St. Ann’s Well, Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – SE 298 548

Archaeology & History

Very little is now known about this sacred site that was once found “a few hundred yards east from the New Church at Low Harrogate.” (Hunter 1830)  Even most of travellers and medical experts who wrote about the numerous Harrogate wells in the 18th and 19th century bypassed its quietude; and by the time Mr Hunter wrote about it in his great descriptive catalogue, its healing or medicinal qualities had been forgotten.

He told that “the spirit in the water…or that with which it is infused, has long been most actively engaged in adding real or fancied comforts to the (Harrogate) Fair, and is now in much more general use” than the two other holy wells in the town. It was, he said, “the best water for making tea and more extensively used for that purpose than any in the neighborhood of Harrogate.”  It would also appear to have been built over at some time in the not-too-distant past…

Folklore

St Ann (saint’s day – July 26) was a giant in early christian and Islamic myths.  An apocryphal figure, She was the Great Mother of the mother of Christ—the Virgin Mary—and was Herself a Virgin until, in Her old age, after seeing a bird feeding a chick, decided She wanted a child and so eventually gave birth to Mary.  An old woman giving birth when the Springtime appears (when birds and other animals become fertile) is the same motif found in the lore of the Cailleach in Ireland and Scotland (and parts of northern England).  Pre-christian lore at this old well would seem evident here.

References:

  1. Hunter, Adam, The Waters of Harrogate and its Vicinity, Langdale: Harrogate 1830.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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