This holy well was formerly on the northern boundary of a field adjoining the north side of the A1033 west of Keyingham.
In view of the surviving folklore relating to the well it seems that its dedication to St. Philip may have been an effort by the Church to ‘Christianise’ it; and the St Philip here is not the Biblical Apostle, but a local saint – Philip Ingleberd (died c.1325 and also known as Philip Inglebred), whose memory was celebrated by a nearby Cross and a shrine at St Nicholas Church in the village. The well and the cross may have been dedicated some time after 1392 following a ‘miracle’ relating to Philip’s tomb. These were destroyed by the mob in the Reformation, although the cross-base survives. It seems the well may have been restored in the late seventeenth century. By the early twentieth century the well was described as laying on the Common to the west of the village, by then filled in, only showing signs it ever existed by making the ground near its site wet and boggy in a rainy season.
George Poulson writing in 1841 told that,
“…a few fields more to the west is a well, called St. Philip’s Well; on a small stone are inscribed W. H. W. D. IG67. W. K. It is called the wishing well; and the country lasses were in the habit of dropping pins, or even a sixpence into it, for the purpose of ensuring to themselves either particular or general good luck.”
William Smith (1923) described the well as one of six wishing wells or pin wells in Yorkshire and, moreover, the only ‘Cross Well’ in the East Riding. At none of these wells was evil allowed to be foreshadowed, and the wells were only to show to a girl the portrait of her future husband. He told us that,
“In every case the wish had to be with truthful devotion, and not divulged to any living person, or the desired consummation would not be gained…. Tradition adds that the well was much visited by maidens, who, on dropping their pins or coins, expressed the wish to see their lovers mirrored on its waters. Thus they kept a custom, dating to the time when the well was counted to be under the control of the fairies.”
And as Keyingham Common was once the abode of the fairies, it is worth noting that some 700 yards west of the site of the well a ‘Pans Hill’ is shown on the old maps, although whether this rural spirit of classical myth ever made it up to the East Riding is altogether another matter….
Arrowsmith, Nancy & Moorse, George, A Field Guide to the Little People, Macmillan: London 1977.
Hope, Robert, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliot Stock: London 1893.
Poulson, George, History and Antiquities of the Seigniory of Holderness, Thomas Topping: Hull 1841.
Smith, Rev. William, Ancient Springs & Streams of the East Riding of Yorkshire, A.Brown: Hull 1923.
If you’re a bittova unhealthy dood, give this site a miss, as it takes a bitta getting to! Otherwise, get to the rocks at the very bottom of the Druid’s Altar and walk to the right (east) until you hit the walling a few hundred yards along. Near the bottom of the slope, where the land levels out, there are several lovely moss-strewn boulders in their music of graceful hues. One of them, you’ll see, has water emerging from it base. You’re here!
Archaeology & History
I first visited this old site with the holy wells writer Edna Whelan sometime in the early 1980s, when we went in search of the sacred spring of water known as the ‘Altar Well,’ shown on early maps to be just a short distance beneath the small cliffs called the Druid’s Altar. We didn’t find it! Another visit with Graeme Chappell and Edna (again) sometime later also proved fruitless – but something else was found which we didn’t know about on our first sojourn: the Druid’s Well, or more accurately the Druid’s Spring. (no stone trough y’ see) Not far from the spot that the Altar Well could once be seen, this beautiful spring of sweet water emerges beneath the rich lichen-encrusted boulder, painted with dappled mosses and an overhang of vivid ferns. Tis a fine oracular site, if ever there was one!
The waters run slowly from beneath the great old rock, upon which grows a fine specimen of a birch tree – a truly old thing! And if there was ever any truth about this regions association with the druids, one of their most important sacraments grows profusely here when the season is right: no, not mistletoe (though it can be found sparingly upon the old oaks), but a wealth of the sacred Amanita muscaria, to whose spirit visionary journeys were bestowed.
The name of the woodlands in which our Druid’s Spring emerges — the Hollin Wood — might also have had some associative relationship with this well, or the Altar above (modern maps call it the Hollin Plantation, as much of the old woods have been felled and copsed by modern man). Place-name texts ascribe this to be the ‘woodland of holly trees’, but during our wander through the woods a few weeks ago (when we got the photos of the Druid’s Well) holly trees were not common. It may be that the Hollin Wood originally derived from ‘holy wood’, as this old well and the Druid’s Altar above would have surely made the site sacred to the druids. Just a thought. We will probably never know (if someone finds out for sure, one way or t’other, lemme know and I’ll amend where necessary!).
Greenbank, Sydney, The Druid’s Altar, Bingley, R.G. Preston: Bingley 1929.
Speight, Harry, Chronicles and Stories of Old Bingley, Elliott Stock: London 1898.
Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire’s Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.