Legendary Rock (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – TF 3127 6901
Also Known as:
Big Stone of Slash Lane
Archaeology & History
There is no specific archaeological information about this stone. However, we must take note of the so-called “devil’s footprint” that was on the boulder. In some parts of the UK, some devilish and other mythic footprints on stone are prehistoric cup-markings; but we have no idea whether this impression was such a carving or—more probably in this case—Nature’s handiwork. The field in which the stone existed was said to be the place where the so-called Battle of Winceby occurred.
The stone was mentioned in several old tomes, with each one generally repeating the same familiar story, and with motifs that will be familiar to antiquarians and folklorists alike. In an early edition of Notes & Queries we were told of,
“the large stone in Winceby field, where soldiers had sharpened their swords before the battle. This was a stone of fearful interest, for much treasure was supposed to have been buried under it. Numerous attempts have been made to get at this treasure, but they were always defeated by some accident or piece of bad luck. On the last occasion, by ‘yokkin’ several horses to chains fastened round the stone, they nearly succeeded in pulling it over, when, in his excitement, one of the men uttered an oath, and the devil instantly appeared, and stamped on it with his foot. “Tha cheans all brok, tha osses fell, an’ tha stoan went back t’ its owd place solidder nur ivver; an’ if ya doan’t believe ya ma goa an’ look fur yer sen, an’ ya’ll see tha divvill’s fut mark like three kraws’ claws, a-top o’ tha stoan.’ It was firmly believed the lane was haunted, and that loud groans were often heard there.”
The tale was retold in Grange & Hudson’s (1891) essay on regional folklore. In Mr Walter’s (1904) excellent local history survey, there was an additional shape-shifting element to the story which, in more northern climes, is usually attributed to hare; but this was slightly different. The stone, as we’ve heard,
“was supposed to cover hidden treasure, and various attempts were made at different times to remove it, sometimes with six or even eight horses. At one of these attempts, his Satanic Majesty, having been invoked by the local title of ‘Old Lad’ appeared, it is said, in person, where upon the stone fell back, upsetting the horses. On another occasion a black mouse, probably the same Being incarnate in another form…ran over the gearing of the horses, with a similar result. Eventually, as a last resort, to break the spell, the boulder was buried, and now no trace of the boulder, black mouse, or Satan’s foot-print remains.”
Sadly we have no sketches of the devil’s ‘footprint’; and if local lore is right, we’ll never know. For tis said that a local farmer in the 1970s dug down and removed the stone completely. All that he found were numerous broken ploughshares around the rock, indicating that many tools had been used to shift the stone.
Grange, Ernest L. & Hudson, J.C. (eds.), Lincolnshire Notes and Queries – volume 2, W.K. Morton: Horncastle 1891.
Gutch, Mrs & Peacock, Mabel, Examples of Printed Folklore Concerning Lincolnshire, David Nutt: London 1908.
Walter, J. Conway, Records, Historical and Antiquarian of Parishes around Horncastle, W.K. Morton: Horncastle 1904.
Curiously missing from Thompson’s (1999) Lincolnshire survey, this old watering place can apparently still be found in the appropriately named Holywell Wood, just north of this lovely little hamlet. Shown on the 1887 OS-map of the area, it’s first literary reference seems to be in George Weir’s (1820) early survey of Horncastle district where he gives it a brief mention, saying:
“In a woody dell in this parish is a spring, gently bursting from the rock, called Holy-well, but the name of the saint to whom it was dedicated is not preserved.”
…Like oh so many others. But its ‘holiness’ may devive from other more archaic origins, in the spirit of the woods from whence the waters emerge. Certainly that’s what the poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson would have had us believe. He grew up in Somersby village and this old well was one of his places of inspiration. When the local writer H.D. Rawnsley (1900) described Tennyson’s affection for this site, he told us that,
“Alfred peopled that Holywell Wood with forms of fairies, and made the whole surrounding circle of the hills, a theatre for enchantment and chivalry.”
Nature can certainly do that to anyone who wanders Her body with open reverence.
Although the place is now quite overgrown, it wasn’t always this way. There used to be a well-trodden path with a gateway at the entrance that took you into the woods and up to the well. Above the gateway there used to be a Latin inscription that read, Intus aquae dulces, vivoque sedilia saxo, Et paulum silvae superest. His utere mecum. (meaning something akin to, “At these sweet waters, by this living seat of stone and small forest remains, Make use of me.”)
When J.C. Walters wrote about it, he told that a “local student” gave him the following particulars:
“A series of steps led down into the well, a post was fixed in front of it, and a cross-bar extended thence to the rock. On the cross-bar was a ring with a rope attached, so that the bather might safely descend into the well and enjoy the healing virtues of the stream which rushed from the rock. Geologists say that the wold villages are so closely placed on account of the superior quality of the water which springs up wherever the Spilsby sandstone meets the Kimmeridge clay. Susan Epton (Mrs. Thompson), Miss Emily Tennyson’s maid, tells me that she can remember the time when visitors came in scores to “take the waters.””
Some of this was later echoed in Rawnsley’s (1900) biographical account of Tennyson. He talked with a local sexton about the folklore of the area who told him of his memories:
“Halliwell wasn’t growed up then; there was a bath-house with steps down to the watter, and fwoaks in carriages came from far and near to drink it. Wonderful watter! it was nobbut a bit sen, that our owd nebbur was liggin’ adying and he axed for a cup o’ watter from the Holy Well, and they sent and fetched it, and he took it and went off upon his feet. Why, i’ my time theer was a school-house down in Halliwell Wood, and a skittle halley close by the well, but all them things is changed now, excep the snowdrops, and they coomes oop reg’lar, a sight on ’em i’ Halliwell.”
From the village lane at the east end of Brook Street, take the footpath through the first gate and then over the stile into the woods on your left (north). Soon a clearing will appear on the left hand side as you climb the hill. Careful as you scramble down (look for a swing set up by local children) on the left hand side will be the Devil’s Pulpit.
Archaeology & History
The village name deriving from ‘Helmes’, the genitive singjular of the Old English masculine name Helm, or from helmes, the genitive singular of OE helm ‘a helmet, the summit of a hill, a shelter’, so that the name is either ‘Helm’s spring’ or ‘spring at the summit or shelter’—which does rather neatly defines its topography. However, other authorities suggest its gets its name from elm trees which once grew around the wells.
The site has an eerie but not unquiet atmosphere this is possibly due to the stone called the Devil’s Pulpit, a large approximately six-foot high piece of sandstone under which a small spring arises.
This Thompson (1999) in his Lincolnshire Wells and Springs notes local opinion thought was St. Helen’s, he said it tasted sweeten than the other waters (a fact that I cannot testify as the spring has appeared to have almost dried up the year I went). Binnall (1845) notes that the spring wells were regarded as possessing curative powers and rags were hung on the surrounding bushes.
The dedication of St Helen is an interesting one and can be seen as an outlier from those found widely distributed in Yorkshire (Whelan & Taylor, 1989), but rare in the adjoining counties of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Harte (2008) in his English Holy Wells suggests that the name is spurious; and Rudkin’s (1936) Lincolnshire Folklore does not refer to it as such. However, in support of the view, I had no problem locally detecting the well using this name in the village (incidentally Harte makes an error referring to the springs as Aisthorpe Springs, these are clearly another site). There was supposed to be a chapel or church associated with the site, of which there is no trace or record.
Taken from R. B. Parish (2012) Holy Wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire
Cameron, Kenneth, The Place-Names of Lincolnshire – volume 6, EPNS: Nottingham 2001.
Harte, Jeremy, English Holy Wells, Heart of Albion: Loughborough 2008.
o’ Neill, Susanna, Folklore of Lincolnshire, History Press: Stroud 2012.
Rudkin, Ethel, Lincolnshire Folklore, 1936.
Thompson, Ian, Lincolnshire Springs and Wells: A Descriptive Catalogue, Bluestone: Scunthorpe 1999.
Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.
The site can be found along Wells road, just after the turning for Healing wells farm and after the mirror. One may need to beat through the thickets to reach it.
Archaeology & History
The Ragged Spring
Some confusion exists over the relationship between the wells and the parish name. This is possibly an ancient site, as the earliest name for the parish is ‘Heghelinge’ and perhaps derive from the springs. However, this is at variance to the view of Kenneth Cameron (1997) in his Place-Names of Lincolnshire, where it is noted that ‘Hægelingas’ is derived from “the sons or followers of a man named Hægel” rather than healing, although it is of course a strange coincidence!
The springs are still marked on the current OS map, as Healing Wells, in a small plantation, but they are, as the photo shows, only marked by circular indentations in the ground. The first spring is the easier one to trace and it appears to have holes, although these may be made by animals. The springs are now quite dry, perhaps that the clogging of the springs noted above continued as the waters were forgotten, resulting in the current situation. There is no clear lining around the well or other structures. Lying around the springs are a range of metal buckets in various stages of decay and some metal pieces which may be remains of a metal fence around it. Sadly, I was unable to find any sign of rags although the man I asked in the whereabouts referred to them as “the ragged springs.”
The Ragged Springs fed a stream where people paddled or hung garments on bushes to acquire good health strangely rather than the wells themselves. Gutch and Peacock (1908) in their County Folklore note that a,
“Mr. Cordeaux visited them not long since for the purpose of discovering whether pins are ever dropped into them, but the bottom of the water in both cases was too muddy and full of leaves to allow accurate examination.”
According to Gutch and Peacock (1908) each well had a different use, one spring being a chalybeate one was done for eye problems, whereas the other was for skin problems. They continue to note that a:
“F S, a middle-aged man, who grew up in an adjoining parish, states that when he was a lad, one spring was used for bathing, and the second for drinking. The latter was considered good against consumption, among other forms of sickness. . . . What the special gift of the bathing well was F S cannot say. He often plunged his feet into it when a boy, but he does not venture to assert that it had any great power in reality, although ‘folks used to come for miles,’ and the gipsies, who called the place Ragged Spring or Ragged Well, frequently visited it. A Gentleman who hunts with the Yarborough pack every winter, says that he notices the rags fluttering on the shrubs and briars each season as he rides past. There is always a supply of these tatters, whether used superstitiously or not, and always has been since his father first knew the district some seventy years ago.”
This would appear to be the site recorded as below under Great Cotes by R.C. Hope (1893) in his Legendary Lore of Holy Wells:
“there is a spring celebrated locally for its healing properties. It rises from the side of a bank in a plantation, and is overshadowed by an ancient thorn, on the branches of which hang innumerable rags, fastened there by those who have drunk it waters.”
The custom apparently continued until the 1940s. Indeed a visitor in the 1920s noted that even the trunks were covered with longer pieces of rag. A picture in the 1995 edition of Lincolnshire Past and Present journal shows a number of rags on the bushes. It is worth noting that perhaps the presence of a large thorn perhaps suggests a great antiquity to the site.
Cameron, Kenneth, The Place-Names of Lincolnshire – volume 5, EPNS: Nottingham 1997.
Gutch, Mrs & Peacock, Mabel, County Folk-lore – volume v: Examples of Printed Folk-lore Concerning Lincolnshire, David Nutt: Folk-lore Society 1908.
Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
Parish, R.B., Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Lincolnshire. Pixyled Publications 2013
In Hemswell Village at the junction of Church Street and Maypole Street.
History & Archeaology
According to a 2010 report in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, the Hemswell villagers,
“claim to be the hosts to one of the oldest maypole celebrations in the world, dating back to at least 1660”.
The then clerk to the parish council, Dianne Millward is quoted as saying:
“Hemswell is widely regarded in historical circles as having one of the oldest if not the oldest celebrations for May Day. We have pictures of the pole being prepared for the big day in the very early 1900s.”
This writer has not yet been able to independently verify these claims.
May Day is still celebrated in the village with dancing around the maypole and an accompanying fete. Recent online photographs show that it is now only children, in ‘historic’ fancy dress who ribbon-dance around the Pole.
Park by the church, which has a Sheela Na Gig and some roman stones. Walk back to the A153 (Ancaster Cross roads), turn left and cross the road. Take the footpath which is on the south side of the A153 and bear right into the nature reserve. The well – a large pool – is on private land, but it can be seen to the right of the entrance to the reserve.
Archaeology & History
This spring was possibly known in Roman and pre-Roman times, as there is a Roman station settlement hereby. Roman credentials have been strengthened since Time Team’s research which found that the site was the focus of a cult. There was an inscribed stone, found in the church and originally part of an archway, which says:
DEO VIRIDIO TRENICO ARCVM FECIT DE SVO DON
‘For the god Viridius, Trenico made this arch, donated from his own funds.”
The Time team archaeologists found a late Roman or early Dark Age burial with a similar inscription ‘DEO VRIDI SANCTO – ‘To the holy god Viridius.” The show thought that the God was associated with agriculture, but with the proximity of the spring nearby, perhaps they missed an obvious connection. It seems very likely that the Romans would have known of the spring as the valley beside it is thought to be a Roman raceway and the town was only a few yards away.
The spring is not mentioned historically; for example Leland (1535-43) notes a chapel and hermitage, but no well:
“The area wher the castelle stoode is large, and the dikes. In the highest ground of the area is now an old chapel dedicate to S. Marie, and there a her(em)ite.”
In Victorian times the water was tapped as a source of water for the village and a large cistern and pipe system established. According to Thompson (1999) in his work on Lincolnshire springs and wells, this was later removed and the well had become a boggy area, before finally being restored and clay-lined to be stocked with fish and prevent water loss. Its water now appears to be a light greeny-blue as a result. One cannot directly reach the edge of the water as it is enclosed in fencing but it can clearly be seen from the footpath.
No tradition appears recorded regarding it properties. However, it appears likely that this is the spring Rudkin (1936) notes as St. Helen’s Well or Mucky Pool in the legend of Byard’s Leap, the famed story associated with a local witch as the story has association with Ancaster – although this could record another site.
Parish, R. B., (2012) Holy wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire
Leave Glentham on the way to Caenby Corner. You pass a footpath marked on the right-hand side (it goes to Highfield farm). The road makes a bend to the right and then before a slighter turn to the left, just before this last bend there is a little lane to the right. Park safely here and then there is copse. You will need to scramble down there and follow the small stream to its source. It runs almost just under the road.
Archaeology & History
Many wells have associations with seasonal customs, but perhaps one of the most unusual traditions is that found in the Glentham Parish in Lincolnshire. Here can be found the Newell or Newell’s Well which had associated with it a rather unique custom: the ceremony of ‘Washing Molly Grime’ The tradition appears to have become confused over the centuries. A full account is recorded by a H. Winn in Notes and Queries (1888-9):
“The church of Glentham was originally dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, a circumstance obviously alluded to by a sculpture in stone of the Virgin supporting the dead Christ in her arms, still to be seen over the porch entrance and placed there by some early representative of the Tourneys of Caenby, who had a mortuary chapel on the north side of Glentham church. The washing of the effigy of the dead Christ every Good Friday, and strewing of his bier with spring flowers previous to a mock entombment, was a special observance here. It was allowed to be done by virgins only, as many desired to take part in the ceremony being permitted to do so in mourning garb. The water for washing the image was carried in procession from Neu-well adjacent. A rent was charged of seven shillings a year was left upon some land at Glentham for the support of this custom, and was last paid by W. Thorpe, the owner, to seven old maids for the performance of washing the effigy each Good Friday. The custom being known as Molly Grime’s washing led to an erroneous idea that the rent charge was instituted by a spinster of that name, but ‘Molly Grime’ is clearly a corruption of the ‘Malgraen’ i.e. Holy Image washing, of an ancient local dialect. About 1832 the land was sold without any reservation of the rent charge.”
The origin for the wells name is also confused. Rudkin (1936) notes:
“They reckon it’s called Newell’s well on account of a man named Newell as left money to seven poor widow women..”
However, it is more likely to be simply new well, perhaps deriving its name from ‘eau’, a common word in the county.
When and why the tradition switched from washing the holy image to that supposedly of the Tourney (Lady Anne Tourney a local 14th century land owner) is unclear, but it is possible that the change occurred at the Reformation and that perhaps the money was given to wash both holy image and that of the benefactor and post Reformation only the benefactor washing survived. There is a similar tradition called the ‘Dusters’ in Duffield. The name of the activity clearly survived as Rudkin that:
“ they’d wash a stone coffin-top as in the Church; this ‘ere coffin-top is in the form of a women. ‘Molly Grime’ they calls it.”
The tradition even appears to have earned some note nationwide, for a nursery rhyme about the custom is known:
Seven old maids,
Seven old maids,
once upon a time,
Got when they came
Came of Good Friday,
Seven new shillings
To wash Molly Grime,
In Charity’s name,
The water for washing,
God bless the water
Was fetched from Newell,
God bless the rhyme
And who Molly was I never heard tell.
And God bless the old maids that washed Molly Grime
Sadly the selling of the land appeared to killed off the tradition, except that between 2004 and 2007 a special Father’s Day race for women was established. This involved filling a balloon with water from Newell’s spring and the subsequent attempt for getting it back to the village without bursting it. In essence it remembered the tradition, but sadly it too appears to have fallen into abeyance.
Another tradition in the village was that if one drank its waters one was said never to leave the village. A correspondent of Sutton (1997) states:
“An old boy told me about the ‘healing well of Glentham. It was named after a saint but I can’t remember the name he used. Some folk call it Newell’s well. Many people came to take the healing waters and in the spring of the year, the Church held an annual service for ‘good water for the rest of the year’, the service marked a new year of the waters. The well was dressed in a traditional way using clay and flower petals to make some kind of picture, usually a saint. I’m told it look very impressive”
This is presumably before the site was enveloped in scrub as it is now. The report is interesting for a number of reasons; firstly because the correspondent refers to the waters as healing, secondly that it was dedicated to a saint and thirdly the account of well dressing more reminiscent of Derbyshire, and as far as I am aware it is only such example, as well dressing at Welton and Louth appeared to be more garland related. None of these observations have been made elsewhere which either casts doubt in the correspondent or more likely the patchy nature of well traditions in the county.
Despite the loss of the custom, the well still survives, the water clear and flowing arises beneath a stone built chamber of seven courses of stonework with a small square outlet through which the water flows. However, according to recent reports boring in the vicinity has resulted in the water being drained away but I have been unable to ascertain this.
(Essay from the book by R.B. Parish – Holy Wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire)
Parish, R.B., Holy Wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire
Reynolds, Jeff, Glentham Parish Council – Personal Comm.
Often noted under Lower Burnham, although this is a hamlet and not strictly the parish, is in Haxey. The spring can be found by taking the footpath after Starkey’s farm, top of Holy Well lane, with Holy Well House the nearest dwelling.
Archaeology & History
Potentially if Hunt (1923) quoted in Hills (1967) is to be believed, this is the most famed holy well in the county, as he believes that this was the site where King Oswald—later St Oswald—was slain and here the well was St Oswald’s Well rather than at Oswestry. He notes that:
“The Holy Well at Lower Burnham in the parish of Haxey is supposed to mark the site where King Oswald fell. People took away the soil until a deep hole was formed which filled with water…It has been known for 1300 years as the Holy Well, and annual feasts were held near it until recent years. This confirms the Ven. Bede’s statement about the sanctity of the soil in the eyes of the people.”
According to Garner (1991) by the early 19th century the well’s popularity had waned and the spring fell into private ownership and the water was used to run two water mills, and as such a gully of considerable depth constructed. However the spring did not produce enough continuous water and the scheme failed. A similar attempt was made by Rev. Thomas Skipworth Rector of Belton was more successful but only because a dam was constructed although still the power was not great enough. Interest in the well had not completely disappeared, and an announcement in 1875, in the Epworth Bells stated:
“Firmly believing in the efficacy of the Burnham water in the cure of some outward bodily complaints, we sometime since urged the importance of making that water once more available to the public, and at the same time we urged the desirability of the public availing themselves of the water.”
Responding to this plea, a group of local men, Cooper, Starkey, Ducker, Skelton, Meggitt and Templerton came together to ‘re-open the well’ It had been for years only a dry, roughly rectangular, hollow but ‘within minutes of digging, water gushed out, and the hollow filled.’ No evidence of constructional material was seen but the landowner, Mr. Lockwood, agreed to allow the well to be kept open and the water to be freely available when he did not have cattle in the field, as such the well was fenced in probably as local people reported in the Crowle Advertiser (1960) with white railings. Indeed, up until the 1940s the well remained fenced off with barbed wire as a cattle water place and at some point it was filled in.
This meant that the well had again fallen into disused and its exact location was perhaps becoming unclear, when in the 1960s when three Epworth men, Frank and David Lindley with Jack Warriner. A report in the Crowle Advertiser of 1960 noted that:
“At a spit depth, what seem to be known locally as water stones began to be turned up; at about two feet six there was a promising slab, followed by another, at a little deeper level; and after discovery of several hand-made bricks had dispirited the diggers somewhat, three more irregular shaped stones of considerable size were scraped clean of the mud that overlaid them. By now there was bared to view what could have been the stepped entrance to the well which from visual testimony of old residents, the explorers hoped to find.”
This stepped entrance consisted of eight steps according to local people. The group then discovered at about four feet timber was found and on this two corner stones were found rested. This was thought to have been the remains of the enclosure which went around the well.
In March 1961 another attempt was made to open the well in view of a pilgrimage by the Lincoln Diocesan Youth Pilgrimage, this time the excavators had gone twice as deep and the strata of waterstone was hit, but no evidence of a constructed well. This was not a concern of the Vicar of Owston Ferry, Canon L. D. Ravins who was of the opinion that an actual construction would have been unlikely if the above description by Hunt was to have happened. This time according to the Crowle Advertiser:
“Both he and Canon Ravins feel that the water may well have medicinal qualities (they noticed they say an unmistakably sulphurous smell from it during the excavations) and they are intending to have the chemical analysis made.”
However, the analysis did not reveal any sulphur but it did have Magnesium and Calcium sulphates and Calcium bicarbonate all linked to spa waters and hence verifying its medicinal role. The well was visited by the pilgrimage and Garner (1991) recollects that a white timber enclosure was placed around the site with a sign proclaiming ‘The Holy Well’ according to him the ‘whole site now barely discernible save for a lone willow sentinel-like over the place revered by myriad generations in days long since past.’
However, this was not the case when I visited the site and found a large pool with a pipe at one end, from which a channel appeared to flow. Although Garner (1991) noted a ‘few elder citizens of Burnham strongly favour its position a few metres south of the spot popularly referred to”.
However this name has not been recorded and the site is best known simply as the holy well. This site was, according to Gutch & Peacock (1908),
“ …dedicated to the ever-blessed Redeemer, and on the festival of His Ascension was supposed to possess the power of healing all sorts of deformities, weaknesses, and cutaneous diseases in children, numbers of which were brought from all parts to be dipped in it on that day.”
The earliest mention appears to be Peck (1809) who stated:
“a Spring called the Alley Well of very cold water which was very much resorted to by the people in their neighbourhood, being very proper for those of a weakly habit.”
Stonehouse (1839) notes:
“about one hundred and twenty years ago, the concourse of visitors was so great that a Village Feast was held at the same time… and at a much later period conveniences were annually made for the use of the bathers, and gingerbread-stalls and other slight reflections were provided on the spot. This practice has, however, of late years fallen altogether into disuse… The spring now appears in a dirty and neglected state.”
The fame of the spring led to it being immortalised in Hamilton’s novel Captain John Lister where the titular hero watches during the early morning of Haxey Fair, a melancholy procession through the main street of women, accompanied by diseased and deformed children. In the book, the innkeeper explains by saying:
‘They are going to the Holy Well at Nether Burnham. ‘Tis a famous spring, and has been many ages, and on this day there is virtue in the water to cure almost any disease or sickness in a child, if be dipped before noon…out of Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire and I don’t know where all.’
(Essay taken from R.B. Parish Holy Wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire)
Garner, J. R. (1991) Burnham – the story of an Axholme village.
Gutch, E. & Peacock, M. (1908) Country Folklore Vol. VI: Folklore of Lincolnshire
Hills, P.J. (1967) The Holy Well of Burnham the site of the Battle of Maserfield-the identification re-examined.
Stonehouse, W.B. (1839), The History and Topography of the Isle of Axholme.
Various anonymous cuttings from Crowle Advertiser (1960)