Worm Well, Fatfield, Durham

Sacred Well: OS Grid Reference – NZ 3115 5401

Getting Here

This seems a bittova cheat really – and on two counts: i) I aint been here yet; and ii) we’re not sure that there’s any remains left to be seen.  But these notes might produce a result, so direction pointers are worthwhile I reckon!  Various ways to come, but you need to end up on the weird-sounding Bonemill Lane – whether you get there via Worm Hill Terrace or Biddick Lane aint important.  Once on the right road, you wanna stand by the supposedly haunted Biddick Inn, and walk down the road a short distance until you reach a path on your right which heads up towards the ruined Worm Hill.  Halfway along here – or thereaboots – the old Worm Well could once be seen.

Archaeology & History

This was initially very difficult to pin down with any certainty, though after a few hours investigation, Keighley archives researcher Michala Potts found it highlighted on a field-map of the region from 1750, as the illustration here clearly shows.

Map highlighting the Worm Well, 1750
Map highlighting Worm Well, 1750

During its “missing years”, several accounts describe the well as being between Worm Hill and the River Wear, which is what’s clearly shown here.  So the possible confusion there may have been (which I initially had aswell) between the riverside spring opposite the pub and the now missing Quarry Well on the far western side of Worm Hill, can at least been dispelled.   The position of the site was described by the holy wells writer, Alan Cleaver [1985], who told that “the well still exists, having been restored in 1974, at the foot of Worm Hill at Penshaw on the north bank of the river.”  Local history records tell that a plaque commemorating the site was put here the same year; and this note is again confirmed in Paul Screeton’s [1978] excellent survey of the dragon legends hereabouts.  Records from the mid-18th century tell that the Worm Well possessed “a cover and an iron dish or ladle” (Binnall & Dodds 1943) to protect the waters.

Folklore

We find from old records that in the middle of the 18th century, “it was a wishing well and a place of festivity on Midsummer Eve.”  The common veneration of crooked pins were offered at this legendary site.

…And then, of course, we have the great Legend of the Lambton Worm, whose spirit form gives this site so much importance.  This well-known folk-tale tells that the great serpent emerged from this very water source.  In this renowned creation myth of the landscape, and the sites upon it, we have the dragon, the cailleach, the waters, and more…

In a recent narrative of the Lambton Worm story, author Karen Liebreich (2012) sent us an excerpt from her new book, UneXplained: Spine-tingling tales from Real Places in Great Britain and Ireland, which outlines more of the tale.  Karen writes:

“Simon, the heir to Lambton Castle, was a wild boy who never paid attention to his lessons or his elders. He liked only to play with the local boys from the village and their games were rough and annoyed other people. They went joy-riding with carts and donkeys, they stole apples from the trees, they frightened younger children. They liked to go hunting for rabbits and fishing for eels in the local river. The lord of the manor, Simon’s father, thought his son should behave better since one day he would be in charge. Simon could not be bothered.

“One Sunday, when he should have been in church, Simon played truant with Stephen, his friend, and two other boys from the village, and went fishing in the river Wear.  After hours of dull waiting, chatting and eating their picnic, Simon caught a strange-looking animal. It did not look like the regular eels and small fish they usually caught. It was no longer than his finger, dark green and with two little fins on its back. Its skin was rough and scaly, and it had four short legs, with sharp clawed feet. Its face was repellent, with a long pointed snout, twelve little teeth sharp as pins, and red glowing eyes.

“Stephen peered over Simon’s shoulder at the animal. “Yuk, throw it back,” headvised. But Simon had caught nothing else, and he was intrigued by the little beast. He put it in his pouch. As the boys walked home, kicking stones and chatting, they noticed a foul smell. It came from Simon’s pouch. They were just passing the well by the castle, so Simon tossed the squirming worm in, and promptly forgot all about it….”

Read the rest of the story in on Kindle at – http://amzn.to/SsjKK6

…to be continued…

References:

  1. UneXplained - LiebreichBinnall, P.B.G. & Dodds, M.H., ‘Holy Wells in Northumberland and Durham,’ in Proc. Soc. Antiq. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 4th series, volume 10:2, January 1943.
  2. Cleaver, Alan, ‘Holy Wells – Wormholes in Reality,’ in Source magazine, no.3, November 1985.
  3. Liebreich, Karen, UneXplained: Spine-tingling tales from Real Places in Great Britain and Ireland, Kindle 2012.
  4. Screeton, Paul, The Lambton Worm and other Northumbrian Dragon Legends, Zodiac House: London 1978.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Worm Well

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Worm Well 54.880050, -1.515725 Worm Well

Serpent’s Well, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – SP 31 27?

Archaeology & History

This legendary-sounding spring of water was described in field-name listings from the 1770 Enclosure Acts, but nothing seems to have been written about it since.  To me at least, there seems little doubt that this site would have been a sacred or legendary water-site. Curiously it is in William Henderson’s collection of northern folk-tales where we find a mention of further dragon lore from the township, albeit briefly, where he wrote:

“Near Chipping Norton, in Oxfordshire, A.D. 1349, was a serpent with two heads, faces like women, and great wings after the manner of a bat.”

In Nigel Pennick’s (1997) overview of dragon legends he copied Henderson’s earlier note, but neither of them gave specific indications relating the legend with our Serpent’s Well.  So, to those of you who live in and around Chipping Norton (where I spent two very good years living with Sir Wilson at the Rollright Stones) – what has become of it?  Where exactly is it?  And does anyone know anything more behind this tale and any further history behind the ‘Serpent’s Well’?

References:

  1. Gelling, Margaret, The Place-Names of Oxfordshire, Cambridge University Press 1953-54.
  2. Henderson, William, Notes on the Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders, Folklore Society: London 1879.
  3. Pennick, Nigel, Dragons of the West, Capall Bann: Chieveley 1997.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Serpents Well

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Serpents Well 51.940563, -1.550472 Serpents Well