Small Wells, Louth, Lincolnshire

Sacred Wells (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TF 32603 87555

Also Known as:

  1. Little Wells

Archaeology & History

Small Well on 1834 map

Of the three wells in old Louth around which local ceremonies occurred, the Small Wells were apparently the least impressive.  Its ritualised compatriots south of the River Lud in St. Helen’s Well and the Ash Well (the Aswell in modern Louth place-names) were reportedly the much better water supplies in bygone times.  The site was highlighted on a map of the town in Robert Bayley’s (1834) history of the area, showing it as a small pool just below the Cistern Gate road; but when the Ordnance Survey lads came here later in the 19th century it had already gone.

It’s category here as a “sacred” well is due to it being annually decorated with garlands of flowers, commonly known today as well-dressing.  Such wells tend to be places of pre-christian rites, attended by local people at dawn usually at Beltane or at Midsummer (St John’s Eve); but I’ve been unable to find out which was the sacred day when the waters here were honoured.  All that we have left to tell us of the rites is from old township notes that said how,

““The small wells,” a cluster of little springs on the north of the town, shared in the honours of green boughs and popular huzzahs” the traditions held at the wells of St. Helen and Aswell a half-mile to the south.

A brief 16th century account told of a local man being paid for the adornment of the Small Wells: one “Henery Forman received for dressing small wells for a yeare – xiid” – or 12 pennies in old money.  Not bad at all in them days!

References:

  1. Bayley, Robert S., Notitiae Ludae; or Notices of Louth, W. Edwards 1834.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

Dud Well, Skircoat Green, Halifax, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well: OS Grid Reference – SE 0957 2281

Archaeology & History

This curiously-named old water source may have an equally curious history behind it – albeit forgotten.  Shown on the 1854 OS-map of the area and giving its s name to Dudwell Lane, we can see how an old path led from the road to the well and nowhere else.

It’s the word “dud” that holds our attention here; for if we hasten to the immensely erudite Joseph Wright (1900) in his gigantic survey of northern dialect, we find that the word relates to “a rag, piece of cloth; pl. clothes, esp. shabby, ragged, or dirty clothing.”  This is echoed in another Yorkshire dialect work by Morris (1892) who told that the word meant “clothes (or) rags.”  Several other Victorian writers tell us variations on this meaning (one adds old shoes to the list!), but in all instances it relates to dud being a rag, whereas the plural duds are rags or scruffy clothes.  Naathen (to use another old dialect word), those of us who know a thing or two abaat olde wells are very very familiar with their association to old rags that were hanged on the surrounding trees as offerings to the spirits of the water—the genius loci—to aid in the hope or desire of something, or merely as respect to the waters for their beneficient properties. (this sometimes occurred ritually at set times in the calendar)

Dud Well on 1854 OS-map

The Dud Well was obviously of considerable local repute, for just a couple of years after it was shown on the earliest OS-map, a local bailiff called Samuel Rhodes built The Dudwell house close to the waters, which he named “in honour of the magnificent and never-failing spring of pure, bright, sparkling water in the wells close by.”

There is a possible alternative meaning to the word dud, which is that some dood called ‘Duda’ left his name here!  This seems much more speculative and unlikely than the use of a local dialect term.  Hopefully a local historian amongst you might perhaps be able to find out more.

References:

  1. Morris, M.C.F., Yorkshire Folk-Talk, Henry Frowde: London 1892.
  2. Wright, Joseph, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 2, Henry Frowde: London 1900.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Old Wives’ Well, Stape, Pickering, North Yorkshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid-Reference – SE 7944 9406

Also Known as:

  1. Nattie Fontein

Archaeology & History

Old Wives Well, 1848 OS-map

The history of the site is scanty to say the least.  It first seems to have been recorded when the Ordnance Survey lads came here in the 1840s, although they left no record as to why the site was given such a dedication.  It’s a decidedly pre-christian title as the name “old Wife” is usually indicative in northern counties as being related to the primal Earth deity of northern England and lowland Scotland (when we reach the Highlands and Ireland, She becomes known—amongst other names—as the cailleach).  However, apart from its name we have no additional information.  Neither the holy wells writer Edna Whelan (1989; 2001), nor hydrolatry researcher Graeme Chappell were been able to find anything about the place in their own researches.  And so we must go on name alone…

The waters bubble up into a small stone-lined chamber with the words Nattie Fontein carved into the lintel.  This is something of a mystery in itself, for, as Edna Whelan (1989) told,

“it would be most unusual for the word fonten to be used for a spring in North Yorkshire: ‘keld’ is the local word.  The rather roughly inscribed word may be a corruption of Fons Natalis, the name of a Celtic water nymph.”

Graeme Chappell (2000) meanwhile, noticed in a visit to the site in June 1999,

“that the N and A in “NATTIE” are carved in such a way that the word could be read as “MATTIE FONTEIN” perhaps meaning “Mother Fountain”. This might then be another reference to the Old Wife?”

He then goes on to note how,

“the latin word ‘natalis‘ meaning ‘birth’ and its link with the roman Festival ‘Dies Natalis Sol Invictus‘ (day of the birth of the unconquered sun) which took place on the 25th December. Natalis also gave rise to the welsh word ‘Nadolig‘ – meaning Christmas.”

This Yuletide element has an intriguing relationship with the name of the well; for to the west of Yorkshire’s borders into Cumbria there was annual gathering known as Old Wives’ Saturday that took place on the first Saturday after Christmas, or first Saturday of the New Year in a person’s house or inn, where a feast was had to bring in the New Year; but there is no known written lore of such a tradition here.

Nowadays the old tradition of hanging rags on the trees surrounding the well as offerings to the spirit of the place (known as memaws in parts of Yorkshire, and clooties in Scotland) has become a regular practice of those who hold such sites as sacred in their own way.  Whelan mentioned seeing memaws here in the 1908s, but the Northern Antiquarian contributor Jon Barker told that, “The rags are a comparatively recent addition to the well, it is not a tradition there. When I used to go in the ’60s therewere no rags.”

On an even more curious note: very recently (from when this profile was written), the Northern Antiquarian contributor and photographer James Elkington visited Old Wives’ Well for the first time.  It was a grey overcast day and when he arrived here, there was a woman ahead of him at the head of the well.  I’ll let him tell the rest of it in his own words:

The Old Wives Well, Stape  (James Elkington)
Old Wives Well at Stape (James Elkington)

“In front of the well was a lady dressed in what looked like a white nighty, she had her back to me.  There was a candle lit nearby, and her hands were in the water moving slowly about like she was washing something.  She had long dark shoulder length hair.  As I was about 25 feet away I was sure she wasn’t aware of me, and I thought it would make a good photograph.  I quietly put my bag on the ground and got my camera out, and looked up and…she was gone!  I couldn’t have taken my eye off her for more than 5 or 6 seconds.  I looked all around and there was no sign of her.  Even if she had legged it through the woods I would have seen her.  I think it was then that I realized that I may have had ‘an encounter’.  I quickly took three pics of the Well and got the hell out of there!”

He rang me once he had regained his senses in a somewhat emotional state and recounted over and over what had just happened.  Whether this was a visual manifestation of the genius loci of the we can’t say.  But such encounters are not unknown at numerous sacred water sites all over the world.  We can only hazard a guess that this is what he was fortunate to encounter.

Just a few hundred yards north is the old Mauley or Malo Cross, which may or may not have had some mythic relationship with our Old Wives…

References:

  1. Chappell, Graeme, “Old Wives’ Well, Stape,” YHW 2000.
  2. Elgee, F., Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
  3. Whelan, Edna, The Magic and Mystery of Holy Wells, Capall Bann: Chieveley 2001.
  4. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.

Links:

  1. Yorkshire Holy Wells

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Andrew’s Well, Coldingham, Berwickshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 8967 6600

  1. Archaeology & History
Site on the 1858 map

By the side of the stream known as St Andrew’s Burn, in the small wooded glen to the rear (west) of the Crosslaw Caravan Park (right by the side of the A1107 road), you can still find the flowing waters of this all-but-forgotten holy well that was dedicated to  Scotland’s patron saint, god knows how long ago!  The first description I’ve come across relating to the site is in William King’s  (1858) early work on Coldingham Priory, where he told that,

“In a dean a little westward from the village, and on the border of the property of Bogangreen, is a spring of excellent water, called St Andrew’s Well, from which the monastery was supplied by leaden conduits, portions of which are occasionally turning up to view. These pipes are thick and well made.”

Fifty years later when Adam Thomson (1908) penned his magnum opus on Coldingham parish, the well was still in a good state of affairs.  Hereby there grew much chamomile which, he thought, “the monks were wont to cultivate for the healing of the sick.”

Folklore

St Andrew’s feast day is November 30 and is known as Anermas.

References:

  1. Hunter, William K., History of the Priory of Coldingham, Sutherland & Knox: Edinburgh 1858.
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  3. Thomson, Adam, Coldingham: Parish and Priory, Craighead Brothers: Galashiels 1908.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks for use of the 1st Edition OS-maps, reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Holy Priests’ Well, York, North Yorkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 6071 5187

Archaeology & History

At the beginning of the 19th century, William Hargrove (1818) described the scant remains of some old walling along old Haver Lane (renamed as Green Lane and now known as The Stonebow) which were the remains of a building, long gone, and which,

“tradition informs us (was) a religious house, which formerly stood here, called Holy-Priests; and though the site of it is not known, the report is greatly strengthened by the appearance of the walls just mentioned, and by the circumstance of a deep draw-well which now remains, being still called Holy-Priests Well.”

Some suggest that this water source may still exist beneath one of the buildings hereby, but the landscape here has been so badly mutilated over the last two hundred years that it’s very unlikely.

References:

  1. Hargrove, Willliam, History and Description of the Ancient City of York – volume 2, part 2, W. Alexander: York 1818.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Patrick’s Well (2), Struthill, Muthill, Perthshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NN 8555 1537

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25329
  2. Chapel Well
  3. Struthill Well

Getting Here

Site on the 1866 map

From Muthill, go up Thornhill Street out of the village for nearly 1½ miles. You’ll have just passed the double hairpin bend, crossed the rivulet, then reached the large old farmhouse of Lurgs.  From here, turn right and after just over half-a-mile you reach Struthill where, running by the side of the house, is a small trackway.  Ask the folks at the house, who are most helpful, and walk down the track for nearly 400 yards and go through the first gate on your right, crossing the field until it dips down to the burn.  The boggy marshy mass running from near the top of the slope is what you’re looking for!

Archaeology & History

Shown on the 1863 map as the Chapel Well, the dedication of the waters to St. Patrick coincided with a chapel that once stood here, also in his name.  Very low faint remains of the chapel, completely overgrown, can still be made out amidst the rushes.  It’s one of two holy wells in Muthill parish that are dedicated to St. Patrick.

Very little of any real spring of water can be seen nowadays.  Indeed, the site today is merely a much overgrown bog-of-a-well whose water oozes down the slope into the Juncus rushes, trickling into the adjacent burn.  I had a drink of the water from the slopes, which tasted OK and did me no harm whatsoever.

Folklore

The most important aspects of this site was its use by local people and the attributes it was given.  We know not how far back such folklore goes, but it would have been many many centuries, if not millenia.  Water worship (if that’s the right word) is the most archaic of all traditional forms of veneration.  This place was no exception.  In John Shearer’s (1883) excellent local history work, he gave the following account of the site:

“About a quarter of a mile west from the Mill of Steps, upon a height on the right bank of the Machany, are to be seen the ruins of a small chapel.  When other places of Popish worship were thrown down after the Reformation, the Presbytery of Auchterarder ordered it to be demolished about 1650 to repress the superstitions practised at this place of resort.  West from the chapel is an excellent spring which was held in great veneration in those dark ages of superstition, when the ignorant and credulous populace were deceived by the crafty priests who stood below the spreading branches of an ancient ash which grew near the fount, pronouncing a benediction on the weary pilgrims as they drank of the waters.  And as it was celebrated for its healing qualities in many different distempers, numbers yearly visited it from a great distance to benefit by its virtues with as much devotedness as the Mahometan pilgrims visit the tomb of their Prophet.  Insanity was also cured here.  Several persons testified before the Presbytery of Stirling, in 1668, that having carried a woman thither, they staid two nights at a house hard by the well.  The first night they bound her twice to a stone at the well, but she came into the house to them being loosed without any help.  The second night they bound her again to the same stone and she returned loosed.  And they also declared that “she was mad before they took her to the well, but since that time she is working and sober in wits.”

“This well was still celebrated in the year 1723 and votive offerings were left, but no one then surviving appeared to appreciate the virtues of the stone.  Small offerings were given in coin and thrown into the well and those who had no coin brought white stones which were laid in regular order along the declivity where the water runs to the river.  Coins have been of late found in the well and the white stones are still to be seen.  The officiating priest generally resided at Drummond Castle.  Within the last sixty years, several of the gentry have come in their carriages to inspect these relics which were held in so great reputation in ancient times.  The chapel and well are about one mile south west from Muthill.”

References:

  1. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  3. Shearer, John, Antiquities of Strathearn, D. Phillips: Crieff 1883.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks for use of the 1st Edition OS-maps, reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St Margaret’s Well, Hasbury, Worcestershire

Holy Well (destroyed?):  OS Grid Reference – SO 9609 8284

Archaeology & History

The site on the 1904 map

Shown on the 1904 OS-map, beneath the aptly-named St Margaret’s Hill on its northern side, we can see where the holy well of St Margaret used to be, not too long ago.  Although it seems to have fallen pray to industrial destruction, there are a number of old references to the site, mainly gathered together in Jeremy Harte’s (2008) magnum opus on the subject.  It was also mentioned in a survey by the British Geological Society (Richardson 1930) where we were told that it was,

“in the private grounds of a house recently erected, and is a spring issuing from the Halesowen Sandstone at the junction of two faults (shown west of the ‘H’ of Hasbury on the new series Geological Map, Sheet 168) about 100 yds SW of the point where Blackberry Lane joins Hagley Road.  It is referred to, as a well of good cold unmineralised water, by T. Nash in 1781.”

And it was Mr Nash who gave us the earliest description of the place, saying:

“In the hamlet or township of Hasbury is an ancient holy well, called St Margaret’s Well, which formerly had much good stonework about it; but that was wholly removed in the year 1747.  One of these stones contained some curious sculpture, the figure of a man in a posture of hasty walking, and in the next compartment that of another man leaning on crutches… This place is called Margaret’s Hill and the water of the well supplies a small brook, which runs below the Grange, and falls into a piece of water at the end of the town, called Cornbow Pool.”

It’s more than probable that the old carvings he described—of one man on crutches and the other of a figure walking speedily—represents one of the main curative allegations that these waters possessed.  Cases of people walking on crutches to sacred wells, drinking the waters, then walking away without them (and in many cases leaving their crutches at the well-side as testament to its properties) are commonplace.  And, aptly enough, the curative elements of this ancient site have been maintained in modern times with the medical centre of St Margaret’s Well Surgery being built by this very spot!

References:

  1. Harte, Jeremy, English Holy Wells – volume 2, HOAP: Wymeswold 2008.
  2. Nash, T.R., Collections for the History of Worcestershire – volume 1, John White: London 1781.
  3. Richardson, L.R., Wells and Springs of Worcestershire, HMSO: London 1930.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Prior’s Well, Worksop, Nottinghamshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SK 589 790

Also Known as:

  1. Prior Well

Archaeology & History

Once to be seen in the ancient landscape immediately northwest of Worksop Priory by the old Mill Pond, this sacred well has sadly been built over, but memory of it is still retained in Priorswell street-name and, previously, the Priorwell Brewery.  Not much has been written about it, but thankfully the historian John Holland (1826) gave us a short account, saying:

“There is a spring, now enclosed, called the “Priorwell,” and a meadow, of four acres, denominated from the same; and from which, it might be presumed, that the canons would draw their supplies of water, was it not for the convenient proximity of the river, which they must have had to ford for that purpose.  It was “formerly”, says Parkyns, in his Monastic and Baronial Remains, “celebrated for miraculous cures; but since monastic deceptions have unveiled themselves, votaries no longer offer, and consequently cures are no longer performed.”  This may have been the case: more recently the well has been resorted to by persons having sore eyes, in the cure of which, it is said to be efficacious, and has probably the common virtue of fresh cool spring-water.”

References:

  1. Holland, John, The History, Antiquities and Description of the Town and Parish of Worksop, J. Blackwell: Sheffield 1826.
  2. Parkyns, George I., Monastic and Baronial Remains – volume 1, Longmans Hurst: London 1816.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Francis’ Well, Dundee, Angus

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 4007 3046

Also Known as:

  1. Grey Friar’s Well

Archaeology & History

Site shown on 1776 map

This is another one of Dundee’s lost holy wells (see also the Lady Well, the Nine Wells, St Clement’s Well, St Mary’s Well and Sinavey Well), around which the town was first built.  Its cold fresh waters were located less than a hundred yards north of the old Houff graveyard in the middle of town, or where Alex Maxwell (1884) described as upon “the sunny slopes of the Gray Friars’ meadows.”

Maxwell told us that this sacred site was the most favoured of the the holy wells in the area, having been dedicated to St Francis of Assisi by the monks who built the  medieval Grey Friars monastery, whose ruins lie beneath the Houff graveyard.  After the destruction of the priory in the 16th century, the holy well and surrounding meadows came under the ownership of the local council.  The well had become ruinous and so was repaired back to its old condition, but a few decades later had become very neglected again and was ordered to be closed.  It was mentioned in several early land rental documents, including this from 1630 which told,

“That haugh or meadow lying on the south side of the Tentour Hill, and on the east side of the meadow called Monorgan’s croft, togidder with the lands lying about St. Francis’ well, were set for the yearly penny mail of fifty-ane pounds.”

The most extensive description of it came from Alex Maxwell’s own pen, and I reproduce it here in full.  He began by speaking of the other holy wells of Our Lady and St. Clement’s in Dundee, but told us that,

“The most important of them was the Gray Friars’ well, which came out of the rising ground westward from where the High School is built, and had been dedicated to the honour of St. Francis, the founder of the order — a man of exalted character, whom Dean Milman calls “most blameless and gentle.”  The water, which ran perennially and was of singular purity, had no doubt been highly venerated in the days of the old Church, and it continued to be much esteemed, and even to maintain somewhat of its traditional sanctity, long after the memory of the good man whose name it bore had become forgotten.

“When the Friars’ house was in ruins, and the gardens laid waste, St. Francis’ well did not escape unharmed.  One austere iconoclast—James Patrie was his name—had probably been offended at its sculptural reminiscences of the old faith, and he cast it down.  When arraigned to answer for this,

“he confest and grantit that he took down the common well callit the Friar well, quhilk servit the haill town with guid and wholesome water, and referrit him in the Bailies’ and Council’s will thereanent; and they being advisit with his offence, declarit that he sail pay for the reparation of the said well and common warks the soum of ten pounds; always, gif he big and repair the well as Weill as it wes of before with lime mortar, or Pasch next, this pain to be remitted; otherwise, the day past and the well nocht biggit, to pay the said soum but favour.”

James, however, proved contumacious; the day did pass, and the well still lay in ruins.  But he got further time, for the Council not yet having possession of the monastic lands, had not chosen to act arbitrarily, and 

“James Patrie was ordained to repair the Friar well conform to the last act, under the pain contenit thereintil, betwix the date hereof and Whitsunday;”

and he probably then proceeded to restore it into good condition, as we do not find any other ordinance on the matter.  He had not, however, erected it very substantially; for, before thirty years had elapsed, the structure was again ruinous, and the Council resolved

“that St. Francis’ well be of new biggit and made close, so that na common access be had thereto.”

“The meadow land of the Gray Friars which lay around the well, formed a pleasant open space for the use of the old burgh, and it was always held in much regard. Early in last century, the water from the Lady well was impounded and conveyed in pipes for supplying other cisterns throughout the town ; but St. Francis’ spring, which was softer and purer, was left undisturbed to flow down the grassy slope in its natural course ; and when the place became appropriated for homely purposes, and upon

“Its verdant braes,
The lasses used to wash and spread their claes,”

“the gossiping naiads made the meadow very lively as they plashed in the brimming basins of the Friars’ old well, or filled their pitchers at the fresh fountain, or sprinkled the water in crystal showers over their snowy linen. About the time that the ground was sacrificed for the erection of buildings, a dyer in the neighbourhood sank a well which evidently reached the source of the spring and drained it off. Years afterwards, when the place had been overbuilt, he ceased to use his well, and the stream, returning to its old course, found access into the lower part of a church which now covers the site of the fountain, much to the dismay of the deacons. The water was then carried off elsewhere, and will be seen no more ; and the remembrance of those virtues which belonged to the once famous well will soon have passed away.”

In Christian lore, St Francis’ festival day was October 4.

References:

  1. Maxwell, Alexander, The History of Old Dundee, David Douglas: Edinburgh 1884.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Holy Well, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 12134 15643

Getting Here

Holy Well, full of trash

There are various ways to find this.  When we came here, we started from the Barton and Crosland Moor side, parking up on Ivy Street and walking to the fields at the  end of the road.  From here, walk along the track to your left and just over 100 yards on there’s a small footpath on your right that veers down the slope.  Walk on here for another 100 yards, keeping your eyes peeled for another path on your right that almost doubles-back on you, heading into the trees.  Another fifty yards along and you’ll see some tell-tale stonework!

Archaeology & History

An earlier, adjacent water trough?

Highlighted on the 1854 OS-map, the site has seen better days.  Although the waters today emerge from a blasted rock face and collect into a relatively modern round stone trough, there is a larger square stone structure just a few yards away that seems to have been where water was previously collected.  According to local antiquarian Andy H, this was known to be a local Wishing Well in bygone times, but apart from this there are no literary accounts about the place.  The area was decimated by 19th century Industrialists who, as is well known, destroyed much of our indigenous histories and sites—and the Huddersfield district was particularly hard hit by them.

On a recent visit to the site—in superb pouring rain!—the waters were choked with modern trash and bottles, making it unsafe to drink.  This is surely a good case for renovation, then stuck on some local tourist route to ensure better, more appreciative attention.

Links:

  1. South Crosland Holy Well on The Megalithic Portal

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian