An early dedication to the St Martin of this well is from the 13th century, when referring to the “church of sanctus Martinus” in 1282, whose building is a half-mile to the north. The well itself is located on the old parish boundary, on the footpath today known as the North View.
In earlier days, the water from this site came “flowing out of a rock” giving birth to St Martin’s stream (Quiller-Couch, 1894). “It was much used by the villagers,” they wrote, “because of the excellent quality of the water; now it is covered in with an ordinary wooden lid, and is used to supply the town of Looe with water.”
Things hadn’t changed when Mr Lane-Davies (1970) visited the place, who was far from pleased at its status. “The spring,” he told, “has been enclosed in an ugly shed and the water piped away.”
Despite this, when Meyrick (1982) came here, he thought the site had “a romantic and grotto-like air” to it, but he was equally displeased by barbed wire preventing folk from easily accessing the waters and “spoilt by a certain amount of rubbish.” Unfortunately due to a dreadful accident here in 1993, when a young child fell into the waters and drowned, the site is now completely enclosed by railings to prevent this happening to anyone else.
Bond, Thomas, Topographical and Historical Sketches of the Boroughs of East and West Looe, J. Nichols: London 1823.
Lane-Davies, A., Holy Wells of Cornwall, FOCS: St Ives 1970.
Meyrick, J., A Pilgrims Guide to the Holy Wells of Cornwall, Falmouth 1982.
Quiller-Couch, M. & L., Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, C.J. Clark: London 1894.
Straffon, Cheryl, Fentynyow Kernow: In Search of Cornwall’s Holy Wells, Meyn Mamvro: Penzance 1998.
In 1863, a bunch of reputable Victorian authors and antiquarians met with the Duke of Northumberland in Alnwick Castle to discuss the matter of making decent images of the petroglyphs which, at the time, had only just been rediscovered in the area. At one of their meetings, the floor in one of the Castle rooms was covered with rubbings of carvings that they’d made—this one included. I’d loved to have been there! Subsequently, from this meeting, sketches of this carving were done and included in the works by George Tate (1864; 1865) and then a few years later in J. Collingwood Bruce’s (1869) rare tome that had been published with the help of dosh from the Duke.
Found along a raised geological ridge running roughly east-west, a number of other carvings are close by and well worth looking at when you visit here. The basic (and first) description of the site by Tate told that here,
“on a high ridge on Hunter’s Moor, a large surface of rock, some forty yards by twenty, having a gentle slope to the northward, is partially uncovered. In one part, which has been entirely cleared of turf, fourteen figures are scattered over an area of 15 feet by about from 5 to 7 feet. Some of the figures are of the common type, one of which is 28 inches in diameter; but others present new features; and several are curiously united by straight and curved grooves. Across the entire diameter of a group of four concentric circles, runs a groove connecting them with other combined figures. An irregularly shaped, rounded, angular figure, encloses two hollows or cups; and united to this is a broad oval figure. One figure around four cups approaches to the reniform.”
When the modern rock art expert Stan Beckensall wrote about this site, he mentioned how his own picture of the carving consisted of a number of elements that weren’t included by the 19th century pioneers—which isn’t unusual.
Beckensall, Stan, Northumberland’s Prehistoric Rock Carvings – A Mystery Explained, Pendulum: Rothbury 1983.
Beckensall, Stan, Prehistoric Rock Motifs of Northumberland – volume 1, Abbey Press: Hexham 1991.
Bruce, John Collingwood, Incised Markings on Stone; found in the County of Northumberland, Argylshire, and other Places, privately printed: London 1869.
Tate, George, “The Ancient British Sculptured Rocks of Northumberland and the Eastern Borders,” in Proceedings of the Berwickshire Naturalists Club, volume 5, 1864.
Tate, George, The Ancient British Sculptured Rocks of Northumberland and the Eastern Borders, Henry Hunter Blair 1865.
It’s easier to explain how to get here if you’re coming from the Burnsall-side of the B6160 road that leads to Bolton Abbey. A half-mile out of Burnsall village you a small woodland with a small parking spot. From here, a footpath runs up the steep hill above the parking spot. It zigzags a little and you eventually come out on the south-side of the trees where it meets some tall walling. Follow this walling further uphill for more than 600 yards (past more woodland) until the land starts to level out. Hereby, go thru an opening in the wall and less than 100 yards away (west) amidst the overgrown heather, you’ll see what you’re looking for.
Archaeology & History
A large but peculiar site resting on a moorland plateau on the eastern edges of the mighty Barden Moor. Peculiar inasmuch as it’s completely isolated from any other monument of the same age and type anywhere on these huge moors. A few miles east, on the moors around Appletreewick, Thruscross and Beamsley we have a plethora of prehistoric sites—but up here on Barden Moor there’s apparently nowt else! I find that hard to believe….
Listed on official websites as being a ring cairn, it’s difficult without a detailed excavation of the site (there hasn’t been one) so say that’s what it is. But we’ll stick with it for the time being. My initial impression of the site was that it was a crude form of a collapsed Scottish dun: impressive large circular monuments—buildings if you like—with very well-built large stone walls, usually several yards thick, a little bit like the Scottish brochs (mighty things indeed!). This thing at Folly Top isn’t quite as impressive, but it’s like a collapsed version of a dun.
The site consists of large ring of raised collapsed rubble walling, more than a yard high in places, and about three yards thick all the way round, measuring roughly 21 yards (N-S) by 19 yards (E-W) from outer wall to outer wall. There are “entrances” on the east and west sides; but there seemed to be little of any note in the middle of the ring, although the site was somewhat overgrown on our visit here. Outside of the ring there was also nothing of any note. It’s a pretty isolated monument which seems to have more of an Iron Age look about it than the Bronze Age—but until there’s an excavation, we’ll not know for sure.
It’s well worth checking out—and from here, walk onto the huge moorland above you to the west….
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks to the Crazy-gang of Sarah, Helen and James for their awesome assistance on our venture up here. A damn good day indeed! Cheers doods. 🙂
If you’re coming via the Keighley-Bingley (Airedale) road, go up to Riddlesden and then up the winding Banks Lane until it meets the edge of the moors. At the T-junction, turn left and about 330 yards along on your right there’s a dirt-track. Walk up here, sticking to the track (not the footpath) towards the cliffs of Rivock ahead of you, going through the gate and into the Rivock woods area. About 450 yards on from the gate on your right-hand side you’ll see the long straight length of walling that runs uphill—and about 60 yards up here, on the left-hand side of the wall you’ll see a very large boulder. Y’ can’t really miss it!
Archaeology & History
This large natural block, embedded into the hillside about 80 yards below the Wondjina Stone and its companions, is nothing much in the petroglyphic visual scale of things, but is worth checking out for a break if you’re checking out the other good designs in the Rivock cluster. Upon its sloping flat two-tiered surface there are just a small number of randomly spaced cup-marks of varying sizes: six at least, but perhaps as many as nine altogether. In times gone by (many years ago) we thought one of them might have had a very faint ring around it, but on my last couple of visits here I couldn’t see anything.
Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS: Wakefield 2003.
Hedges, John (ed.), The Carved Rocks on Rombalds Moor, WYMCC: Wakefield 1986.
Best approached via the Wondjina Stone, then over the wall and follow the geological ridge that bends into the trees. It’s difficult to find amidst the dense forest and is another one of those carvings that’s probably only for the purists amongst you.
Archaeology & History
If you’re doing the Rivock rock art tour, you might as well give this a go once you’ve checked ou the decent ones nearby. Here, on a rather large stone we find, on its uppermost ridge, three faint cup-marks next to each other in a very slight curve. The cup-mark in the middle is slightly larger than its two compatriots and might be natural. If you were to wet the rock when the sunlight is just right, you’ll probably get a better idea of its real appearance—otherwise we’ll have to let the computer-gadget lads suss it out!
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!
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)
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.
Morris, M.C.F., Yorkshire Folk-Talk, Henry Frowde: London 1892.
Wright, Joseph, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 2, Henry Frowde: London 1900.
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:
“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…
Along the only road that crosses Askwith Moor, park up at the single carpark on the east-side of the road. Walk up the road for 350 yards and through the gate on the left-hand (west) side of the road onto the moorland. Once through the gate, walk directly west into the heather immediately below the path for some 25-30 yards. Look around!
Archaeology & History
Rediscovered by Helen Summerton in May 2022 are at least two simple hut circles on this level piece of land close to the roadside, amidst this much wider and impressive prehistoric landscape.
The small ring of stones (SE 17430 50978) closest to the road is slightly more troublesome to make out due to it being more deeply embedded in the peat than its companion about 30 yards away. Comprising of typically small rubble walling, this first circle is only 4 yards across and would certainly have been fine for one person or, at a push, perhaps a small family.
Its companion immediately west (SE 17401 50953) is somewhat larger and slightly more elongated in shape, being 10 yards along and 5-6 yards across, as well as being in a better state of preservation. This larger hut circle has been raised on a notable artificial earth-and-rubble plinth, being one or two feet higher than the surrounding peatland. A notable internal stretch of walling only a yard or two in length exists within the southeastern side of the construction, whose nature can only be discerned upon excavation: an issue we can say applies to the many prehistoric settlements and tombs across this small moorland. It’s very likely that other settlement remains will be found close to these two hut circles.
The remains of another hut circle can be found closer to Shooting House Hill, several hundred yards away; whilst five hundred yards southwest we find a small but impressive cairnfield. There are also a good number of petroglyphs close by and on much of the surrounding landscape.
Acknowledgments: Huge thanks to Helen Summerton (not Winterton) for finding these ‘ere remains – and for the photos accompanying this site profile.
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.