Holy Well, Humphrey Head, Allithwaite, Cumbria

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SD 3901 7392

Getting Here

Early photo of holy well site (Henry Taylor, 1906)

To get here you have to travel right to the end of the road, then walk a short distance until you hit the horrible coastal waters where there’s a natural rock arch. Just before here, on the west-facing side, is this famous holy well.

Archaeology & History

Just before this little-known sacred well is a cavity in the limestone rock which is called the Fairy Church, and a couple of hundred yards below here is another one which was known as the Fairy Chapel.  This region was obviously of sacred importance to our ancestors – and should still be to those of us with ecological concerns.  The waters from this well were said to cure poisons from the body.  It was written about at some length in Mr Taylor’s (1906) superb survey, where he collated material from a series of other early tracts describing the well.  He wrote:

“This celebrated medicinal well is said to have been used by lead miners from the time of the Romans. The patients come for a two or three days’ stay to “get the poison out of their systems.” The site is three and a half miles nearly due south from Cartmel. The water, which has a very peculiar taste, comes down from the hillside and flows into a small artificial basin or grotto. The key of the door is kept at a neighbouring farmhouse. Close to the well is an untenanted building formerly used by indigent sufferers. The wooded cliff forming ‘The Head’ is of singular beauty, overlooking the waters and sands of Morecambe Bay. On Hennet’s map of Lancashire (1828) the well is called ‘Spa Holy Well.’

“…Mr. W. O. Roper, in his Churches, Castles, and Ancient Halls of North Lancashire, writes: “One other appendage to the Priory of Cartmel should be mentioned, and that is the well known as the Holy Well. On the sea-shore, close under the towering cliffs of Humphrey Head, and almost immediately below the natural arch of rock which leads to the recess known as the Fairy Chapel, bubbles the well to which in former days the Priors journeyed in state from their neighbouring Priory, and to which in more recent times large numbers of people resorted, hoping to derive benefit from its medicinal qualities.”

“Mr. James Stockdale, in Annals of Cartmel, writes: “Near to this holy well (Humphrey Head) are two cavities in the mountain limestone rock called the ‘Fairy Church’ and the ‘Fairy Chapel,’ and about three hundred yards to the north there used to be another well, called ‘Pin Well’, into which in superstitious times it was thought indispensiable that all who sought healing by drinking the waters of the holy well should, on passing it, drop a pin; nor was this custom entirely given up till about the year 1804, when the Cartmel Commoners’ Enclosure Commissioners, on making a road to Rougham, covered up this ‘Pin Well’. I have myself long ago seen pins in this well, the offerings, no doubt, of the devotees of that day.”

“Mr. Hope, in his Holy Wells of England, says that “this is a brackish spring celebrated as a remedy for stone, gout, and cutaneous complaints.  The water issues from a projecting rock of limestone, called Humphrey Head and its medicinal qualities occasion a considerable influx of company to Cartmel, Flookborough, Kent’s Bank and Grange during the summer months…”

Holy Well on 1851 map

The site was clearly marked in 1851 on the first OS-map of the area as the Holywell Spa, and the attendant Fairy Chapel and Fairy Church shown as two distinctly separate places, very close by.

References:

  1. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  2. Taylor, Henry, The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Sherratt & Hughes: Manchester 1906.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Holy Well

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Holy Well 54.157496, -2.935367 Holy Well