Highlighted in the fields on the south-side of Rothwell village on the 1854 OS-map, Swithin’s Well was, according to historian Andrea Smith (1982), previously known as a holy well, dedicated to the obscure Saxon saint of the same name. Although no ‘well’ relating to St Swithin comes from any early texts, the field and farmhouse of ‘Swithins’ were cited in records from the Cartulary of Nostell Priory in 1270 CE; then subsequently in a variety of records throughout the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. According to Miss Smith (1982),
“The first recording of St Swithin’s Well, Rothwell…was on an estate map of 1792 (‘Plan of St. Clement’s lands in the parish of Rothwell in the County of York, two-third part of the tithes of corn and grain of which belong to the King in right of His Ducky of Lancaster’, PB), and the field-names arising from it—Swithin’s, Swithin’s Barn, Swithin’s Lane Close—serve to give an indication of the well’s past importance as a local landmark.”
When she visited the site around 1980, she reported finding,
“several wet patches running in a line westwards downhill, but the farmer’s wife seemed certain that this was a broken drain and nothing else could be seen in that field or neighbouring ones, which could have been the well.”
Very recently, the Wakefield pagan and antiquarian Steve Jones went to see if the well or any remains of it could still be seen and told us:
“We went looking for the well down a footpath but it was obviously filled in when a colliery was nearby in the early 20th century and (there is) no trace of any spring now.”
Another one’s bitten the dust, as they say…..
But we must note that the grand place-name authority, A.H. Smith (1962) found no references to St. Swithin here and instead suggested the name derived from the old Norse word, sviðinn, ‘land cleared by burning’, which is echoed in the old local dialect word swithen, ‘moorland cleared by burning’ (Smith 1956), and similarly echoed in Joseph Wright’s (1905) magnum opus, where—along with meaning ‘crooked, warped’—it means “to burn, superficially, as heather, wool, etc.” There is also a complete lack of any mention to the saintly aspects of this place in John Batty’s (1877) primary history book on Rothwell parish, and yet he cites numerous other springs and wells in the region that have fallen out of history.
Batty, John, The History of Rothwell, privately printed: Rothwell 1877.
Jones, Steve, Personal communication, Facebook 27.08.2018.
Not marked on any map of the area (that I can find), this little-known possible holy well is described just once in one of Mr Blakeborough’s (1912) numerous regional history tomes. Although he doesn’t explore the origin of the well’s name (which we find repeated at other water sources in northern Britain), the Scottish writers, Ruth & Frank Morris (1982) tell how examples of wells with this name in Scotland owe their names to the curious early christian figure of St. Brendan, whose annual saint’s day is May 16. Whether this applies here I cannot tell.
We need some help locating the place, as it seems to have fallen off the radar. The best I can do is give Mr Blakeborough description, who wrote of this Brandy Well:
“Speaking of superstitions reminds me of a tradition that the water in Brandy Well, half way up Carlton Bank, has most wonderful curative properties, and that a wish made here when drinking, is pretty certain to be fulfilled. The well is by the road side and the water is no doubt just about as pure as it could possibly be, coming as it does, after much filtering through peat, straight from the hills. There may be something more than mere superstition in the health giving properties of this water, especially in conjunction with the climb up the hill amid pine trees and the inhaling of the invigorating air.”
Its exact location is difficult to pin down. There is no sign of any Well along the roadside between Carlton village and where the road eventually levels out on the northwest side of the hill. It certainly isn’t the Mere Beck Spring on the south-side of the hill (is that still there and what is its history?); but there is however a ‘Spring’ shown on the early OS-maps on the east-side of the hill, along an old track at roughly NZ 52233 02357. Could this be it? Or has the old Brandy Well been destroyed? In an area littered with prehistoric and mythic sites, it would be good to relocate this one.
From Carlton, take the western Hirst Road to Temple Hirst village, then turn right once you’re in the village and go up Common Lane up for about a mile. There’s a footpath on your left leading you to the Fair Oaks farmhouse. This was the spot!
Archaeology & History
This is fascinating sounding place which marked the central point of three old township boundaries nearly 1000 years ago. I first found it mentioned in Morrell’s History and Antiquities of Selby (1867: 36-7), where this once famous tree is described in land sale transactions. Morrell told:
“At Carlton the (Selby) abbey had considerable property, which was sold to the neighbouring priory of Drax. The boundary of the property sold was a certain oak tree, called Fair-haia, in Burn Wood, which Adam de Bellaqua gave for this purpose, binding himself and his heirs never to cut it down or root it up, sub poena anathematis.”
But we found a more detailed outline in Dugdale’s Selby Abbey in Yorkshire, where the premises and townships given to Selby Abbey in the 12th and 13th centuries are listed. In the township of ‘Carleton’ (as it was then spelt) Dugdale wrote:
“Peter de Brus gave the grange here, which the monks had held of Agnes, late wife of Ranulph FitzSwain. Richard abbat of Selby granted to Robert prior of Drax all the tithe from the north part of the oak called Fair-haia, in the wood of Birne, or Berlay, through the middle of the marsh to Hundolfsweith; and from thence by the strait ditch directly to Espholm, and all the tithe from Espholme to Appletreholme, as the ditch goes to the new fosse or ditch of Carleton: and the prior granted to the abbat all the tithes on the south to the new ditch, and from thence to the river Ayre. And Adam de Bellaqua gave this oak tree, called Fair-haia, as a boundary, never to be cut down (ad standum in perpetuum et non rescindendum), binding himself and his successors never to cut it down or root it up.”
One wonders: are there any remains left of this once great tree? Has anyone actually transgressed and uprooted it in times past? Is any other lore known of it? And who was Adam de Bellaqua?
One of the most intriguing elements to this site is its name, for the word ‘haia’ literally means ‘god of the land’ — but whether we can take this meaning seriously is questionable, as it’s of Sumerian origin. However, no local dialect words throw any light on the word and it may aswell be the name of the spirit of the tree as anything else. Does anyone know owt more about this place?
From Scotch Corner on the A1, head on the A66 and take the first right up to and straight thru Melsonby village at the crossroads and on for a few more miles till you hit the hamlet of Stanwick-St.-John. You’re now in the middle of the fortifications and earthworks! (check the map, right) Get to the nearby church of St. John’s and you’re on what once could have been a henge.
Archaeology & History
Although the Roman’s came here, the origins of this huge enclosure and settlement — between the hamlets of Eppleby and Stanwick St. John — are at least Iron Age. It’s very probable that this place has been used by people since at least the Bronze Age, if not earlier — but let’s keep to playing safe (for a change) and repeat what the professionals have found! Stanwick was recorded in Domesday as Stenwege and Steinwege, which A.H. Smith (1928) and later etymologists tell us means “stone walls,” which obviously relates “to some ancient rock entrenchments found in the township”, or the Stanwick Fortifications no less!
Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s (1954) account of the history and excavation of these huge ramparts found that it was a centre of some importance to the Brigantians. His view was that it was the rebel stronghold of the Brigantian figure called Venutius, ex-partner of the Queen Cartimandua. Archaeologists who did further work here in the 1980s concluded that it was one of Cartimandua’s “estates” — possibly even the original capital city of Brigantia.
The settlement was enlarged and fortified considerably upon the arrival of the Romans in the first century. Splitting them into three phases, the earliest Phase I area (Iron Age) covered 17-acres; Phase II was extended over 130 acres; and Phase 3 extended the enclosure over another 600 acres. A further extension of earthworks appears to have occurred, but Wheeler believed them to have been constructed at a much later period. To allow for a decent discourse on this huge site and its multiperiod settlement, I’m gonna quote extensively Mr Wheeler’s (1954) text on the site, who headed a team of archaeologists in the summers of 1951 and 1952 and explored various sections of this huge arena.
In the introduction to his work, Mortimer briefly mentioned the finding of some chariot burials found close by, though less certain is the exact spot where these important remains came from. He wrote:
“Of the three accounts, the earliest, dating from shortly after the discovery, states that the objects ‘were deposited together in a pit at a depth of about five feet within the entrenchment at Stanwick. Near by large iron hoops were found.’ Two years later MacLauchlan showed the find-spot on his map…as a little to the northeast of Lower Langdale, well outside the main Stanwick earthworks, and, in spite of variant accounts, his evidence may be regarded as authoritative.”
Nothing more is said of these finds throughout the book. Instead, Mortimer guides us through their dig, beginning with the structural sequence of the extensive earthworks that constitute Stanwick’s fortifications, from Phase 1 onwards, saying:
“Phase I. The nucleus of the whole system is a fortified enclosure, some 17 acres in extent, situated to the south of Stanwick Church and the Mary Wild beck, on and around a low hill known as ‘The Tofts’… The name ‘Tofts’ is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “Site of a homestead”, or “An eminence, knoll or hillock in a flat region; esp. one suitable for the site of a house.” Appropriately the field is described by the farmer as a ‘dirty’ one; it produces an abundant crop of nettles which have to be cut twice a year and are a common sequel to ancient occupation. The enclosure is, or rather was, roughly triangular on plan, conforming approximately with the mild contours of the hill and to that extent meriting the exaggerated designation of ‘hill-fort.’ On the west its rampart and ditch are excellently preserved in a stretch of plantation known as ‘The Terrace’ or ‘The Duchess’s Walk’, where the single bank of unrevetted earthwork rises some 24ft above the ditch… The southern corner has been almost completely obliterated, but a part of it can be traced faintly in the walled garden southeast of the The Terrace. A stretch of the eastern side still stands up boldly beside the road from Stanwick Church to (the former) Stanwick Hall, but a large part of this side has been demolished for the making of the road, and some dumps of earth immediately east of Church Lodge may be a result of this process. The northern side approached but stopped short of the brook, and is marked by remains of a counterscarp bank… The main rampart was here thrown into the ditch anciently, doubtless when this portion of the work was included in and superseded by the work of Phase II. Near the northwestern corner was a stone-flanked entrance, now partially obscured by the northern end-wall of the Terrace plantation. The rampart was of earth, apparently without stone or timber revetment, the ditch was V-shaped save where, on the northern or lowest side, its completion in depth was stopped by water and the counterscarp bank already referred to was added as compensation.
“Phase II. Subsequently, at a moment which will be defined in the sequel as not later than AD 60, the hill-fort was supplemented by a new enclosure over 130 acres in extent, so designed as to outline the slight ridge north of the brook, to bend inward round the nearer foot of Henah Hill on the east, and farther west to cut off the northern end of the hill-fort, obviously in order to enclose the brook and its margin hereabouts. Southeast of Stanwick Church, the marshy course of the brook for a distance of over 300 yards was regarded as a sufficient obstacle, without rampart and ditch, though whether supplemented by a palisade is not known. As already indicated, that part of the Phase I earthwork which now lay inside the new enclosure was largely obliterated by filling its rampart into its ditch.
The enclosure constituting Phase II had an entrance near its western corner…where 50ft of the ditch, partially rock-cut, were cleared with notable results… There may have been another entrance under the present road-junction immediately east of the Stanwick vicarage, in the middle of the northern side, or less probably, at an existing gap 150 yards further to the southeast. The rampart was of earth, aligned initially at the back on a small marking-out trench and bank; in front it was revetted with a vertical drystone wall. The ditch was cut in the boulder-clay and partially in the underlying limestone…
Phase III. At a date which will be defined as about a dozen years later (c. AD 72), a similar though longer system, enclosing a further 600 acres, was added to Phase II. It impinges almost at a right angle upon, and implies the pre-existence of, Phase II on the east, and terminates upon the ditch of Phase II on the west. An entrance can be seen near the middle of the southern side, and less certainly a gap in Forcett Park may represent a second entrance in the western side. Further stretches of the mary Wild beck were included. The rampart, like that of Site A, incorporated a marking-out trench and bank at the rear, and was fronted with a vertical stone revetment.
Phase IV. To the southern side of Phase III was added at an unknown period an enclosure of some 100 acres, now subdivided by traces of a double earthwork extending southwards from a point east of the southern entrance of Phase III… This double earthwork however, is of an entirely different character from those already considered, and appears indeed to overlap the rampart of Phase III at a point where the latter had already been broken through. It is comparable with some of the double banks which constitute or are incorporated in the Scots Dike at Lower Langdale, farther east; and the Phase IV enclosure is in fact linked with the Scots Dike by a semi-obliterated ditch extending eastwards from its southeastern corner. Phase IV…may, as has been suspected, relate to the Anglo-Saxon period.”
…to be continued…
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.
Wheeler, Mortimer, ‘The Stanwick Excavations, 1951,’ in Antiquaries Journal, January 1952.
– The Stanwick Fortifications, North Riding of Yorkshire, OUP & Society of Antiquaries: London 1954.
Links: – Stanwick Iron Age Hillfort – For an extensive overview of the archaeology of this large site, you can do no better than this web-page.