St Loy’s Well, Tottenham, London

Holy Well (destroyed): OS ReferenceTQ 3370 8999

Also Known as:

  1. Old Tottenham Well
  2. St. Eloy’s Well

Getting Here

The site of the well, which was in the historic county of Middlesex, appears to have been on the west side of the present Moorefields Road just north of the junction with St Loy’s Road. The OS reference is an approximation.  The restored circular well house to the south of the High Cross at the High Road – Philip Lane junction now popularly known as ‘St Eloy’s Well’ is not the historic well described in this profile.

Archaeology & History

Likely position of the well on the 1873 6″ OS Map

The well was still in existence in 1876, but by the time of the revision of the OS map around 1894, it had been destroyed following building of the Great Eastern Railway’s Enfield branch line and the construction of terraced housing along the new St Loy’s Road.

So where was the well? The 1873 6″ OS map shows a field on parts of which the railway line and St Loy’s Road are now built, and a small area of water is shown in this field which is the likely position of St Loy’s Well on the eve of its destruction, when it was described as a dirty pool of water full of mud and rubbish. If this was the position of the well then it has now been completely built over…

It was described by Robinson in his 1841 History of Tottenham as being:

‘..in a field….on the western side of the High Road…surrounded by willows…it is bricked up on all sides, square and about 4 feet deep..’ ‘ In Bedwell’s time [it was]…always full of water, but never running over; the water of which is said to exceed all other near it.’.. ‘the properties of the water are similar to the water of the Cheltenham springs’.

Thomas Clay ‘s 1619 map of Tottenham, illustrated in Robinson’s book shows a field north west of Tottenham High Cross called ‘Southfeide at St Loys’. The Tottenham historian Wilhelm Bedwell described the well in 1631 as:

“nothing else but a deep pit in the highway, on the west side thereof;”….”it was within memory cleaned out, and at the bottom was found a fair great stone, which had certain letters or characters on it; but being broken or defaced by the negligence of the workmen, and nobody near that regarded such things, it was not known what they were or meant.’

This fair great stone with its ‘certain letters or characters that no one knew what they were or meant’ is intriguing especially in view of the well’s proximity to the Roman Ermine Street (Now the High Street). Were those mysterious characters spelling out an undecipherable Latin inscription on a Roman stone? We shall never know, but  it hints at a pre-Christian origin or veneration of the well. Another hint is that before the Reformation there was nearby a chapel of St Eloy known as the Offertory, which may have been originally built to ‘Christianise’ a pre-existing heathen sacred spring. The Roman origins of the well are also hinted at (probably erroneously) by W.L. Bowles in 1830, writing of a ‘Druidical Tour’ that one Sir Thomas Phillipps undertook on the continent, first quoting Phillipps before adding his own conclusion:

“Near Arras in France, are found the mount of St. Eloi and the very name of a place, Tote. I have no doubt Druidical remains will be found there, if this be not the very country of Carnutes.”

Now let me observe, that Tote is Taute —Tot—Thoth, latinized into Tewtates by Lucan, &c. the chief deity of the Celts. St. Eloi is neither more nor less than the Celtic word Sul, turned into the Greek the Sun; and Elios, turned into the Catholic St. Eloi, as at Tottenham, Middlesex, anciently Tote-ham, the ham of Taute or Tent, where is also the sacred well of St. Eloi, or ‘Helios’, the Sun !’

Saint Eloi / Eloy /Loy / Eligius, is the patron saint of those who work in the alchemists’ metal of the sun – goldsmiths! He is also the patron saint of blacksmiths, farriers, and all who earned their livings from horses, and lived from around 588 to 660 to become Bishop of Noyon and the evangelising apostle for much of modern day Belgium. His feast day is 1st December, and he had a widespread cult in mediaeval Europe, including England. In addition to being a healing well for humans, one writer hints that the well’s waters may have been employed for healing horses…they certainly would have drunk from it with its proximity to what is now the High Street.

Around 1770, an artist called Townsend (the sources are unsure as whether it was a Mrs or Mr) produced a romanticised drawing of the well, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1770-1. It depicts a hermit beside the well (the Hermitage of St Anne stood to the south of High Cross prior to the Reformation) receiving an offering from a lady. It was engraved and sold as a print, and may be the only image of the well before its demise.

Folklore

In 1819 – 20, John Abraham Heraud wrote a poem about St Loy’s Well, set in the time of St. Edward the Martyr, (the late 970s), entitled ‘ Stanzas in the Legend of St Loy‘ of which the most relevant verses are;

‘TOTEHAM! the Legend of thine olden day,
To the last note hath on thine echoes died;
But the Bard’s soul still lingers o’er the lay,
To muse upon thy transitory pride
The pride of times that hath been — blank and void—
When all was Nature, big with many a song
Of Chivalry and Fame, with Love allied—
But Time both changed the scene — now houses throng
Where once was solitude — and people crowd along.

Where now thy WOOD, that spread its misty shade
O’er twice two hundred acres? — past away!
And vain its PROVERB, as the things that fade,
Earth, sun, moon, stars, that change as they decay!
The lonely CELL, the tenor of the lay,
Its grove, which hermit tendance loved to rear;
And, St. LOY, mouldering to Time’s gradual sway,
Thy rites, thy OFFERTORY disappear;—
Forgot thy SPRING OF HEALTH no votary worships there!

Forgot, neglected — still my harp shall dwell
On thee, thou blest BETHESDA of ST. LOY!
As Fancy muses o’er the vital WELL
On years of storied yore, with grief and joy,
Exults they were — weeps Truth should e’er destroy!
Thrice I invoke the Spirit of the Stream
With charm she may not question, or deny,
And, like a Naiad, o’er the watery gleam
She rises to my voice, and answers thus the theme:— ‘

Heraud wrote a further poem mentioning the well, his ‘Tottenham‘ of 1820, the relevant verse being:

‘St. Loy! here is this fountain—emblem pure
Of chaste unostentatious charity—
Never in vain intreated, ever sure ;
Yet o’er the marge thy waters fair and free
Ascend not, overflowing vauntingly,
But in thy bounty humble as unfailing,
In grief, disease, and sickness, visit thee.
But part in joy, changed by thy holy healing
To manhood, strength, and life, thy far renown revealing.
There is thy offertory, and thy shrine,
Simple, inartificial ; nor of fame,
Nor any honour, save that it is thine,
And all its glory centres in thy name !’

References:

  1. Baker, T.F.T. & Pugh, R.B. (eds.), Victoria County History – A History of the County of Middlesex, volume 5, VCH: London 1976.
  2. Bowles, W.L., Tottenham High Cross, Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol C, April 1830.
  3. Breeze, Andrew, Chaucer, St Loy and the Celts, Reading Medieval Studies 17, 1991.
  4. Foord, Alfred Stanley, Springs, Streams and Spas of London: History and Association, T. Fisher Unwin: London 1910.
  5. Heaword, Rose, “Holy Wells and Lost Waters,” in London Earth Mysteries Journal, 2, 1990.
  6. Heraud, John Abraham, Stanzas in the Legend of St Loy, …
  7. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  8. Robinson, William, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Tottenham, Nichols & Sons: London 1840.
  9. Sunderland, Septimus, Old London Spas, Baths and Wells, John Bale: London 1915.
  10. Thornbury, Walter & Walford, Edward, Old and New London – volume 5, Cassell: London 1878.
  11. Walford, Edward, Old and New London, Vol. V,  Cassell, Petter & Galpin: London, 1878.

Links:

  1. St. Eloy’s Well on The Megalithic Portal

© Paul T. Hornby 2020

 

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  51.592902, -0.071283 St Loy\'s Well

St John’s Well, Dunrobin, Golspie, Sutherland

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NC 8505 0081

St Johns Well, 1879 map

Archaeology & History

Very little has been written of this site due to the fact that little seems to known about it.  A few of the usual ‘official’ on-line catalogues mention it but information on the site is truly scant.  It is shown on the earliest Ordnance Survey map of the region and the same cartographers describe it in the Ordnance Name Book (1873), saying briefly how St John’s Well,

“Applied to a very deep pump well situated in the court of the ancient portion of “Dunrobin Castle”.  No information respecting the dedication or origin of this name can be obtained in the District.”

But an earlier reference than this is cited in Fraser’s (1892) work, telling us that,

“In the midst of the court within the castle there is one of the deepest draw-wells in Scotland, all lined with ashlar-work, which was built and finished before the house was begun.  The well was known as that of St. John.  In the year 1512 sasine (i.e. delivery of feudal property) of the earldom and castle was taken at the well.  At other times sasine was taken at the castle, at its gates, or near the well.”

Subsequent to this, we read in Cumming’s (1897) definitive folklore work of the region how,

“(it) looks as if there had been a chapel of St. John on Drumrabyn.  In that case it may have been one dependent upon Kileain (=Kirk of John) on Loch Brora, which was only ½ a mile further than Kilmalin.”

Having not visited the castle, I’m unsure whether or not the well can still be seen.  Does anyone know…?

References:

  1. Cumming, Anna & Bella et al, Golspie – Contributions to its Folklore, David Nutt: London 1897.
  2. Fraser, William, The Sutherland Book – volume 1, Edinburgh 1892.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.981632, -3.945495 St John\'s Well

Horley Green Spa, Halifax, West Yorkshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 10263 26561

Also Known as:

  1. Horley Green Well
  2. Spa Well

Archaeology & History

William Alexander’s 1840 sketch of the Spa house

The historian William Addison (1951), in his history on the subject, told how “the spas began as holy wells”; and although no direct accounts are left of early dedications here, the remnants of Mayday traditions tell us there were more archaic goings-on before the waters were taken by the aristocrats.  Once it had been designated as a spa, the waters were covered and a typical Spa House constructed over them.  From hereon, for more than a century, the waters were accessible only to those with money who wished their ailments to be treated.

Between the end of the 18th to the end of the 19th century, the Horley Green Spa was a very prominent ingredient in the history of Calderdale.  A chalybeate or iron-bearing spring, its waters were directed into a large underground cistern covered by metal.  Thomas Garnett (1790) was the first to write about it, telling us:

“The Horley Green water is quite pellucid—sparkles when poured out of one glass into another—and has a sharp, aluminous, styptic taste, not unlike ink. The taste is not unpleasant when the water is taken from the springhead and drank immediately.”

He went on to espouse the waters to be good in healing bone and rheumatic diseases, giving many first-hand accounts from people in Yorkshire and beyond who used the waters here with apparent success, including one case of curing diabetes!  Its reputation was later reinforced in a book by William Alexander (1840), who told us how,

“I unhesitatingly affirm that the Horley Green Spa possesses a very strong claim to be regarded as a powerful tonic and chalybeate.”

By the time those words were written, it had already gained a considerable reputation and many were those who’d received treatment.

Spa House on 1894 map

A years after Alexander, the roving doctor A.B. Granville (1841) visited Horley Green—who described it as “a renowned steel-water Spa”.  But at the same time he reported how its popularity had started to decline.  But, via one Mr West, he did leave us with a greater chemical analysis of the Horley Green waters in an attempt, once more, to certify and prove its curative properties.  Their results found the waters to possess, in varying quantities, lime, magnesia, silica, iron oxide, sulphur and silica—all of which further attributed the science of its medicinal actions.   A number of case histories of the people cured here can be found in the works of Granville, Garnett and Alexander.

The well-house that stood here eventually fell into disuse.  When it was eventually restored as someone’s home in the the late 20th century, the disused spring was found beneath the foundations, filled with stones.

Folklore

Horley Green’s spa well came about as a result of local people visiting the site around Beltane, probably for centuries before the aristocrats and early pharmacists took their hand to the place.  But once the spa became renowned, people could only gather here “on the first Sundays in the month of May,” with Sunday being that legendary ‘day of the lord’ crap, to which the people would abide to save them from prosecution.  It is obvious though that it had been used as a place of magick thanks to the snippets of lore which have found their way into local history books.  We read how, at 6am, people gathered here, to such an extent that the roads were completely crowded.  Those who arrived first were given bags of nuts: an archaic traditional motif found at many pre-christian wells in Britain.  Occultists and ritual magickians amongst you will note the time when folk frequented the well, at 6am: the time when many nature-spirits are invoked for full effects.  We find this time echoed in the ritual gatherings at Lady or St. Anne’s Well in Morley, just a few miles to the east.

References:

  1. Addison, William, English Spas, Batsford: London 1951.
  2. Alderson, Frederick, The Inland Resorts and Spas of Britain, David & Charles: Newton Abbot 1973.
  3. Alexander, William, The Horley Green Mineral Water, Leyland & Son: Halifax 1840.
  4. Alexander, William, “On the Mineral Springs of the Parish of Halifax,” in Proceedings Geological & Polytechnic Society, West Riding, Yorkshire, volume 1, Edward Baines: Leeds 1849.
  5. Crabtree, John, Concise History of the Parish and Vicarage of Halifax, Hartley & Walker: Halifax 1836.
  6. Garnett, Thomas, Experiments and Observations on the Horley-Green Spaw, near Halifax, George Nicholson: Bradford 1790.
  7. Granville, A.B., Spas of England, Henry Colburn: London 1841.
  8. Hembry, Phyllis, The English Spa 1560-1815, Athlone Press: London 1990.
  9. Short, Thomas, The Natural, Experimental and Medicinal History of the Mineral Waters of Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, privately printed: London 1724.
  10. Short, Thomas, A General Treatise on Various Cold Mineral Waters in England, privately printed: London 1765.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.735339, -1.845900 Horley Green Spa

St. Bennet’s Well, Cromarty, Ross & Cromarty

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NH 7923 6502

Archaeology & History

St Bennets Well 1880 map

An old church dedicated to St Bennet once existed on the hill above where this spring of water emerges, but little is now left of the building.  Thankfully the holy well hasn’t quite followed in the footsteps of the church.  Miss Riley (1935) told us that it can be found “near the high-water mark…situated at the foot of a beautiful little glen which runs inland from the coast” – and from all accounts it is still there.

Shown on the 1880 OS-map of the region, the dedication to St Bennet is obscure.  Mr Pullan (1927) suggested it derived from the 6th century St Benedict of Nursia, but this is improbable.  The Royal Commission lads thought it more likely derived from “a Celtic foundation.”

Folklore

The earliest description I’ve found regarding the traditions surrounding this well are by Hugh Miller (1835).  He wrote:

“It is not yet twenty years since a thorn-bush, which formed a little canopy over the spring of St. Bennet, used to be covered anew every season with little pieces of rag, left on it as offerings to the saint, by sick people who came to drink of the water.”

But the tradition didn’t die out, as evidenced by a short article by Miss M.D. Riley (1935) in Antiquity journal where she gave us further valuable information about its folk history, saying:

“In order to insure the fulfilment of the wish it is essential that the wisher should drink the water and leave something of his personal attire.  When the writer visited the spot there was a heterogeneous collection of ‘rags’ hanging on the branches.

“Mr Francis Scott tells me that the site is locally supposed to be the place of judgement.  It is close to the ruins of St Bennet’s Chapel and the ground is said to be cursed as it was stoeln by the Church. Even at the present day the owner has to provide each year at Christmas-tide 8 cwt of oatmeal free for the poor of the parish.  This has been operative since 1630 and though the owner has tested the matter in the highest court of law in Scotland, his appeal was not allowed.”

The tradition of giving offerings to the spirit of this well was still recorded in 1966.

References:

  1. Hiley, M.D., “Rag-Wells,” in Antiquity, volume 9:4, December 1935.
  2. Innies, Cosmo, Origines Parochiales – volume 2:2, W.H. Lizars: Edinburgh 1855.
  3. Miller, Hugh, Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland; the Traditional History of Cromarty, William Nimmo: Edinburgh 1835.
  4. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  5. Pullan, L., The Banner of St Boniface, London 1927.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.658824, -4.025735 St Bennet\'s Well

River Barvas, Barvas, Lewis

Sacred River:  OS Grid Reference – NB 351 494

Folklore

As with traditions found all over the world, rivers and lakes had spirits, gods and rituals attached to them.  Despite us believing that no such things ever occurred in Britain and the rest of the so-called ‘civilized’ world, such things were once common.  One of the annual rites performed at the Hebridean river at Barbhas (Barvas)—and described by Alexander Fraser (1878)—is just one such example:

“The natives of Barvas had a peculiar custom on the first day of May, of sending a man across the river at (the) dawn of day to prevent any females from crossing it first, as that would hinder the salmon from ascending the river all the year through.” (Fraser 1878)

The importance of the salmon, both as an important food source and equally as a ‘sacred animal’, is known in myths and legends throughout the British Isles.  To the legendary hero-figure Finn, it played a part of him gaining supernatural wisdom, and this quality is integral to the fish itself who ate the hazelnuts of knowledge and gained such power.  In this same short piece of folklore, the time of year when the ritual should be enacted on the River Barvas is Beltane, which is renowned as the prime period in the annual cycle/calendar relating to fertility.  This element relates to maintaining the fecundity of the river and the salmon where, in this case, men crossing the waters symbolically fertilizes them to ensure the annual return of the fish.  It would be interesting to known when this custom finally died out.

References:

  1. Fraser, Alexander, Northern Folk-lore on Wells and Water, Advertiser Office: Inverness 1878.
  2. Ross, Anne, Pagan Celtic Britain, RKP: London 1967.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.352757, -6.529821 River Barvas

St. Serf’s Well, Crieff, Perthshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NN 8457 2323

Archaeology & History

St Serfs Well on 1866 map

A mile to the west side of Crieff, in the grounds of the 18th century mansion known as Ochtertyre House, could once be seen the little-known sacred well of St Serf.  Sadly its waters seem to have disappeared beneath the rising waters of the loch known as St Serf’s Waters—which is a pity, as the place was of importance in the annual traditions of the local people, who left offerings to the spirit of the place, as was common in days of olde.  It was described in Mr Porteous’ (1822) account of Monzievaird parish, in which he told that,

“Nigh to this place is St Serf’s Well, and the moor whereon St Serf’s market is held.  He was the tutelary saint of the parish of Monivaird.  This well is a plentiful spring of water.  About sixty years ago, our people were wont, on Lammas day, to go and drink it, leaving white stones, spoons, or rags, which they brought with them; but nothing except the white stones now appear, this superstitious practice being quite in oblivion.  It has been useful in a strangury, as any other very cold water would be; for a patient, taking a tub full of it immediately from the well, plunging his arms into it, which were bare to the elbows, was cured.

“St Serf’s fair is still kept on the 11th of July, where Highland horses, linen cloth, etc., both from the south and north, are sold.”

Although the well is deemed to be ‘lost’, it is possible that its waters might be seen after a good drought.  Please let us know if that happens.

Folklore

St. Serf was said to have been a hermit and tutor of the more renowned St. Mungo.

References:

  1. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  2. Porteous, A., “Extracts from a History of the Parishes of Monivaird and Strowan“, in Archaeologia Scotica, volume 2, 1822.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.387202, -3.871200 St Serf\'s Well

Fairies’ Cradle, Cromarty, Ross & Cromarty

Legendary Rock (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NH 792 651

Archaeology & History

In the ruins St Bennet’s Chapel, along with his accompanying holy well (NH 7923 6502), could once be seen a curiously shaped rock which, according to tradition has been destroyed.  In Mr Innes’ (1855) major history work he mentioned this Fairies Cradle in passing.  Not far from here and close to the coast, is a curiously-shaped boulder with several natural cupmarks (at NH 9150 6497).

Folklore

In Hugh Miller’s (1878) definitive local history work, Scenes and Legends, we have our main description of this once important site.  It existed,

“near the chapel itself, which was perched like an eyry on a steep solitary ridge that overlooks the Moray Firth, there was a stone trough, famous, about eighty years before, for virtues derived also from the saint, like those of the well. For if a child was carried away by the fairies, and some mischievous unthriving imp left in its place, the parents had only to lay the changeling in this trough, and, by some invisible process, their child would be immediately restored to them. It was termed the fairies’ cradle; and was destroyed shortly before the rebellion of 1745, by Mr. Gordon, the minister of the parish, and two of his elders.”

The story of children here being carried away by littlepeople and then restored by an impish offering, is a play on the site being a healing stone.  There are numerous other “curing stones” found elsewhere in Scotland, but with their own respective traditions—like the Measles Stone at Fearnan, the Whooping Cough Stone near Killin, and many others.

If anyone knows anything more about this lost “curing stone”, please let us know.

References:

  1. Alston, David, “The Old Parish Church of Cromarty,” Cromarty, May 2005.
  2. Innies, Cosmo, Origines Parochiales – volume 2:2, W.H. Lizars: Edinburgh 1855.
  3. Miller, Hugh, Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland; the Traditional History of Cromarty, William Nimmo: Edinburgh 1878.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.659534, -4.026278 Fairies Cradle

St Fillan’s Chair, Killin, Perthshire

Sacred Stone: OS Grid Reference – NN 56432 32010

Getting Here

Take the road to Auchlyne from Killin which follows the north side of the River Dochart, and on the edge of the village the stone will be seen on the left hand side behind a hedge, opposite the entrance to ‘Springburn’.

Archaeology & History 

The chair is mentioned in Rev. Gillies’ exemplary work, In Famed Breadalbane (1938):

St. Fillan would appear to have had a great liking for stone seats.  Besides the one already mentioned…there is..a..flat stone on the top of a knoll about a mile to the west of the village, and on the north side of the river, on which he is said to have sat and taught

St Fillan’s Chair, ‘twixt road and river
The ‘seat’, facing the River Dochart

Two local ladies told us that the Chair had recently been uncovered from the vegetation. It is a flattish earth-fast slab of rock, which has on the right hand side a seat indentation, which faces the river bank about 12 feet away. Its proximity to the river bank would seem to limit its use as a preaching pulpit, and yet, well over a millennium after the death of Fillan, his ‘Chair’ is still remembered. Did the Chair serve another purpose, a purpose that long preceded Fillan and Christianity?

Here at Killin we are in an area of Scotland where Christianity was for long a veil worn very lightly over long-held ancient animistic beliefs and customs. Indeed in the early nineteenth century, missionaries were sent in the face of considerable local opposition by the Haldanes into Gaelic speaking Breadalbane to try to convert the locals to Christianity.

St Fillan and other saints had it seems become the named facilitators for healing at ancient places on behalf of the incoming religion from the Middle East.  To the west of Killin, there are the St Fillan’s Pools at Auchtertyre near Tyndrum, where he is reputed to have cured madness but which continued to be used for that purpose until the late eighteenth century at least.  There are stones for preventing measles and whooping cough near Killin that are still known and pointed out.  So what of our chair?

There is a nineteenth century story of a chair of St Fiacre (Irish born like Fillan) at the village church of St Fiacre near Monceaux in France being used to ‘confer fecundity upon women who sit upon it ‘.  The shape and proximity to the river may otherwise suggest St Fillan’s Chair was a birthing Chair?  Maybe some very old locals still know the true story of this Chair, but would they tell it?

References:

  1. Anon., Phallic Worship – a Description of the Mysteries of the Sex Worship of the Ancients, privately Printed: London 1880.
  2. Calder, Walter, Lawers, Lochtayside: A Historical Sketch, Macduff, Cunning & Watson, c.1930.
  3. Gillies, William, In Famed Breadalbane, Munro: Perth 1938.

© Paul T Hornby 2020

 

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  56.458306, -4.331382 St Fillans Chair

St Ellen’s Well, Harrisend Fell, Scorton, Lancashire

Holy Well: OS Reference – SD 53683 50975

Also Known as:

  1. St Ellin’s Well

Getting Here

The Well on the 1846 Map

Approaching the site from the north, walk along the Lane Head track, and along the path south-eastwards, then turn right onto the main footpath until coming to the stream. Follow the stream up the fell to the large clump of reeds, then follow your ears until you locate the spring! Or you can approach it along the main footpath from the Oakenclough – Galgate road. The well and the path to it
are on access land.

Archaeology & History

Fortunately recorded by the Ordnance Survey on their 1846 6″ map Lancashire XL, the story of St Ellen’s Well was taken up sixty years later by local holy wells historian Henry Taylor (1906):

Listen for the spring in the reeds

“The site of this holy well is marked on the ordnance map at a lonely spot on Harris Fell, five hundred feet above the sea-level, four and a half miles in a north-easterly direction from the town of Garstang.

“Mr. A. King has kindly examined the site.  He writes, 4th August, 1902: “We had no difficulty in locating the spot…. There is no outward indication of the place being used for curative means, and there is no stonework at all. It is a beautifully cold spring which is at the side of ‘Bonny Pad’, a pathway leading across the moor from Harris End, and it was grown around with rushes….  All I can glean about it is that one of the oldest inhabitants, when asked if he knew of it, replied, ‘It will be th’ holy well, you mean.'”

The original dedication of this remote holy well was clearly to St. Helen, and its presence next to the Bonny Pad or path may indicate a pre-Christian dedication to a local cognate of the Celtic Elen Luyddog, Elen of the hosts or ways.  The Bonny Pad is shown but not not named on the 1846 map, and follows a broadly southwest to northeast direction from Harris End (again not named on the 1846 map) up to Grizedale Head on the southern edge of the Catshaw Vaccary.  It was perhaps an ancient route used by farmers to take their animals up onto the fell for the summer, and return them to the lowlands in the autumn.

Bubbling away at source

The western portion of Bonny Pad is not shown on the modern map and St Ellen’s Well is not marked, and both have it seems passed out of local memory.  An elderly farmer I encountered on my way up to the fell had never heard of the Well.

It is certainly worth the walk if only for the delightful sound of this powerfully flowing spring, the water is pure and cold, and it commands a fine view over the Lancashire plain to the coast.

References:

  1. Taylor, Henry, The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Sherratt & Hughes: Manchester 1906.
  2. Wise, Caroline, “Elen of the Roads of Country and Town”, in Finding Elen – The Quest for Elen of the Ways, edited by Caroline Wise, Eala Press: London 2015.

© Paul T. Hornby, 2020

 

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  53.952785, -2.707269 St Ellen\'s Well

Redman’s Spa, Bingley Moor, West Yorkshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 1159 4343

Also Known as:

  1. Redmire Spa
  2. Redmond’s Spa
  3. Richmond’s Spa

Getting Here

Redman’s Spa on 1851 map

From East Morton village, take the moorland road, east, and up the steep hill.  Where the road just about levels out there’s a right turn, plus (more importantly!) a trackway on your left which leads onto the moor.  Walk up this track for ⅔-mile until you get to the point where the moorland footpath splits, with one bending downhill to an old building, whilst the other smaller footpath continues on the flat to the north.  Go up here for 400 yards then walk off-path, right, for about about 150 yards.  But beware – it’s boggy as fuck!

Archaeology & History

On this featureless southern-side of Rombalds Moor, all but lost and hidden in the scraggle of rashies, a very boggy spring emerges somewhere hereabouts.  I say hereabouts, as the ground beneath you (if you can call it that!) is but a shallow swamp and its actual source is almost impossible to locate.  If you want to find the exact spot yourself, be prepared to put up with that familiar stench of bog-water that assaults our senses when we walk through this sort of terrain.  Few are those who do, I have found… But somewhere here, amidst this bog—and still shown on the OS-maps—is the opening of what is alternatively called Redman’s or Richmond’s Spa.  We don’t know exactly when it acquired its status as a spa-well, but the 18th century Halifax doctor, Thomas Garnett—who wrote the early work on the Horley Green Spa—appears to be the first person to describe it.  Garnett (1790) said how the place:

“was first mentioned to me by Mr W. Maud, surgeon, in Bradford, who went with me to see it.  It is situated on Romalds-moor, about two or three miles from Bingley, and goes by the name of Redmire-spaw.  The access to it is by no means good; the ground about it being very spongy and soft.  On the bottom and sides of the channel is deposited an ochrey matter, of a very fine, bright, yellow colour; and which I believe is used, by the country people in the neighbourhood, to paint their houses.  It sparkles when poured into a glass and has a taste very like the Tewit-well at High-Harrogate; which water it very much resembles in all its properties, and seems to be about the same strength… This water seems to hold a quantity of iron dissolved by means of fixed air.  Its taste is very pleasant; it is said to act very powerfully as a diuretic, when drank in considerable quantity, and may prove a useful remedy, in cases where good effects may be expected from chalybeates in very small doses; the fixed air, and even the pure water itself may be useful in some cases.  It is, however, necessary to drink it at the well, for it seems to lose its iron and fixed air very soon.”

I’ve drank this water, and believe me!—it doesn’t quite taste as pleasant as Mr Garnett espouses!  Its alright I s’ppose—but drinking water from a bog isn’t necessarily a good idea.  That aside, I find it intriguing to hear so much lore about such a little-known spring; and it is obvious that the reputation Garnett describes about this spa came almost entirely from the local people, who would have been visiting this site for countless centuries and who would know well its repute. Below the source of the well the land is known as Spa Flat, and slightly further away Spa Foot, where annual gatherings were once held at certain times of the year to celebrate the flowing of the waters.  Such social annual gatherings suggests that the waters here were known about before it acquired its status as a spa—which would make sense.  The remoteness of this water source to attract wealthy visitors (a prime function of Spa Wells) wouldn’t succeed and even when Garnett visited the place, he said how he had to travel a long distance to get here.

The origin of its name was pondered by the great Harry Speight (1898) who wondered if it derived from the ancient and knightly Redman family of Harewood, whose lands reached over here.  But he was unsure and it was merely a thought.  As an iron-bearing spring (a chalybeate) you’d think it might derive from being simply a red mire or bog (much like the Red Mire Well at Hebden Bridge), but its variant titles of apparent surnames casts doubt on this simple solution.

No one visits the place anymore.  Of the countless times I’ve wandered the moors, rare have been the times when I’ve seen folk anywhere near this old spring.  It is still coloured with the same virtues that Garnett described in the 18th century: the yellowish deposits, the boggy ground, much of which reaches to the truly dodgy Yellow Bog a short distance north and which should be completed avoided by ramblers after heavy rains (try it if y’ don’t believe me—but you’ve been warned!).

References:

  1. Garnett, Thomas, Experiments and Observations on the Horley-Green Spaw, near Halifax, George Nicholson: Bradford 1790.
  2. Short, Thomas, The Natural, Experimental and Medicinal History of the Mineral Waters of Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, privately printed: London 1724.
  3. Speight, Harry, Chronicles and Stories of Old Bingley, Elliott Stock: London 1898.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.886929, -1.825155 Redman\'s Spa