St Ellen’s Well, Harrisend Fell, Scorton, Lancashire

Holy Well: OS Reference – SD 53683 50975

Also Known as:

  1. St Ellin’s Well

Getting Here

The Well on the 1846 Map

Approaching the site from the north, walk along the Lane Head track, and along the path south-eastwards, then turn right onto the main footpath until coming to the stream. Follow the stream up the fell to the large clump of reeds, then follow your ears until you locate the spring! Or you can approach it along the main footpath from the Oakenclough – Galgate road. The well and the path to it
are on access land.

Archaeology & History

Fortunately recorded by the Ordnance Survey on their 1846 6″ map Lancashire XL, the story of St Ellen’s Well was taken up sixty years later by local holy wells historian Henry Taylor (1906):

Listen for the spring in the reeds

“The site of this holy well is marked on the ordnance map at a lonely spot on Harris Fell, five hundred feet above the sea-level, four and a half miles in a north-easterly direction from the town of Garstang.

“Mr. A. King has kindly examined the site.  He writes, 4th August, 1902: “We had no difficulty in locating the spot…. There is no outward indication of the place being used for curative means, and there is no stonework at all. It is a beautifully cold spring which is at the side of ‘Bonny Pad’, a pathway leading across the moor from Harris End, and it was grown around with rushes….  All I can glean about it is that one of the oldest inhabitants, when asked if he knew of it, replied, ‘It will be th’ holy well, you mean.'”

The original dedication of this remote holy well was clearly to St. Helen, and its presence next to the Bonny Pad or path may indicate a pre-Christian dedication to a local cognate of the Celtic Elen Luyddog, Elen of the hosts or ways.  The Bonny Pad is shown but not not named on the 1846 map, and follows a broadly southwest to northeast direction from Harris End (again not named on the 1846 map) up to Grizedale Head on the southern edge of the Catshaw Vaccary.  It was perhaps an ancient route used by farmers to take their animals up onto the fell for the summer, and return them to the lowlands in the autumn.

Bubbling away at source

The western portion of Bonny Pad is not shown on the modern map and St Ellen’s Well is not marked, and both have it seems passed out of local memory.  An elderly farmer I encountered on my way up to the fell had never heard of the Well.

It is certainly worth the walk if only for the delightful sound of this powerfully flowing spring, the water is pure and cold, and it commands a fine view over the Lancashire plain to the coast.

References:

  1. Taylor, Henry, The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Sherratt & Hughes: Manchester 1906.
  2. Wise, Caroline, “Elen of the Roads of Country and Town”, in Finding Elen – The Quest for Elen of the Ways, edited by Caroline Wise, Eala Press: London 2015.

© Paul T. Hornby, 2020

 

loading map - please wait...

  53.952785, -2.707269 St Ellen\'s Well

Ellen’s Well, Angle, Pembrokeshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – SM 86913 03483

Archaeology & History

Ellen’s Well on 1869 map

Very little seems to be known about this apparently lost site, deemed to be an authentic holy well in Francis Jones’ (1954) fine survey: the ‘Ellen’ in question here being the legendary St Helen.  It was highlighted on the first OS-map of the area in 1869 and subsequently included in the Royal Commission’s huge Pembrokeshire (1925) tome, but when they came to visit the site they reported that “it could not be traced, nor any information obtained about it.”  Has it truly fallen back to Earth, or do any local historians and antiquarians know where it is…?

References:

  1. Jones, Francis, The Holy Wells of Wales, University of Wales 1954.
  2. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Wales, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales & Monmouthshire: VII – County of Pembroke, HMSO: London 1925.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  51.689556, -5.084312 Ellen\'s Well

Ellen’s Well, Blair Drummond, Stirlingshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NN 7196 0080

Getting Here

Ellen’s Well on 1856 map

This takes some finding!  From the village of Doune take the A84 road towards Stirling and, just over the bridge barely 100 yards along, on your left, walk down the track past the old lodge house.  350 yards along, up the slope on your right where young trees and an excess of boscage prevails, walk up through it until, about 10 yards below an overgrown path at the top, beneath a raised section of old stonework, an old pipe protrudes from the undergrowth.  The small spring of water that emerges 10 yards beneath this, amidst the brambles and reeds, is what you’re looking for.

Archaeology & History

Wells named ‘Ellen’ usually have a long and sacred history behind them, but this one seems unusually silent.   Apart from being shown on the 1866 OS-map—simply as a ‘Well’—it is only mentioned briefly in Mr Mackay’s (1953) survey of Doune, being not far from the Clans Well, and in his day it was “still in use.”  But not anymore!  The water is barely running, but the trickle that still exists is nice and clear and it tastes good.  It’s seen much better days though….

‘Ellen’s Wells’ tend to have one of three origins, being either 1) dedicated to St Helen, whose festival date is August 18; (2) named after or dedicated to the Elder tree (Sambucus niger); or, (3) named after a local person of this name.  At some wells it may be two of these elements with their relative mythologies complimenting each other, overlapping between heathen peasant lore and early christian folklore. This has been the case at a number of St Helen’s Wells I’ve surveyed in Yorkshire and Lancashire.  At this site however, there are no remaining Elder trees, meaning that its name relates to one of the two other options; but without any extant historical references to St. Helen hereby, we must conclude that at some point in the dim and distant past, a local lady called Ellen found her name immortalized in this all-but-forgotten sweet spring.

References:

  1. Mackay, Moray S., Doune Historical Notes, privately printed: Doune 1953.

Acknowledgements:  The map accompanying this site profile is Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.182568, -4.064413 Ellen\'s Well

St. Helen’s Well, Thorpe Hesley, South Yorkshire

Holy Well (lost): OS Grid Reference – SD 370 960

Archaeology & History

In Rob Wilson’s (1991) study on the saints and wells of South Yorkshire, he mentions this site which, it would seem, may have been lost to history.  In Wilson’s site-entry for the St. Helen’s Well at nearby Barnburgh, he tells that,

“There may have been other wells in South Yorkshire dedicated to St. Helen… Two 18th century surveys by William Fairbank list St. Helen’s Fieldin Thorpe Hesley and St. Ellen’s Field in Wentworth.”

Around ten different wells are highlighted in the village itself on the first Ordnance Survey map of the area, with a number of others scattered in the surrounding fields.  Any one of these may be the well in question.  Much of the region was badly disfigured by the Industrialists in their usual desecration of the landscape, which may make any recovery of this site impossible.  However, a foray into the whereabouts of William Fairbank’s survey could be worthwhile — and if St. Helen’s Field is one that remained untouched by local mining, the site could be recovered from its present “lost” status.

(Please note: the grid-reference cited above is an approximation until further data allows us to correct it.)

References:

  1. Wilson, Rob, Holy Wells and Spas of South Yorkshire, Northern Arts: Sheffield 1991.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St Helen's Well

loading map - please wait...

St Helen\'s Well 53.461983, -1.433086 St Helen\'s Well

St. Helen’s Well, Hemswell, Lincolnshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SK 932 911

Also Known as:

  1. Seven Springs

Getting Here

From the village lane at the east end of Brook Street, take the footpath through the first gate and then over the stile into the woods on your left (north).  Soon a clearing will appear on the left hand side as you climb the hill.  Careful as you scramble down (look for a swing set up by local children) on the left hand side will be the Devil’s Pulpit.

Archaeology & History

The village name deriving from ‘Helmes’, the genitive singjular of the Old English masculine name Helm, or from helmes, the genitive singular of OE helm ‘a helmet, the summit of a hill, a shelter’, so that the name is either ‘Helm’s spring’ or ‘spring at the summit or shelter’—which does rather neatly defines its topography.  However, other authorities suggest its gets its name from elm trees which once grew around the wells.

The site has an eerie but not unquiet atmosphere this is possibly due to the stone called the Devil’s Pulpit, a large approximately six-foot high piece of sandstone under which a small spring arises.

Folklore

This Thompson (1999) in his Lincolnshire Wells and Springs notes local opinion thought was St. Helen’s, he said it tasted sweeten than the other waters (a fact that I cannot testify as the spring has appeared to have almost dried up the year I went).  Binnall (1845) notes that the spring wells were regarded as possessing curative powers and rags were hung on the surrounding bushes.

The dedication of St Helen is an interesting one and can be seen as an outlier from those found widely distributed in Yorkshire (Whelan & Taylor, 1989), but rare in the adjoining counties of  Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.  Harte (2008) in his English Holy Wells suggests that the name is spurious; and Rudkin’s (1936) Lincolnshire Folklore does not refer to it as such.  However, in support of the view, I had no problem locally detecting the well using this name in the village (incidentally Harte makes an error referring to the springs as Aisthorpe Springs, these are clearly another site).  There was supposed to be a chapel or church associated with the site, of which there is no trace or record.

Taken from R. B. Parish (2012) Holy Wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire

References:

  1. Cameron, Kenneth, The Place-Names of Lincolnshire – volume 6, EPNS: Nottingham 2001.
  2. Harte, Jeremy, English Holy Wells, Heart of Albion: Loughborough 2008.
  3. o’ Neill, Susanna, Folklore of Lincolnshire, History Press: Stroud 2012.
  4. Rudkin, Ethel, Lincolnshire Folklore, 1936.
  5. Thompson, Ian, Lincolnshire Springs and Wells: A Descriptive Catalogue, Bluestone: Scunthorpe 1999.
  6. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.

Links:

  1. Holy & Healing Wells

© R.B. Parish, The Northern Antiquarian

St Helen's Well

loading map - please wait...

St Helen\'s Well 53.408964, -0.598561 St Helen\'s Well

St. Helen’s Well, Eshton, North Yorkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SD 93096 56992

Also Known as:

  1. Helen’s Well

Getting Here

St. Helen’s Pool, Eshton

On the A65 road from Skipton to Gargrave, just at the eastern end of Gargrave, take the small Eshton Road running north over the canal. Go through Eshton itself, making sure you bear right at the small road a few hundred yards past the old village.  Keep your eyes peeled a few hundred yards down as you hit the river bridge and stop here.  Just 50 yards before this is a parking spot where some Water Board building stands.  Walk back up the road barely 20 yards and you’ll see, right by the roadside, a small clear pool on your left, encircled by trees.  Go through the little stile here and you’re right by the water’s side!

Archaeology & History

This is actually a listed monument (unusual for wells up North!), just off the roadside between Nappa Bridge and Eshton Hall. Two or three old stone heads (deemed to be ‘Celtic’ in age and origin, though I had my doubts) have recently been stolen from this holy pool close to where the water emerges from the ground, just beneath the surface. You can see where the water bubbles up strongly from the Earth when you visit here, forming the small pool in front of it, around which at certain times of year people still attach ‘memaws’ (an old word for ritual ‘offerings’) on the small shrubs.  If you drink from here, just where the water bubbles up (careful not to fall in!), it’s freezing — but tastes absolutely gorgeous!  And better than any tap-water you’ll ever drink!

Mentioned briefly in Mr Hope’s (1893) fine early survey; the earliest description of this site in relation to the mythic ‘Helen’ dates from 1429, where T.D. Whitaker (1878) described the dedication to an adjacent chapel, long gone.  Whitaker’s wrote:

“…One of the most copious springs in the kingdom, St. Helen’s Well fills at its source a circular basin twenty feet in circumference, from the whole bottom of which it boils up without any visible augmentation in the wettest seasons, or diminution in the driest.  In hot weather the exhalations from its surface are very conspicuous.  But the most remarkable circumstance about this spring is that, with no petrifying quality in its own basin, after a course of about two hundred yards over a common pebbly channel, during which it receives no visible accession from any other source, it petrifies strongly where it is precipitated down a steep descent into the brook.  To this well anciently belonged a chapel, with the same dedication; for in the year 1429, a commission relating to the manor of Flasby sat “in capella beate Elene de Essheton; and on the opposite side of the road to the spring is a close called the Chapel Field.  This was probably not unendowed, for I met with certain lands in Areton, anciently called Seynt Helen Lands.”

When the old countryman Halliwell Sutcliffe (1939) talked of this healing spring, his tone was more in keeping with the ways of local folk.  Sutcliffe loved the hills and dales and old places to such an extent that they were a part of his very bones.  And this comes through when he mentions this site. Telling where to find the waters, he continued:

“Its sanctuary is guarded by a  low mossy wall.  Neglected for years out of mind, it retains still clear traces of what it was in older times.  An unfailing spring comes softly up among stones carved with heart-whole joy in chiselling.  Scattered now, these stones were once in orderly array about what is not a well, in the usual sense, but rather a wide rock-pool, deep here and shallow there, with little trees that murmur in the breeze above.  Give yourself to this place, frankly and with the simplicity is asks.  It does not preach or scold, or rustle with the threat of unguessed ambushes among the grassy margin.  Out of its inmost heart it gives you all it knows of life.”

Old well in the field

In the field across the road where the chapel was said to have been, we find another stone-lined fresh-water well bubbling from the ground into a stone trough (at grid-ref SD 93118 56958).  The waters here are also good and refreshing.  But whether this fine water source had any tales told of it, or curative properties (it will have done), history has sadly betrayed its voice.

Folklore

The waters here have long been reputed as medicinal.  R.C. Hope (1893) said “this well was a certain cure for sore and weak eyes.”  Whitaker and others told there to be hangings of rags and other offerings (known in Yorkshire as ‘memaws’).  Sutcliffe described,

“The pilgrims coming with their sores, of body and soul… The Well heard tales that were foul with infamies of the world beyond its sanctuary.  Men came with blood-guilt on their hands, and in their souls a blackness and a terror.  Women knelt here in bleak extremity of shame.  The Well heard all, and from its own unsullied depths sent up the waters of great healing.  And the little chant of victory began to stir about the pilgrims’ hearts…and afterwards the chant gained in volume.  It seemed to them that they were marching side by side with countless, lusty warriors who aforetime had battled for the foothold up the hills.  And, after that, a peace unbelievable, and the quiet music of Helen’s Well, as her waters ran to bless the farmward lands below.  All this is there for you to understand today, if you will let the Well explain the richness of her heritage, the abiding mystery of her power to solace and to heal.”

And so it is with many old springs… The rite of memaws enacted at St. Helen’s Well is a truly archaic one: whereby a person bringing a cloth or stone or coin — using basic principles of sympathetic magick — asks the spirit of the waters to cleanse them of their illness and pass it to the rags that are tied to the adjacent tree; or perhaps some wish, or desire, or fortune, be given in exchange for a coin or something if personal value.  The waters must then be drunk, or immerse yourself into the freezing pool; and if the person leaving such offerings is truly sincere in their requests, the spirit of the water may indeed act for the benefit of those concerned.

Such memaws at St. Helen’s Well are still left by local people and, unfortunately, some of those idiotic plastic pagans, who actually visit here and tie pieces of artificial material to the hawthorn and other trees, which actually pollutes the Earth and kills the spirit  here.  Whilst the intent may be good, please, if you’re gonna leave offerings here, make sure that the rags you leave are totally biodegradable.  The magical effectiveness of your intent is almost worthless if the material left is toxic to the environment and will certainly have a wholly negative effect on the spirit of the place here.  Please consider this to ensure the sacred nature of this site.

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  2. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 6, Cambridge University Press 1961.
  3. Sutcliffe, Halliwell, The Striding Dales, Frederick Warne: London 1939.
  4. Whelan, Edna, The Magic and Mystery of Holy Wells, Capall Bann: Chieveley 2001.
  5. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.
  6. Whitaker, T.D., The History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven, Joseph Dodgson: Leeds 1878.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

St Helen's Well

loading map - please wait...

St Helen\'s Well 54.008899, -2.106834 St Helen\'s Well

St. Helen’s Well, Thorp Arch, West Yorkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 45166 45800

Well on the 1849 OS-map

Getting Here

The well is all dried up today, but its remains are about 200 yards north of the river Wharfe. Sam Brewster (1980) told the easiest way to find it: “To get there from Thorp Arch you take the trackway that goes to the south of the church and follow this until you are walking alongside the river; eventually you will come to a barrier of barbed wire near some old disused water-works; get under or over this barrier and turn 90 degrees to your left, following the barbed wire until you come to a wood, the other side of the barbed wire; go into the wood and turn right; keep exploring near the edge of the wood until you find a tree under which is a hollow which used to be St. Helen’s Well.”  Once here you can see where the water used to flow down a narrow channel and under a little bridge.

Archaeology & History

Carved cross remains found near St Helen’s Well

This ancient and well-known healing spring is shown on early OS-maps emerging a short distance north of the River Wharfe besides St. Helen’s Beck in Chapel Wood, adjacent to the Kirkstall Ing or field.  In the western fields close by was once an ancient chapel and, closer to the holy well, once “stood St. Helen’s (or St. Helena’s) Cross, which is somewhat crudely represented in Dr. Whitaker’s History of Craven“, (Speight 1902), illustrated here.

This well possesses a prodigious occult history yet is curiously absent from most studies on the subject.  The place is said to have been a respected holy site that was venerated long before the Romans arrived here. Found at a place called the Rudgate — but known locally as St. Helen’s Ford — it is also said to be haunted.  Angela Smith (n.d.) considers the traditions surrounding the well to be pre-Roman, and the curative waters would certainly have been known of at the time of their occupation here,

“because it lies at the side of Roman road No.280, just north of where it crosses the River Wharfe at St. Helen’s Ford, leading to the Roman fort at Newton Kyme.”

St Helens Well in 1900

Several species of psychoactive plants grow adjacent to the well, which are thought by Phillips, (1976) Devereux (1992) and I as serving ritual shamanic purposes. The likelihood is more so than not.  The oracular nature of the site which R.C. Hope (1893) and others have described here is particularly interesting: in traditions the world over, oracles were often consulted after the ingestion or use of sacred plants, such as are found here.

Due to the sacred nature of this spring and its importance in local folklore and history, it should be recovered from its present state.  The fact that this place was highly important as a ritual and sacred site to christians, pagans, Romans and peasants alike, and now hides all-but-lost and forgotten is a disgrace.

Folklore

A fascinating tale hangs over this still-revered holy well which legend tells had a chapel standing adjacent, dedicated to Helen in the 7th century – although no trace of it is visible today. Local historian Edmund Bogg (1904) recounted how a local sexton told of “padfoots and barguests and ‘that grim foul beast with clanking chain’ which on dark nights kept its vigil” near St.Helen’s Well. Padfoots and barguests are Yorkshire names for spectral black dogs, said to be bringers of death and misfortune (they are one of several remaining folk-ingredients from the Underworld myths in British shamanism).

St Helen’s Well, c.1935
St Helens Well in 1934

Folklorist Guy Ragland Phillips (1976), referring to an article in The Dalesman in 1971, told how a Mrs Dorothy Tate as a young girl used to visit the site and would tie pieces of rag on the bushes aside the place as grateful offerings to the spirit of the well. She said however, that she had gone about doing this in the wrong way, as according to tradition such offerings are to be done secretly. The article showed a photograph of Mrs Tate (from 1908) tying one of the memaws to the wych-elm tree overhanging the old spring.

People visited the well – probably on August 18 – to divine the future with the oracle which Hope (1893) described as being here, always in the dead of night without being seen, leaving before sunrise. It has been visited by thousands of people over the centuries, with gifts of rag-hangings, pins and other memaws. Such offerings continue even to this day. When Harry Speight (1902) visited St. Helen’s Well at the turn of the century, he related how as many as forty or fifty hangings would be left at any one time on the branches of the trees.  He wrote:

“The water is beautifully soft and clear, and in former times was much resorted to as a specific for sore or weak eyes. There are two other springs close by, which were also held to be sacred, but they do not bear any particular dedications. An old plantation a little north of the well is known as Chapel Wood, which commemorates St. Helen’s chapel and the ancient church at Bilton, three miles further north, and about a mile to the east of the Roman Rudgate, is also dedicated to St. Helen.”

A few years before Speight’s visit here, Dr Fred Lees and the botanist, Robert Baines, visited St. Helen’s Well, and wrote similarly of the lore and memaws they found there:

“There are veritably hundreds of these bedizenings affixed and removed surreptitiously (probably before sunrise), according to an unwritten law, for none are ever caught in the act. And yet during the summer months a careful observer may detect almost weekly evidence of a shy communicant with the ghostly genius of someone¾country maid or her dumb shy swain. What murmured litany (if any) had to be said is lost; most likely nothing more was necessary than the unspoken wish…Pieced together and codified, fact and heresay testify as follows: ‘The visitor to the grove, before rise of sun, has to face the tree [a wych-elm overhanging the well] to detach from his or her own person some garment, to dip it in the well, and having knotted or whilst hanging the fragment to any convenient twig…is to breathe a ‘wish’ telling no-one what that wish may be; these conditions strictly observed, what is desired shall come to pass.'” (in Phillips, 1976)

When the archaeologist C.N. Bromehead (1935) and geologist J.V. Stephens came to the site in the 1930s, despite the fall of the well, he was surprised to find local peasants still respecting the spirits of the site, reporting:

“There is now no well or visible spring, but from the position at the lower margin of a gravel terrace it is obvious that water would be obtained by digging a few feet; a small stream flows just east of the site… It is curious that the hanging of rags should survive when the actual well has vanished, but the writer has visited the spot many times in the last seven years and there are always plenty of obviously recent additions.  The custom is to stand facing the well (i.e., due west), preferably after sunset, wish, and then attach something torn from one’s clothing either to the big tree — wych elm — or to any of the bushes.  Probably the custom is largely maintained by vagrants who frequently camp in the wood, but it also has its attraction for courting couples from the neighbouring villages!”

Such offerings at the site of St. Helen’s Well are still left by locals and some of the plastic pagans, who tie pieces of artificial material to the remnants of the wych-elm and other trees, which actually pollutes the Earth and kills the spirit  here.  Whilst the intent may be good, please, if you’re gonna leave offerings here, make sure that the rags you leave are totally biodegradable.  The magical effectiveness of your intent is almost worthless if the material left is toxic to the environment and will certainly have a wholly negative effect on the spirit of the place here.  Please consider this to ensure the sacred nature of the site.

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Bogg, Edmund, Lower Wharfeland, the Old City of York and the Ainsty, James Miles: Leeds 1904.
  2. Brewster, Sam, ‘St. Helen’s Well,’ in Wind & Water 1:4, 1980.
  3. Bromehead, C.N., ‘Rag Wells,’ in Antiquity IX, March 1935.
  4. Devereux, Paul, Symbolic Landscapes, Gothic Image: Glastonbury 1992.
  5. Hope, R.C., Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, London 1893.
  6. Ni’Bride, Feorag, The Wells and Springs of Leeds, PPP: Preston 1984.
  7. Phillips, Guy Ragland, Brigantia, RKP: London 1976.
  8. Smith, Andrea, ‘Holy Wells Around Leeds, Bradford & Pontefract,’ in WakefieldHistorical Journal 9, 1982.
  9. Speight, Harry, Lower Wharfedale, Elliott Stock: London 1902.
  10. Whelan, Edna, The Magic and Mystery of Holy Wells, Capall Bann 2001.
  11. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire’s Holy Wells & Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: York 1989.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  53.906400, -1.314000 St Helen\'s Well

St. Helen’s Well, Sefton, Lancashire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference — SD 3544 0128

Getting Here

It is best to start at the Punch Bowl Inn car park, Sefton, then travel a short distance along Lunt Road by St Helen’s church. A footpath/lane is reached where a barrier stands and about 10 metres opposite the main road beneath the undergrowth is St. Helen’s holy well, or what remains of it.

Archaeology & History

St Helens Well, Sefton 1850
St Helen’s Well on 1850 map

The well is now, sadly, capped off with an inscribed stone that recalls ST HELEN’S WELL.  The well originally stood inside a rather nice little wellhouse with a pyramid-shaped, overlapping roof, with railings running around it.  It was renowned for its icy waters which were especially good for people suffering from rheumatism, sprains, bruising and, also nervous problems.  It had a hand pump at the side of the well-house to enable people to drink the water. But all this has now gone, though the church congregation still visit the site on the saint’s feast day and are still hoping that some day the well will be restored again.

It was probably a pre-Christian spring that in the Middle Ages turned into a pilgrimage site, especially so in the 14th century when the church was built close by.

Folklore

In pre-Reformation times it was much in use, but later on and in more recent times it had become a wishing well; pins were thrown into the well by young folk. Apparently, if the pin could be seen at the bottom of the well a favourable outcome was likely with regard to good luck in a forthcoming marriage by a couple much in love.

Addenda:

To complement Ray’s entry, here are Mr Taylor’s notes from his Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells (1906), in which he wrote the following:

“This celebrated spring rises at a distance of three hundred yards in a westerly direction from Sefton Church.  In the year 1891 the well was walled round, and a handsome canopy placed over it, from the designs of Mr John Douglas, at the cost of William Philip, fourth earl of Sefton.  The traditions connected with this holy well are thus graphically summed up in the History of Sefton:-

“”We must not omit to mention St Helen’s Well, which springs near the first cottage in the Thornton Road, beyond the inn.  Formerly a ‘pad-road’ only led from the well to the church, the Thornton Road passing through the Rectory grounds.  In the Churchwarden’s accounts we find several items of expenditure incurred for the keeping in order of St Helen’s Well.  Thus we read in 1758: ‘For a new Dish and Chain for S. Ellen’s Well, 2/-.’  Ashcroft  [writing about the year 1819] tells us ‘that this well was once in great repute for curing rheumatism, strains, bruises and weaknesses of the nerves.  It has no mineral quality, however, and he remarks that its principal virtue seems to have been its coldness.’  In different times great respect was paid to wells ’eminent for curing distempers upon the Saint’s Day whose name the well bore,’ and it was once the custom to decorate the wells of Holy Thursday with boughs of trees, garlands of flowers, etc, places in various devices, and after service in the church the parson and singers repaired to the well, where they sang psalms and prayed.  The bottom of the well, which is of no great depth and very clear, may generally be strewn with pins which are dropped in by superstitious young country folks to denote to them the probability of their marriage, which is said to be near if the pin falls pointing towards the church.  Pins and pebbles were often dropped into wells, and the circles formed thereby on the surface of the water (or the question whether the water was troubled at all) were used as omens by which the observers drew inferences of future events.  Mr Hampson, in his Medii Ævi Kalendarium, says: ‘I have frequently seen the bottom of S. Helen’s Well, near Sefton, Lancashire, almost covered with pins, which I suppose must have been thrown in for like purposes.'”

“…Mr Gregson wrote: ‘With regard to the curious frequency of well dedication to S. Helen, I formed a theory many years ago that the S. Helen of the county of Lancaster is not unconnected with the Celtic S. Elian, who is a frequent patron saint of wells in North Wales.  Do they not both draw a common ancestry from Ella, the water sprite?'”

References:

  1. Caroe, W.D. & Gordon, E.J.A., Sefton: A Descriptive and Historical Account, Longmans Green: London 1893.
  2. Taylor, Henry, The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Sherratt & Hughes: Manchester 1906.

© Ray Spencer, 2011

St Helen's Well

loading map - please wait...

St Helen\'s Well 53.504231, -2.974809 St Helen\'s Well

St. Helen’s Well, Holbeck, Leeds, West Yorkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 295 329

Archaeology & History

In the Holbeck area of Leeds, one of the three spa wells was previously patronised to this mythical saint, whose wells profuse in this part of the world.  St. Helen’s Well (later becoming the Holbeck Spa Well) was found at the appropriately named St. Helens Bridge.  Ralph Thoresby (1715) wrote of the place: a supposed medicinal holy well, it previously had a chapel by it, of which no trace is seen today. John Mayhall (1860) also mentioned this “medicinal well,” but told little more. It was Andrea Smith (1982), more than a century later, who wrote the most about the place:

“In connection with the well by St.Helen’s Bridge, Holbeck, (Thoresby) refers to “another ancient fabrik called St. Helen’s,” but there is a difficulty in deciding exactly what he means by ancient; it is taken here as meaning more than two hundred years old. This suggests, then, that by St. Helen’s Bridge there was once a well and chapel which gave rise to the dedication and which was probably a Medieval foundation, considering the popularity of St. Helen at that time.”

Both of these sites have long since disappeared. The well eventually became known as a local Spa Well, and was found to possess a high sulphur content.

References:

  1. Mayhall, John, The Annals of Yorkshire, Joseph Johnson: Leeds 1860.
  2. Smith, Andrea, ‘Holy Wells Around Leeds, Bradford & Pontefract,’ in Wakefield Historical Journal 9, 1982.
  3. Thoresby, Ralph, Ducatus Leodiensis: or the Topography of the Ancient and Populous Town and Parish of Leedes, Robinson & Holdsworth: Leeds 1816.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  53.791584, -1.553685 St Helen\'s Well

St. Helen’s Well, Colne, Lancashire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SD 890 397

Getting Here

This site can be reached with relative ease from Colne’s train station by crossing the road and going up Bridge Street, turning immediately left along Shaw Street for several hundred yards until you reach Waterside Road on your left-hand side.  From here, as Mr Tom Sharples told, “St. Helen’s Well is presently within the area of overgrown and unmanaged scrub woodland adjacent to Waterside Road.”  Look around!

Archaeology & History

First described on the Megalithic Portal by the pseudonymous Brionnfhionn, this recently rediscovered holy well can be found on the southern side of Colne, at Waterside.  A few months after the MegPortal announcement, a more detailed overview of the site was published on GoogleDocs, from where Mr Tom Sharples has kindly allowed us to repeat the information that both he and Susan Bryant-Lauder compiled there.

The site was relocated after reference had been found in Geoff Crambie’s (1978) A Colne Festival, where he wrote:

“1935 saw the end of St. Helen’s Mill in Waterside.  Built by Nicholas England in 1835, it was named after the St. Helen’s Well nearby, which was reputed to have been named by the Romans.”

The local writer Dorothy Harrison (1988) also mentioned the site, though only in passing, when she told,

“Along with St. Helen’s Well, Buck Spout provided the main source of drinking water in Waterside.”

There has to be some more information about this little-known site hidden in some old Lancastrian history or folklore work, somewhere – surely!?

References:

  1. Crambie, Geoff, A Colne Festival, Turner & Earnshaw: 1978.
  2. Harrison, Dorothy (ed.), The History of Colne, Pendle Heritage Centre 1988.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

St Helen's Well

loading map - please wait...

St Helen\'s Well 53.853803, -2.168031 St Helen\'s Well