There’s a minor discrepancy of opinion as to the exact location of this site, so I’ve chosen to go right in-between the positions cited by Leggat (1987): SW 836 433, and Meyrick (1982): SW 838 434.
The site was mentioned by Charles Henderson, who told that around the year 1750 there was a medicinal well at Sunny Corner, known as “Glastonbury Well”. Its waters had the ability to “cure all disorders,” but its reputation was apparently short-lived, which would suggest that its fame beyond local villagers was concurrent to the rise of Spa Wells amongst the upper- classes at that time.
In the Leggats’ (1987) survey, no locals they spoke with had ever heard of the place; but that they “found a spring halfway up the lane adjacent to Sunnyside House which had been used in the past from time immemorial as a domestic water supply to a scattering of local cottages” and wondered if this might have been the long long Glastonbury Well…
Adams, J.H., “The Mediaeval Chapels of Cornwall,” in Journal Royal Institution of Cornwall, volume 3 (new series), 1957.
Henderson, Charles, One Hundred and Nine Parishes of the Four Western Hundreds of Cornwall, Oscar Black: Truro 1955.
Leggat, P.O. & D.V., The Healing Wells: Cornish Cults and Customs, Dyllansow Truran: Redruth 1987.
Meyrick, J., A Pilgrims Guide to the Holy Wells of Cornwall, Falmouth 1982.
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:
“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.”
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.
Blight, J.T., Churches of West Cornwall, Parker: London 1885.