St Ellen’s Well, Harrisend Fell, Scorton, Lancashire

Holy Well: OS Reference – SD 53683 50975

Also Known as:

  1. St Ellin’s Well

Getting Here

The Well on the 1846 Map

Approaching the site from the north, walk along the Lane Head track, and along the path south-eastwards, then turn right onto the main footpath until coming to the stream. Follow the stream up the fell to the large clump of reeds, then follow your ears until you locate the spring! Or you can approach it along the main footpath from the Oakenclough – Galgate road. The well and the path to it
are on access land.

Archaeology & History

Fortunately recorded by the Ordnance Survey on their 1846 6″ map Lancashire XL, the story of St Ellen’s Well was taken up sixty years later by local holy wells historian Henry Taylor (1906):

Listen for the spring in the reeds

“The site of this holy well is marked on the ordnance map at a lonely spot on Harris Fell, five hundred feet above the sea-level, four and a half miles in a north-easterly direction from the town of Garstang.

“Mr. A. King has kindly examined the site.  He writes, 4th August, 1902: “We had no difficulty in locating the spot…. There is no outward indication of the place being used for curative means, and there is no stonework at all. It is a beautifully cold spring which is at the side of ‘Bonny Pad’, a pathway leading across the moor from Harris End, and it was grown around with rushes….  All I can glean about it is that one of the oldest inhabitants, when asked if he knew of it, replied, ‘It will be th’ holy well, you mean.'”

The original dedication of this remote holy well was clearly to St. Helen, and its presence next to the Bonny Pad or path may indicate a pre-Christian dedication to a local cognate of the Celtic Elen Luyddog, Elen of the hosts or ways.  The Bonny Pad is shown but not not named on the 1846 map, and follows a broadly southwest to northeast direction from Harris End (again not named on the 1846 map) up to Grizedale Head on the southern edge of the Catshaw Vaccary.  It was perhaps an ancient route used by farmers to take their animals up onto the fell for the summer, and return them to the lowlands in the autumn.

Bubbling away at source

The western portion of Bonny Pad is not shown on the modern map and St Ellen’s Well is not marked, and both have it seems passed out of local memory.  An elderly farmer I encountered on my way up to the fell had never heard of the Well.

It is certainly worth the walk if only for the delightful sound of this powerfully flowing spring, the water is pure and cold, and it commands a fine view over the Lancashire plain to the coast.

References:

  1. Taylor, Henry, The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Sherratt & Hughes: Manchester 1906.
  2. Wise, Caroline, “Elen of the Roads of Country and Town”, in Finding Elen – The Quest for Elen of the Ways, edited by Caroline Wise, Eala Press: London 2015.

© Paul T. Hornby, 2020

 

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  53.952785, -2.707269 St Ellen\'s Well

Holy Well, Holwell, Hertfordshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – TL 16 33

Archaeology & History

The exact location of this site seems to have been lost.  One possible candidate is on the south-side of the village where remains of a large moat exists, meaning that there was a good water supply here to maintain its existence.  But this is pure guesswork on my part.  The well was mentioned briefly in R.C. Hope’s (1893) classic book where he told us:

“There was a holy well or spring in the village of Holwell, on the borders of Bedford and Hertfordshire; unfortunately both history and site have been forgotten by the villagers at Holywell.”

The site was mentioned as far back as 1086 CE in the Domesday Book as ‘Holewelle’.  The place-name authorities Gover, Mawer & Stenton (1938) tell us this derives from a “spring in the hollow” and not a holy well as subsequent writers profess.  The only thing that could perhaps fortify the ‘holy’ element is that in some instances early citations of holy wells are written as holi- wells, which this may have been.  As all historians know, early spellings of sites are far from accurate.

References:

  1. Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, Allen & Stenton, F.M., The Place-Names of Hertfordshire, Cambridge University Press 1938.
  2. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  3. Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 1, Cambridge University Press 1956.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  51.983358, -0.312310 Holy Well

Holy Well, Gunwalloe, Cornwall

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – SW 6602 2053

Archaeology & History

The old church at this headland just above the sea was, said Padel (1988), dedicated to Saint Gunwalloe or Winwalloe in 1332 and is thought to have been the character (a hermit by all accounts) who deemed this well to be ‘holy’.  In Alfred Cummings (1875) history of Gunwalloe parish, he devotes a short but singular chapter to this holy well which, according to most accounts, has fallen back to Earth.  It was found, said Cummings, “close to the church porch, only a few feet over the precipitous rock…and (was) doubtless the resort in former days of many a lad and maiden.”

Yet even in his day, he lamented its loss, telling that.

“The spring that once bubbled up in its rocky basin is no longer there; sand and stones fill up the well at each high tide, and though occasionally cleaned out for the satisfaction of the wayfarer’s curiosity is yet only an imperfect semblance of its former self.”

Yet remnants of practices and traditions of the well were thankfully remembered:

Gunwalloe church in 1885

“That Gunwalloe was considered by the country folk a well of some importance there can be little doubt, for one day in the year, which was called Gunwalloe Day, was set apart for cleaning out this holy well — it was quite at a different time of year to this parish feast — and now only remembered by two old men out of the whole population of the place.

“They fix the time in their memories as the period of tilling barley, for they recollect that on this Gunwalloe Day it was the custom for the men to mend all the cliff roads (doubtless these were useful in days of smuggling when a successful run was a desirable thing), and so strictly was it kept that, if any were found labouring in the fields, a party would go and take them by force, and press them into the service of the holiday makers, who, having mended the roads and cleared the holy well at Gunwalloe, wound up the day with merriment and revelry.”

Such practices are long since gone of course and, so most modern accounts would tell us, the holy well with it.  But when J. Meyrick (1982) came looking for the site on the summer solstice of 1980, he seemed a little more fortunate than his predecessors.  Located just a few yards from the detached church tower, he spoke with a

“Mrs Wilson, a churchwarden (who) told me that in heavy rain the tower continues to be flooded so the spring is still somewhere about, and curiously enough by the stile to the beach is a small granite trough with rainwater put there by someone no doubt in lieu of the Well and who is to say that the water is not holy!  The stream across the dune still meanders a few feet beneath the tower and into this the water from the well would have run, but there seems now no sign of an originating spring in the rocks around.”

Folklore

The church itself possesses a folktale found up and down the land.  “It is said,” wrote Blight (1885),

“that the builders intended to erect the church on higher ground, nearer the centre of the parish, at Hingey; but as fast as materials were brought to the place they were, by some mysterious agency, removed during the night to the present site.  And here the church was built, it being found useless to contend with a supernatural power.”

The supernatural agencies that are nearly always responsible for such actions tend to be the devil, fairies or other types of little-people.

References:

  1. Blight, J.T., Churches of West Cornwall, Parker: London 1885.
  2. Cummings, Alfred H., The Churches and Antiquities of Cury and Gunwalloe, W. Lake: Truro 1875.
  3. Meyrick, J., A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Wells of Cornwall, J. Meyrick: Falmouth 1982.
  4. Padel, O.J., Cornish Place-Names, Alison Hodge: Penzance 1988.
  5. Quiller-Couch, M. & L., Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, C.J. Clark: London 1894.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  50.038817, -5.269006 Holy Well

Bishop’s Well, Tottenham, Middlesex

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 332 911

Also Known as:

  1. My Lady’s Hole

Archaeology & History

Long since gone after drainage operations on Tottenham Cemetery made the waters dry-up, this was one of several holy wells in the Tottenham area.  Its history has been described in various old tomes, but the most definitive is found in William Robinson’s (1840) classic on the parish of Tottenham, when the well was still visible.  He told us:

“There is a spring which issues from the side of a small hillock on the south side of the Moselle, nearly opposite the Vicarage, leading thence to the Church, called Bishop’s Well.  This spring was formerly considered famous for many strange and wonderful cures performed on the diseased by the use of this water.  It has been for some years neglected, but of late the owner of the field in which this well is, had it cleansed, and planted some trees round it, and put up posts and rails to prevent the cattle treading down the sides of it.  It is said that the water of this well never freezes.  In former times this well was in great repute from the purity of its water.  The ladies in the vicinity of it were accustomed to send their servants in the morning and evening for water for their tea, from which circumstance it was for many years known by the name of “My Lady’s Hole.”  The water of this well is not only esteemed for its medicinal qualities, but particularly for curing disorders of the eye.

“There were formerly many other springs about the village, especially one which issued out of the hill on which the Church stands; and another in Spottons Wood otherwise Spottons Grove, on the north side of Lordship Lane, which in the fifteenth century was of considerable notoriety; but none of which have in former times been so much frequented and held in such repute as Bishop’s Well.”

(Please note: the grid-reference for this site is an approximation)

References:

  1. Foord, Alfred Stanley, Springs, Streams and Spas of London: History and Association, T. Fisher Unwin: London 1910.
  2. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  3. Robinson, William, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Tottenham, Nichols & Sons: London 1840.
  4. Sunderland, Septimus, Old London Spas, Baths and Wells, John Bale: London 1915.
  5. Thornbury, Walter & Walford, Edward, Old and New London – volume 5, Cassell: London 1878.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  51.602995, -0.078076 Bishop\'s Well

St. Bride’s Well, Avondale, Lanarkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 6983 4138

Archaeology & History

St Brides Chapel & Well on the 1864 OS-map

Shown on the 1864 OS map of the area as a ‘Well’ just at the front of St Bride’s Chapel—now a very pleasant old cottage—peasants and pilgrims would stop for both refreshment and ritual here as they walked down High Kype Road.  Although the chapel was described in church records of January 1542 as being on the lands of Little Kype, close to the settlement of St Bride, there seems to be very little known about the history or traditions of the well.  If anyone has further information on this site, please let us know.

Folklore

Bride or Brigit has her origins in early British myth and legend, primarily from Scotland and Ireland.  Her saint’s day is February 1, or the heathen Imbolc (also known as Candlemas).  Although in christian lore St. Bride was born around 450 AD in Ireland and her father a Prince of Ulster, legend tells that her step-father (more probably a teacher) was a druid and her ‘saintly’ abilities as they were later described are simply attributes from this shamanic pantheon. Legends—christian and otherwise—describe Her as the friend of animals; possessor of a magickal cloak; a magickian and a healer; and whose ‘spirit’ or genius loci became attached to ‘sacred sites’ in the natural world, not the christian renunciation of it.  St Bride was one of the primal faces of the great prima Mater known as the Cailleach: the greater Gaelic deity of Earth’s natural cycles, whose changing seasons would also alter Her names, faces and clothes, as Her body moved annually through the rhythms of the year.  Bride was (and is) ostensibly an ecological deity, with humans intrinsically a part of such a model, not a part from it, in contrast to the flawed judaeo-christian theology.

References:

  1. Paul, J.B. & Thomson, J.M., Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum: The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland AD 1513 – 1546, HMGRH: Edinburgh 1883.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.648467, -4.070063 St Bride\'s Well

Ellen’s Well, Angle, Pembrokeshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – SM 86913 03483

Archaeology & History

Ellen’s Well on 1869 map

Very little seems to be known about this apparently lost site, deemed to be an authentic holy well in Francis Jones’ (1954) fine survey: the ‘Ellen’ in question here being the legendary St Helen.  It was highlighted on the first OS-map of the area in 1869 and subsequently included in the Royal Commission’s huge Pembrokeshire (1925) tome, but when they came to visit the site they reported that “it could not be traced, nor any information obtained about it.”  Has it truly fallen back to Earth, or do any local historians and antiquarians know where it is…?

References:

  1. Jones, Francis, The Holy Wells of Wales, University of Wales 1954.
  2. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Wales, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales & Monmouthshire: VII – County of Pembroke, HMSO: London 1925.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  51.689556, -5.084312 Ellen\'s Well

Low Well, Bradford, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 1589 3132

Archaeology & History

Low Well on 1852 map

Along the now-lost Low Well Road between Little Horton and West Bowling, could once be found this innocuous-sounding water source.   Shown on the 1st OS-map of the area in 1852, the site was deemed to be little other than a ‘public well’.  At the end of the 19th century, a small well-house was built over the waters; and the years following that saw its complete demise.  Its name you would think relates to a position in the land, but the dialect word low, or lowe can mean “a flame, blaze, light, glow”, it can also refer to a prehistoric tomb.  However in this case it most likely derives from “a pond or standing pool”.

…And if some of you wonder why I have given this so-called Public Well the provenance of being a “sacred well”, please keep reading…

Folklore

Although it was deemed a simple ‘public well’ by historians and the public water authority, local folk knew there was much more to it than that!  In the Bradford area, this innocuously-named Well is the most promiscuously supernatural of all water sources, with a hidden history of magickians, ghosts and black dogs haunting its once ancient flow.  It was a site remembered as having oracular powers, where local people used it in scrying the future.  For such powers to work here, one had to gaze into the waters as they stilled at 6 o’ clock in the morning – a common time used by ritual magickians for the invocations of spirits.

The Bradford historian William Scrotum (1889) told us that in the 1860s, local people reported that the phantom black dog—or Bharguest as it was known—with its glowing red eyes, was seen coming out of the well after dark and scaring people half out of their wits.  Very soon people would not even venture out after dark for fear of encountering this great harbinger of Death.  Several years passed before local people called upon the abilities of a ritual magickian in the hope that he could lay the ghostly hound and bring peace and stability back to the hearts and minds of those living hereabouts.  Eventually, after much work, the magickian exorcised the waters and cast the black dog back into the depths of the Earth from whence it had come and, to this day, sightings of the spectral hound have stopped.

Water sources that possess ingredients of hauntings, magic and oracular properties are universally ascribed as ‘sacred’ in one way or the other.  In pre-industrial times I have little doubt that, amongst the animistic pantheon of local Bradfordians, this was no exception.

References:

  1. Scruton, William, Pen and Pencil Pictures of Old Bradford, Thomas Brear: Bradford 1889.
  2. Wright, Joseph, The English Dialect Dictionary – volume 3, Henry Frowde: London 1902.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.777973, -1.760357 Low Well

Petrifying Well, Grosmont, North Yorkshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NZ 82844 06665

Archaeology & History

Petrifying Well on 1853 map

Petrifying wells are found across the British Isles and would be deemed as being medicinal, or curative at the very least.  In Jeremy Harte’s (2008) massive study, he infers that some of them will have been regarded as sacred or ‘holy’. Their ability to calcify objects would be seen as a very strange effect indeed!  Yet despite this Eskdale example being shown on the first OS-map in 1853, its history seems to have been forgotten.  Back then, you could find it on the east side of the Murl Slack Beck, nearly a mile north of Grosmont village.  I highlight the site in the hope that someone may be able to unearth something about its past and/or its present condition.

References:

  1. Harte, Jeremy, English Holy Wells – volume 1, Heart of Albion Press: Marlborough 2008.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.448638, -0.723902 Petrifying Well

Tobar Bhride, Keppoch, Kilmonivaig, Inverness-shire

Sacred Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NN 27 81

Also Known as:

  1. St Bride’s Well

Archaeology & History

This long lost ‘holy well of St Brigit’ (Tobar Bhride) has been mentioned—purely in literary repetition—by such folklore giants as F.M. MacNeill and others, but none of them give any additional information about it than that first mentioned by Alexander Stewart’s (1890) in his fascinating article on magical stones.  Indeed, knowledge of this well’s very existence was only preserved thanks to a ritual incantation that was recited to imbue and maintain healing properties of one such magickal stone, known as the Charm Stone of Keppoch.  It

“was an oval of rock crystal, about the size of a small egg, fixed in a bird’s claw of silver, and with a silver chain attached, by which it was suspended when about to be dipped.”

It was dipped in water taken from the sacred well of St Brigit, somewhere not far from Keppoch.  The incantation made over the stone was in Gaelic, obviously, but the english translation is:

“Let me dip thee in the water,
Thou yellow, beautiful gem of Power!
In water of purest wave,
Which (saint) Bridget didn’t permit to be contaminated.
In the name of the Apostles twelve,
In the name of Mary, virgin of virtues,
And in the name of the high trinity
And all the shining angels,
A blessing on the gem,
A blessing on the water, and
A healing of bodily ailments to each suffering creature.”

On the east side of the river, just a few hundred yards away, could once be found the Fuaran na Ban-Tighearna, or the Well of Her Ladyship.  In this sense, the term ‘ladyship’ refers to the “wife of a baronet or knight.” (Dwelly 1918)  The idea that it may refer to Bride in Her guise as a ‘lady’ is linguistically improbable here (though not impossible).  Also, if this fuaran did have a geomythic relationship with Bride, we would expect to find a Cailleach in the nearby landscape, which we don’t.

Folklore

An interesting piece of folklore that may relate to this well is described by the great Scottish landscape wanderer, Seton Gordon. (1948)  Although he makes no mention of a Bride’s Well, there is the tale of a missing bride up Glen Roy, of which Keppoch sits below.  “It was in earlier times,” he wrote,

“that the Maid of Keppoch was taken by the fairies in Glen Roy.  She was an Irish girl, little more than a child, and had become the wife of MacDonell of Keppoch.  But the wedding rejoicings were scarcely over when the bride, wandering into the oak woods which still clothe the lower slopes of Glen Roy, disappeared mysteriously.  It was believed that, like the Rev Robert Kirk…she had been spirited away by the fairies.  If indeed she was abducted by the Little People they held her closely, for from that day to this no trace has been found of the fair Maid of Keppoch.”

St Bride of course was Irish, like the Maid of Keppoch.  And just a mile up Glen Roy from Keppoch House we find the Sron Dubh and Sithean, or Ridge of the Dark Fairy Folk.  There are several burns (streams) running either side and below this fairy haunt, but I can find none with Bride’s name.  Someone, somewhere, must know where it is…

References:

  1. Gordon, Seton, Highways and Byways in the Central Highlands, MacMillan: London 1948.
  2. Dwelly, Edward, The Illustrated Gaelic English Dictionary – volume 1, Fleet Hants 1918.
  3. Stewart, Alexander, “Notice of a Highland Charm-Stone,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 24, 1890.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.888000, -4.841320 Tobar Bhride

Holy Well, Somersby, Lincolnshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – TF 3417 7303

Also Known as:

  1. Halliwell

Archaeology & History

Holy Well on 1887 map

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.”

J.C. Walters 1890 sketch

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.”

References:

  1. Harte, Jeremy, English Holy Wells – volume 2, Heart of Albion Press: Wymeswold 2008.
  2. Howitt, William, Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets – volume 2, Richard Bentley: London 1849.
  3. Rawnsley, H.D., Memories of the Tennysons, James MacLehose: Glasgow 1900.
  4. Thompson, Ian, Lincolnshire Springs and Wells, Bluestone: Scunthorpe 1999.
  5. Walter, J. Conway, Records of Woodhall Spa and Neighbourhood, W.K. Morton: Horncastle 1899.
  6. Walters, John Cuming, In Tennyson Land, George Redway: London 1890.
  7. Weir, George, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of the Town and Soke of Horncastle, Sherwood, Neely & Jones 1820.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.237355, 0.008884 Holy Well, Somersby