Heber’s Ghyll Chalybeate, Ilkley, West Yorkshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 0988 4692

Getting Here

Hebers Ghyll chalybeate

Walk from Ilkley up the Wells Roads as if you’re going to the White Wells, but keep following the road along, keeping to the moorside (don’t go up Panorama Drive).  A few hundred yards up, crossing the small bridge over the gorse-scattered stream, take the footpath to your right and walk along the moor-bottom, parallel to the rich houses.  Keep walking, past the reservoir (don’t go up the slope on the newly created path) and cross the small wooden bridge.  Once over the other side, head through the gate and walk along the rocky footpath into the woods.  Less than 100 yards down where the first seat is, there’s a slow-running blood of water oozing out from the rocks.

Archaeology & History

At the top of this bit of old woodland, out of rocks near the top of the trees, emerges another of Yorkshire thousands of chalybeates, or iron-bearing springs of water, on the very edge of Ilkley Moor.  Collyer and Turner (1885) mentioned its discovery in 1883, but gave no further details.  Searching for this place on one of my countless moorland ambles as a child, I found its waters oozing slowly from betwixt moss-enriched rocks on the west side of the stream.  If you look for it in the dry season though, there is little to see.  It is best seen later in the year, after heavy rains, although the waters are pretty slow running and have that distinct “off” taste (an attribute well-known of chalybeates —taste ‘em and see!).  The only real account of this little-known healing well was told in an early edition of the Leeds Mercury (1883), shortly after its rediscovery, in which we were told:

“Our Ilkley correspondent says the existence of a chalybeate spring has lately been discovered there, and from its valuable medicinal properties will prove a valuable adjunct in the future development of this health resort.  The water from the spring (which is situated near to the Panorama Rocks, in what is known as Hebers Gill, or Briery Wood) has been submitted to Mr F.M. Rimmington…of Bradford for analysis and his report is of a most favourable character.  The data shows that the water is remarkable for the smallness of the amount of its saline constituents, and (so far as the analyst has been able to discover by reference to published analysis of either English or Continental chalybeate springs), there is not one comparable to it: whilst its ferruginous element is equal to the majority of such waters and, in Mr Remmington’s opinion, as large as is desirable for medicinal effect.  The spa that most resembles the one under notice is that of Tunbridge Wells in Kent, which is derived from exactly the same geological formation (millstone grit), the total solid constituents of this water being 13½ grains to the gallon.  The report adds that, “The use of this class of waters as medical agents has, from remote periods, been found efficacious in those states of debility denominated anemia,” and “the value of this class of spa water as a safe and natural remedy can scarcely be overestimated.”  From the foregoing it will be seen that an important discovery has been made…”

This once important spring of water — that would have been known and used by our prehistoric ancestors living on the moors above — is nowadays but a shadow of its former self.  The water tables drop annually as a result of moorland drainage and other poor land management and we only see a small trickle of water emerging from the mossy rocks these days…

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Anonymous, “Important Discovery at Ilkley,” in Leeds Mercury, August 18, 1883.
  2. Bennett, Paul, Healing Wells and Springs of Ilkley Moor, unpublished: Hebden Bridge 1995.
  3. Collyer, Robert & Turner, J.H., Ilkley: Ancient and Modern, William Walker: Otley 1885.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Hebers Ghyll chalybeate

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Hebers Ghyll chalybeate 53.918331, -1.851059 Hebers Ghyll chalybeate

Peggy Well, Silsden, West Yorkshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 0655 4413

Also Known as:

  1. Peggy Mawson’s Well
  2. Peggy’s Well

Getting Here

Peggy Mawson’s Well on 1853 map

From Riddlesden, take the road up to the moorland and Rivock Edge.  When you reach the top (Silsden Road), turn left.  Go on for about 600 yards till you reach the lovely tree-hidden old cottages of Holden Gate, on your right.  Stop — and walk down the footpath opposite from here.  As the wall goes down, you’ll notice a stream in the next field to your left, emerging from a clump of large rocks.  That’s it! (there’s a footpath in the next field from the roadside)

Archaeology & History

Shown on the first OS-map as ‘Peggy Mawson’s Well,’ little else seems to known of this place; though it obviously got its name after the local lady, Peggy Mawson.  I can find no further information about this lady, nor why the site was named after her.  Any help here would be hugely appreciated!

Peggy Mawson’s Well – now drained-off through pipes

Sadly the waters from beneath the rocks have been channeled into a couple of pipes and the well no longer runs.  All that’s left is a small boggy region just in front of the boulders.  You have to walk about 100 yards further down the field where the water emerges from a modern pipe.  It doesn’t taste as nice as it originally did when coming straight from the ground, but it’s still quite drinkable (certainly beats any of the chlorinated stuff* that customers are forced to pay for, whether we want it or not – and most people don’t want it).

Folklore

This site has acquired modern folklore, but sadly no early traditions have been found.  Whelan & Taylor (1989) thought that Peggy Well’s “dedication suggests a connection with St. Margaret,” which unfortunately isn’t the case.  Several years later another writer, Val Shepherd (1994), spun the speculation even further, not checking the historical background to the site, and thought that “the well’s name may be derived from the water spirit, ‘Peg,’ who gave her name to other wells.”  Sadly neither idea holds any sway.

References:

  1. Shepherd, Val, Historic Wells in and Around Bradford, HOAP: Loughborough 1994.
  2. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Pocklington 1989.

* Anyone know about this: surely because the water companies chlorinate and add other undesirable toxins into our tap water, what we’re actually drinking is a very weak solution and not actually water.  Isn’t that a trading standards violation?

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.893307, -1.901818 Peggy Mawson Well

Ebbing & Flowing Well, Giggleswick, North Yorkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SD 8039 6538

Early postcard of this famous well

Getting Here

This famous old site can be found right by the roadside—the B6480—as you head out of the northern end of the town, beneath Giggleswick Scar.  It’s less than a mile along the old main road, just as you start to climb up the hill, just across from the entrance to Huntworth.  It is in reasonable condition and has long been thought of as a holy and magickal well.  Edna Whelan and Ian Taylor included it their fine work, Yorkshire Holy Wells. (1989)

Archaeology & History

The site as we see it today is but a shadow its former self.   Although the stone trough that we look at seems to be the site, this once great great well originally emerged up from the ground a good hundred yards further up the steep hill slope above us, as the early illustration here clearly shows.

Ebbing & Flowing Well (Whitaker, 1878)
Ebbing & Flowing Well (Whitaker, 1878)

Just above where the Ebbing & Flowing Well first appeared an excessive amount of flints were found in earlier years; and just above that, early human habitation in the caves to the back; along with ancient burials nearby — as well as numerous other neolithic, Bronze- And Iron Age remains all round here.  This peculiar water supply was obviously of considerable importance to our pre-christian ancestors…unless you’re an idiot that is!

The site’s name comes from the very action of the waters here, which have sadly long-since been stopped. The well could suddenly overflow very rapidly and the next minute subside, with seemingly little rational explanation.  As such, it was seen to be miraculous.  It was first described by one John Speed in 1627 (England and Wales Described), where he said,

“At Giggleswicke…there are certain small springs not distant a quaits cast from one another; the middlemost of which doth at every quarter of an houre (?) ebbe and flowe about the height of a quarter of a yard when it is highest, and at the ebbe falleth so lowe that it be not an inch deepe with water.”

Ebbing & Flowing Well

Though Harry Speight (1900) reckons such rapid undulations were slight exaggerations on Speed’s part.

Nearby we also find the Bank Well, where old lead goddess figurines were deposited around Romano-British times.  Archaeologist Alan King (1970) saw such deposits as important to the spirit of the waters, saying,

“The wells at Giggleswick, especially the Ebbing and Flowing Well, would be considered entrances to the Underworld and suitable sites for making offerings.”

It seems more likely however, that the Ebbing and Flowing Well would have a more pronounced oracular nature; though Underworld aspects would be prevelant, though would be the province of selected priestesses (whose folklore is found nearby, albeit in distorted form).

The waters themselves today flow quite well, but are close to freezing when you immerse your hands therein.  They also taste very good indeed and are most refreshing – better than any of the alleged ‘spring water’ people today buy in plastic bottles.  It’s gorgeous water here!

Folklore

Early drawing of the Well
Early drawing of the Well

An undoubted oracular site: the ebbing and flowing actions of the waters giving the well the distinct characteristic as a place used for prophecy and divination in very ancient times.  I have little doubt that this was a place used by shamans.  It was likely to have been a dreaming site aswell. (it would be good to know if there is any old witchcraft lore still left here)

The waters themselves are supposed to be a manifestation of a local female spirit, who was transformed into the waters by a woodland spirit. Also here, a local highwayman called Nevison was being chased by the local cops, when his horse stopped at the waters desparate for a drink. While here, Nevison prayed to the water spirit for help. She duly obliged, giving him a magic bridle, enabling his horse to run and jump over the high moors to escape his pursuers: a place called Hell Ghyll being one of the places he was said to have cleared.

References:

  1. Bord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Granada: London 1985.
  2. Hope, Robert Charles, The Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  3. King, Alan, Early Pennine Settlement, Dalesman: Clapham 1970.
  4. Ross, Anne, Pagan Celtic Britain, RKP: London 1967.
  5. Speight, Harry, The Craven and Northwest Yorkshire Highlands, Elliott Stock: London 1892.
  6. Whelan, Edna, The Magic and Mystery of Holy Wells, Capall Bann: Chieveley 2001.
  7. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire’s Holy Wells and Springs, Northern Lights: Pocklington 1989.
  8. Whitaker, T.D., The History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven, Joseph Dodgson: Leeds 1878.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.083957, -2.301251 Ebbing & Flowing Well