Just outside of Leek a right-hand lane leads to the small hamlet of Ashenhurst, turning left pass the gated road and on the right hand side at the next fork is the The egg well on the right in a small brick building.
Archaeology & History
The Egg Well is a curious site. No evidence appears to record it as a holy well, nor a spa— but it appears to be a secular healing well. Local tradition believes that the site was used by the Roman, but the older fabric was set in place by William Stanley, the owner of Ashenhurst Hall bewteen 1744 and 1752. The present house was erected in the 19th century.
Waters of the well
The name of the well is curious; it could refer to the shape of the basin, but could also refer to sulphurous waters although I could not detect a smell. Today, a rather ugly 19th century brick-built structure surrounds this stone lined bath-shaped structure, which was roofed at a later date.
The site was used by the Romans, but there is no evidence. Its properties are recorded on the basin is this monogram and an interesting Latin inscription which reads:
“Renibus, et splenui cordi, jecorique medatur, Mille maelsi prodest ista salubris aqua.”
The translation being:
“The liver, kidneys, heart’s disease these waters remedy. And by their healing powers assuage full many a malady.”
Parish, R.B., Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Staffordshire – in publication.
The genuine St. Bertram’s well is not easy to find and I recommend using the OS map carefully. It is reached by taking the footpath that leads off at the left passing the cross out of the village. Follow this until the end of the dry stone walling on the right and then divert from the footpath to the right where the well can be seen. The second well is easily found in the field between the church and the Hall.
Archaeology and History
Bertram is an interesting local saint, dating from around the 7th-8th century. Briefly, he is said to be of Royal Irish lineage but after making a princess pregnant, escaped to England where he sheltered in the woods around Ilam. The story is told by Alexander, a monk, in the 13th century who notes:
“They were in hiding in a dense forest when lo ! the time of her childbirth came upon them suddenly ; born of pain and river of sorrow! A pitiful child bed indeed! While Bertellinus went out to get the necessary help of a midwife the woman and her child breathed their last amid the fangs of wolves. Bertellinus on his return imagined that this calamity had befallen because of his own sin, and spent three days in mourning rites”.
As a result he became a hermit living in a cave in the valley near Ilam. Despite the earliest mention being Plot, the local geography is suggestive that this is the site of an early Christian hermitage site, although no mention of a well is noted in his legends it can be noted. Currently, the well is surrounded on four sides by varying low stone walling, about two feet or so at its highest (although it appears to have been built up and down over the time I have visited the well). The spring flows from a small, less than a foot square chamber, enclosed in stone and set into the bank through a channel in the rubble flow and out along the path towards it.
Since the 1990s, on the first Saturday in August, the Orthodox Church makes a pilgrimage to the site and blesses the well. Interestingly, literature available from the National Trust shop fails to mention this well, but notes a more substantial second St Bertram’s Well close by the church and surrounded by a rectangular stone wall with steps down, the water arises here at greater speed and flows into the nearby River Manifold. Visually it is more impressive and more accessible but whether there is any long tradition of this second well is unclear, but authors such as the Thompsons’s (2004) The Water of Life: Springs and Wells of Mainland Britain and Bord (2008) Holy Wells of Britain appear to have fostered its reputation.
Incidentally, the church boasts the remains of St Bertram’s shrine with foramina and the church yard has two Saxon crosses, making a visit to the village a must for those interested in early medieval history.
“St Bertram’s Ash… grows over a spring which bears the name of the same Saint… The common people superstitiously believe, that tis very dangerous to break a bough from it: so great a care has St Bertram of his Ash to this very day. And yet they have not so much as a Legend amongst them, either of this Saint’s miracles, or what he was; onely that he was Founder of their Church”
Such notes Plot (1686) The Natural History of Stafford-Shire, the earliest reference of this fascinating site. By Browne (1888) in his An Account of the Three Ancient Cross Shafts, the Font, and St Bertram’s Shrine, at Ilam, noted that the ash had gone, but the water was still being used. He states that:
“The late Mrs Watts Russell always had her drinking water from it.”
Extracted and amended from the forthcoming Holy wells and healing springs of Staffordshire by R. B. Parish (2008)
If you park in the first car park at Greenaway Country Park past the lake, and then walk along the road taking the footpath on the left around the lake, continue until one crosses a bridge, just below the Warden’s Tower taking a path which follows a small stream, past a pond and then continue until there is a bridge on the left. Just after this is a path on the right you will reach the Gawton Well.
Archaeology & History
The spring, voted one of the most mystical places and certainly one of the most atmospheric of Staffordshire’s ancient wells, is found on the remains of the Kynpersley Estate. It fills at first an elliptical stone basin, then a small rectangular basin and then a larger one which could have formed a bath. There is a semi-circular stone just after this and it then flows through a number of large rocks forming a stream. The site has an excellent arrangement: the juxtaposition between the man-made and the natural.
Perhaps what makes this well one of the most evocative and interesting is the fact that it arises in an oval grove of yew trees. Some folklorists and New age Antiquarians have seen this as being evidence of some pagan origin of the well and although it is interesting that the site is unconverted to the Christian faith. However, one must be careful. Firstly the trees do not look that old and secondly the presence of a nearby Warden’s Tower, a folly, suggests that this is perhaps a 18th century piece of antiquarianism. I have been unable to find much more of its history.
This suggestion of the site being a folly may be justified by the presence of Gawton’s Stone. This is just up from the spring, being a large stone supported by three other stones. Some antiquarians identified erroneously this as either a druidic altar or megalithic structure (it would be impossible to lift the structure). However it is here that legendarily a hermit lived called Gawton who used the well. Often landowners would employ a hermit to add some romance to the estate, although the stone does not particularly look like a comfortable place. Certainly local tradition states that the man came from Knypersley Hall in the seventeenth century, although the house is 18th century and no name is recorded as living there of any note! The house itself dates from the 12th century. Robert Plot (1686) in his work on Staffordshire states that:
“There are many waters such as the water of the well at Gawton Stone…which has some reputation for the cure of the King’s evil..”
The King’s evil was a skin complaint generally called scrofula which was only thought to be cured by the touch of the reigning monarch. Now rarely do I try out springs, but at this time my little boy was suffering with eczema and having tried all sorts of creams I said flippantly try some of the well’s water. I collected it from near the source in a drinking bottle, it felt unusually silky to the skin, and applied some to an area of dry peeling skin on his cheek. Remarkably by the time we had walked from the well to the car the area have healed itself rather miraculously. I only wished I had collected some more to use later, although the area on his face disappeared for good….
In all Gawton’s Well deserves to be more well known, a magical site of which my only clue, many years ago before the internet, to its existence before reaching it was a circle on the OS-map! A site which may reveal its secrets with greater research, which I plan to undertake whilst preparing for the Staffordshire book below.
Parish, R.B., Holy wells and healing springs of Staffordshire (forthcoming) full set of references within.
Plot, Robert, A Natural History of Staffordshire, Oxford 1686.
The Staffordshire village of Rocester is 4 miles north of Uttoxeter on the B5030 road. It can easily be reached from Stoke on Trent, Leek and Ashbourne. The church of St Michael with its interesting Medieval church-yard cross is located on Dove Lane in the centre of the pretty little, olde-worlde village.
Archaeology & History
The cross stands some 40 yards away from St Michael’s church. It is quite a striking monument standing 20 feet high and dating from the 13th century. It stands on 3 tier circular steps displaying convexed mouldings and a graduated base stone. It’s long, tapering shaft is described as “quadrilobe” which has sunken dog-tooth, or fret-work decoration on two sides. Unfortunately, the head is missing, but it’s collared coronet remains in place.
The Rocester church-yard cross was listed as Grade II in 1966 and the English Heritage Building ID is 407190.
From the centre of Stoke head west onto Glebe Street and just a couple of hundred yards or so south of the town hall is the minster church of St Peter Ad Vincula (St. Peter in Chains). Go into the large graveyard and there the ancient Saxon cross-shaft stands behind some modern iron railings. There are many other things of interest to see in the churchyard, including some old arches and monuments / gravestones in memory of some famous potters that made Stoke famous during the industrial revolution.
Archaeology & History
The Mercian cross-shaft stands 4 feet high on a 19th century square, socketed lump of stone. It is said to date from about AD 1000 when it was in use as a preaching cross, but could in fact be from earlier than that according to some local historians – perhaps it was originally a Christianized stone. The first Saxon settlement at Stoke (Stoiche) was said to date from c 800 AD. The cylindrical shaped shaft was discovered in 1876 by a gravedigger who spotted it being used as a door lintel inside the old church which was being demolished to make way for a newer church building. During its recovery the shaft broke in two so it was placed in storage, but in 1935 it was formally identified by Mr Charles Lynam who had it restored and re-erected in the churchyard.
Sadly the shaft is quite badly eroded with the carvings on one side being difficult to make out, but the front face has interlacing and scroll-work; there is some key-patterning on the sides and reverse side along with a series or section of small holes – these perhaps done in more recent times. The break across the middle of the shaft can still be seen today, but that does not detract from its great antiquity, the ancient monument being carefully restored. On the base there is an inscription that reads:
‘This fragment of a pre-Norman cross identified by Chas Lynam F.S.A. was re-erected near to its original position in the 25th year of the reign of H.M. King George V by P.W.L.Adams F.S.A.’
The old town’s Market Cross can be seen outside the north end of the Guildhall, but originally it was opposite the Ironmarket up the High Street. It was first built sometime in the medieval period (exact year seems to be unknown), but required some restoration work on it in 1579, which was organized by the town Mayor: a Mr Randle Bagnall at the time. It’s thought that the five steps upon which it stood were also erected around this time. However, these steps and the cross were moved a few years before 1820 and then resurrected by the Guildhall. The curious standard lamps were also added to the top of the cross when this restoration work was done.
Kennedy, J. (ed.), Newcastle-under-Lyme: A Town Portrait, Newcastle Civic Society 1984.