Almscliffe Crag carving, North Rigton, North Yorkshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 26777 48952

Also Known as:

  1. Ormscliffe Crags

Getting Here

Almscliffe’s cup-&-ring

This is an outstanding site visible for miles around in just about every direction – so getting here is easy! If you’re coming from Harrogate, south down the A658, turn right and go thru North Rigton.  Ask a local.  If you’re coming north up the A658 from the Leeds or Bradford area, do exactly the same! (either way, you’ll see the crags rising up from some distance away)  As you walk to the main crags, instead of going to the huge central mass, you need to follow the line of walling down (south) to the extended cluster of much lower sloping rocks.  Look around and you’ll find it!

Archaeology & History

On the evening of May 27, 2024, I received a phone call from a Mr James Elkington of Otley.  He was up Almscliffe Crags and the wind was howling away in the background, taking his words away half the time, breaking the sentences into piecemeal fragments.  But through it all came a simple clarity: as the sun was setting and the low light cut across the rocky surface, a previously unrecorded cup-and-ring design emerged from the stone and was brought to the attention of he and his compatriot Mackenzie Erichs.  All previous explorations for rock art here over the last 150 years had proved fruitless—until now!

Looking northwest
Central cup-&-ring

On the east-facing slope of the stone, just below the curvaceous wind-and-rain hewn shapes at the very top of the boulder, is a singular archetypal cup-and-ring.  It’s faint, as the photos show, but it’s definitely there.  What might be another cup-and-ring is visible slightly higher up the sloping face, but the site needs looking at again when lighting conditions are just right! (you can just about make it out in one of the photos)  But, at long last, this giant legend-infested mass of Almscliffe has its prehistoric animistic fingerprint, bearing fruit and giving watch to the countless heathen activities going back centuries.  Rombald’s wife Herself might have been the mythic artist of this very carving! (if you want to read about the many legends attached to the major Almscliffe rock outcrop, check out the main entry for Almscliffe Crags)

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, “Almscliffe Crags, North Rigton,” Northern Antiquarian 2010.

© 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

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

Holy Well, Shoreditch, London

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid reference – TQ 3337 8245

Archaeology & History

Holywell Lane on 1877 map

First described at the beginning of the 12th century as “fons qui dicitur Haliwelle“, these sacred waters were thereafter described in a variety of documents before eventually, in 1382, giving its name to the road on which it was found.  When the topographer John Stow (1603) described the well—along with those of St. Clement’s and Clerken Well—it was once “sweet, wholesome, and clear” and “frequented by scholars and youths of the city in the summer evenings.”  However, in his day it was already in decline, as he told that the “Holy well is much decayed and spoiled, with filthiness purposely laid there, for the heightening of the ground for garden plots.”

The history of the site was mentioned in John Noorthouck’s (1773) survey, where he told us:

“In the parish are two prebends, and part of a third, belonging to St Paul’s cathedral, in the city of London: The first dominated by Eald-Street, or Old Street, received that appellation from the Saxons being part of the Roman military way: the second, which had been a separate village for many years, by the name of Hochestone, vulgarly Hoxton, likewise itself to be of a Saxon origin: the third called Haliwell, had its name from a vicinal fountain, which, for the salubrity of its water, had the epithet Holy conferred on it.

In King John’s Court, Holywell-lane, are to be found the ruins of the priory of St. John Baptist, of Benedictine nuns, founded by Robert the son of Gelranni, prependary of Haliwell, and confirmed by charter of Richard I in the year1189. It was rebuilt in the reign of Henry VII by Sir Thomas Lovell, knight of the garter; who was there buried: and the following ditty was in consequence painted in most of the windows.
“All the nuns of Holywell,
“Pray for the soul of Thomas Lovell.”

The complete demise of the well occurred in the early part of the 19th century and efforts to locate its original position have proved troublesome.  Indeed, the modern Holywell Lane would seem  to be little more than an approximation of its whereabouts.  It was an issue explored at some length in the great A.S. Foord’s (1910) magnum opus, who wrote:

“In recent times efforts have been made to locate the well, and some of the results communicated to Notes and Queries.  A Mr. R. Clark drew attention, through the medium of that publication, to an article in The Builder of September 19, 1896, which states that ”the ancient holy well should be looked for in the area between Bateman’s Row and New Inn Yard and behind the Board School in Curtain Road, that is to say, west of New Inn Street.”  This is all very circumstantial, but the writer bases his statement on the survey by Peter Chassereau, taken in 1745, in which the supposed position of the well is marked by a cross and the words “Ye well from which the liberty derives its name.”  It should be borne in mind however that, as pointed out by Colonel W. F. Prideaux, Chassereau did not make his survey till more than two hundred years had elapsed from the date of the dissolution of the Nunnery (1539); the position of the well could therefore have been only a matter of tradition.  Another contributor to Notes and Queries (8th Series, May 22, 1897), quotes an article in the Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects (vol. iv., 3rd series, p. 237), by Mr. E. W. Hudson, who says that the well of the priory was situate on the south side of what is known as Bateman’s Row, but was formerly (before 1799) called Cash’s Alley, near Curtain Road.  This agrees substantially with Mr. Clark’s statement.  Mr. Lovegrove, writing in 1904, says: “The well itself is to be found in a marble-mason’s yard in Bateman’s Row, but is covered over.”  The same writer notes that of the Nunnery buildings only a piece of stone wall about 50 feet long, in a timber yard at 186, High Street, Shoreditch, is now left.”

References:

  1. Foord, Alfred Stanley, Springs, Streams and Spas of London: History and Association, T. Fisher Unwin: London 1910.
  2. Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, Allen & Stenton, F.M., The Place-Names of Middlesex, Cambridge University Press 1942.
  3. Lovegrove, G.H., “Holywell Priory, Shoreditch,” in Home Counties, volume 6, 1904.
  4. Mills, A.D., A Dictionary of London Place-Names, Oxford University Press 2001.
  5. Noorthouck, John, A New History of London, Including Westminster and Southwark, R. Baldwin: London 1773.
  6. Stow, John, A Survey of London, John Windet: London 1603.
  7. Sunderland, Septimus, Old London Spas, Baths and Wells, John Bale: London 1915.
  8. Wood, Alexander, Ecclesiastical Antiquities of London, Burns & Oates: London 1874.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Organn Well, Pontefract, West Yorkshire

Healing Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 45 21

Archaeology & History

The waters of the once-renowned Organn Well goes down in history as being one of the first wells in Britain whose waters were used in a town pump.  Written minutes from an early council meeting described how people gathered in the market place to discuss the objective of making such a pump in the times of Queen Elizabeth 1, in 1571.  It was completed a year later and, some 450 years on, this old relic can still be seen.  The Well used to be found off Penny Lane (now Wakefield Road), some 4-500 yards to the southwest and as such it’s exact position has been difficult to locate.  But the fact that the waters were piped such a distance strongly suggests that the water supply from the Well was damn good – and most probably damn refreshing too!  The old charter told us, in that wonderfully dyslexic manner of the period,

…that a conduit in the Markett Place with lead pipes leading to water from Organ Well to the said conduit shall bee cleansed and repayred at the charge and contribution of severall inhabitants of the Towne and espetially by those that fetch water from the same conduit. And according to the auncient custome of the said Towne, whoe shall not beare theire p’t of the chardge p’portionable to what water they from the same at the discretion of the Majo’ for the time being and his brethren shall be debarred from the benefitt of the said conduit except they shall be poore people.  And likewise that none shall receive any water from the said conduite for to brewe or steep barley w’thall at such time or times as others have need the same for meat water and water to washe w’hall, but onely at such times as there is water to spare over and besides what is convenient for meat and washing.”

More than two hundred years later the water pump was in dire need of attention, as George Fox (1827) told:

“Being in a ruinous state about the year 1810 and the supplies of water being insufficient for the public use; a clause was inserted in the act of parliament… wherein the pump, its pipes, and all other appurtenances belonging to it were vested in the power of the commissioners of the streets, who where bound to see it kept in proper repair.”

And so the water from the Organn Well continued to supply the townsfolk.

The etymology of this well—along with another of the same name near Harrogate—truly puzzled me for a long time; that was until I came across, quite by accident, records from early texts on herbalism.  As a result, it seems very likely that it derives its name from the old English ‘organe,’ which, according to Stracke (1974) and others relates to both varieties of the indigenous herb marjoram (Origanum vulgare and O.marjorana) — a grand medicinal plant that’s pretty common in northern England (I used to go out gathering it each year in my younger days).  There were obviously profuse supplies of this herb growing in and around the well and, as all good herbalists will tell you, when they grow by an old spring or well, their medicinal properties are much better than normal.  The waters and the plant obviously had a good symbiosis; or, as the old women who’d collect the waters and the herbs in days prior to the pump would have told us, “the spirits of the water here are good”…

References:

    1. Fox, George, The History of Pontefract in Yorkshire, J.Fox: Pontefract 1827.
    2. Padgett, Lorenzo, Chronicles of Old Pontefract, Oswald Homes: Pontefract 1905.
    3. Stracke, J. Richard (ed.), The Laud Herbal Glossary, Rodopi: Amsterdam 1974.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Ann’s Well, Welton, East Yorkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 9622 2709

Archaeology & History

Shown on the early 25-inch-to-the-mile Ordnance Survey map of the area, this is a frustrating site.  In Thompson’s (1870) early history of Welton village, he says very little about this place, other than:

“Then there is Saint Ann’s Well, which supplies Welton House with spring water.”

Site shown on 1890 map

Even worse is the fact that in William Smith’s (1923) survey of East Yorkshire holy wells, he merely copies Thompson; and in Jeremy Harte’s magnum opus he does exactly the same thing!  Not good.  Thankfully the local artist and singer, Gaynor Perry, helped us out big time!  She grew up in this area and used to play here when she was young, but at the time she had no idea that the well where she’d played had any magical traditions attached to it.  This discovery happened many years later.  Regarding the present condition of the well (as of 2017), she told:

“The well has been covered with stone slabs for a long time (and) a tree has tried to grow over it.  It has been sheltered here over the years in the grounds of Welton House, a large estate which was demolished in 1952.”

The well can still be seen in the small copse of trees immediately north of St Anne’s College.  There is the possibility that this holy well gave its name to the village of Welton itself.  First mentioned in 1080 CE, the place-name means “the well near the farm,” (Smith 1937) although there is no direct linguistic association with St. Anne, so we don’t know for sure.

Folklore

St. Anne is a curious saintly figure and one of my personal favourites.  St Anne (saint’s day – July 26) was a giant in early christian and Islamic myths.  An apocryphal figure, She was the Great Mother of the mother of Christ—the Virgin Mary—and was Herself a Virgin until, in Her old age, after seeing a bird feeding a chick, decided She wanted a child and so eventually gave birth to Mary.  An old woman giving birth when the Springtime appears (when birds and other animals become fertile) is the same motif found in the lore of the Cailleach in Ireland and Scotland (and parts of northern England).  A pre-christian mythos was obviously at play here in bygone times…

References:

  1. Harte, Jeremy, English Holy Wells – volume 2, HOAP: Wymeswold 2008.
  2. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the East Riding of Yorkshire and York, Cambridge University Press 1937.
  3. Smith, William, Ancient Springs and Streams of the East Riding of Yorkshire, A. Brown: Hull 1923.
  4. Thompson, Thomas, Researches into the History of Welton and its Neighbourhood, Leng & Co.: Kingston-upon-Hull 1870.

Links:

  1. Gaynor Perry:  St Anne’s Well

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Little Almscliffe Crags, Stainburn, North Yorkshire

Legendary Rocks:  OS Grid Reference – SE 23237 52275

Also Known as:

  1. Little Almes Cliffe
  2. Little Almias Cliff Crag

Getting Here

Little Almscliffe Crag (photo – James Elkington)

Coming from Harrogate, take the B6162 and B6161 road to Beckwithshaw, through the village and, 4-500 yards on, turn right onto Norwood Lane.  2 miles along, keep your eyes peeled on your left for a gravelled parking spot and you’ll see the large rock outcrop 200 yards south of the road. …Otherwise, from Otley: go over the river bridge and turn right up Farnley Lane and follow the B6451 for a few miles, thru Farnley village up the Washburn valley, past Norwood and at Bland Hill, turn right along Broad Dubb Road for 1¾ miles where you’ll reach that same gravelled parking spot.

Archaeology & History

Very much the ‘little brother’ of Great Almscliffe, 3 miles (4.83km) to the southeast, this site would be more of interest to the travelling geologist, perhaps, than to antiquarians.  But that depends what tickles y’ fancy I s’ppose.

In 1702 when the northern antiquarian Ralph Thoresby mentioned this and its big brother to the southeast, he described the “two famous crags of Almes Cliff—in some old writings called Aylmoys ut dicitur—but have seen nothing memorial of it, saving its remarkable lofty situation.”  He missed the cup-and-ring carving on the east-side of the crags, obviously, which indicates that it had some form of animistic sanctity in ancient times.

The location on 1851 map
Little Almscliffe c.1900

Little Almscliffe was one of many impressive places located within the ancient Forest of Knaresborough; and although it wasn’t on the original boundary line, a perambulation (i.e., annual ritual walking to the old stones, trees and wells defining the region) of the area written in 1770, in what Mr Grainge called “the Copyhold Forest”, was undertaken by the Enclosure Commissioners.  It differed from the more ancient perambulation rite, in that the newer one included a mention of,

“five bounder stones also marked F to an earth-fast stone, lying northeast of Little Almes Cliffe, marked also with an F; (and) from thence by other four bounder stones marked F to Sandwith Wath…”

The letter ‘F’ here signifying the word ‘forest’, as in the Forest of Knareborough.

William Grainge (1871) also believed these crags to have been a place of druidic worship.  He wasn’t the only one.  Many other writers of the time thought the same thing; and although we have no concrete evidence to prove this, it is highly likely that these rocks would have served some ritual purpose in pre-christian days.  Certainly in more recent times (during the 1980s and ’90s) we know that ritual magickians used this site for their workings.  On a more mundane level, the crags were previously used as a site for for beacon fires.  One was erected here in 1803 when the first Bonaparte threatened to invade England; but I can find no written accounts of earlier beacons here.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
  2. Bogg, Edmund, From Eden Vale to the Plains of York, James Miles: Leeds 1895.
  3. Bogg, Edmund, Higher Wharfeland, James Miles: Leeds 1904
  4. Cowling, E.T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.
  5. Grainge, William, History & Topography of Harrogate and the Forest of Knaresborough, J.R. Smith: London 1871.
  6. Parkinson, Thomas, Lays and Leaves of the Forest, Kent & Co.: London 1882.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

St. Ann’s Well, Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – SE 298 548

Archaeology & History

Very little is now known about this sacred site that was once found “a few hundred yards east from the New Church at Low Harrogate.” (Hunter 1830)  Even most of travellers and medical experts who wrote about the numerous Harrogate wells in the 18th and 19th century bypassed its quietude; and by the time Mr Hunter wrote about it in his great descriptive catalogue, its healing or medicinal qualities had been forgotten.

He told that “the spirit in the water…or that with which it is infused, has long been most actively engaged in adding real or fancied comforts to the (Harrogate) Fair, and is now in much more general use” than the two other holy wells in the town. It was, he said, “the best water for making tea and more extensively used for that purpose than any in the neighborhood of Harrogate.”  It would also appear to have been built over at some time in the not-too-distant past…

Folklore

St Ann (saint’s day – July 26) was a giant in early christian and Islamic myths.  An apocryphal figure, She was the Great Mother of the mother of Christ—the Virgin Mary—and was Herself a Virgin until, in Her old age, after seeing a bird feeding a chick, decided She wanted a child and so eventually gave birth to Mary.  An old woman giving birth when the Springtime appears (when birds and other animals become fertile) is the same motif found in the lore of the Cailleach in Ireland and Scotland (and parts of northern England).  Pre-christian lore at this old well would seem evident here.

References:

  1. Hunter, Adam, The Waters of Harrogate and its Vicinity, Langdale: Harrogate 1830.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian