Holy Well, Somersby, Lincolnshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – TF 3417 7303

Also Known as:

  1. Halliwell

Archaeology & History

Holy Well on 1887 map

Curiously missing from Thompson’s (1999) Lincolnshire survey, this old watering place can apparently still be found in the appropriately named Holywell Wood, just north of this lovely little hamlet.  Shown on the 1887 OS-map of the area, it’s first literary reference seems to be in George Weir’s (1820) early survey of Horncastle district where he gives it a brief mention, saying:

“In a woody dell in this parish is a spring, gently bursting from the rock, called Holy-well, but the name of the saint to whom it was dedicated is not preserved.”

…Like oh so many others.  But its ‘holiness’ may devive from other more archaic origins, in the spirit of the woods from whence the waters emerge.  Certainly that’s what the poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson would have had us believe.  He grew up in Somersby village and this old well was one of his places of inspiration.  When the local writer H.D. Rawnsley (1900) described Tennyson’s affection for this site, he told us that,

“Alfred peopled that Holywell Wood with forms of fairies, and made the whole surrounding circle of the hills, a theatre for enchantment and chivalry.”

J.C. Walters 1890 sketch

Nature can certainly do that to anyone who wanders Her body with open reverence.

Although the place is now quite overgrown, it wasn’t always this way.  There used to be a well-trodden path with a gateway at the entrance that took you into the woods and up to the well.  Above the gateway there used to be a Latin inscription that read, Intus aquae dulces, vivoque sedilia saxo, Et paulum silvae superest. His utere mecum. (meaning something akin to, “At these sweet waters, by this living seat of stone and small forest remains, Make use of me.”)

When J.C. Walters wrote about it, he told that a “local student” gave him the following particulars:

“A series of steps led down into the well, a post was fixed in front of it, and a cross-bar extended thence to the rock.  On the cross-bar was a ring with a rope attached, so that the bather might safely descend into the well and enjoy the healing virtues of the stream which rushed from the rock.  Geologists say that the wold villages are so closely placed on account of the superior quality of the water which springs up wherever the Spilsby sandstone meets the Kimmeridge clay.  Susan Epton (Mrs. Thompson), Miss Emily Tennyson’s maid, tells me that she can remember the time when visitors came in scores to “take the waters.””

Some of this was later echoed in Rawnsley’s (1900) biographical account of Tennyson.  He talked with a local sexton about the folklore of the area who told him of his memories:

“Halliwell wasn’t growed up then; there was a bath-house with steps down to the watter, and fwoaks in carriages came from far and near to drink it.  Wonderful watter! it was nobbut a bit sen, that our owd nebbur was liggin’ adying and he axed for a cup o’ watter from the Holy Well, and they sent and fetched it, and he took it and went off upon his feet.  Why, i’ my time theer was a school-house down in Halliwell Wood, and a skittle halley close by the well, but all them things is changed now, excep the snowdrops, and they coomes oop reg’lar, a sight on ’em i’ Halliwell.”


  1. Harte, Jeremy, English Holy Wells – volume 2, Heart of Albion Press: Wymeswold 2008.
  2. Howitt, William, Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets – volume 2, Richard Bentley: London 1849.
  3. Rawnsley, H.D., Memories of the Tennysons, James MacLehose: Glasgow 1900.
  4. Thompson, Ian, Lincolnshire Springs and Wells, Bluestone: Scunthorpe 1999.
  5. Walter, J. Conway, Records of Woodhall Spa and Neighbourhood, W.K. Morton: Horncastle 1899.
  6. Walters, John Cuming, In Tennyson Land, George Redway: London 1890.
  7. Weir, George, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of the Town and Soke of Horncastle, Sherwood, Neely & Jones 1820.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Wells o’ Wearie, Duddingston, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Sacred Wells (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 2741 7241

Also Known as:

  1. Wells o’ Weary
  2. Well of Wery

Archaeology & History

Wells o' Wearie ponds

The Wells o’ Wearie ponds

The precise spot for these “wells” is difficult to say today with any certainty, which is unfortunate as it was a renowned spot for a variety of reasons.  The wells were apparently disrupted and fell back into the Earth when the Industrialists dug their train-line into the south-side of Arthur’s Seat.  On the early maps, we can see several ‘troughs’, ‘pumps’ and ‘wells’—one or more of which are said to be the site (and which we base the OS grid-reference on, above).

Shown on Kirkwood's 1821 map

Shown on 1821 Kirkwood map

The Wells of Wearie were one of nearly a dozen sacred and healing wells surrounding legendary Arthur’s Seat at the edge of Edinburgh, and whose waters were also said to have supernatural properties.  Shown on James Kirkwood’s 1821 map of Edinburgh (left) as the ‘Well of Wery’, this curiously named site was renowned in earlier centuries as an excellent water supply for the local people — “to cure the weary traveller” for one.  Today, all we have left of them are the small ponds immediately below the road, next to the converted railway line path, just as you come out of the long tunnel.


In Henderson & Cowan’s (2007) fine work on Scottish fairy lore, they outline the witchcraft trial of a local woman, Janet Boyman, who was said to have performed ritual magick at the Wells of Wearie.  They told:

“Jonet Boyman of Canongate, Edinburgh, accused in 1572 of witchcraft and diabolic incantation, the first Scottish trial for which a detailed indictment has so far been found. Indeed, it is one of the richest accounts hitherto uncovered for both fairy belief and charming, suggesting an intriguing tradition which associated, in some way, the fairies with the legendary King Arthur.  At an ‘elrich well’ on the south side of Arthur’s Seat, Jonet uttered incantations and invocations of the ‘evill spreits quhome she callit upon for to come to show and declair’ what would happen to a sick man named Allan Anderson, her patient.  She allegedly first conjured ‘ane grit blast’ like a whirlwind, and thereafter appeared the shape of a man who stood on the other side of the well, and interesting hint of liminality.  She charged this conjured presence, in the name of the father, the son, King Arthur and Queen Elspeth, to cure Anderson.  She then received elaborate instructions about washing the ill man’s shirt, which were communicated to Allan’s wife.  That night the patient’s house shook in the midst of a huge and incomprehensible ruckus involving winds, horses and hammering, apparently because the man’s wife did not follow the instructions to the letter.  On the following night the house was plagued by a mighty din again, caused, this time, by a great company of women.’”

The Wells were, in earlier centuries, a site where lovers and wanderers came to relax and dream. It was a traditional gathering spot — not just for witches! — and poetry was written of them – including this by A.A. Ritchie:

“The Wells o’ Wearie — 

Sweetly shines the sun on auld Edinbro’ toun.
And mak’s her look young and cheerie;
Yet I maun awa’ to spend the afternoon
At the lanesome Wells o’ Wearie.

And you maun gang wi’ me, my winsome Mary Grieve,
There’s nought in the world to fear ye;
For I hae ask’d your minnie, and she has gien ye leave
To gang to the Wells o’ Wearie.

O the sun w-inna blink in thy bonny blue een.
Nor tinge the white brow o’ my dearie.
For I’ll shade a bower wi’ rashes lang and green,
By the lanesome Wells o’ Wearie.

But Mary, my love, beware ye dinna glower
At your form in the water sae clearly,
Or the fairy will change ye into a wee wee flower,
And you’ll grow by the Wells o’ Wearie.

Yestreen, as I wander’d there a’ alane,
I felt unco douf and drearie,
For wanting my Mary a’ around me was but pain
At the lanesome Wells o’ Wearie.

Let fortune or fame their minions deceive,
Let fate look gruesome and eerie ;
True glory and wealth are mine wi’ Mary Grieve,
When we meet by the Wells o’ Wearie.

Then gang wi’ me, my bonny Mary Grieve,
Nae danger will daur to come near ye.
For I hae ask’d your minnie, and she has gien ye leave
To gang to the Wells o’ Wearie.”


  1. Baird, William, Annals of Duddingston and Portobello, Andrew Elliot: Edinburgh 1898.
  2. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Edinburgh, TNA: Alva 2017.
  3. Carrick, John D. (ed.), Whistle-Binkie, or the Piper of the Party – volume 2, David Robertson: Glasgow 1878.
  4. Colston, James, The Edinburgh and District Water Supply, Edinburgh 1890.
  5. Henderson, Lizanne & Cowan, Edward J., Scottish Fairy Belief: A History, John Donald: Edinburgh 2007.
  6. Ramsay, Alexander, On the Water Supply of Edinburgh, Neill & Co.: Edinburgh 1853.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian