The Whin Knoll Well, once found bursting into life at the top of Black Hill, Keighley, got its name from the old word ‘whin,’ or gorse bushes (Ulex Europaeus)—also known in Yorkshire as the ‘Spindly Killer Bush’: a most apt title! These great spindly killer shrubs once profused where the waters of this old well used to bubble into view – indeed, there are still quite a few great old spindlies still scattered here and there!
The site was shown on old maps as being just two fields east of the more renowned Jennet’s Well, but this old public water supply that once fed the local people, was covered by a reservoir many moons ago. However, a wander up here recently found the reservoir empty, but a water supply was still bubbling out of the ground into the great concrete hollow. The last remnants of the Whin Knoll Well perhaps…?
Pretty easy really. From the town centre, head up the B6143 Oakworth Road for barely 100 yards then turn right up the long steep West Lane. Just keep going. Near the very top turn sharp right onto Shann Lane. And there, on the left-hand side of the road, right next to the solitary old-looking house just 100 yards along, is our little well! (if you end up with fields either side of you, breaking into hills, you’ve gone too far)
Archaeology & History
The history of this site is very scant. It was written about by local historian William Keighley (1858) as a holy well dedicated to an obscure saint, St. Jennet, although early place-name evidences don’t tell as much. Some have even suggested that the same ‘Jennet’ was the tutelary saint of Keighley and district itself. Local historian Ian Dewhirst (1974), writing about the town’s local water supply, thought that “water from a spring ‘a mile to the west’ above the town…was conveyed by stone troughs through the chief street for the convenience of house-holders,” was probably Jennet’s Well.
Described by Will Keighley (1858) as having “great healing abilities,” its specifics were undefined. And when the great Yorkshire writer Harry Speight (1898) came here forty years later, he told of the site “having a great repute, though no one seems to know why.” Mr Keighley was of the opinion that Jennet’s Well may have been the christianized site which overcame the local people’s earlier preference of dedication at the True Well, more than a mile west of here, between the gorgeous hamlets of Newsholme and Goose Eye; but this would seem unlikely, if only by distance alone.
The name ‘Jennet’ itself initially seemed somewhat obscure. It is not recognised by the Catholic Church as a patron saint. The word could be a corruption of the personal name Jenny, perhaps being the name of a lady who once lived hereby. There’s also the possibility that the title may infer the well’s dedication to the bird – a not uncommon practice. And we also have the modern folklorists who could ascribe it to the fairy-folk, as Jennet and Jenny are common fairy names, and old wells have much lore linking the two. But as Michala Potts pointed out, bringing us back to Earth once again, a ‘jennet’ is an old dialect word for a mule. I rushed for my Yorkshire dialect works and, just as Mikki said, the old writer John Wilkinson (1924) told simply, ‘Jennet – a mule.’
Dewhirst, Ian, A History of Keighley, Keighley Corporation 1974.
Keighley, William, Keighley, Past and Present, Arthur Hall: Keighley 1858.
Speight, Harry, Chronicles and Stories of Bingleyand District, Elliott Stock: London 1898.
Wilkinson, John H., Leeds Dialect Glossary and Lore, James Miles: Leeds 1924.