St. Patrick’s Well, Old Kilpatrick, Dumbartonshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 4631 7307

Also Known as:

  1. Trees’ Well

Archaeology & History

Photo of the Well in 1893

Sadly there are no longer any remains of this holy well which was found, “beside the church dedicated to St Patrick — which was said to be built on soil brought from Ireland in honor of its patron,” wrote John Bruce in 1893.  He told that its waters had “been used until lately from time immemorial by the villagers, but now has been found unfit for use and consequently ordered to be closed up.”  Although its waters were used for baptisms, he made no mention of any medicinal repute, which it surely would have possessed.

Site of well on 1939 map

The original position of the well, according to Mr Bruce, was “adjoining the church” but, according to the Ordnance Survey lads, when they came here in 1963 they located a drinking fountain on the other side of the road about 80 yards to the west and designated that as being St Patrick’s Well.  The place had earlier been given a wooden sign saying “St Partrick’s Well.”  Local tradition attributes St. Patrick as originally coming from this village, whose saint’s day is March 17.

The place was also known as Trees’ Well, suggestive, perhaps, of a local person, although I can find no reference as to who or what that might have been.

References:

  1. Bruce, John, The History of the Parish of West or Old Kilpatrick,  John Smith: Glasgow 1893.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks for use of the Ordnance Survey map in this site profile, reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Holy Well, Allerton, Bradford, West Yorkshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – SE 134 331 (approximation)

Archaeology & History

This site is both interesting and frustrating at the same time.  Interesting inasmuch that as early as 1258 CE, “the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem in England, had in Allerton a manor called the manor of Crosley.”  The Hospitallers, as some will know, were the immediate successors of the more famous Knights Templars.  As their name suggests, their patron saint was St John, whose festival date was summer solstice and had his name given to many holy wells.  But this one has left us with no name and its location has long since been lost.  In J.H. Bell’s (1888) essay on the early medical history of the area he told that local people with certain afflictions, “were wont to resort to them to drink their waters for their supposed medicinal virtues: there was one between Cemetery Bridge and Crossley Hall”.  But he doesn’t give its exact position.  In John James’ (1841) classic History of Bradford he thinks that near the place where the local stream known as the Hebble, “there was undoubtedly in former times a Holy well,” but is unable to cite a location.  No well is shown on the early maps between the old Hall and the cemetery and the only definitive reference to wells close by are in the early boundary perambulation record, which describe a Brock Well and a Cold Well.  Perhaps the the most probable contender and location is cited in Harry Speight’s (aka Johnnie Gray) Pleasant Walks (1890) where, taking a route between Great Horton and Allerton, he told us to,

“go through fields on to Necropolis Road, opposite Scholemoor cemetery, turn down lane left outside cemetery, ½ mile, descending steps, cross beck (here used to be the Spa Beck public gardens, now removed higher up) and ascend, at second field, leaving the forward path and turn left, following beck with Crosley Hall and trees to right.”

The location of the said Spa Beck gardens is very close to where Mr Bell described the medicinal spring and is/was the most likely position of what James (1841) thought to be a long lost holy well.  If we could get more information about the history of the Spa Well, we may be able to make more definitive statements about the place.

References:

  1. Bell, J.H., “Some Fragments of Local Medical History,” in Bradford Antiquary, volume 1, 1888.
  2. Gray, Johnnie, Where to Spend a Half-Holiday: One Hundred and Eighty Pleasant Walks around Bradford, Thomas Brear: Bradford 1890.
  3. James, John, History and Topography of Bradford, Charles Stanfield: Bradford 1841.
  4. Shepherd, Val, Historic Wells in and Around Bradford, HOAP: Wymeswold 1994.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Fairy Well, Wragby, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 3953 1570

Archaeology & History

The precise whereabouts of this site isn’t known with absolute certainty, but, following research by the respected folklorist and pagan historian Steve Jones of Wakefield, the grid-reference cited here has a high degree of probability about it.  I certainly agree with Steve about its location.

Pond in Fairy Wood, shown on the 1893 OS-map
Fairy Wood near Nostell, probable home of the Well

Known about in the 19th century, I was fortunate in coming across what seems to be the only reference to the place whilst perusing the scrapbook notes of local historian John Wilson (1903).  Were it not for him we would have lost all knowledge of its existence and the local tale told of it, albeit watered into a dying belief in these supernatural creatures, would have faded completely before its final physical demise.  Wilson was described as a “diligent a student of local history,” who possessed a great collection of rare booklets and pamphlets on Yorkshire history and was a “careful an observer and recorder of all pertaining to past times.”  Of this Fairy Well, Wilson scribed the following poem:

At Nostell is a Fairy Well,
Hard by the margin of a wood
Wherein once dwelt, as old men tell,
The little folks of fickle mood ;
Till smoke and steam denied the dell
And made them quit both wood and well.

Blythe Henry Carr, mine ancient friend,
— So bravely keeping on his feet ;
May death long spare him,
still to wend His way along the village street,
Within the cobbler’s shop to spend
A pleasant hour — mine ancient friend.

The woodman at the Priory
In old Sir Rowland’s halcyon days
Was Thomas Watson, gay and free,
Who roused with song the woodland ways
A friend of Henry Carr’s was he,
—The woodman at the Priory.

This Watson many a tale could tell
Of fairies red and fairies green,
That in the wood and by the well
On summer evenings he had seen:
Of elves that thereabouts did dwell
This Watson many a tale could tell.

Whoever heard of such a thing!
He said that persons, known to him,
At eve would flasks of liquor bring,
And leave them, lying near the brim
Of this — the wondrous Fairy Spring —
Whoever heard of such a thing !

Was ever such a tale yet told ?
He said, that, when the morning came,
Each flask lay empty, and, behold !
Near each a drunken elf. O, shame !
The vice of those of mortal mould :
— Was ever such a tale yet told ?

Then question I mine ancient friend:
“Did no one seize the tipsy sprites? ”
“Not they ! for sudden is his end
On whom the fairy vengeance lights.”
With solemn eyes that fear portend
Thus answers me mine ancient friend.

Steve Jones already knew of the Fairy Wood, which was highlighted on the 1841 and 1854 6-inch-to-the-mile OS-map of the area—but no “Well” is shown in the woods.  However, as Steve discovered, following a subsequent visit by the Ordnance Survey lads in 1891, they showed on their 25-inch-to-the-mile map of the woods a distinct small pond in the trees not far from the roadside.  This, he thought, was probably the Fairy Well referred to by Wilson. It would seem so.  Adjacent to the woods, the 1853 Tithe Award cite the existence of a field also dedicated to the fairy folk, known simply as Fairy Close.

References:

  1. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 1, Cambridge University Press 1961
  2. Wilson, John, Verses and Notes, A. Hill: Corley 1903.

Acknowledgements:

Huge thanks to the research by Steve Jones of Wakefield, without whose work the location of the Fairy Well would have remained a mystery.  Also, thanks as always for use of the early edition OS-maps, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Helen’s Well, Barmby-on-the-Marsh, East Yorkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 6900 2841

Archaeology & History

Site shown on 1853 map

One of two holy wells in Barmby village which, like its compatriot St Peter’s Well, was destroyed sometime in the 19th century.  Not good!  It was located in the southwest section of the graveyard of St Helen’s Church and was apparently alive and running when the Ordnance Survey lads visited here in 1851 (as shown on their 1853 map).  But when the site was revisited by them in 1905, it seems to have gone.  However, as with the neighbouring St Peter’s Well, there are conflicting reports as to when it was destroyed, for although the Ordnance Survey lads spoke of it in the present tense when they went there, Thomas Allen (1831) told that “within the last six years (it has) been wantonly filled up.”  Despite this, less than ten years later William White mentioned it in the present tense, also saying how it was “said to possess medicinal properties.”  These healing qualities were, according to Allen, due to its iron-bearing or chalybeate nature, meaning that it would revive a weak and feeble constitution.  Iron-bearing wells are damn good for such things!

As the years passed, St. Helen’s Well fell into folk memory.  When William Smith (1923) surveyed the many holy wells in this part of the world he found how “old parishioners have said that as school-children they both drank of and washed in its water”, but little else.

References:

  1. Allen, Thomas, A New and Complete History of the County of York – volume 2, I.T. Hinton: London 1831.
  2. Gutch, E., Examples of Printed Folk-lore Concerning the East Riding of Yorkshire, Folk-Lore Society: London 1912.
  3. Harte, Jeremy, English Holy Wells – volume 2, Heart of Albion press: Wymeswold 2008.
  4. Smith, William, Ancient Springs and Streams of the East Riding of Yorkshire, A. Brown: Hull 1923.
  5. White, William, History, Gazetteer and Directory of the East and North Ridings of Yorkshire, R. Leader: Sheffield 1840.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St Peter’s Well, Barmby-on-the-Marsh, East Yorkshire

Holy Well (destroyed?):  OS Grid Reference – SE 6910 2833 or SE 6885 2848

Archaeology & History

This holy well was one of two in the village of Barmby, neither of which seems to exist anymore — although, it has to be said, there are conflicting reports as to its demise from the word go.  When it was first mentioned in Thomas Allen’s (1831) huge work on the history of Yorkshire he told us that,

“In this village are two extraordinary springs of sulphuric and chalybeate water, denominated St Peter’s and St Helen’s; the former possesses the rare virtue of curing scorbutic eruptions by external application. Both of these wells, within the last six years, have been wantonly filled up, and the site is only known to a few of the villagers.”

Their “extraordinary” waters however, were apparently found to be still flowing when the Ordnance Survey lads surveyed here in 1849, as they published it a few years later on the 1853 OS-map of the region, along with its nearby compatriot of St Helen.

Wet patch on 1907 map
St Peters Well, Barmby 1853

Less than ten years earlier, Will White (1840) also spoke of St Peter’s Well, albeit briefly, telling that it “was said to possess medicinal properties”—but it seems that he never visited the site and was merely going on Mr Allen’s earlier description.  Its exact whereabouts however, is somewhat of a curiosity.  Although the Ordnance Survey lads mapped it as being SE 6885 2848 on the southwest side of the village, in William Smith’s (1923) survey of holy wells he gave us a very different location.  “St Peter’s Well,” he wrote,

“is situated in an orchard about a hundred yards to the south-east of the church, and is reached by going through three fields.  It is a pool about eight feet deep and fifteen in diameter, the spring now rising several yards from its original site.  It flows clear and strong, and though attempts have been made to block it up, it always reappears.  The water is soft and has never been known to freeze.  It contains sulphur, as I can testify, having tasted the water.  It is noted for curing scurvy and sore eyes, if applied externally, and half-a-century ago, people suffering from these ailments came long distances to apply the water as a remedy, and went away benefited.  An eye-witness has said a man living far from Barmby, advised by his medical man, as a last resort visited the well and applied the water externally for the cure of scurvy, and so quickly did he lose the scales that fresh sheets for his bed were required each night…

“About a century ago, the owner of the orchard in which the well is situated had a son, a doctor, who commenced to practice in the district.  The owner’s wife looked upon the spring as detrimental to the prospects of the son. So she said to her husband, “Tummus, we’ll hev that well filled oop.  Foaks can cure thersens, an’ ther’ll be nowt fur poor Tummy ti dea.”  Tummus was so convinced by his wife’s foresight that he did as she wished, and filled up the well.”

Naathen, on the very first OS-map of the village, the lads marked it at SE 6885 2848, as well as on subsequent surveys.  This spot is 170 yards west of the village church wall.  The location described by Smith has no “well” or spring marked on any maps, but, on the 25-inch scale map, 100 yards southeast of the the church walling we see marshland on the other side of a copse of trees in the very spot he told us about.  Whether or not this was the actual spot, or whether the OS-lads had it right, we might never know.  Field-name surveys may help; the existence  and location of the orchard may help; other literary accounts might also be useful.  But, one final query that may be important relates to Tom Allen’s (1831) words when he told us that “the site is only known to a few of the villagers.”  By that, did he mean that the local folk kept its position quiet from outsiders?  Even today, in our numerous inquiries with local people in the glens and mountains when seeking out lost or forgotten places, we still come across some olde local folk who are still quite hesitant, with that serious quizzical look in their eyes…

Folklore

St Peter’s day was celebrated on June 29.  He was one of the so-called “major saints” due to him being one JC’s Apostles.  His symbol was a key.

References:

  1. Allen, Thomas, A New and Complete History of the County of York – volume 2, I.T. Hinton: London 1831.
  2. Gutch, E., Examples of Printed Folk-lore Concerning the East Riding of Yorkshire, Folk-Lore Society: London 1912.
  3. Harte, Jeremy, English Holy Wells – volume 2, Heart of Albion press: Wymeswold 2008.
  4. Smith, William, Ancient Springs and Streams of the East Riding of Yorkshire, A. Brown: Hull 1923.
  5. White, William, History, Gazetteer and Directory of the East and North Ridings of Yorkshire, R. Leader: Sheffield 1840.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Holy Well, Strathnaver, Farr, Sutherland

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NC 725 538 (approximation)

Archaeology & History

It would appear that there’s only one literary reference to this seemingly lost holy well, located halfway down megalithic Strathnaver, somewhere close to the legendary Loch ma Naire.  James  Horsburgh’s (1870) essay on the antiquities of this area mentioned it, almost in passing, in his description of the Dun Viden broch.  He told that,

“Close to Dun Viden is Loch Manaar, where dozens of people come twice every year for the cure of diseases.  They come before sunrise, bathe in the loch, walk round it, drink from a holy well (my emphasis), and throw some pieces of money into the loch.  There is a legend about this loch, which I forget; but a woman was chased by a priest, and threw something in it, and called out that it was Loch Manaar—that is, the loch of my shame. “

The holy well is referred to in Historic Scotland’s Canmore entry, citing both the New Statistical Account and Name Books as referrals to the site, yet neither of them include this well in their surveys; it is only through Horbugh that we hear of this site—and we know not where it lived!  In the event that it still exists, we’d expect it to be not more than 2-300 yards from the edge of Loch ma Naire; or perhaps it may be the source of the Loch ma Naire burn itself, nearly a mile to the east….  Seek and thee shalt find, as the old saying goes…

References:

  1. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


Lady’s Well, Kincardine, Ross & Cromarty

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NH 6072 8954

Archaeology & History

Site shown on 1879 map

First highlighted on the 1879 Ordnance Survey map, information on this site is sparse, save for those reliable Statistical Accounts and Name Books, which simply give us its location.  The only context that our Old Statistical lads gave us was its relationship and proximity to a castle, “the most ancient residence” of the Clan Ross Highland Chiefs which could “be seen in a beautiful field between the church and the sea side.”  At the end of this field is “a steep bank, hanging over the sea at high water called the ‘Bank of the Gate’, and at the bottom there is a spring of excellent water, called the Lady’s Well.”

The water’s dedication to Our Lady was obviously grafted onto it by those in the church above, glossing over, no doubt, earlier dedications by local people, whose practices seem to have been lost.  The site was included in the regional Name Book of the Ordnance Survey doods who, it seems, merely copied the notes about the place from the old Statistical Account.  In what seems to have been their last visit, no trace of the well was evident.  They concluded it “was under water at time of visit.”

It would be good to hear from local folk if this sacred site can still be found at the tree-line just above the sea, or whether Nature has taken it away from Her animals.

References:

  1. Gallie, Andrew, “Parish of Kincardine,” in Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 3 (edited by John Sinclair), William Creech: Edinburgh 1792.

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

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Sennen’s Well, Sennen Cove, Cornwall

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid reference – SW 3550 2626

Archaeology & History

The springs of Chapel Idne

Highlighted on the 1888 Ordnance Survey map of Sennen Cove are the remains of Chapel Idne, just above the coast.  Across the road from the chapel on its south-side, and also next to an old inn to its immediate west, springs of water are shown and it would seem more than likely that one of these two would have been the forgotten holy well of Sennen that was described, albeit briefly, in the great Mr Blight’s (1861) literary tour of the area.  He told us that:

“At Sennen Cove was an ancient chapel, called by the people Chapel Idne, the “narrow chapel” being forty-five feet long and fifteen feet wide.  It is now converted into a dwelling. Tradition says it was founded by one Lord of Goonhilly, who possessed dome portion of the land of Lyonesse.  There was a holy well of some repute here also.”

The waters of St. Sennen’s Well were used in an act of ceremonial magick in the Arthurian tale known as the Battle of Vellan-druchar, as told in Robert Hunt’s (1865) great Romances.  An attempted invasion by the Danes was met with by Arthur and nine other kings and the foreigners were slaughtered.

“A few had been left in charge of the ships, and as soon as they learned the fate of their brethren, they hastened to escape, hoping to return to their own northern land. A holy woman, whose name has not been preserved to us, “brought home a west wind” by emptying the Holy Well against the hill, and sweeping the church from the door to the altar.  Thus they were prevented from escaping, and were all thrown by the force of a storm and the currents either on the rocky shore, or on the sands, where they were left high and dry.  It happened on the occasion of an extraordinary spring-tide, which was yet increased by the wind, so that the ships lay high up on the rocks, or on the sands; and for years the birds built their nests in the masts and rigging.

Thus perished the last army of Danes who dared to land upon our western shores.

King Arthur and the nine kings pledged each other in the holy water from St Sennen’s Well, they returned thanks for their victory in St Sennen’s Chapel, and dined that day on the Table-men.

Merlin, the prophet, was amongst the host, and the feast being ended, he was seized with the prophetic afflatus, and in the hearing of all the host proclaimed–

“The northmen wild once more shall land,
And leave their bones on Escol’s sand.
The soil of Vellan-Druchar’s plain
Again shall take a sanguine stain;
And o’er the mill-wheel roll a flood
Of Danish mix’d with Cornish blood.
When thus the vanquish’d find no tomb,
Expect the dreadful day of doom.”

References:

  1. Blight, J.T., A Week at the Land’s End, Longmans Green: London 1861.
  2. Hunt, Robert, Popular Romances of the West of England, 1865.
  3. Straffon, Cheryl, “Chapel Idne and the Holy Well,” in Meym Mamvro no.34, 1997.
  4. Weatherhill, Craig, “A Guide to Holy Wells and Celebrated Springs in West Penwith,” in Meym Mamvro no.4, 1997.

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

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Maiden’s Well, Launceston, Cornwall

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid reference – SX 3285 8477

Archaeology & History

Site of well on 1884 map

Very little is known about this holy well on the north-western side of town that was apparently destroyed sometime in the 19th century; for when the Ordnance Survey lads visited here in 1882, they found no running water but only the location of where it had been and they indicated this on their 1884 map of the area, marked as “Site of.”

It was first mentioned in a short topographical notice in 1582, which told that the “Magden Well in the Quarrie Haye”—along with another well—was “found to be in decay.” (Peter 1885)  Then, when the Ordnance Survey lads resurveyed the area again in 1951, once more they could find no trace of it.

References:

  1. Peter, Richard, The Histories of Launceston and Dunheved, W. Brendon: Plymouth 1885.

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

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Holy Well, Lawhitton, Cornwall

Holy Well:  OS Grid reference – SX 3546 8252

Archaeology & History

Site shown on 1882 OS-map

Highlighted on the 1882 OS-map several hundred yards north of St. Michael’s church, this site seems to have fallen back to Earth as no remains of it have been found in recent visits.  It was described in Charles Henderson’s (1914) notes as the “holy well at Barton Farm”, and was visited by J. Meyrick (1982) in April of 1980, who told that it could be found by taking “the track immediately east of Lawhitton church which runs through the farm of Mr Lancaster…  After going through the yard proceed ¼ mile down track to the valley where you reach a stream and the Well is on the right.”  It was sought after by Cheryl Straffon (1998) but following her visit to find the Well she told that “there was nothing now to see except a kind of natural basin by the small bridge.”

References:

  1. Henderson, Charles, Notebooks of Parochial Antiquities, Unpublished MS 1914.
  2. Meyrick, J., A Pilgrims Guide to the Holy Wells of Cornwall, Falmouth 1982.
  3. Straffon, Cheryl, Fentynyow Kernow: In Search of Cornwall’s Holy Wells, Meyn Mamvro: Penzance 1998.

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

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian