St. Peter’s Well, Leeds, West Yorkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 308 336

Archaeology & History

St Peters Well locale in 1852

This is one of three wells that were dedicated to St Peter in the Leeds district.  The first of them, near the city centre, was described by the northern antiquarian Ralph Thoresby (1715) as being in St. Peter’s Square—which has now been completely built over, but was situated “at the bottom or west end of High Street,” (Bonser 1974) about 50 yards west of the modern Quarry Hill buildings.  It was well known in the area in early times with a good curative reputation due seemingly to its sulphur content.  Mr Thoresby told that us, it

“is intensely cold and very beneficial for such as are afflicted with rheumatic pains, or weakness, rickets, etc, for which reason it is much frequented by such, who might otherwise have recourse to St. Mungus or Mongah, as it is more truly writ. This Spring, according to St Anselms Canon, which forbad a credulous attributing any reverence, or opinion of holiness to fountains…must either have been of great antiquity, or have had the bishop’s authority.”

Local folk of course, would have long known the goodness of this water supply long before any crude bishop.  The well either possessed a very large stone trough or it had been fashioned and added to by locals, as Thoresby reported “trying the cold bathing of St Peter’s.”  He took his youngest child there, Richard, to help him overcome an osteopathic ailment.  In his diary entry for April 8, 1709, he wrote:

“Was late at church, and fetched out by a messuage from the bone-setter (Smith, of Ardsley), who positively affirms that one part of the kneebone of my dear child Richard, has slipped out of its proper place; he set it right and bound it up; the Lord give a blessing to all endeavours!  We had made use of several before, who all affirmed that no bone was wrong, but that his limp proceeded rather from some weakness, which we were the rather induced to believe, because warm weather, and bathing in St. Peter’s Well, had set him perfectly on his feet without the least halting, only this severe Winter has made him worse than ever.”

It later became at least one of the water supplies for Maude’s Spa close by.  As usual with health-giving waters at this period in the evolving cities, money was to be made from them and local folk had to find their supplies from other sources.  St Peter’s Sulphur Baths (as it was called) were built on top of it in the 19th century and, said Bonser “flourished until the early years of the (20th) century.”

Although I can find no notices of annual celebrations or folklore here, St. Peter’s Day is June 29 — perhaps a late summer solstice site, though perhaps not.

It would be good if Leeds city council would at least put historical plaques in and around the city to inform people of the location of the many healing and holy wells that were once an integral part of the regions early history.  Tourists of various interest groups (from christian to pagan and beyond) would love to know more about their old sacred sites and spend their money in the city.

References:

  1. Atkinson, D.H., Ralph Thoresby, the Topographer – volume 1, Walker & Laycock: Leeds 1885.
  2. Baines, Edward, The Leeds Guide, E.Baines: Leeds 1806.
  3. Bonser, K.J., “Spas, Wells and Springs of Leeds,” in Publications Thoresby Society, 54:1, 1974.
  4. Harte, Jeremy, English Holy Wells – volume 2, Heart of Albion: Wymeswold 2008.
  5. NiBride, Feorag, The Wells and Springs of Leeds, Pagan Pratlle: Leeds 1994.
  6. Robinson, Percy, Relics of Old Leeds, P.Robinson: Leeds 1896.
  7. Smith, Andrea, ‘Holy Wells Around Leeds, Bradford & Pontefract,’ in Wakefield Historical Journal 9, 1982.
  8. Thoresby, Ralph, Ducatus Leodiensis, Maurice Atkins: London 1715.
  9. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights 1989.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.798411, -1.533119 St Peters Well

St. Peter’s Well, York Minster, North Yorkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 6038 5219

Also Known as:

  1. Holy Well, York Minster

Archaeology & History

Old photo of the well

Old photo of the well

For people who like to visit the sacred sites that determined a cross-over from Earth-based animism to one which ceased sanctifying the Earth, this ancient water source in the cellars beneath York Minster would be a good example.  Sadly, the church has closed off access to this ancient heritage and you can no longer see it.  Yet despite the fact that the modern-day christians have closed off your encounter with this important heritage site (York Minster’s website doesn’t even mention its existence!), we should not forget its mythic history…

As you walk into the building (at some great expense, it has to be said), the location of the holy well is said to be at its more western end, albeit in the crypt underground—although there does seems to be some confusion with some authors about exactly where the well is positioned.

1850 sketch of the well

1850 sketch of the well

The earliest account we hear of the place relates to when the northern tribal King Edwin, along with his sons Osfrid and Esfrid, came here to be “baptized” in the waters of this clear spring “on Easter day, April 12, 627” CE.  Immediately thereafter a small wooden chapel was constructed next to or above the well.  From then on, as the centuries passed, the renown of the well grew and eventually the magnificent ritual temple of York Minster was eventually built.  The waters eventually became dedicated to St. Peter and an annual festival occurred here soon after the Midsummer solstice on what became known as St. Peter’s Day (June 29).  After the year 1462, a secondary festival date was also given to the site by the Church and another annual celebration occurred here on October 1 too.  Its waters remained accessible to people for drinking, healing and rites throughout the centuries.  It is only now, in the 21st century, that its sacrality and spirit has been closed-off.  This is a situation that must be remedied!

In Mr Goole’s (1850) survey of York Minster, his architectural illustration of the building showed that the water from the well had been brought up onto the ground floor, on the southeast side of the inner cathedral building in the easternmost vestry, and named as St Peter’s Pump.  This is illustrated in the 1850 drawing above-left.

A whole series of early writers mention the well in earlier centuries—of whom a brief sample is given here.  When Celia Feinnes came here in the 17th century, she said that,

“In the vestry of York Minster there is a well of sweet spring water called St Peter’s Well ye saint of ye Church, so it is called St Peter’s Cathedral.” (Smith 1923)

Mr Torre (1719) gave it equal brevity, saying simply that,

“at the south-west corner thereof is a draw-well (called St. Peter’s Well) of very wholesome clear water much drunk by the common people.”

In R.C. Hope’s (1893) national survey of sacred wells, he told that

“There is a draw well with a stone cistern in the eastern part of the crypt of York Minster… The Crypt is about 40 feet by 35 feet.”

The well was even included in Murray’s Handbook to Yorkshire (1892) as being “in the southwest corner of the Minster.” William Smith (1923) included the site in his fine survey, telling his readers that,

“The water is excellent in quality, which in measure, so chemists say, is due to the lime washed into it by the rain from the walls of the Minster.  The water has for centuries been used for baptisms, and is so used today.  The well has now for some years been covered with a pump.”

Folklore

In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s famous early History, we find that King Arthur visited here. …And one final note, about which we know not for certain whether it was relevant to the holy well hiding in the crypt, but a fascinating heathen custom was enacted here in bygone days, almost above the spring.  Mistletoe, as Christina Hole (1950) told,

“was ceremonially carried to the cathedral on Christmas Eve and laid upon the high altar, after which a universal pardon and liberty for all was proclaimed at the four gates of the city for as long as the branch lay upon the altar.”

Mistletoe is one element that is known to have been sacred to the druids (not the present-day druids!) and was sacred to the ancient Scandinavians (who came here), and also possessed the powers of life and death in its prodigious folklore and phytochemistry.  Fascinating…

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Bord, Janet, Cures and Curses: Ritual and Cult at Holy Wells, HOAP: Wymeswold 2006.
  2. Gutch, Mrs, County Folk-lore volume 2 – North Riding of Yorkshire, York and the Ainsty, David Nutt: London 1901.
  3. Hole, Christina, English Custom and Usage, Batsford: London 1950.
  4. Hole, Christina, English Shrines and Sanctuaries, Batsford: London 1954.
  5. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  6. Murray, John, Handbook for Travellers in Yorkshire, J.Murray: London 1874.
  7. Parkinson, Thomas, Yorkshire Legends and Traditions, Elliot Stock: London 1888.
  8. Poole, G.A., An Historical and Descriptive Guide to York Cathedral and its Antiquities, R. Sunter: York 1850.
  9. Purey-Cust, A.P., York Minster, Isbister: London 1898.
  10. Rattue, James, The Living Stream: Holy Wells in Historical Context, Boydell: Woodbridge 1995.
  11. Smith, William, Ancient Springs and Streams of the East Riding of Yorkshire, A. Brown: Hull 1923.
  12. Torre, James, The Antiquities of York, York 1719.
  13. Whelan, Edna, “Holy Wells in Yorkshire – part 1,” in Source, No.3, November 1985.
  14. Whelan, Edna, The Magic and Mystery of Holy Wells, Capall Bann: Chieveley 2001.
  15. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

St Peter’s Well, York Minster, North Yorkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 6038 5219

Also Known as:

  1. Holy Well, York Minster

Archaeology & History

Old photo of the well

Old photo of the well

For people who like to visit the sacred sites that determined a cross-over from Earth-based animism to one which ceased sanctifying the Earth, this ancient water source in the cellars beneath York Minster would be a good example.  Sadly, the church has closed off access to this ancient heritage and you can no longer see it.  Yet despite the fact that the modern-day christians have closed off your encounter with this important heritage site (York Minster’s website doesn’t even mention its existence!), we should not forget its mythic history…

As you walk into the building (at some great expense, it has to be said), the location of the holy well is said to be at its more western end, albeit in the crypt underground—although there does seems to be some confusion with some authors about exactly where the well is positioned.

1850 sketch of the well

1850 sketch of the well

The earliest account we hear of the place relates to when the northern tribal King Edwin, along with his sons Osfrid and Esfrid, came here to be “baptized” in the waters of this clear spring “on Easter day, April 12, 627” CE.  Immediately thereafter a small wooden chapel was constructed next to or above the well.  From then on, as the centuries passed, the renown of the well grew and eventually the magnificent ritual temple of York Minster was eventually built.  The waters eventually became dedicated to St. Peter and an annual festival occurred here soon after the Midsummer solstice on what became known as St. Peter’s Day (June 29).  After the year 1462, a secondary festival date was also given to the site by the Church and another annual celebration occurred here on October 1 too.  Its waters remained accessible to people for drinking, healing and rites throughout the centuries.  It is only now, in the 21st century, that its sacrality and spirit has been closed-off.  This is a situation that must be remedied!

In Mr Goole’s (1850) survey of York Minster, his architectural illustration of the building showed that the water from the well had been brought up onto the ground floor, on the southeast side of the inner cathedral building in the easternmost vestry, and named as St Peter’s Pump.  This is illustrated in the 1850 drawing above-left.

A whole series of early writers mention the well in earlier centuries—of whom a brief sample is given here.  When Celia Feinnes came here in the 17th century, she said that,

“In the vestry of York Minster there is a well of sweet spring water called St Peter’s Well ye saint of ye Church, so it is called St Peter’s Cathedral.”(Smith 1923)

Mr Torre (1719) gave it equal brevity, saying simply that,

“at the south-west corner thereof is a draw-well (called St. Peter’s Well) of very wholesome clear water much drunk by the common people.”

In R.C. Hope’s (1893) national survey of sacred wells, he told that

“There is a draw well with a stone cistern in the eastern part of the crypt of York Minster… The Crypt is about 40 feet by 35 feet.”

The well was even included in Murray’s Handbook to Yorkshire (1892) as being “in the southwest corner of the Minster.” William Smith (1923) included the site in his fine survey, telling his readers that,

“The water is excellent in quality, which in measure, so chemists say, is due to the lime washed into it by the rain from the walls of the Minster.  The water has for centuries been used for baptisms, and is so used today.  The well has now for some years been covered with a pump.”

Folklore

In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s famous early History, we find that King Arthur visited here. …And one final note, about which we know not for certain whether it was relevant to the holy well hiding in the crypt, but a fascinating heathen custom was enacted here in bygone days, almost above the spring.  Mistletoe, as Christina Hole (1950) told,

“was ceremonially carried to the cathedral on Christmas Eve and laid upon the high altar, after which a universal pardon and liberty for all was proclaimed at the four gates of the city for as long as the branch lay upon the altar.”

Mistletoe is one element that is known to have been sacred to the druids (not the present-day druids!) and was sacred to the ancient Scandinavians (who came here), and also possessed the powers of life and death in its prodigious folklore and phytochemistry.  Fascinating…

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Bord, Janet, Cures and Curses: Ritual and Cult at Holy Wells, HOAP: Wymeswold 2006.
  2. Gutch, Mrs, County Folk-lore volume 2 – North Riding of Yorkshire, York and the Ainsty, David Nutt: London 1901.
  3. Hole, Christina, English Custom and Usage, Batsford: London 1950.
  4. Hole, Christina, English Shrines and Sanctuaries, Batsford: London 1954.
  5. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  6. Murray, John, Handbook for Travellers in Yorkshire, J.Murray: London 1874.
  7. Parkinson, Thomas, Yorkshire Legends and Traditions, Elliot Stock: London 1888.
  8. Poole, G.A., An Historical and Descriptive Guide to York Cathedral and its Antiquities, R. Sunter: York 1850.
  9. Purey-Cust, A.P., York Minster, Isbister: London 1898.
  10. Rattue, James, The Living Stream: Holy Wells in Historical Context, Boydell: Woodbridge 1995.
  11. Smith, William, Ancient Springs and Streams of the East Riding of Yorkshire, A. Brown: Hull 1923.
  12. Torre, James, The Antiquities of York, York 1719.
  13. Whelan, Edna, “Holy Wells in Yorkshire – part 1,” in Source, No.3, November 1985.
  14. Whelan, Edna, The Magic and Mystery of Holy Wells, Capall Bann: Chieveley 2001.
  15. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.962277, -1.081200 St Peter\'s Well

St. Peter’s Well, Houston, Renfrewshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference — NS 40764 67503

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 43125

Archaeology & History

St Peters Well on 1863 map

Located on the north side of the village, in a field east of Greenhill Farm, this old Well was once (still is?) covered and protected by an old well-house.  References to its mythic history are few and far between.  St. Peter’s Day was June 29, which may relate to the last vestiges of midsummer rites local people held here; or perhaps when the genius loci was more notable.   The Old Statistical Account of 1790 told that the burn which runs past the well was called St. Peter’s Burn; but T.C.F. Brotchie (1920) thought that an old place-name given to the village is telling:

“Houston is a very ancient village,” he wrote, “and it was known long ago as Kilpeter, which is the ‘cell or church of Peter’.  The name of the farm near to the well is Chapelton, ‘the place of the chapel’, and I venture to think that when the saintly Peter came a-wandering to Renfrewshire, he established his habitation or cell adjacent to the well, blessed its water, and in that medieval times a chapel was also built there, its memory being enshrined in the place-name Chapelton.  Crawford mentions that on St. Peter’s Day vast numbers of people used to come to Houston.  He does not state the reason, but I fancy these people came to pay their devoir at the holy well of St. Peter.”

Mr Brotchie was probably right!

(I haven’t yet visited this site.  If you travel to this site, please send us your field notes and accompanying photos to let us know of its present condition. All due credits will be given to any and all contributors, obviously.)

References:

  1. Brotchie, T.C.F., “Holy Wells in and Around Glasgow,” in Old Glasgow Club Transactions, volume 4, 1920.
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  3. Walker, J. Russel, “‘Holy Wells’ in Scotland,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol.17 (New Series, volume 5), 1883.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.874289, -4.546730 St Peter\'s Well