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

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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  51.983358, -0.312310 Holy Well

Holy Well, Gunwalloe, Cornwall

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – SW 6602 2053

Archaeology & History

The old church at this headland just above the sea was, said Padel (1988), dedicated to Saint Gunwalloe or Winwalloe in 1332 and is thought to have been the character (a hermit by all accounts) who deemed this well to be ‘holy’.  In Alfred Cummings (1875) history of Gunwalloe parish, he devotes a short but singular chapter to this holy well which, according to most accounts, has fallen back to Earth.  It was found, said Cummings, “close to the church porch, only a few feet over the precipitous rock…and (was) doubtless the resort in former days of many a lad and maiden.”

Yet even in his day, he lamented its loss, telling that.

“The spring that once bubbled up in its rocky basin is no longer there; sand and stones fill up the well at each high tide, and though occasionally cleaned out for the satisfaction of the wayfarer’s curiosity is yet only an imperfect semblance of its former self.”

Yet remnants of practices and traditions of the well were thankfully remembered:

Gunwalloe church in 1885

“That Gunwalloe was considered by the country folk a well of some importance there can be little doubt, for one day in the year, which was called Gunwalloe Day, was set apart for cleaning out this holy well — it was quite at a different time of year to this parish feast — and now only remembered by two old men out of the whole population of the place.

“They fix the time in their memories as the period of tilling barley, for they recollect that on this Gunwalloe Day it was the custom for the men to mend all the cliff roads (doubtless these were useful in days of smuggling when a successful run was a desirable thing), and so strictly was it kept that, if any were found labouring in the fields, a party would go and take them by force, and press them into the service of the holiday makers, who, having mended the roads and cleared the holy well at Gunwalloe, wound up the day with merriment and revelry.”

Such practices are long since gone of course and, so most modern accounts would tell us, the holy well with it.  But when J. Meyrick (1982) came looking for the site on the summer solstice of 1980, he seemed a little more fortunate than his predecessors.  Located just a few yards from the detached church tower, he spoke with a

“Mrs Wilson, a churchwarden (who) told me that in heavy rain the tower continues to be flooded so the spring is still somewhere about, and curiously enough by the stile to the beach is a small granite trough with rainwater put there by someone no doubt in lieu of the Well and who is to say that the water is not holy!  The stream across the dune still meanders a few feet beneath the tower and into this the water from the well would have run, but there seems now no sign of an originating spring in the rocks around.”

Folklore

The church itself possesses a folktale found up and down the land.  “It is said,” wrote Blight (1885),

“that the builders intended to erect the church on higher ground, nearer the centre of the parish, at Hingey; but as fast as materials were brought to the place they were, by some mysterious agency, removed during the night to the present site.  And here the church was built, it being found useless to contend with a supernatural power.”

The supernatural agencies that are nearly always responsible for such actions tend to be the devil, fairies or other types of little-people.

References:

  1. Blight, J.T., Churches of West Cornwall, Parker: London 1885.
  2. Cummings, Alfred H., The Churches and Antiquities of Cury and Gunwalloe, W. Lake: Truro 1875.
  3. Meyrick, J., A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Wells of Cornwall, J. Meyrick: Falmouth 1982.
  4. Padel, O.J., Cornish Place-Names, Alison Hodge: Penzance 1988.
  5. Quiller-Couch, M. & L., Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, C.J. Clark: London 1894.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  50.038817, -5.269006 Holy Well

Bishop’s Well, Tottenham, Middlesex

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 332 911

Also Known as:

  1. My Lady’s Hole

Archaeology & History

Long since gone after drainage operations on Tottenham Cemetery made the waters dry-up, this was one of several holy wells in the Tottenham area.  Its history has been described in various old tomes, but the most definitive is found in William Robinson’s (1840) classic on the parish of Tottenham, when the well was still visible.  He told us:

“There is a spring which issues from the side of a small hillock on the south side of the Moselle, nearly opposite the Vicarage, leading thence to the Church, called Bishop’s Well.  This spring was formerly considered famous for many strange and wonderful cures performed on the diseased by the use of this water.  It has been for some years neglected, but of late the owner of the field in which this well is, had it cleansed, and planted some trees round it, and put up posts and rails to prevent the cattle treading down the sides of it.  It is said that the water of this well never freezes.  In former times this well was in great repute from the purity of its water.  The ladies in the vicinity of it were accustomed to send their servants in the morning and evening for water for their tea, from which circumstance it was for many years known by the name of “My Lady’s Hole.”  The water of this well is not only esteemed for its medicinal qualities, but particularly for curing disorders of the eye.

“There were formerly many other springs about the village, especially one which issued out of the hill on which the Church stands; and another in Spottons Wood otherwise Spottons Grove, on the north side of Lordship Lane, which in the fifteenth century was of considerable notoriety; but none of which have in former times been so much frequented and held in such repute as Bishop’s Well.”

(Please note: the grid-reference for this site is an approximation)

References:

  1. Foord, Alfred Stanley, Springs, Streams and Spas of London: History and Association, T. Fisher Unwin: London 1910.
  2. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  3. Robinson, William, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Tottenham, Nichols & Sons: London 1840.
  4. Sunderland, Septimus, Old London Spas, Baths and Wells, John Bale: London 1915.
  5. Thornbury, Walter & Walford, Edward, Old and New London – volume 5, Cassell: London 1878.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  51.602995, -0.078076 Bishop\'s Well

Trumpeter’s Well, Strathaven, Lanarkshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 66014 41685

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 203472

Getting Here

Trumpeters Well on 1864 map

Take the A71 road southwest out of Strathaven as if you’re heading to Kilmarnock.  After 2½ miles (4.1km) you reach the tiny hamlet of Caldermill (be careful or you’ll truly miss it!).  As you go out of the hamlet, on your left there’s a track up to Hillhead Farm with the small but tell-tale signpost saying ‘Trumpeter’s Well’ and the small dome-shaped stone monument in the field is what yer looking for.  If you’re coming from the Kilmarnock side, when you reach the Caldermill sign, it’s in the field immediately to your right.  Y’ can’t really miss it.

Archaeology & History

When the site was surveyed by the Ordnance Survey lads in the 1850s, the water supply had completely run dry.  It was later revived and the nine-foot tall circular stone building built to commemorate its history.  The water apparently now runs within the building, being supplied from Hillhead Farm.

Trumpeters Well, Caldermill

Folklore

The well is said to have gained its name after the local Battle of Drumclog (1679), when one rich Tory known as John Graham of Claverhouse was retreating for fear of his life; and because his own horse had been killed, the coward stole the horse of his young fourteen-year-old trumpeter.  In doing so, the young lad was subsequently killed and his body was thrown down the well.  Tradition also tells that other soldiers were buried in the same field.

References:

  1. Campbell, J. Ramsey, My Ain, My Native Tour – Stra’ven, J.M. Bryson: Strathaven 1943.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.650165, -4.130798 Trumpeter\'s Well

St. Bride’s Well, Avondale, Lanarkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 6983 4138

Archaeology & History

St Brides Chapel & Well on the 1864 OS-map

Shown on the 1864 OS map of the area as a ‘Well’ just at the front of St Bride’s Chapel—now a very pleasant old cottage—peasants and pilgrims would stop for both refreshment and ritual here as they walked down High Kype Road.  Although the chapel was described in church records of January 1542 as being on the lands of Little Kype, close to the settlement of St Bride, there seems to be very little known about the history or traditions of the well.  If anyone has further information on this site, please let us know.

Folklore

Bride or Brigit has her origins in early British myth and legend, primarily from Scotland and Ireland.  Her saint’s day is February 1, or the heathen Imbolc (also known as Candlemas).  Although in christian lore St. Bride was born around 450 AD in Ireland and her father a Prince of Ulster, legend tells that her step-father (more probably a teacher) was a druid and her ‘saintly’ abilities as they were later described are simply attributes from this shamanic pantheon. Legends—christian and otherwise—describe Her as the friend of animals; possessor of a magickal cloak; a magickian and a healer; and whose ‘spirit’ or genius loci became attached to ‘sacred sites’ in the natural world, not the christian renunciation of it.  St Bride was one of the primal faces of the great prima Mater known as the Cailleach: the greater Gaelic deity of Earth’s natural cycles, whose changing seasons would also alter Her names, faces and clothes, as Her body moved annually through the rhythms of the year.  Bride was (and is) ostensibly an ecological deity, with humans intrinsically a part of such a model, not a part from it, in contrast to the flawed judaeo-christian theology.

References:

  1. Paul, J.B. & Thomson, J.M., Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum: The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland AD 1513 – 1546, HMGRH: Edinburgh 1883.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.648467, -4.070063 St Bride\'s Well

Scotland Well, Scotlandwell, Kinross

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NO 18474 01656

Also Known as:

  1. Scotlandwell
Scotland well on 1856 map

Getting Here

Whichever way you come into the hamlet—be it along the A911 from either Milnathort or Glenrothes, or up the B920 from Ballingry side—the only little carpark to use is about 20 yards from the main road junction, on the west-side of the road, appropriately named Well Road.  The site is unmissable beneath the small well-house at the end of this short cul-de-sac.

Archaeology & History

When a village is named after a well, you know that its waters held some considerable importance!  Mentioned as early as 1218 as “de fonte Scotie” and subsequently many variations thereof in centuries thereafter, the place-names authority Simon Taylor (2017) thinks it may have been mentioned as early as 1090 CE.

Scotland Well in 1915

Although there has never been a direction dedication of the Scotland Well to any saint, as J.M. MacKinlay (1904) and others have pointed out, in the village itself was an ancient medieval hospital that belonged to “the Trinity or Red Friars” that was built for the benefit of the poor by the Bishop of St. Andrews, some 22 miles to the east.  The hospital was at first dedicated to St. Thomas and subsequently to the Virgin, or St Mary.  Holy wells dedicated to both saints are renowned the world over as having great medicinal properties, but no extant written document relates either saint to the well.

Folklore

The main reason for this site maintaining such an honourable place in Scottish history is its association with the two great Scottish heroes, Sir William Wallace and King Robert the Bruce.  In the pseudonymous Historica’s (1934) literary rambles, he told that, after coming down out of the Lomond Hills,

“We descend the narrow defile—the Howgate—into Scotlandwell—Fons Scotia—famous for its medicinal springs, where tradition says King Robert the Bruce came to take the waters for scrofula and leprosy in 1295.  The great Sir William Wallace—according to ‘Blind Harry’—also has associations here.  His famous swim to the Castle Island, for a boat to take over some of his men to capture the english on St. Serf’s, took place from below Scotlandwell.”

In Ruth & Franks Morris’ (1982) fine survey of Scottish wells, they told that upon their visit to the Scotland Well, three people they met still thought highly of its curative properties.  “Of these three people,” they said,

“one was a sufferer from cancer which was the cause of a painful skin rash.  He had been persuaded to try the water and found that it did him so much good that he was driven from Edinburgh to the well, a round trip of some 80 miles, at at regular intervals to drink the water and take back with him two demi-johns of it.”

According to the man concerned, it did him the world of good and cleared the stubborn body rash he’d been suffering!

References:

  1. Day, J.P., Clackmannan and Kinross, Cambridge University Press 1915.
  2. Historicus, Historic Scenes within our Limits, Kinross-shire Advertiser: Kinross 1934.
  3. MacKinlay, James M., Influence of the Pre-Reformation Church on Scottish Place-Names, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1904.
  4. Morris, Frank & Ruth, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  5. Taylor, Simon, The Place-Names of Kinross-shire, Shaun Tyas: Donington 2017.

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

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.200500, -3.315578 Scotland Well

Ellen’s Well, Angle, Pembrokeshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – SM 86913 03483

Archaeology & History

Ellen’s Well on 1869 map

Very little seems to be known about this apparently lost site, deemed to be an authentic holy well in Francis Jones’ (1954) fine survey: the ‘Ellen’ in question here being the legendary St Helen.  It was highlighted on the first OS-map of the area in 1869 and subsequently included in the Royal Commission’s huge Pembrokeshire (1925) tome, but when they came to visit the site they reported that “it could not be traced, nor any information obtained about it.”  Has it truly fallen back to Earth, or do any local historians and antiquarians know where it is…?

References:

  1. Jones, Francis, The Holy Wells of Wales, University of Wales 1954.
  2. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Wales, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales & Monmouthshire: VII – County of Pembroke, HMSO: London 1925.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  51.689556, -5.084312 Ellen\'s Well

Low Well, Bradford, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 1589 3132

Archaeology & History

Low Well on 1852 map

Along the now-lost Low Well Road between Little Horton and West Bowling, could once be found this innocuous-sounding water source.   Shown on the 1st OS-map of the area in 1852, the site was deemed to be little other than a ‘public well’.  At the end of the 19th century, a small well-house was built over the waters; and the years following that saw its complete demise.  Its name you would think relates to a position in the land, but the dialect word low, or lowe can mean “a flame, blaze, light, glow”, it can also refer to a prehistoric tomb.  However in this case it most likely derives from “a pond or standing pool”.

…And if some of you wonder why I have given this so-called Public Well the provenance of being a “sacred well”, please keep reading…

Folklore

Although it was deemed a simple ‘public well’ by historians and the public water authority, local folk knew there was much more to it than that!  In the Bradford area, this innocuously-named Well is the most promiscuously supernatural of all water sources, with a hidden history of magickians, ghosts and black dogs haunting its once ancient flow.  It was a site remembered as having oracular powers, where local people used it in scrying the future.  For such powers to work here, one had to gaze into the waters as they stilled at 6 o’ clock in the morning – a common time used by ritual magickians for the invocations of spirits.

The Bradford historian William Scrotum (1889) told us that in the 1860s, local people reported that the phantom black dog—or Bharguest as it was known—with its glowing red eyes, was seen coming out of the well after dark and scaring people half out of their wits.  Very soon people would not even venture out after dark for fear of encountering this great harbinger of Death.  Several years passed before local people called upon the abilities of a ritual magickian in the hope that he could lay the ghostly hound and bring peace and stability back to the hearts and minds of those living hereabouts.  Eventually, after much work, the magickian exorcised the waters and cast the black dog back into the depths of the Earth from whence it had come and, to this day, sightings of the spectral hound have stopped.

Water sources that possess ingredients of hauntings, magic and oracular properties are universally ascribed as ‘sacred’ in one way or the other.  In pre-industrial times I have little doubt that, amongst the animistic pantheon of local Bradfordians, this was no exception.

References:

  1. Scruton, William, Pen and Pencil Pictures of Old Bradford, Thomas Brear: Bradford 1889.
  2. Wright, Joseph, The English Dialect Dictionary – volume 3, Henry Frowde: London 1902.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.777973, -1.760357 Low Well