Once found in a cluster of three little wells all very close to each other near the top of the field where the Crossflatts roundabout joins up with the Aire-Valley trunk road, this is an intriguing site if you happen to be a pagan, or have an interest in druidism — and for one main reason: its name. When I first came across a reference to the place about 25 years ago, the only piece of information I could find about it came from the arduous detailed researches of the Victorian industrial historian J. Horsfall Turner who, unfortunately, neglected to record much of the fading folklore in the region at his time. Marked on the 1852 6-inch Ordnance Survey map, ‘Lund’ was a bit of an etymological curiosity, and Mr Turner (1897) thought the well’s name was little other than that of a local mill owner, whose nickname was ‘Lund’ Thompson. He was guessing of course…and I thought little more about it…
Years later when looking through A.H. Smith’s (1961-63) magnum opus on the place-names of West Yorkshire, I found that he didn’t include the Lund Well in his survey. However, an eventual perusal of Kenneth Cameron’s (1996) work told that in Old Norse place-names (and there is a preponderance of such places scattering Yorkshire and Lancashire), lund or lundr was a “‘small wood, grove,’ also had a meaning, ‘sacred grove’.” The word is echoed in old French, launde, meaning ‘forest glade’. In A.H. Smith’s (1954) earlier etymological magnum opus he said that the word derives from a “small wood, grove, also a sacred grove, one offering sanctuary.” However, Margaret Gelling (2000) urged caution on the origin of lund as a sacred grove and erred more to the usual English tendency of depersonalizing everything, taking any animistic attribution away from its root meaning; but we must urge caution upon her caution here! Neither Joseph Wright (English Dialect Dictionary, vol.3 1905) nor William Grant (Scottish National Dictionary, vol.6, 1963) have entries for this word, so we must assume the Scandinavian root word origin to be correct.
One vitally important ingredient with the Lund Well is its geographical position. For across the adjacent River Aire the land climbs uphill—and a few hundred yards above we reach the well-known and legendary Druid’s Altar, with its Druid’s Well just below. This association is what suggests our Lund Well may have had a real association with a “sacred grove of trees”, as—despite us knowing very little about them—we do at least know that druids performed rites in sacred groves. In Greenbank’s (1929) historical analysis of the Druid’s Altar, he was left perplexed as to the origin of its name as all early accounts and popular culture assigned it this title, and so he opted for the probability that the druids did indeed once perform rites here. If this was true, then our seemingly innocuous Lund Well once had a much more sacred history than anyone might have thought. Sadly, through their usual ignorance of such matters, the industrialists destroyed it….
Cameron, Kenneth, English Place-Names, Batsford: London 1996.
Gelling, Margaret, Place-Names in the Landscape, Phoenix: London 2000.
Greenbank, Sydney, The Druid’s Altar, Bingley, R.G. Preston: Bingley 1929.
Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 2, Cambridge University Press 1954.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – 8 volumes, Cambridge University Press 1961-63.
From Heysham village centre by the little roundabout, go down the gorgeous olde-worlde Main Street for about 150 yards, keeping your eyes peeled for the little track up to the tree-lined church of St. Peter. Just before going up the path to the church, set back at the roadside, you’ll see an old pump in an arch in the walling. That’s St. Patrick’s Well!
Archaeology & History
Not to be confused with another St. Patrick’s Well a few miles north of here, little has been said of this old holy well in literary tomes (even Henry Taylor’s (1906) magnum opus missed it!) Sadly the waters here have long since been diverted (which violates religious tradition, quite frankly), and all we see today is an old iron water-pump set inside a stone arch, beneath which – I presume – the waters once ran. An old plaque on the site of this ancient well tells:
“This is one of two holy wells in Heysham village (the other, Sainty Well, is on private property and covered over), whose dedications are long since lost. Latterly the water from this well was used for utilitarian gardening purposes within the confines of the old rectory.
“Previously the well had fallen into disuse, suffered from surface contamination and became rubble-filled when the bank above gave way in the mid-1800s. In the early 1900s, the well-head was again rebuilt and the well itself was cleaned and made safe by capping with concrete. Recently (May 2002) the well-head has been refurbished and water artificially introduced, thus turning a derelict area into a feature of the village.”
It would be good if local people could complain to the regional water authority and make them redirect the waters beneath the well, back to the surface, to allow devotees — both Christian and otherwise — to partake of the holy blood sanctified by St. Patrick many centuries ago. And without fluoride or other unholy chemical compounds that desecrate our waters. Just the sacred waters of God’s Earth please!
This is one of the many places in the British Isles where St. Patrick was said to have landed after he’d converted all the Irish into the christian cult! One of the traditions was that St. Patrick said the well would never run dry — which was shown to be untrue when the waters were filled in with rubble in the 19th century. The same saint also used the waters from the well to baptise and convert the peasants of his time.
Quick, R.C., Morecambe and Heysham, Past and Present, Morecambe Times 1962.
Very little is known about this forgotten heathen water source. It was described in some notes attached on a piece of paper accompanying John Warburton’s description of Lee Hall and its surroundings. The notes were first printed in an early edition of Archaeologia Aeliana and subsquently included in Binnall & Dodds’ (1942) fine survey on the holy wells of the region. It’s exact whereabouts appears to be lost, and may be either the small pool across from the present Hall, or a small spring found in the edge of the small copse of trees just east of Lee Hall Farm. Anyone know for sure?
Written verbatim in that dyslexic olde english beloved of old folklorists like misself, the only bitta folklore said of this spring of water told:
“At the Lee hall an exclent spring, the vertue is such that if the lady of the Hall dip aney children that have the rickets or any other groone destemper, it is either a speedy cure of death. The maner and form is as followeth: The days of dipping are on Whitsunday Even, on Midsumer Even, on Saint Peeter’s Even. They must bee dipt in the well before the sun rise and in the River Tine after the sun bee sett: then the shift taken from the child and thrown into the river and if it swim…child liveth, but if it sink dyeth.”
The latter sentence echoing the crazy folklore of the christians to identify witches in bygone days!
Binnall, P.B.G. & Dodds, M. Hope, ‘Holy Wells in Northumberland and Durham,’ in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (4th Series), 10:1, July 1942.
Holy Well (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – SE 295 329
Archaeology & History
In the Holbeck area of Leeds, one of the three spa wells was previously patronised to this mythical saint, whose wells profuse in this part of the world. St. Helen’s Well (later becoming the Holbeck Spa Well) was found at the appropriately named St. Helens Bridge. Ralph Thoresby (1715) wrote of the place: a supposed medicinal holy well, it previously had a chapel by it, of which no trace is seen today. John Mayhall (1860) also mentioned this “medicinal well,” but told little more. It was Andrea Smith (1982), more than a century later, who wrote the most about the place:
“In connection with the well by St.Helen’s Bridge, Holbeck, (Thoresby) refers to “another ancient fabrik called St. Helen’s,” but there is a difficulty in deciding exactly what he means by ancient; it is taken here as meaning more than two hundred years old. This suggests, then, that by St. Helen’s Bridge there was once a well and chapel which gave rise to the dedication and which was probably a Medieval foundation, considering the popularity of St. Helen at that time.”
Both of these sites have long since disappeared. The well eventually became known as a local Spa Well, and was found to possess a high sulphur content.
Mayhall, John, The Annals of Yorkshire, Joseph Johnson: Leeds 1860.
Smith, Andrea, ‘Holy Wells Around Leeds, Bradford & Pontefract,’ in Wakefield Historical Journal 9, 1982.
Thoresby, Ralph, Ducatus Leodiensis: or the Topography of the Ancient and Populous Town and Parish of Leedes, Robinson & Holdsworth: Leeds 1816.
This rather delapidated spring of water (there are actually two springs here) marks the western edge of the parish boundary, just on the south-side of the A368 road towards Ubley, on what Phil Quinn (1999) described as “a neglected triangle of shrubby ground.” Its name derives from once being associated with a prehistoric tomb, or barrow, as the associated field-names of Barrows Orchard and Barrow Cross here indicates. Sadly however, all remains of whatever tomb there once was appears to have gone. Aerial imagery shows what may have been two or three barrows in the said field.
A haunted site: the folklore here is akin to banshee-lore and similar mythic figures. The fact that it marked the old boundary line between here and Ubley may have something to do with it. Quinn (1999) says how,
“Local folklore states that the well was haunted by the ghost of a woman washing cabbages”!
But this vegetative lore is likely a mistranslation of a local dialect word. Precisely what the spirit was supposedly ‘washing’ seems to have been lost in translation.
Quinn, Phil, The Holy Wells of Bath and Bristol Region, Logaston: Almeley 1999.
Although ascribed as a holy or healing well, this site is actually a curious natural water-filled depression near the top of Dun I, on the northern side of the island. It is one of three magickal wells to be found hereby. F.M. McNeill (1954) described this Well of Eternal Youth as having a fame that had spread far and wide, saying,
“Here, through ages past, pilgrims of each generation have lingered at the enchanted hour of dawn, ‘to touch the healing water the moment the first sun-ray quickens it.'”
In doing so, devotees would recover the energies of youth once more and live a longer healthy life.
Hannan, Thomas, Iona and some Satellites, W. & R. Chambers: London 1928.
McNeill, F. Marion, Iona, Blackie & Sons: Glasgow 1954.
This place is one of the first things you see when roving the northern edge of Ilkley Moor. Tis the small white house, perched on the hillside, which you can reach via the old track bending round to it on the west side, or the steep footpath which goes roughly straight uphill from the road, just above Ilkley Town centre, up (both) Wells Walk or Wells Road. If you go just a few hundred yards up these roads, as the road bends and the moor opens up ahead, you’ll see the white building above you. But if you’re truly useless at finding your way about, ask anyone of them there locals…
Archaeology & History
The White Wells have been described by countless writers over the centuries and attested as one of the great healing wells of the region. It was, without doubt, one of the most important water supplies to the indigenous Britons living on the moors here. One of their settlement sites is above the cliffs behind the modern position of the wells — though archaeological work has yet to be undertaken been. Cup-and-ring marked stones scatter the edge of the ridge right above where the waters originally appeared (a few hundred yards further up the slope on the hillside, just below the trees); and the folk-memory of our ancestors living here is found in several adjacent sites known by ‘fairy’ place-names.
But today it looks nothing like it would have done when the ancient people of the moors drank these waters, nor even when the Romans came here. For the white building which today houses the well was built around 1760 by the local Squire Middleton and originally contained three plunge baths in which folk would take the ‘cold water cure.’ (These were looked after by William Butler and his wife and were typically used by the gentry of the period, who it seems didn’t mind too much having to walk up the hillside to bathe in the “mellifluent, diaphanous, luminous waters.”)
The water in the house (you can go in and have a look), which now empties into a plunge pool, pours gently from the open mouth of a ‘celtic head’ – thought by some modern pagans to be ancient, but in fact is barely 200 years old. The water at White Wells originally emerged from the Earth several hundred yards further up the slope, above the present position of the house, much closer to the moor edge near the bottom of the steep slope where the pine trees cling, amidst rocks, moss and lichen. Here is where the original waters were first borne.
Long held as being curative, the first detailed description of the place was in Thomas Short’s (1734) magnum opus, where he said:
“Ichley-spaw springs out of the middle of a mountain, a mile high, and consists chiefly of lime stone and freestone. The water is very clear, brisk and sparkling; has no taste, colour nor smell different from the common water, is of the same weight. Its bason and course are of no other dye than that of a common spring. About thirty-five years ago, there were a house and a bath built, about a furlong below the original spring, which spring was brought down in stone-pipes. The first spring, near the top of the hill was very weak and small; this, very large and strong; whereby there appears to be a large mixture of other springs with this; since which time, it has fallen much sort of its former great success. Twenty yard above the drinking well (over which is built a small house of a yard square on the inside) they have cut thro’ an original spring of common water. There are several old lime-kilns a little above this. The water is first whitish, then blackish purple with solution of silver; it’s very clear, and has a purplish pellicle, with solution of sublimate; it was first white, then clear in the middle, and a white mucus at the sides and bottom of the glass, with solution of Sugar of Lead; very clear, with Oil of Tartar; whitish, with Spirit of Hartshorn; and the same as common water, with all the other trials. Five pints of this liquor exhaled left seven grains of sediment, the salt whereof dissolved in distilled water, turned solution of silver purple; was white with Spirit of Hartshorn: therefore tho’ this water is of the greatest esteem and repute of any in the north of England, in the King’s Evil and other old ulcers; yet it derives these effects neither from its fixt nor volatile parts; but wholly from the coldness and purity of the element, its drying nature from the lime-stone it washes, tho’ a great part of it comes from blue clay.”
In 1830, one Thomas Shaw said of the place,
“The water is, perhaps, for its purity, tenuity and coldness, the best qualified to be of utility for relaxed and sedantry habits of any water in this part of the country. It has frequently been analysed, but the decomposition always proved that it contains no medicinal quality. In my opinion, it is its purity and softness only, which makes if more efficacious, by passing sooner and to the utmost and finest limits of the circulation than any water known.”
But although many cures were claimed of the waters here, as Kathleen Denbigh (1981) wrote:
“According to a 1977 analysis, it is simply a clear, colourless spring water of moderate hardness, organically pure and free from metallic contamination and coliform organisms.” — i.e., it’s good clean water!
When the place gained a reputation as a spa, it was frequented by such notaries as Charles Darwin, Frederick Delius and Prof. David Baldwin. But even before this, in 1709, Dr Richard Richardson of Bradford—a reputable naturalist but also with considerable interest in ancient and occult matters—wrote that the site “has done very remarkable cures in scrofulous cases by bathing and drinking of it.”
Popularly believed in local lore to have been a place held as sacred to the Romans, I’m of the opinion that the local ‘goddess’ Verbeia was resident here. A thought also mentioned by G.T. Oakley (1999) in his book on the subject.
Legend tells that the medicinal properties of the waters were first discovered hundreds of years ago when an old shepherd, walking over the moors, damaged his leg. Upon bathing it in the waters here, it soon healed.
In the Folklore Record of 1878 we find a fascinating tale about these waters, alleged to have happened to the old keeper of the place, told by a local man John Dobson, and which cannot go untold:
“William Butterfield…always opened the door first thing in the morning, and he did this without ever noticing anything out of the common until one beautiful, quiet, midsummer morning. As he ascended the brow of the hill he noticed rather particularly how the birds sang so sweetly, and cheerily, and vociferously, making the valley echo with the music of their voices. And in thinking it over afterwards he remembered noticing them, and considered this sign attributable to the after incident. As he drew near the wells he took out of his pocket the massive iron key, and placed it in the lock; but there was something “canny’ about it, and instead of the key lifting the lever it only turned round and round in the lock. He drew the key back to see that it was alright.and declared, “It was the same that he had on the previous night hung up behind his own door down at home.” Then he endeavored to push the door open, and no sooner did he push it slightly ajar than it was as quickly pushed back again. At last, with one supreme effort, he forced it perfectly open, and back it flew with a great bang! Then ‘whirr, whirr, whirr’, such a noise and sight! All over the water and dipping into it was a lot of little creatures, all dressed in green from head to foot, none of them more than eighteen inches high, and making a chatter and jabber thoroughly unintelligible. They seemed to be taking a bath, only they bathed with all their clothes on. Soon, however, one or two of them began to make off, bounding over the walls like squirrels. Finding they were all making ready for decamping, and wanting to have a word with them, he shouted at the top of his voice—indeed, he declared afterwards, he couldn’t find anything else to say or do—”Hallo there!” Then away the whole tribe went, helter skelter, toppling and tumbling, heads over heels, heels over heads, and all the while making a noise not unlike a disturbed nest of young partridges. The sight was so unusual that he declared he either couldn’t or daren’t attempt to rush after them. He stood as still and confounded, he said, as old Jeremiah Lister down there at Wheatley did, half a century previous, when a witch from Ilkley put an ash riddle upon the side of the River Wharfe, and sailed across in it to where he was standing.1 When the well had got quite clear of these strange beings he ran to the door and looked to see where they had fled, but nothing was to be seen. He ran back into the bath to see if they had left anything behind; but there was nothing; the water lay still and clear as he had left it on the previous night. He thought they might perhaps have left some of their clothing behind in their haste, but he could find none, and so he gave up looking, and commenced his usual routine of preparing the baths; not, however, without trotting to the door once or twice to see if they might be coming back; but he saw them no more.”
Along with sightings of ‘little people’, ghosts have been seen at the White Wells. It is thought that the strange apparition which presented itself to a householder here in 1982—the ghostly figure of a young girl, weeping at the water’s edge—was that of little Ann Harper who, in August 1793, at the age of nine, drowned in the well when bathing.
Earthlight (UFO) phenomena have also been reported here over the years—the most dramatic of which was alleged to have taken place at the top of the slope above the original source of the wells in 1989, when a police officer reported and photographed a “little green man” on the geological prominence just behind the wells. He went on to narrate a typical UFO ‘abduction’ event, but much of this was psychogenic and the mythic undertones echo precisely the medieval lore of abduction by faerie.
The Fortean researcher David Barclay found in his dowsing investigations here that there were spiral patterns all round the place. “At first these were in no order,” he wrote, “but through a period of over twenty visits to the place, I established markers which indicated the spiralling patterns of the energy” within the Earth immediately adjacent to the White Wells. These spirals were nearly always in a clockwise direction. In further studies here, he and I came to know a Mrs Elsie Hill, who had done some quite striking automatic drawings of the place. “In her pictures,” he wrote, “appear a prominence of spiral-forms and faerie creatures which, she believes, inhabit White Wells.”
…to be continued…
Bennett, Paul, The White Wells, Ilkley Moor, Heathen Earth: Keighley 2009.
Bogg, Edmund, Upper Wharfeland, James Miles: Leeds 1904.
Collyer, Robert & Turner, J. Horsfall, Ilkley, Ancient and Modern, William Walker: Otley 1885.
Denbigh, Kathleen, A Hundred British Spas, Spa Publications: London 1981.
Granville, A.B., Spas of England, Henry Colburn: London 1841.
Oakley, G.T., Verbeia: The Goddess ofWharfedale, Rooted Media: Leeds 1999.
Shaw, Thomas, The History of Wharfedale, Otley 1830.
Short, Thomas, The Natural, Experimental and Medicinal History of the Mineral Waters of Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, privately printed: London 1724.
Speight, Harry, Upper Wharfedale, Elliott Stock: London 1900.
Whelan, Edna and Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: York 1989.