When water first emerges from the Earth they’re known as ’springs’ of water; those with stone troughs or basins into which the water falls are ‘wells.’ I don’t see much difference misself! And if water was of any importance to our ancestors (anyone who thinks it wasn’t is probably a bit slow…), such a clinical definition is of little importance. Many water-sites possessed great healing or therapeutic properties, as evidenced by chemical analyses (mainly in Victorian times, when a bittova craze on these wells was in vogue), aswell as folk-tradition, plus vast numbers of subjective encounters. To ancient societies – indeed, to myself – water is our blood, or the blood of the Earth. Treating this liquid as little more than a ‘commodity’, aswell as polluting it, should be a criminal offence – simple as!
Highlighted on the 1858 OS-map, two-thirds the way up the High Street, this long forgotten sacred well was described by the Ordnance Survey lads in their Name Book (1856) as “an excellent spring”—and no doubt an ever-flowing one, even in the greatest of droughts. But it had already been destroyed when they came here. It was mentioned in passing by William Chambers’ (1856), who described it as a “public fountain” dedicated to old Mungo, a.k.a. St Kentigern. But its position in the High Street wasn’t where it originally emerged. Local tradition told it was once on the slopes of Venlaw immediately north of the town, possibly making it into the folklore category of “Wells that Move”—usually because the spirit of the place has been offended.
But in truth, little is known about its mythic history. Its origin seems, as with so many ancient sites, entangled in what Dr Gunn (1908) in his definitive work on the history of Peebles church explained, the heathen “superstitious regard for fountains”, pre-dating the christian dedications. St Mungo himself, said Gunn,
“is remembered in Peebles to-day by his holy well upon the slopes of Venlaw, hallowed by its use in the Sacrament of Baptism.”
It’s profane history tells simply that, in 1728, its waters were piped into the trough on High Street for public use. It became damaged sometime in the early 19th century, but some remains of the stonework were found when roadworks were done here in 1845. It would be good if we could recover further information about this important holy well.
Chambers, William, A History of Peeblesshire, W. & R. Chambers: Edinburgh 1864.
At the edge of the ruins known as the Bishop’s Palace, up the slope behind the ruined church in Stow, could once be seen the waters of the Bishop’s Well which, wrote Thomas Wilson (1924), fed the palace hereby and was used by the clergy. Apart from a barely discernible circular depression at the edge of the old manse ruins, no trace of this site remains.
Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Midlothian and West Lothian, HMSO: Edinburgh 1929.
Wilson, Thomas, The Stow of Wedale, Aberdeen Newspapers 1924.
Long since gone, there are very few references to this once sacred site, which seemed to comprise of three sacred wells next to each other, each with its own formal dedication. This would have made it one fuck of an important place in early- and pre-christian times. But even when Thomas Colby (1837) and his mates surveyed the area, it seems like it was on its last legs. He told that:
“As connected with the ancient history of Derry the sacred springs, called St. Columb’s Wells, claim some notice in this place. They are, or rather were, three in number — for one has been dried up, or diverted from its original locality — and are situated near the Roman Catholic chapel, outside the wall. It appears from the Irish annals that each of these wells had its peculiar name, one being called Tobar Adamnam, another Tobar Martain, and the third Tobar Colum — but the two former names are now quite forgotten, and the springs are popularly called St. Columb’s Wells. They are regarded with much superstitious veneration by the Roman Catholic peasantry, but no celebration of St. Columb’s festival is now held at them.”
The wells were found very close to St. Columba’s bullaun stone, which possessed its own healing abilities. The two sites had symbiotic ceremonial relationships with each other, doubtless performed in bygone centuries on St. Columba’s old festival date of June 9.
Colby, Thomas, Ordnance Survey of the County of Londonderry, HMG: Dublin 1837.
Doherty, William, Derry Columbkille, Brown & Nolan: Dublin 1899.
Highlighted on the 1865 OS-map, this lost water source was located between the Brechin cathedral/round tower and the curiously-named St. Michael’s Mount, whose history seems to be lost. It would seem to be the well which Ruth & Frank Morris (1981) name as the ‘Ancient Well’ in their survey.
The reason behind this site being classified as a sacred (or holy) well is based on the tradition that the Culdees had a religious convent here in the 12th century and, according to David Black (1839),
“This convent is believed to have stood a little to the west of the present parish church, in the gardens now belonging to the kirk-session, still called “the College Yards.” A small well of delightfully pure water in these gardens receives the name of the College Well, and is reported, by tradition, to have been the well of the Culdee convent.”
On the issue of St. Michael, students of folklore will know that, in the christian cult, he was an early dragon-slayer. His annual commemoration day is September 29. One of his shamanistic functions “relates to the very old tradition of Michael as the receiver of the souls of the dead.” (Attwater 1965)
Black, David D., The History of Brechin, Alexander Black: Brechin 1839.
Gibson, Colin, Folklore of Tayside, Dundee Museum c.1968.
A mile south of Kislingbury village, just by the roadside is the old Hill Farm. In times gone by—as the early OS-maps show—a trackway led from here, westwards, for just a few hundred yards, until it reached the old farm of Hollowell Hill, all trace of which has long since gone. The farm owed its name to the existence of a holy well mentioned briefly in 14th century records in the Cartulary of St. Andrews, Northampton, where it was described as Halywellhille, or the Holy Well on a hill. All trace of it seems to have been lost. A ‘Spring’ that is shown on the 1885 map, a few hundred yards south of the old farm, seems to be the closest contender, but it seems more likely that the well was adjacent to, or beneath the farm-building.
Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, A. & Stenton, F.M., The Place-Names of Northamptonshire, Cambridge University Press 1975.
A most curious place: this ‘Well of the Dragon’ as it was first called (on the 1852 OS-map) and subsequently the ‘Pendragon Well’ (on the 1922 map) just off Pendragon Lane, seems to have been forgotten in both folklore and history. I grew up round here and no legends of dragons were known, either in my life, nor that of the old folks I knew; nor any pub of that name that might account for it.
Equally unexplained is the name of the adjacent ‘Pendragon Lane’, which has been known as that for some 175 years. We have no Arthurian myths anywhere in West Yorkshire that remains in folk memory—and certainly nothing hereby that accounts for it.
As for possible landscape associations (i.e., serpentine geological features), nothing in the vicinity has any bearing on the name. Indeed, the only thing of any potential relevance was the former existence of a healing rock known as the Wart Stone, some 100 yards to the east at Bolton Junction. Such stones are usually possessed of naturally-worn ‘bowls’ of some sort on top of the rock—akin to large cup-markings—into which water collected that was used to rid the sufferer of warts or similar skin afflictions. But such an association seems very unlikely.
The only thing we can say of this Dragon Well is that probably, in times gone by, a folktale or legend existed of a dragon in the neighbourhood that had some association with the waters here. Dragons are invariably related to early animistic creation myths, and this site may have been all that remained of such a forgotten tale. The nearest other place in West Yorkshire with dragon associations is six miles northwest of here on the south-side of Ilkley Moor. In Britain there are a number of other Dragon Wells, the closest of which is in South Yorkshire.
A little-known holy well on the south-side of the village has seen better days – if indeed it’s still there! Located 500 yards due south of the destroyed Lady Well, this spring of water gained it name, according to local lore, from its proximity to an ancient chapel—remains of which have been frugal to say the least! Shown on the earliest Ordnance Survey maps and continued to be shown until the 1950s, it seems that the first written account of it was in the Object Name Book of 1861 where it was told:
“A Spring well adjacent to Chapelhill. It is cut in a freestone rock, from which issues a constant supply of pure spring water even in the dryest Seasons. It is not impregnated with any Kind of Mineral. A Chapel Stood near it at one time, the site of which Cannot be pointed out by any person in the neighbourhood.”
A visit by one of the Ordnance Survey lads here in 1950 found the well to be blocked-up by silt and soil; and on a quick visit I made here today I could find no remains of the well, but it may have been beneath the mass of excessive vegetation. A subsequent visit in the winter may prove more fruitful – he sez, hopefully…..
Not to be confused with the other St. Peter’s Well that once existed in the city centre, this site was shown on an 1815 map of Leeds (which I’ve not been able to get mi hands on!), known as the Waterloo Map. But when the Ordnance Survey lads visited the place in 1846, it had been covered over. Immediately west of here, the saint’s name was also given to a nearby hill, whose folklore seems has been forgotten.
Although Ralph Thoresby mentioned it in passing, Edward Parsons (1834) gave us a brief description of its qualities, telling us that,
“Near North Hall is the celebrated spring called St. Peter’s Well ; the waters are so intensely cold that they have long been considered very efficacious in rheumatic disorders.”
Bonser (1979) reiterated this in his survey, also telling that, like its nearby namesake, its waters were “intensely cold and beneficial for rheumatism, rickets, etc.” An old bathing-house that was “annexed to the Well” may have been used specifically to treat such ailments, but we cannot say for sure.
Interestingly, Andrea Smith (1982) told that 400 metres away a well was sunk in 1838 and a quantity of petrified hazelnuts were recovered from a broken red jar which had a female head painted on it. Such a deposit is not too unusual, as a number of sacred wells in bygone days were blessed with nuts and signified the deity Callirius, known by the Romans as Silvanus, the God of the Hazel Wood – though we have no direct tradition here linking St. Peter’s Well with this ritual deposit.
St. Peter’s festival date was June 29.
Bonser, K.J., “Spas, Wells and Springs of Leeds,” in The Thoresby Miscellany – volume 54, Leeds 1979.
Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
Parsons, Edward, The Civil, Ecclesiastical, Literary, Commercial and Miscellaneous History of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, Bradford, Wakefield, Dewsbury, Otley – volume 1, Frederick Hobson: Leeds 1834.
Smith, Andrea, ‘Holy Wells Around Leeds, Bradford & Pontefract,’ in Wakefield Historical Journal 9, 1982.
Mentioned in Thompson’s (1999) survey but without comment, it was, curiously, Skyring Walters’ (1928) that drew my attention to this site. He added it to his list of St Pancras sites, telling how even in his day, it had fallen into memory. Indeed, it had already gone when the Ordnance Survey lads came here in 1885. Thankfully we were left with an albeit piecemeal account of the place by Cayley Illingworth (1810) before its destruction. It was an iron-bearing well that existed some fifty yards from an ancient Roman villa and was probably the water supply for the Romans who lived here. He told us:
“The circumstance…of the chalybeate spring within a few yards from the entrance of the villa, and still called Saint Pancras Well…favours the conclusion of a chapel having been erected on its site. (This) is supported by the strong evidence of a discovery, upon record, that a chapel dedicated to Saint Pancras did actually exist on this spot, so early as the beginning of the twelfth century; about which period Richard Fitz-Robert of Scampton gave to the monastery of Kirksted three selions of land in that lordship, two of which are described in the gift as lying in the south field, on the south side of the chapel of Saint Pancras.”
He further told that at the bottom of the well an oak floor had been laid, which had been dug up “several years ago.”
St Pancras’s festival date is April 3.
Cameron, Kenneth & Insley, John, The Place-Names of Lincolnshire – volume 7, English Place-Name Society: Nottingham 2010.
Harte, Jeremy, English Holy Wells: A Sourcebook – volume 2, Heart of Albion Press: Loughborough 2008.
Illingworth, Cayley, A Topographical Account of the Parish of Scampton in the County of Lincoln, T. Cadel & W. Davies: London 1810.
Thompson, Ian, Lincolnshire Springs and Well, Bluestone: Scunthorpe 1999.
Walters, R.C. S., The Ancient Wells, Springs and Holy Wells of Gloucestershire, St Stephens Press: Bristol 1928.
In R.C. Skyring Walker’s (1928) fine survey of Gloucestershire’s holy wells, he lamented the passing of this site, telling how
“it is sad to relate that this well has totally disappeared and its precise site is unknown.”
Since those words, the situation regarding its whereabouts has not been resolved. First mentioned in Samuel Rudder’s (1779) work, the main clue we’ve got regarding its whereabouts is his description of the adjoining hamlets and village tithes:
“Westonton, formerly called Old Marshfield, or Little Marshfield. It has been a distinct parish, called St Pancras, according to Sir Robert Atkins, and a well in this hamlet still bears the name of that saint.”
Westonton is the old farmhouse of Westend Town less than a mile northwest of Marshfield where, on early Ordnance Survey maps, a Well is shown. To the north of this is Springs Farm. This latter name probably has no bearing on St Pancras’ Well; but the location cited by Rudder of the well being in Westend Town gives us a damn good indicator as to where local historians should dig for this forgotten sacred site.
The Well was described in T.D. Fosbroke’s (1807) work, but only in passing. St Pancras’s festival date is April 3. (the grid reference cited for this well is an approximation)
Fosbroke, Thomas D., Abstracts of Records and Manuscripts Respecting the County of Gloucester – volume 2, J. Harris: Cirencester 1807.
Rudder, Samuel, A New History of Gloucestershire, S. Rudder: Cirencester 1779.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of Gloucestershire – volume 3, Cambridge University Press 1964.
Walters, R.C. S., The Ancient Wells, Springs and Holy Wells of Gloucestershire, St Stephens Press: Bristol 1928.