Bede’s Well, Hebburn, Jarrow, County Durham

Holy Well:  OS Grid-Reference – NZ 31987 64158

Getting Here

Bedes Well, Hebburn 1898

Bede’s Well on 1898 map

Gone down Adair Way and drive down as far as you can. Park and find the path back into the path this leads to the natural amphitheater down steps where the well is.

Archaeology & History

Surrounded by worn paving slabs in a small amphitheatre. It is reached by steps and surrounded by trees. The well is very dry, with broken stone work. Nearly lost under Victorian industrial growth, local people in the early 1900s became concerned with its plight and money was raised via an appeal in the Jarrow Guardian. Although some money was forthcoming, nothing appears to have happened until 1932 when it was enclosed in a railed enclosure with its name carved into the stone work either side of a gate way. When  Palmer’s shipyard slag heap was consolidated sadly spring was diverted leaving the well dry.

Bede's Well, Jarrow (6)St Bede has a long association with Jarrow but whether he knew of this well is unproved. The legend locally says that when living at St. Paul’s Monastery he would send the monks out to collect water from this well. However, it has been questioned why? Especially as the well is some distance away, a well was found enclosed in the site and in fact the river nearby would have been clean enough to drink. It is possible that the site derives its name from the Anglo-Saxon word baed meaning bathing place and as such perhaps the site was dug to provide a healing bath. Perhaps we shall never know, but what is clear is that the site is slowly disappearing into obscurity.

St. Bede's Well in 1908Folklore

The earliest reference to this site is Floyer in 1702 which notes that

“Nothing is more Common in this Country… for the preventing or curing of Rickets, than to send Children of a Year old and upwards, to St Bede’s… Well”

Bede's Well, Jarrow (2)

Brand (1789) says that:

“about a mile to the west of Jarrow there is a well, still called Bede’s Well, to which, as late as the year 1740, it was a prevailing custom to bring children troubled with any disease or infirmity; a crooked pin was put in, and the well laved dry between each dipping. My informant has seen twenty children brought together on a Sunday, to be dipped in this well; at which also, on Midsummer-eve, there was a great resort of neighbouring people, with bonfires, musick, &c”.

A report in the Sunderland Times quoted by Hope (1893) notes that:

“Still, when the well is occasionally cleared out, a number of crooked pins (a few years ago a pint) are always found among the mud. These have been thrown into the sacred fount for some purpose or other, either in the general way as charms for luck, or to promote and secure true love, or for the benefit of sick babies… In days when the ague was common in this country, the usual offering… was a bit of rag tied to the branch of an overhanging tree or bush”

A visitor reported an early morning journey to the well, where ‘he seated himself on a rail to enjoy the singing of the birds. Before long an Irishman came up, who had been walking very fast, and was panting for breath. He took a bottle out of his pocket, stooped down and filled it from the well, put it to his mouth, and took a copious draught. “A fine morning, sir”, said our friend. “Sure and it is”, replied the man, “and what a holy man St Bede must have been! You see, when I left Jarrow, I was as blind as a bat with the headache, but as soon as I had taken a drink just now, I was as well as ever I was in my life”. So he filled his bottle once more with the precious liquid, and walked away.

Bede's Well

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Bede\'s Well 54.971020, -1.501849 Bede\'s Well

Fairy Stone, Fourstones, Northumberland

Legendary Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NY 893 680

Archaeology & History

Thought to have been destroyed in the 19th century, folklorists and historians alike didn’t seem to be able to locate this little-known folklore relic, which is still alive and well in one of the fields by the village.  The exact nature of the stone isn’t known for certain.  Legend reputes it to have been one of the four boundary stones which gave the village its name; it was also said that they were Roman altars and the Fairy Stone was one of them, which was moved from the village boundary during the Rebellion of 1715 and placed nearer the centre.

Folklorist M.C. Balfour (1904) seemed to think that stone had gone when he wrote about it.  Writing about it in the past tense, he told,

“The Fairy Stone however, certainly had an existence, for a person, 80 years of age, remembered its situation to the south of the village, near the old road, and that it was squared, and had a square “cistern hewn out of its top,” which was called the Fairy Trough, and traditionally said to have had a pillar fixed in it.”

But when former Ley Hunter editor Paul Screeton (1982) came looking for the stone in the late 1970s, he was fortunate in coming across an old local:

“Some time ago while looking for the Fairy Stone at Fourstones…I came across a farmer who pointed it out and remarked that a few years previously when the road was widened the local lengthsman made sure it was not destroyed, though it had to be moved a short distance.”

Folklore

Of the four boundary stones surrounding the village, they were “supposed to have been formed to hold holy water,” said Balfour (1904).  But the title Fairy Stone given to one of them had this tale to account for it:

“A couple of miles or more down the South Tyne is Fourstones, so called because of four stones, said to have been Roman altars, having been used to mark its boundaries. A romantic use was made of one of these stones in the early days of “The Fifteen.” Every evening, as dusk fell, a little figure, clad in green, stole up to the ancient altar, which had been slightly hollowed out, and, taking out a packet, laid another in its place. The mysterious packets, placed there so secretly, were letters from the Jacobites of the neighbourhood to each other; and the little figure in green was a boy who acted as messenger for them. No wonder that the people of the district gave this altar the name of the ‘Fairy Stone’.”

References:

  1. Balfour, M.C., Country Folk-lore volume 4: Examples of Printed Folk-lore Concerning Northumberland, David Nutt: London 1904.
  2. Screeton, Paul, “The Long Man of Wilmington,” in The Ley Hunter, no.92, 1982.
  3. Terry, Jean F., Northumberland Yesterday and Today, Andrew Reid: Newcastle 1913.
  4. Watson, Godfrey, Northumberland Place Names, Sandhill: Morpeth 1995.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks to Paul Screeton for the grid-reference!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Fairy Stone

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Fairy Stone 55.006825, -2.168108 Fairy Stone