Holy Well, Holwell, Hertfordshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – TL 16 33

Archaeology & History

The exact location of this site seems to have been lost.  One possible candidate is on the south-side of the village where remains of a large moat exists, meaning that there was a good water supply here to maintain its existence.  But this is pure guesswork on my part.  The well was mentioned briefly in R.C. Hope’s (1893) classic book where he told us:

“There was a holy well or spring in the village of Holwell, on the borders of Bedford and Hertfordshire; unfortunately both history and site have been forgotten by the villagers at Holywell.”

The site was mentioned as far back as 1086 CE in the Domesday Book as ‘Holewelle’.  The place-name authorities Gover, Mawer & Stenton (1938) tell us this derives from a “spring in the hollow” and not a holy well as subsequent writers profess.  The only thing that could perhaps fortify the ‘holy’ element is that in some instances early citations of holy wells are written as holi- wells, which this may have been.  As all historians know, early spellings of sites are far from accurate.

References:

  1. Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, Allen & Stenton, F.M., The Place-Names of Hertfordshire, Cambridge University Press 1938.
  2. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  3. Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 1, Cambridge University Press 1956.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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