This curiously-named old water source may have an equally curious history behind it – albeit forgotten. Shown on the 1854 OS-map of the area and giving its s name to Dudwell Lane, we can see how an old path led from the road to the well and nowhere else.
It’s the word “dud” that holds our attention here; for if we hasten to the immensely erudite Joseph Wright (1900) in his gigantic survey of northern dialect, we find that the word relates to “a rag, piece of cloth; pl. clothes, esp. shabby, ragged, or dirty clothing.” This is echoed in another Yorkshire dialect work by Morris (1892) who told that the word meant “clothes (or) rags.” Several other Victorian writers tell us variations on this meaning (one adds old shoes to the list!), but in all instances it relates to dud being a rag, whereas the plural duds are rags or scruffy clothes. Naathen (to use another old dialect word), those of us who know a thing or two abaat olde wells are very very familiar with their association to old rags that were hanged on the surrounding trees as offerings to the spirits of the water—the genius loci—to aid in the hope or desire of something, or merely as respect to the waters for their beneficient properties. (this sometimes occurred ritually at set times in the calendar)
The Dud Well was obviously of considerable local repute, for just a couple of years after it was shown on the earliest OS-map, a local bailiff called Samuel Rhodes built The Dudwell house close to the waters, which he named “in honour of the magnificent and never-failing spring of pure, bright, sparkling water in the wells close by.”
There is a possible alternative meaning to the word dud, which is that some dood called ‘Duda’ left his name here! This seems much more speculative and unlikely than the use of a local dialect term. Hopefully a local historian amongst you might perhaps be able to find out more.
Morris, M.C.F., Yorkshire Folk-Talk, Henry Frowde: London 1892.
Wright, Joseph, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 2, Henry Frowde: London 1900.
The history of the site is scanty to say the least. It first seems to have been recorded when the Ordnance Survey lads came here in the 1840s, although they left no record as to why the site was given such a dedication. It’s a decidedly pre-christian title as the name “old Wife” is usually indicative in northern counties as being related to the primal Earth deity of northern England and lowland Scotland (when we reach the Highlands and Ireland, She becomes known—amongst other names—as the cailleach). However, apart from its name we have no additional information. Neither the holy wells writer Edna Whelan (1989; 2001), nor hydrolatry researcher Graeme Chappell were been able to find anything about the place in their own researches. And so we must go on name alone…
The waters bubble up into a small stone-lined chamber with the words Nattie Fontein carved into the lintel. This is something of a mystery in itself, for, as Edna Whelan (1989) told,
“it would be most unusual for the word fonten to be used for a spring in North Yorkshire: ‘keld’ is the local word. The rather roughly inscribed word may be a corruption of Fons Natalis, the name of a Celtic water nymph.”
Graeme Chappell (2000) meanwhile, noticed in a visit to the site in June 1999,
“that the N and A in “NATTIE” are carved in such a way that the word could be read as “MATTIE FONTEIN” perhaps meaning “Mother Fountain”. This might then be another reference to the Old Wife?”
He then goes on to note how,
“the latin word ‘natalis‘ meaning ‘birth’ and its link with the roman Festival ‘Dies Natalis Sol Invictus‘ (day of the birth of the unconquered sun) which took place on the 25th December. Natalis also gave rise to the welsh word ‘Nadolig‘ – meaning Christmas.”
This Yuletide element has an intriguing relationship with the name of the well; for to the west of Yorkshire’s borders into Cumbria there was annual gathering known as Old Wives’ Saturday that took place on the first Saturday after Christmas, or first Saturday of the New Year in a person’s house or inn, where a feast was had to bring in the New Year; but there is no known written lore of such a tradition here.
Nowadays the old tradition of hanging rags on the trees surrounding the well as offerings to the spirit of the place (known as memaws in parts of Yorkshire, and clooties in Scotland) has become a regular practice of those who hold such sites as sacred in their own way. Whelan mentioned seeing memaws here in the 1908s, but the Northern Antiquarian contributor Jon Barker told that, “The rags are a comparatively recent addition to the well, it is not a tradition there. When I used to go in the ’60s therewere no rags.”
On an even more curious note: very recently (from when this profile was written), the Northern Antiquarian contributor and photographer James Elkington visited Old Wives’ Well for the first time. It was a grey overcast day and when he arrived here, there was a woman ahead of him at the head of the well. I’ll let him tell the rest of it in his own words:
“In front of the well was a lady dressed in what looked like a white nighty, she had her back to me. There was a candle lit nearby, and her hands were in the water moving slowly about like she was washing something. She had long dark shoulder length hair. As I was about 25 feet away I was sure she wasn’t aware of me, and I thought it would make a good photograph. I quietly put my bag on the ground and got my camera out, and looked up and…she was gone! I couldn’t have taken my eye off her for more than 5 or 6 seconds. I looked all around and there was no sign of her. Even if she had legged it through the woods I would have seen her. I think it was then that I realized that I may have had ‘an encounter’. I quickly took three pics of the Well and got the hell out of there!”
He rang me once he had regained his senses in a somewhat emotional state and recounted over and over what had just happened. Whether this was a visual manifestation of the genius loci of the we can’t say. But such encounters are not unknown at numerous sacred water sites all over the world. We can only hazard a guess that this is what he was fortunate to encounter.
Just a few hundred yards north is the old Mauley or Malo Cross, which may or may not have had some mythic relationship with our Old Wives…
On the outskirts of Loughborough is an area called Holywell, but pronounced ‘holly’. The holy well can be found at the furthest north west part of the park, behind the large Garendon block of the Holywell complex. Here behind some hydrogen cylinders (!) follow the brook on the left until you reach a stile. Climb over this and the well in front of you. It is unclear what the access rights are, but there are no private signs.
Archaeology & History
Virtually swallowed up by Loughborough University is the estate of Holywell Haw, the present farmhouse taking its name from a spring nearby. Of the house itself: it probably began life as a hostel for those lost in the most substantial Charnwood Forest, which has since retracted around it. However by 1180, it had become a hermitage owned by Garendon Abbey and is then first noted by the name of ‘Holywell Haw’, the latter word deriving from haw meaning enclosure, the same origin as hawthorn. Potter, in his History and Antiquities of Charnwood Forest (1842), notes it was mentioned in a grant by Robert de Jort to the abbey, with the site being described as heremitorium de Halliwellhaga.
Later, the 13th century Testa de Nevill, records ‘a dairy, with a small wood, called Haliwelle Hawe’, which by the 14th century the Leicester Abbey purchased from a Henry Lord Beaumont “a certain parcel of wood called Holy-well Haw for £28.” It was they who appeared to have developed the area to what can be seen today: fishponds and moats, and probably used the site as a grange and possible a diary. What remains today is mainly 15th century, with fragments of a medieval structure such as gothic doorways and timbers. Whether it was Holywell Haw or Hall is unclear. This discrepancy has been blamed on the Ordnance Survey—and indeed, some blunders have been done by them in the past. However, it is possible that a 19th century owner, March Philips, had some sort of pretensions for the building and thought the name was better. By the 18th century, the name Holywell Dyke was an eighteenth-century boundary mark for Charnwood Forest.
The spring is icy cold and never run dry, and produces—according to Bob Trubshaw (1990)—20,000 galloons a day and is one of the only non-incorporated spring in the Severn Trent catchment classed as A1 Drinkable.
The Site Today…
Despite a leaflet mentioning the well from the University (available as a pdf-file), it is a little reticent as regards to whether it can be visited. However, exploring around the back of the enormous Holywell complex, a small path passes some gas cylinders and then to a stile. No keep out signs are present so I assumed it was okay to jump over. There almost in front of me is a large brick chamber covered by two large fibre glass up turned boats. These appear to cover the well.
Peering between a gap however, this rather unpromising edifice reveals something more interesting. The brick chamber encloses an elliptical natural stone or possibly medieval basin, into which a copious flow enters and fills and then flows through a pipe into the brook below. Despite the rather ugly surrounds there is still something ancient and mysterious about this most well-known of Leicestershire sacred springs. The local farm, the Holywell Haw, still apparently uses the water and it is regularly checked by the University authorities. One hopes it can get a better cover. Surely the university could afford a metal grid more worthy of this venerable site.
Local tradition states that it has medicinal qualities. Nichols (1795–1815) notes:
“The excellent spring is yet preserved.”
Potter (1852) notes that it:
“derives part of its name from a well, to the waters of which, even in recent times, considerable virtues have been attributed.”
However, its most famous legend is said to date from the 15th century. Potter (1852) notes that:
“The popular idea seems to be, that the Comyns (of Whitwick Castle) were great giants. One of them, said my informant, attempted to carry off one of the Ladies of Groby Castle, who left that place for security, intending to take sanctuary at Grace Dieu. Going, however, by a circuitous route, to avoid Charley and Whitwick, she was benighted, and would have perished in the Outwoods, but for one of the Monks of the Holy Well.”
The legend tells how after a considerable pursuit, she upon reaching the hermitage, collapsed and died. A monk then used the water to bring her back to life. Potter (1942) tells the story in verse:
“The oaks of the forest were Autumn-tinged,
And the winds were at sport with their leaves
When a maiden traversed the rugged rocks
That frown over WOODHOUSE EAVES.
The rain fell fast – she heeded it not
Though no hut or home appears;
She scarcely knew if the falling drops
Were rain drops or her tears.
Onward she hied through the OUTWOODS dark
(And the Outwoods were darker then)
She feared not the Forest’s deepening gloom She feared unholy men.
Lord Comyn’s scouts were in close pursuit,
For Lord Comyn the Maid had seen,
And had marked her mother’s only child
For his paramour, I ween.
A whistle, a whoop from the BUYK HYLLS side,
Told Agnes her foes were nigh:
And screened by the cleft of an aged oak,
She heard quick steps pass by.
Dark and dread fell that autumn night:
The wind-gusts fitful blew:
The thunder rattled: – the lightning’s glare
Showed BEACON’s crags to view.
The thunder neared – the lightning played
Around the sheltering oak;
But Agnes, of men, not God afraid,
Shrank not at the lightning’s stroke!
The thunder passed – the silvery moon
Burst forth from her cave of cloud,
And showed in the glen “Red Comyn’s” men,
And she breathed a prayer aloud:-
“Maiden mother of God! Look down
List to a maidens prayer:
Keep undefiled my mother’s sole child
The spotless are thy care”
The sun had not glinted on BEACON HILL
Ere the Hermit of the HOLY WELL
Went forth to pray, as his wont each day,
At the cross in Fayre-Oke dell.
Ten steps had he gone from the green grassy mound
Still hemming the HOLY WELL HAW,
When, stretched on the grass – by the path he must pass
A statue-like form he saw!
He crossed himself once, he crossed himself twice,
And he knelt by the corse in prayer:
“Jesu Maria! cold as ice –
Cold – cold – but still how fair!”
The Hermit upraised the stiffened form,
And he bore to the HOLY WELL:
Three Paters or more he muttered o’er,
And he filled his scallop shell.
He sprinkled the lymph on the Maiden’s face,
And he knelt and he prayed by her side
Not a minute’s space had he gazed on her face
Ere signs of life he spied…..
Spring had invested the CHARNWOOD oaks
With their robe of glistening green,
When on palfreys borne, one smiling morn,
At the HOLY WELL’s HAW were seen.
A youth and a Lady, passing fair,
Who asked for the scallop shell:
A sparkling draught each freely quaffed,
And they blessed the HOLY WELL.
They blessed that Well, and they fervently blessed
The Holy Hermit too;
To that and to him they filled to the brim
The scallop, and drank anew.
“Thanks, Father! Thanks! – To this well and thee,”
Said the youth, “But to Heaven most,
I owe the life of the fairest wife
That CHARNWOOD’s bounds can boast.
“The blushing bride thou seest at my side.
(Three hours ago made mine)
Is she who from death was restored to breath
By Heaven’s own hand and thine”.
“The Prior of ULVERSCROFT made us one,
And we hastened here to tell
How much we owe to kind Heaven and thee,
For the gift of the HOLY WELL”.
“In proof of which – to the HOLYWELL HAW
I give as a votive gift,
From year to year three fallow deer,
And the right of the Challenge drift”.
“I give, besides, of land two hides,
To be marked from the Breedon Brand:
To be held while men draw from the Well in this Haw
A draught with the hollow hand”.
The Hermit knelt, and the Hermit rose,
And breathed “Benedicite!
And tell me”, he said, with a hand on each head,
“What heaven sent pair I see!”
“This is the lost de Ferrers’ child,
Who dwelt at the Steward’s Hay;
And, father, my name – yet unknown to fame
Is simply EDWARD GREY”.
It is thought that after being revived she gave her name to God and became a prioress and some historians link it to a real life account of Eleanor Ferrars whose was carried off. It also has similarity to legends associated with Essex’s Running Well and Kent’s St. Thomas’s well at Singlewell.
Hope, R. C, 1893, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, London: Elliot Stock.
Nichols, J.,1795-1810, History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester, London: Nichols
Potter, C.1985, ‘The holy wells of Leicestershire and Rutland’, in Source, 1st series, 1:15–17.
Potter, T. R 1852, History and antiquities of Charnwood Forest
Rattue, J., 1993, ‘An inventory of ancient, holy and healing wells in Leicestershire’, Tr. of the Leicestershire Arch. & Hist. Soc. 67: 59–69. Richardson, L. R., 1931, Wells and Springs of Leicestershire, Memoirs of the Geological Survey.
Trubshaw, B., 1990, Holy Wells and Springs of Leicestershire and Rutland, Heart of Albion, Wymeswold.
If travelling from Dundee or Newport, turn right into Meadow Road, the last turning before the roundabout in the middle of the town. On the right is a large white-painted building where bicycles are sold. The site of St Bunyan’s Well is on the patch of empty land opposite, to the left nearest the road.
Archaeology & History
The Well is named in conjunction with the ninth century Culdee chapel of St Bunyan on the nearby Temple Hill, now known as School Hill. St Bunyan has been remembered by various alternative names: Bunoc, Bonac, Bonoc, Bonnoch, Bunan, Bernard and Bennett, and W. Reid noted in 1909,
“A crown charter of 1539 refers to a yearly market on St. Bonoc’s Day, and a further reference to the Chapel of St Bonach occurs in the confirmation of a charter by James VI.”
Forbes’ Kalendars of Scottish Saints records, under the entry for Saint Bonoc that one of the Endowments of Saint Fergus at St Andrews was the jawbone of Saint Bonoc, given by Bishop David Rhynd.
The mid nineteenth century Ordnance Survey Name Book correspondents Messrs. Pillans and Keddie described the well: “In the village of Leuchars. A excellent Spring Well in the village of Leuchars it is built round with cut stones, and is Kept in good repair by the inhabitants. the date when it was first Constructed is not known but it said to have been before the reformation, dedicated to St. Bunyan hence its name.”
The Reverend Kettle in the Old Statistical Account for Leuchars adds: “There is a most excellent well flowing with an abundant Stream of Soft water near the west en of the village (for the village is now extending westward) called by the name of the saint to whom the Chapel was no doubt consecrated.”
An elderly couple whom I met remembered a small well-house, but I didn’t ask them when it was demolished. The Saint is remembered in Leuchars by the road name of a modern development in St Bunyan’s Place. St Bunyan’s Well probably dried up as a result of the increased water demand following the establishment of RAF Leuchars in 1920. The Saint now has his waters extracted by Scottish Water’s Meadow Road Pumping Station.
Entering Leuchars from Dundee or Newport go straight ahead through the roundabout; entering from Cupar or St.Andrews turn right at the roundabout, then up School Hill and bear left up the Pitlethie Road, then immediately past a long terrace of bungalows, turn left up an unmade road opposite the school, where you can park up. Walk down the track, noting the Castle Knowe Motte across the fields ahead and follow the track to the right, and there at the bottom of the slope, below modern housing, is the site of the Lady’s Well.
Archaeology & History
There seems to be only minimal information about Lady’s Well. To the south lies the ancient church of St Athernase, described architecturally as the second finest Romanesque church in Britain (after Durham Cathedral) and apparently built by some of the same masons who built Durham. Prior to the building of St Athernase, a ninth century Culdee church, dedicated to St Bonoc (also known as St. Bennet or St. Bonach or St.Bernard) stood on the School Hill which rises over Leuchars. School Hill was anciently known as Temple Hill, perhaps indicating a connection with the Knights Templar.
Writing in the Old Statistical Account for Leuchars in the 1790s, the Reverend Kettle wrote:
“A little north of the east end of the village, to the convenience and comfort of the inhabitants, there is another well of equal excellence, called the Lady well, no doubt consecrated to the Blessed Virgin”
The mid nineteenth century Ordnance Survey name book has the following entry referring to the Lady’s Well, contributed by a Messrs Pillans and David Keddie:
“The site of a Spring Well in a small piece of open ground adjoining the Village of Leuchars. It ran dry before the year 1843 from some unaccountable reason. and in that year A New well was sunk and opened a short distance from it. which since supplys its place. This last was done by subscription by the inhabitants of the village the original well was sunk and opened for use by a Lady of the name of “Carnegie” who formerly Lived at “Leuchars Castle” hence the name “Lady’s Well” it was never resorted to as a holy Well.”
Despite this, we must bear in mind the Kirk’s powerful post Reformation antipathy to holy wells, which may be reflected in the story given by the above two correspondents.
While your writer was bimbling around Leuchars, a chance (?) meeting led to him being introduced to probably the oldest residents in the town (mid- to high-90s). They only remember the Lady’s Well site being known as ‘The Well Green’ where the old Fife County Council waterworks were once situated, and there we may have the reason for the Well’s physical demise: modern water extraction to serve Leuchars RAF Station and its ancillary barracks and housing has lowered the water table, leading to the spring drying up as it passes from living memory
The best way here is to walk a mile to find it. All the way up the road from Gleneagles Standing Stones to Glendevon, right at the very top where the two glens meet, there’s a small road heading to the Fishery. 100 yards along, park up. Then take the old green road back down the Glen, north towards Gleneagles, parallel with the new road. A mile or so down you’ll reach the farmhouse, but a coupla hundred yards before this, in a wooden gap in the electric fence, you can walk straight downhill to the large pool below you. Y’ can’t really miss it!
Archaeology & History
The strong cold spring of water known as St Mungo’s Well, now gathers into a large crystal clear pool and is gorgeous to drink and very refreshing! All around the edges are the brilliant yellow masses of gorse, held amidst widespread vivid hues of green in this most rocky of landscapes. Tis a gorgeous setting here….
Unfortunately there is no literary information that tells us why this spring of water, amongst the many others all around these hills, gained the ‘blessing’ of one of those roaming christians and was deemed to be ‘holy’. The greatest likelihood, as usual, is that the waters had some important heathen association which our peasant ancestors would have been able to tell us about if their animistic tales hadn’t been outlawed and demonized by the incoming cult — but we’ll probably never know for sure. As a result, we know nothing now of its medicinal qualities or old stories.
The transference of its old name (whatever it may have been) to their ‘St. Mungo’ may date from when the character was wandering with his christians in the 7th century, but we have no literary account proving as such. The name ‘St Mungo’ was an alternative name (a nickname if y’ like) of St. Kentigern — or at least that’s what the church historians tell us. There is no history of Kentigern or St Mungo up the glen, but we do have a more prosaic account that tells of a Mr Mungo Haldane of Gleneagles, a member of the Scottish parliament in 1673 onwards; he was succeeded by another Mungo Haldane MP in 1755. However, it’s highly unlikely that these political characters gave their name to the well.
Even the Scottish holy wells surveys are pretty silent on this beautiful site. It was mentioned in Morris’ (1981) survey, but with no real information. The earliest account seems to come from an article written in the Perthshire Advertiser in 1856, and thankfully reproduced in the otherwise tedious genealogical history of the Haldane (1880) family; but even here, the narrative simply mentions the presence of the well and no more. Described in a walk up Gleneagles, it told:
“Journeying westward along the desolate moor…we soon came in front of Gleneagles, a narrow picturesque glen in the Ochils, through which the old road from Crieff leads into Kinross-shire. The hills here, as throughout the whole range, are strictly pastoral, but in no place more so than Gleneagles. Crowning the heights on both sides of the glen, we have craigs ragged and bare enough; but their show of beetling hard sterility is as nothing to the winding receding mass of grassy heights that bound the view. In looking on that quiet, sunny, Sabbath-like retreat, one would be apt to deem the name a misnomer, and yet it is not much above a hundred years since the monarch of birds had a home among its cliffs. There, too, the Ruthven Water that dashes past Auchterarder has its rise — not in a scarcely seen bubbling spring almost covered with moss, but issuing at once into daylight at the bottom of yonder steep in volume sufficient to drive a mill. In ancient times, as now, it must have been an object of mark, as it is called St. Mungo’s Well; but who this St. Mungo or St. Magnus was — whether the ghostly patron of Glasgow, Auchterarder old chapel, or the guardian saint of this particular spot, we cannot tell. But he seems to have relished cold water; and it is satisfactory to know that he must have got his fill of it there, if his cell happened to be in the vicinity.”
The well was mentioned in passing in the Object Name Book in 1860 and shown on the earliest Ordnance Survey maps.
Apart from the fact that the waters here never run dry, we have no other folklore. However it should be noted that St. Mungo’s Day was January 14th — which may have been when the qualities of the spring were deemed most efficacious, or when olde rites were enacted here. However, a hundred yards down we pass the stream known as Bride’s Burn, probably in honour of the heathen Queen St. Brigit, whose name and myths are integral to our great Earth goddess, the Cailleach and whose celebration date is only two weeks later than that of Mungo. Hmmmmmmm…..
Attwater, Donald, Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Penguin: Harmondsworth 1965.
Haldane, Alexander, Memoranda Relating to the Family of Haldane of Gleneagles, C.A. MacKintosh: London 1880.
MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
Follow the road around from Headon village to the Ladywell estate and on the left hand side is a small copse and footpath. It is near the junction of Greenspotts Lane and Lady Well Lane. Park carefully near here and walk down the small ravine to the well.
History & Archaeology
Only two dates can be confirmed of this site. One a reference in County records of mending a bridge to a ‘Ladyewell‘ in the nearby Markham parish, but this could easily be another site. A better date is that 1718 which is carved on its arch. It was used as a source of water until the 1930s. One of the most atmospheric and pleasantly situated sites, the spring is located in a small wooded dell and arises from the rock in a small alcove or cave. This is fronted by a red brick arch, and the water fills a trough set partly into the ground with a small overflow lip and a channel to fill it, presumably this was for animals. On the key stone of the arch are the initials ‘HW’ and a date which possibly reads 1718.
I have found no traditions of healing or other folk belief. However, the site was one of the few Nottinghamshire well dressing sites. This began in 1981 and continued until 1991, and there was a one-off occurred in 2000 AD. It was done on the weekend of the churches Patronal festival—St. Peter’s—and was used to use to pay for the church repairs. The well dressing boards were of a Derbyshire tradition, as can be seen here to the right.
Itcan be found by taking North Street off Duffield Road (A6) continuing until it joins North Parade and here a little lane, called Well Street comes off and the spring is at the junction of this and Bath Street on the left hand side.
Archaeology & History
First recorded in 1190 in a rental agreement but considering its association probably earlier. The well is dedicated to the Saxon saint who died 800 AD and whose tomb or shrine was located in church nearby (and is now located in the Derby Museum). Little is recorded of its history however.
The well is below ground level with four steps to its water which flows with some force into an oval basin. A stone carving states its name. The plaque reads:
“Until the area was built up from 1814, the well was in a rural setting, part of St Helen‟s Park. The stone niche surrounding the well was built by the Rev Henry Cantrell in the early 18th century”.
It now sits rather incongruously in an area of urban landscape, an odd juxtaposition amongst the older houses and tower blocks still exists, but is often prone to vandalism. and has suffered from it. Well dressings were discontinued due to vandalism and it was blocked off my tall metal fencing for a period recently. Now it is surrounded by a small wall and black railings which has blocked access but will protect it.
Cox (1875–9) records that a vicar of S. Werburgh’s was cured of his low consumption, after constantly drinking its water, although the sign It has been traditionally dressed, revived in 1870 and continued infrequently until 1993, stopping because the boards were thoughtlessly vandalised. The demolishing of the St. Alkmund’s Church in the 1960s for road widening stopped the tradition of processing to the well. I was told by a local elderly lady that she still drank the water and that it was very pure…I was not sure myself!
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…
Anonymous, “Important Discovery at Ilkley,” in Leeds Mercury, August 18, 1883.
Bennett, Paul, Healing Wells and Springs of Ilkley Moor, unpublished: Hebden Bridge 1995.
Collyer, Robert & Turner, J.H., Ilkley: Ancient and Modern, William Walker: Otley 1885.