Holy Well: OS Grid Reference – TR 129 582
Also known as:
- Leper Well
- St. Thomas’s Well
The Black Prince’s Well is found to the right of a path that curves around past the Leper Hospital / almshouses, and through the forecourt of a house.
Archaeology & History
Behind the old leper hospital, and to the west of the Church, is the Black Prince’s Well, a holy well of some renown and interest. For Canterbury pilgrims, the well was a significant watering hole before they made the last steps to that great Shrine of St. Thomas. According to Watt (1917) this was the seventh St. Thomas’s Watering at Harbledown. It still bears the alternative name of St. Thomas’s Well, a dedication unlike other sites would seem to be related to be a direct relationship, for it is recorded that he drunk from the well, accidentally leaving a shoe. Understandably, after the martyrdom, this became an important relic, and was held by the Hospital.
The spring emerges at the foot of the hill, enclosed in a six foot high semicircular domed well head made from rag stone. Most interesting a carved stone, in its central apse, depicts the Black Prince’s coat of arms, three feathers taken from the King of Bohemia at Crecy. This stone appears to havebeen possibly derived from another structure rather than being carved especially for the well head, as do the fluted stones shown in earlier photos (cf Goodsall (1968) in his Kentish Patchwork), which are now apparently missing. Either side of the well head are two courses of rag stone walling. The well is reached by a series of stone steps between two courses of stone walling. The water emerges, as a small trickle, through a five inch diameter red clay pipe, flowing to fill a circular basin.
The well was noted as being able to cure leprous ailments, and presumably this is why the leper hospital was built in 1084 by Archbishop Lanfranc to exploit its properties. Among its many early pilgrims looking for a cure for this complaint was Edward the Black Prince, who patronised the well twice: the first on his last journey to Canterbury, when he was cured, and then finally, on his death bed in 1376. Unfortunately in this latter case the waters were obviously of no use, being unable to rid him of his syphilis, of which he died. The well subsequently named after the knight. For those unable to drink straight from the well, water was often administered to those living far from it. Evidence for this being the discovery of a leather pouch found near the well. Indeed, even the early part of this century the water was still used, especially by those from afar, for Snowdon Ward (1904) remarks that:
“the water is still in some repute for its curative powers. The sub-prior of the hospital told us that he still occasionally receives small remittances from various parts of the continent…”
Cartwright (1911) illustrates that its local reputation was still current before the Great War. He records that it was:
‘still believed by Country folks to be of great benefit to the eyes.’
Certainly the well is one of the most interesting and enchanting of Kent wells.
(taken from the forthcoming Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Kent)
© R.B. Parish, The Northern Antiquarian and Pixyledpublications