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

Peggy Well, Silsden, West Yorkshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 0655 4413

Also Known as:

  1. Peggy Mawson’s Well
  2. Peggy’s Well

Getting Here

Peggy Mawson’s Well on 1853 map

From Riddlesden, take the road up to the moorland and Rivock Edge.  When you reach the top (Silsden Road), turn left.  Go on for about 600 yards till you reach the lovely tree-hidden old cottages of Holden Gate, on your right.  Stop — and walk down the footpath opposite from here.  As the wall goes down, you’ll notice a stream in the next field to your left, emerging from a clump of large rocks.  That’s it! (there’s a footpath in the next field from the roadside)

Archaeology & History

Shown on the first OS-map as ‘Peggy Mawson’s Well,’ little else seems to known of this place; though it obviously got its name after the local lady, Peggy Mawson.  I can find no further information about this lady, nor why the site was named after her.  Any help here would be hugely appreciated!

Peggy Mawson’s Well – now drained-off through pipes

Sadly the waters from beneath the rocks have been channeled into a couple of pipes and the well no longer runs.  All that’s left is a small boggy region just in front of the boulders.  You have to walk about 100 yards further down the field where the water emerges from a modern pipe.  It doesn’t taste as nice as it originally did when coming straight from the ground, but it’s still quite drinkable (certainly beats any of the chlorinated stuff* that customers are forced to pay for, whether we want it or not – and most people don’t want it).

Folklore

This site has acquired modern folklore, but sadly no early traditions have been found.  Whelan & Taylor (1989) thought that Peggy Well’s “dedication suggests a connection with St. Margaret,” which unfortunately isn’t the case.  Several years later another writer, Val Shepherd (1994), spun the speculation even further, not checking the historical background to the site, and thought that “the well’s name may be derived from the water spirit, ‘Peg,’ who gave her name to other wells.”  Sadly neither idea holds any sway.

References:

  1. Shepherd, Val, Historic Wells in and Around Bradford, HOAP: Loughborough 1994.
  2. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Pocklington 1989.

* Anyone know about this: surely because the water companies chlorinate and add other undesirable toxins into our tap water, what we’re actually drinking is a very weak solution and not actually water.  Isn’t that a trading standards violation?

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.893307, -1.901818 Peggy Mawson Well

Elm Crag Well, Bingley, West Yorkshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 1028 3907

Getting Here

From Bingley, take the B6429 road up to Harden.  After going up the wooded winding road for a few hundred yards, stop where it levels out.  Cross onto the right-hand side of the road and walk up the slope a little, veering to your right.  You’ll notice a small disused building just off the roadside, in overgrowth, with a pool of water.  You need to be about 100 yards up the slope above it!

Archaeology & History

Elm Crag Well, Bell Bank Wood, Bingley
Elm Crag Well, Bell Bank Wood, Bingley

This is a beautiful old place.  If you walk straight up to it from the roadside, past the derelict building, you have to struggle through the brambles and prickly slope like we did – but it’s worth it if you like your wells!  However, if you try getting here in the summertime, expect to be attacked on all sides by the indigenous flora!  The waters here emerge from a low dark cave, in which, a century of three ago, someone placed a large stone trough.  When I first came here about 25 years ago, some halfwits had built an ugly red-brick wall into the cave which, thankfully, someone has had the sense to destroy and rip-out.

Shown on the 1852 Ordnance Survey map and highlighted as a ‘spring,’ Harry Speight (1898) gives a brief mention to this site, though refers us to an even earlier literary source when it was first mentioned. In John Richardson’s 18th century survey of the Craven area, he makes reference to an exceedingly rare fern, Trichomanes radicans, which was later included in Bolton’s classic monograph on British ferns of 1785.  In it, Bolton wrote that the very first specimen of this plant was “first discovered by Dr. Richardson in a little dark cavern, under a dripping rock, below the spring of Elm Crag Well, in Bell Bank.”

Elm Crag Well
Elm Crag Well

The waters from here come from two sides inside the small cave and no longer run into the lichen-encrusted trough, seemingly just dropping down to Earth and re-emerging halfway down the hillside.  But the waters here taste absolutely gorgeous and are very refreshing indeed!  And the old elms which gave this old well its name can still be seen, only just hanging on to the rocks above and to the side, with not much time left for the dear things.

References:

  1. Bolton, James, Filices Britannicae: An History of the British Proper Ferns, Thomas Wright 1785.
  2. Speight, Harry, Chronicles and Stories of Old Bingley, Elliott Stock: London 1898.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Elm Crag Well

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Elm Crag Well 53.847769, -1.845230 Elm Crag Well