexton remains dedicated to St Faith , as does the parish church of nearby Kelshall.  There was another St Faith’s Well at Leven in East Yorkshire.

References:

  1. Clutterbuck, Robert, History & Antiquities of the County of Hertford – volume 3, Nichols Son & Bentley: London 1827.
  2. Farmer, David Hugh, Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press 1987.
  3. Hippisley-cox, R., The Green Roads of England, 6th Edition, Methuen: London 1948.
  4. Hope, Robert c., Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliot Stock: London 1893.
  5. Johnson, Walter, Folk Memory or the Continuity of British Archaeology, Clarendon Press: Oxford 1908.
  6. Jones-Baker, Doris, Old Hertfordshire Calendar, Phillimore: Chichester 1974.
  7. Salmon, N., History of Hertfordshire, London, 1728.
  8. Tompkins, Herbert W., Highways & Byways of Hertfordshire, Macmillan: London 1902.

Links:

  1. St Faith’s Well on the Megalithic Portal

© Paul T Hornby, 2021

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