Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
notable wells & springs:
Attleborough, Norfolk: Two chalybeate springs are recorded in this parish1, at least one of which has been referred to as a 'holy' well: "...the holy wells of Ipswich, Attleborough, and other places, were springs more or less remarkable for their virtues and efficacy".2
2. Richard Taylor: Index Monasticus' (London, 1821), p.xx.
Aylsham, Norfolk: Once upon a time Aylsham was famed for its chalybeate spring (water containing iron salts) and the resultant spa founded around it. By the 1820s and 30s it had all but gone out of use, and now only a trickle of water remains to show where it had once been resorted to for the relief of asthma and other chronic ailments, at Spa Farm south of the town (TG192255).
Badley, Suffolk: The Lady Well or 'Our Lady Well' (TM061552) is on private land in fields about ½ a mile south of the church, with a vague tradition that pilgrims journeyed there for its medicinal properties. Apparently it's now no more than a damp hollow at the edge of a field. Wellfield Covert is near by, and a tiny brook runs from it to join the river Gipping on the outskirts of Needham Market.
Barling, Essex: Now filled in and the water piped away, the “famous spring called Redberry Well” used to be found at TQ913889, in Gallows Field south of Mucking Hall. Old maps show it as Redbury Spring, a chalybeate source.
Source: Philip Benton: ‘The History of Rochford Hundred’ (A. Harrington, 1867), p.24-5.
Barnham, Suffolk: Although a very minor tributary of the Little Ouse arises at Hunwell Spring (TL845792), W. G. Clarke reported that it was fed by "five powerful springs" a mile further east near Biblesmoor Plantation - a location I haven't been able to identify. According to Clarke, "local tradition asserts that the springs are constant".
Source: W. G. Clarke: 'In Breckland Wilds' (Robert Scott, 1925), p.95.
Source: Horace B. Woodward: 'The Geology of the Country around Norwich' (Memoirs of the Geological Survey, 1881), P.168.
James Rattue: 'The Living Stream' (Boydell Press, 1995), p.85-6.
Bourn, Cambridgeshire: A mineral spring called Jacob's Well was well-known in the early 18th century, but neglected by 1750. This may have been the well shown on old maps at TL324568. Another was discovered not far away in 1845, and a third was to be found north-east of Manor Farm.
Brettenham, Norfolk: In Shadwell Park can be found St. Chad's Well (TL933830). According to an unpublished dissertation of 1993 by D. Manning, this is a medieval holy well, now covered by a 19th century dome-shaped well-house. It has been suggested, though, that the name has actually arisen from the Old English scead wylla, meaning 'boundary well'. The boundaries of Shropham and Guiltcross Hundreds met very close by.
Bungay, Suffolk: In 1728, an apothecary named John King built here (TM324914) a 'cold bath house' in order to take advantage of the medicinal chalybeate properties of an iron spring welling out of the Bath Hills. This became quite famous for sometime, but the bath house had become unused by 1867, and was later pulled down.
Source: David R. Butcher: 'Waveney Valley' (East Anglian Magazine Ltd, 1975), p.57.
Burgh Castle, Norfolk: In the churchyard at St. Peter & St. Paul's there was said to be the well of St. Fursey, a 7th century Irish saint who was based on the site of the nearby Roman fort. There is certainly an arched structure of brick to be found there, but other sources place the holy well at the foot of a slope at TG475050, on private land about 75m north-west of the church. Once thought to be Roman in origin, the vicar Canon Venables cleaned out the spring in 1893, lined it with stones and fenced it off as a place for meditation. Hardly any trace of it remains.
Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk: Here were three holy wells that I know of. St. Mary's Well stood somewhere outside the town's Eastgate (probably near the site of St. Mary's Chapel, TL85976446), while Sacrin's Well was within the abbey precincts, near the Cellarer's House. Holywell or Hockwell was beyond the Westgate at TL84996318, south-west of Holywater Meadows, in a little patch of land just off what is now Holywell Close. Holywell Cottages used to stand close by.
Source: 'Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology', Vol.13, p.207.
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: The area of Barnwell was named for a spring or springs which arose behind Saxon Road. Dugdale's 'Monasticon Anglicanum' mentioned these in the 17th century: "from the midst of that site there bubbled forth springs of clear fresh water, called at that time in English Barnewell, the Children's Springs, because once a year on St John Baptist's Eve, boys and lads met there, and amused themselves in the English fashion with wrestling matches and other games and applauded each other in singing songs and playing musical instruments". Rather than deriving from an old word meaning 'child', Barnwell in fact means 'the well of Boerna', a personal name. A Saxon hermit named Godesone built a wooden oratory to St. Andrew here, about which Barnwell Priory was built in 1112. The site, at TL463591, has long been built over.
In Benet Street is the church of St. Benet's (TL448583), with a possible holy well just beside the steps down into the churchyard.
The St. Radegund pub near the corner of King Street and Short Street (TL454587) is supposed to have a 'holy well' sealed beneath its floor, although it has nothing to do with the Germanic saint of that name, and nothing to suggest it has ever been 'sacred' in any way.
Between Cambridge and Great Shelford, in a covert at TL461542 are the Nine Wells, notable springs from which a conduit was built in 1614 to bring water into the city.
Castle Hedingham, Essex: Next to the recreation ground (formerly Chapel Pastures), in the angle between St. James’ Street and New Park, is a small brick building, once a pump house (TL787355). This is said to be the original site of St. James’ Chapel and Well. The latter was described in the 18th century as “famous for the miracles performed by it”.
Source: Castle Hedingham Village Design Statement (2008).
Chadwell St. Mary, Essex: Although there’s no evidence that St. Chad (brother of Cedd) ever came to Essex, it hasn’t stopped people believing that the Saxon saint not only blessed the well here, but used it to baptise his followers.1 In fact the parish name in Domesday Book is ‘Celdewella’, meaning ‘cold spring’. A wide but shallow tank that was here until the 1980s was probably medieval in origin, but an old rusty pump still stands on the spot at TQ645779, close to the Hutts Hill roundabout, at the bottom of Chadwell Hill.2
West Tilbury is a little village within Chadwell parish, with Tilbury Hall an early-Tudor house at TQ660777. Beneath the floor of the kitchen at Hall Farm a chalybeate spring arose, renowned in the 18th century for the treatment of bowel disorders and gout.3
Not far away is Rector’s Well at TQ662776, in a field just east of the church. Described as a little weaker than the Hall water, this was for a time a rival for customers and fame.2
1. Peter Ackroyd: 'Thames: Sacred River' (Vintage, 2008), p.88.
2. ‘Essex Field Club – Reports of Meetings’, in ‘Essex Naturalist’ (1920), Vol.19, p.119.
Chelmsford, Essex: ‘Springfield Water’ wasn’t a single well, but a multitude of springs that arose on the east side of the river Chelmer, and which were impregnated with iron, sulphur and ‘purging salt’.
Source: S. Sunderland: ‘Old London’s Spas, Baths & Wells’ (J. Bales, sons & Danielsson, 1915), p.59.
Chigwell, Essex: Domesday Book calls it ‘Cinghe uuella’, which many early antiquarians interpreted as meaning ‘King’s Well’. From this they theorized that some famous and royal well once existed here. In fact, there have been many variant spellings, and it’s generally agreed now that the name means ‘Cicca’s well’. It has been theorized that the actual spring in question was one that used to exist in Chigwell Row, near High View off Lambourne Road, at approx. TQ457927.
Clare, Suffolk: According to the 15th century Cartulary of Clare Priory, "a spring in what was then a field in front of the house gave a supply of chalybeate water which was reckoned to have curative powers".
Coggeshall, Essex: Popular for a while in the 18th century, the chalybeate well then known as Markshall Spring lay north-west of the town, beyond Tilkey. It has been identified with Ladle Spring (TL845239), near the southern corner of Well Plantation. There used to be a stone basin with a chain, to which was attached a large ladle or drinking cup. One writer was told that it was a petrifying spring, but he doubted it.
S. Sunderland: ‘Old London’s Spas, Baths & Wells’ (J. Bales, sons & Danielsson, 1915), p.60.
Christy and Thresh, Addenda, in ‘Essex Field Club Special Memoirs’, (1910), Vol.4, p.69.
Not too far west of the parish churchyard, in Wain Lane, there was also once St. Peter's Well, described in 1916 as "a celebrated ancient well". Some thought it to have been the 'font' in which early Saxon Christians had been baptised. By the beginning of the 20th century, it was said to give "an almost inexhaustible supply of pure water", but the yield had been overestimated, and it largely fell out of use after the council provided a public supply. Although in 1863 it was recorded as a circular bricked well about 8 feet (2.4m) deep, both well and lane are now long gone.
W. Whitaker and J. Thresh: 'The Water Supply of Essex from Underground Sources' (Memoirs of the Geological Survey, 1916), p.75.
Bryan Dale: 'The Annals of Coggeshall' (A. H. Coventry, 1863), p.22.
Colchester, Essex: Close to the existing 12th century St. Helen’s Chapel (TL997253) on Maidenburgh Street, with water flowing into the castle ditch, there used to be a well named after that saint – although there’s no record that it was ever regarded as a ‘holy’ well during the Middle Ages.1
A chapel or hermitage stood beside Harwich Road (at TM011254) at least until 1768, with the hermit being titled “the master of the hospital of St. Anne de Halywell”. The chapel is long gone, and nothing is known of the hospital, but St. Anne’s Well still exists, capped and inside a private house. A plaque on the house apparently says “Holy well reopened 1844”.2
East of the town’s main railway station is Childwell Alley, which used to continue northward before the railway line was built, with the northern end now being Ernulph Walk. At approx. TM003249 used to be the eponymous Child Well. Even in the early 20th century it had a reputation as a cure for sore eyes by people bathing their eyes with the water. The name of the well is an ancient one, and seems to have arisen because pregnant women thought the water possessed excellent properties for unborn babies.3
3. Christy and Thresh, Addenda, in ‘Essex Field Club Special Memoirs’, (1910), Vol.4, p.69-70.
4. W. Gurney Benham: 'The Oath Book or Red Parchment Book of Colchester' (Essex County Standard Office, 1907), p.210.
Coton, Cambridgeshire: A minor local tourist attraction in the 18th century was the petrifying spring at Whitwell Farm (TL401584).1 However, this may originally have been a holy well, as a source of c.1550 called it "our Ladyes well of Whytewell".2
1. S. M. Walters & E. A Stow: 'Darwin's Mentor' (Cambridge University Press, 2001), p.73.
2. Jeremy Harte: 'English Holy Wells : a sourcebook' (Heart of Albion Press, 2008), Vol.2, p.176.
Danbury, Essex: At Danbury was St. Thomas's Spring, obtained in the late 19th century by the council as a public water supply. Nowadays it is called Buell's Spring or Buell Well, and rises from an iron pipe at TL78390451, just within the edge of woodland on the eastern side of Danbury Common.
W. Whitaker and J. Thresh: 'The Water Supply of Essex from Underground Sources' (Memoirs of the Geological Survey, 1916), p.76.
Deopham, Norfolk: There was once a 'petrifying spring' at Deopham near Wymondham, into which anything that was dropped turned into solid stone. To be found at the foot of a huge linden tree, it "petrifies sticks, leaves, etc. which accidentally fall into it, if they lie any time".
Source: Francis Blomefield: 'An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk' (1805) Vol.2.
Dereham, Norfolk: A house of the 17th or 18th century in Old Becclesgate (at TF986133) is supposed locally to have once been a monastery. The arched cellars are said to contain a holy well - but this may have been confused with a well once in the garden, described as "the other" St. Withburga's Well.
Dovercourt, Essex: On the shoreline at TM259315 there used to be Dovercourt Spa, built in 1854 to take advantage of a chalybeate spring that emerged from the cliffs. Basically disused by 1911, it was demolished within a few years, although some of the foundations and floor tiles were still exposed at low tides until recent times.
Dunwich, Suffolk: A few yards across the road from the 1830 St. James' church (on the site of the old Leper Hospital of St. James) is a steep grassy bank, the southern edge of Leet Hill, where the townsfolk would gather to thrash out their policies and differences. At the base of the bank is an earthy hole with a short shallow channel running from it. This was St. James' Well (TM474706), a freshwater spring that supplied the lazar house.
East Winch, Norfolk: Several springs were noted here, with one that "might, perhaps, be ranked, in point of medicinal virtue, with some of those springs that have acquired so much celebrity as to become places of considerable resort. This Spring is said to be strongly impregnated with what chymists and mineralogists call sulphate of iron". It was said to have the ability to cure rheumatism, and may have been the water source in what is now a copse called Mineral Plantation, north-west of the village at about TF679170.
Source: William Richards: 'The History of Lynn' (1812), Vol.1, p.174.
Elmsett, Suffolk: Just north of the church is a little stream, and on the slope somewhere above it used to be a mineral spring known as the Dropping Well. This is a name known elsewhere as applied to petrifying springs, as this one was, producing "fibrous crystallizations", but it also had medicinal properties.
Samuel Lewis (ed.): 'A Topographical Dictionary of England' (Lewis, 1848), p.164.
Eltisley, Cambridgeshire: The church here is uniquely dedicated to Saints Pandionia & John the Baptist (TL268597). The former is supposed to have been a 10th century nun who died here, and was buried next to a well in the churchyard. This became a stopping-place for pilgrims, until the rector destroyed St. Pandionia's Well in 1570, although her remains had already been moved into the church centuries before.
Cambridgeshire Federations of Women's Institutes: 'The Cambridgeshire Village Book' (Countryside Books, 1989), p.54.
Ely, Cambridgeshire: There is more than one candidate for the lost village of Cratendune near Ely, but a likely site is south of the cathedral, in the Barton Farm area. Here, at about TL538797 there used to be St. Aldreth's or Audrey's Well, which was no more than a muddy pond by the 1970s, and is now a spot on the edge of the city golf course.
Source: A. D. Hippesley Coxe: ‘Haunted Britain’ (Pan Books, 1975), p.111.
Source: Sylvia Laverton: 'Shotley Peninsula' (Tempus Publishing, 2001), p. 105.
Faulkbourne, Essex: Like St. Botolph's Well at Hadstock, the otherwise-unknown St. German's Well here was one of those described in the 16th century as "divers wells which have wrought many miracles in time of superstition". But at Faulkbourne, we have no further detail.
Source: William Harrison: 'The Description of England' (orig. 1587) (ed. Georges Edelen, Folger Shakespeare Library, 1994), p.274.
Source: Miller Christy and May Thresh: ‘A History of the Mineral Waters & Medicinal Springs of Essex’, in ‘Essex Naturalist’ (1907), Vol.15, p.211-213.
Fersfield, Norfolk: From St. Andrew's church "processions were usually made to a well or spring, about 60 yards from the north gate of the churchyard, at the foot of a hill, which is still called Tann's Well, a corruption of St. Anne's Well". This location, at TM06538286, coincides with a pond which still seems to exist, in the grounds of the Old Rectory.
Source: John Chambers: 'A General History of the County of Norfolk' (Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green, 1829), Vol.1, p.125.
Finchingfield, Essex: Somewhere here there used to be St. Edmund's Well, revealed by a reference to a plot of land 'ad fontem Sancti Eadmundi', in a grant given to the Knights Hospitallers in the 12th century.
Source: Jeremy Harte: 'English Holy Wells : a sourcebook' (Heart of Albion Press, 2008), Vol.2, p.215.
Flitcham-with-Appleton, Norfolk: A little way south of Appleton's ruined church of St. Mary there is still "a curious spring called Holy Well". Another source called it the 'Pilgrim's Well', and said it was used by pilgrims on their way to the shrine at Walsingham, while a map of 1617 shows it as 'Ladyes Well'. This is recorded on old OS maps as being at TF705272.
Francis Blomefield: 'An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk' (1808) Vol.8.
W.A. Dutt: 'The Norfolk & Suffolk Coast' (T. Fisher Unwin, 1909), p.329.
Nicola Whyte: 'Inhabiting the Landscape' (Kindle edition, 2008).
Fobbing, Essex: Cash’s Well, or ‘Vange Well No.5’, stands under a decaying dome in Martinhole Wood, last remnant of a failed enterprise in the 1920s. Mr. Cash sank five wells in total, bottling the water to take advantage of its mineral qualities, and for a time ‘Vange Water’ enjoyed popularity for medicinal purposes. The company set up to exploit this seems to have gone out of business in late 1924, possibly due to contamination of the supply.
Freston, Suffolk: In what is now Freston Park, old maps show the existence of Holywell Meadow and Helwell Hill. It has been conjectured that a holy well (at TM16673935) may have continued for some time as a wishing well.
Source: Sylvia Laverton: 'Shotley Peninsula' (Tempus Publishing, 2001), p. 105.
Glemsford, Suffolk: Somewhere near Glemsford Bridge "There is also a spring....strong and unfailing sweet water and cold as well known in this locality as 'Holy Water' and frequently the thirsty labourer will go halfway across the field for draughts of this cold sweet water from this spring."
Source: The 'Bury & Norwich Post', 8/1/1851.
Source: White's 'History, Gazetteer and Directory of Essex', 1848.
Grantchester, Cambridgeshire: Until it was ploughed out, another St. Audrey's Well used to exist at about TL435549, with a causeway leading south to it from the village. The name was later corrupted to Tarter's, Tawder's and Tardrey's Well.
James Rattue: 'The Living Stream' (Boydell Press, 1995), p.76.
Jeremy Harte: 'English Holy Wells : a sourcebook' (Heart of Albion Press, 2008), Vol.2, p.177.
Great Barton, Suffolk: In the grounds of St. John's Cottage beside the A143 in this village is found St. John's Well (TL889669). Although everything about it now seems modern, including the summerhouse built around it, this well is supposedly marked on maps as far back as the 17th century. Little is known about it, except that it has never dried up in the worst drought, even though the water is only about 1.2m (4 feet) deep.
Great Hallingbury, Essex: The presence of a well dedicated to the Virgin Mary is suggested by the name Ladywell Plantation, in the middle of which is a pool that feeds the nearby lake, in Hallingbury Park.
Source: Jeremy Harte: 'English Holy Wells : a sourcebook' (Heart of Albion Press, 2008), Vol.2, p.215.
Gressenhall, Norfolk: St. Agnes' Well is actually a spring, at TF948158, west of the church and near the boundary with Longham. It now looks like a banked pond, but once had a brickwork well head, and was said to have been a 'holy' well for medieval travellers on the way to the shrine at Walsingham.
Haddenham, Cambridgeshire: St. Audry's or Etheldreda's Well used to be found at TL448737, beside the road leading south from Haddenham, almost in the hamlet of Aldreth. It was described in the 18th century as still being popular for its mineral waters.
Harling, Norfolk: Ordnance Survey maps of 1883 and 1905 show 'Pilgrim's Well' at TL95708475 in woodland west of West Harling. While it's certainly within the area frequented by medieval pilgrims to Walsingham and other shrines, Pilgrim was also a name current in the area in the early 18th century.
Source: Alan Davison: 'The Distribution of Medieval Settlements in West Harling' in 'Norfolk Archaeology' Vol. 38, Part 3 (1983), p.335.
Source: G. Robinson: 'The Beauties of Nature & Art Displayed in a Tour Through the World' (Robinson, 1774), p.74.
Source: William White: 'History, Gazetteer & Directory of Suffolk' (Simpkin, Marshall & Co, 1874), p.545-6.
Highwood, Essex: At TL633020 is Monk's & Barrow's Farm, said to have have been the site of a Benedictine priory cell or hermitage known as Bedeman's Berg. No trace now exists of this, nor of the Holy Well once here, although a spring is still marked on the map.
Hinderclay, Suffolk: In a little fenced enclosure near the junction of Tuffen Lane, Church Lane and Fen Road, a little north-west of the village and not far from Thelnetham church, is a spring known as St. Mary's Well, a healing spring said to be especially good for weak eyes (TM020780.) A picture of the well before it was enclosed can be seen here.
Source: Kelly's' Directory of Suffolk' (1929).
Hockley, Essex: At TQ841925 in Spa Road is the former pump room of Hockley Spa, established a few years after a curative spring was discovered in 1838. Unfortunately the venture didn’t last long, as fashions changed and people came to prefer seaside resorts rather than ‘taking the waters’.
Source: Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes: ‘The Essex Village Book’ (Countryside Books, 2001), p.123.
Source: William Whitaker: 'The Water Supply of Norfolk from Underground Sources' (Memoirs of the Geological Survey, 1921), p.34.
Hunstanton, Norfolk: In addition to the holy wells known in the legend of St. Edmund, the Old Hunstanton area is said to have once been home to a chalybeate spring. This was actually on Ringstead Downs, a mile or so west of the village of Ringstead.
Ipswich, Suffolk: Holywells Park on the east bank of the river Orwell as it flows through the centre of Ipswich was once supposedly named after the many springs that emerged there, and were frequented by pilgrims. However, the name actually derives from 'hollow well', rather than any sacred wells. Despite this, a rumour exists that an hereditary 'guardian' existed at the wells until the late 19th century. Some apparently even believed it to have been a Druid.
But across the river, in the Stoke area of Ipswich, there certainly was a 'holy well', recorded as 'Haligwille' in a boundary charter of 970. This spring was on a hillside at the former Fir Tree Farm (approx. TM136427), and may have been close to where the renowned hoard of golden Iron Age torcs was discovered in 1968.
The medicinal but foul-tasting water of the spring found in St. George's Street in the late 1600's was never developed into anything, as it could never have competed with the existing Ipswich Spa, a sulphurated spring on St. Margaret's Green.
Allan Jobson: 'Portrait of Suffolk' (Robert Hale, 1973), p.60.
Robert Malster: 'Ipswich, An A to Z of Local History' (Wharncliffe Books, 2005), pp.74-5.
Information gratefully received from John Wragg.
King's Lynn, Norfolk: Spring Wood (TF649222) can be found in the middle of a housing estate in the Lynn suburb of South Wootton, in the former hamlet of Reffley. Now completely cleared, here used to be the remains of Reffley Temple, built in 1789 by the Reffley Brethren as a rendezvous for social gatherings - although the Brethren themselves are said to have started in Cromwell's time as a 'secret society' of Royalist sympathizers. A chalybeate spring arose here, and in 1756 an obelisk was erected in the middle of the spring's basin, dedicated to 'Bacchus and Venus, the gods of this place'. In the 1980s the temple was vandalized and pulled down, the obelisk demolished, and the spring dried out. On one side of the obelisk was a curse, stating "Whosoever shall remove this or bid its removal, let him die the last of his race". Two other chalybeate springs were to be found just to the south of Reffley, in the Gaywood area.
Knapwell, Cambridgeshire: The Red Well arises in Overhall Grove, east of the church, and appears to be part of the original name of the village. So-called because of the reddish minerals in the water, this chalybeate spring (TL337630) is supposed to have been the source of 'miraculous cures'. It is housed under a deteriorating brick well-cover, in an area looked after by the Wildlife Trust.
Source: Miller Christy and May Thresh: ‘A History of the Mineral Waters & Medicinal Springs of Essex’, in ‘Essex Naturalist’ (1907), Vol.15, p.209.
Source: John Britton & others: 'The Beauties of England & Wales' (Verner & Hood, 1813), p.169.
Longstanton, Cambridgeshire: Just within the churchyard of the chapel of St. Michael (TL403658) is St. Michael's Well, under a Victorian rounded brickwork well-house. There is no history as to the use of the well, although at least one baptism in its waters is known from the 1880s. A cross-shaped slit in the back of the well-house gave rise to the notion that the sun would shine through on to the head of the infant being baptised, but there's no evidence for this. Indeed, the well had no name at all until a 'dressing' ceremony was enacted in 1986.
Mark Valentine in 'Source' - the holy wells journal, 1st Series, Issue 5, 1986.
Lowestoft, Suffolk: Basket Wells (TM545940) were two springs given to the town by two maiden sisters, Elizabeth and Katherine, who are said to have lived in the Old Maids' Chamber, a room above the south porch of St. Margaret's church. They had the wells dug at their own expense for the use of the townsfolk, on a small triangular plot of land known as the Bleach, a little to the east beyond the old railway line. This was a drying-ground, where old ladies could wash and hang out their linen on poles stretched across the green. The wells were filled in in 1932, but allotments on the site are still quite damp and muddy. The name of the wells is said to be from the sisters' names - Bess and Kate. That at least is the tradition reported by Edmund Gillingwater.1 The room above the porch was probably in fact the chapel of the Holy Trinity Guild, and rather than the wells being named after the mythical sisters, it's more likely to have been the other way round. Medieval public wells were often lined with wicker panels in order to hold back the soil - hence the term 'basket wells'.2
At the bottom of a road called the Ravine in north Lowestoft is an old fountain (TM551946), once fed by a freshwater spring that originated nearly a mile away in an old railway cutting near St. Margaret's church. In Victorian times "the water obtained celebrity as being beneficial for the eyes...the public analyst...reported that the medicinal properties of the spring were due to the rather large proportion of Chloride of Sodium and Sulphate of Magnesia..."3
Not far away, behind the former cafeteria on the property called Sparrow's Nest, used to stand an old cottage, and attached to this was a conservatory in which arose a spring that was said to be especially good for the eyesight. At one time, this water was bottled and sold for a halfpenny a bottle.
1. Edmund Gillingwater: 'An Historical Account of the Ancient Town of Lowestoft' (1790, reprinted by A. E. Murton, 1897).
2. Information gratefully received from Lowestoft historian David Butcher, 7/4/16.
3. M. L. Powell: 'Lowestoft Through the Ages' (Flood & Sons Ltd, c.1953), p.60.
Melton, Suffolk: It's long gone now, but there used to be a healing spring in Old Church Road, at the bottom of the Old Rectory garden. It was said to be good for rheumatism, and to give long life to the drinker.
Mildenhall, Suffolk: A holy well or spring used to be seen here in area named after it, Holywell Row. It was in a field beside the Eriswell Road, about 200 yards north of Holywell Farm, and was said to have been used for baptisms.
North Lopham, Norfolk: A well said to have been dug over 1000 years ago is behind Fern Cottage on the main road at North Lopham, and is one of the ''Seven Wonders of the Lophams' (another is the Ox-Foot Stone.) The well is about 25 feet deep and said to never run dry, its level remaining constant whatever the weather. The owner (back in the 1970s) said that when there was a drought in the area many years before, it managed to cater for the whole village without diminishing the supply by one drop, and that travellers once used to stop by just to taste the water.
Source: 'South Norfolk News', 27/6/1975.
North Ockendon, Essex: Schoolchildren have created a small grotto to enclose St. Cedd’s Well (TQ587848), which some say (without any real justification) may date back as far as the 7th century. Leave the churchyard of St. Mary Magdalene by a gate in the southern wall, down some steps, and you will find the well beside a pond, which is actually part of a medieval moat. St. Cedd was bishop of the East Saxons, and certainly active in the Essex area, but the tradition that he baptised people at this well is unsubstantiated.
Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes: ‘The Essex Village Book’ (Countryside Books, 2001), p.165.
North Pickenham, Norfolk: Just north of the church here is the site of a medieval chapel and hermitage, with which is associated a well that used to exist across the road called Hillside, at TF86460698. It was in a field just north of the former rectory, but the site has been built upon now. Although it has been referred to as a 'holy well', and appeared on Ordnance Survey maps up to 1952 as an antiquity, there doesn't appear to be any evidence of its age, or of its relationship with the chapel. It had already been filled-in by 1950, although the circular brickwork surround, 91cm high and in diameter, survived until about 1960.
Rev. Leonard E. Whatmore: 'Highway to Walsingham' (The Pilgrim Bureau, 1973), p.57.
Norwich, Norfolk: St. Lawrence's Well (TG22800879), near that church, probably served Fullers Hole, where cloth was cleansed and thickened. It used to be in Westwick Street, near Charing Cross, and in 1576 was granted to Robert Gibson "on condition that he should conduct its waters, through a leaden pipe, to the main thoroughfare. This he did, and a pump was erected over it". In the late 19th century the brewer Sir Harold Bullard converted it into a public drinking fountain and incorporated it into the outer wall of his brewery. My rather drab picture dates from the early 1980's, but the well has in recent times been moved to the other side of the wall, facing the Anchor Quay development. Even more recently it has been spectacularly restored, as shown in the photos that can be found HERE.
Source: E. R. Suffling: 'The Land of the Broads' (Benjamin Perry, 1895), p.85.
The otherwise undistinguished All Saints' Well probably gained its 'holiness' (and presumably its name) from the nearby church of that dedication, but it was first recorded in the late 14th century as a spring called 'Alderhalwen Welle'.
Source: Jeremy Harte: 'English Holy Wells : a sourcebook' (Heart of Albion Press, 2008), Vol.2, p.273.
Orwell, Cambridgeshire: It used to be thought that the village name meant the 'golden spring', but in fact it means 'spring by the pointed hill'. The spring in question arises at TL361504 in Chapel Orchard, flowing south-east to join the Brook, and has been renovated in recent years.
Papworth St. Agnes, Cambridgeshire: Nill Well (occasionally called St. Agnes Well) is a chalybeate spring considerably south of the village, right on the boundary with Yelling, at TL267627. Nill or Knill Well has been so named since at least the 13th century, although the meaning is unknown. The name Agnes actually refers to a local medieval landowner, not to a saint.
Runwell, Essex: A little east of Poplars Farm is a well (TQ751965) which is said to have given the village its name. With its earliest spelling of ‘Runewelle’, the name has been interpreted by place-name experts as meaning well or stream at a meeting-place, or a wishing well. Spurious tales of this having been a pagan sacred well later becoming the site of the 'Priory of Our Lady of the Running Well' were simply inventions of the local priest, the Rev. Bazille-Corbin, in the 1920s.
Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes: ‘The Essex Village Book’ (Countryside Books, 2001), p.184.
James Rattue: 'The Living Stream' (Boydell, 1995), p.140.
Sedgeford, Norfolk: A little west of the church of St. Mary the Virgin, on the wooded slopes above the Heacham River, is the Lady Well (TF705364). This is a natural spring (shown on a map of 1634 as 'Our Ladyes Well') which arises in a steep-sided dell, and flows into the Ladywell Pond. Its name, coupled with the church dedication and the fact that one of the village's four medieval guilds was dedicated to Our Lady suggests this to possibly have been a 'holy' well at one time. Right next to it sits a large erratic boulder.
Source: William Whitaker: 'The Water Supply of Norfolk from Underground Sources' (Memoirs of the Geological Survey, 1921), p.34.
Source: 'Excursions Through the County of Norfolk' (Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown), 1818.
Source: Miller Christy and May Thresh: ‘A History of the Mineral Waters & Medicinal Springs of Essex’, in ‘Essex Naturalist’ (1907), Vol.15, p.237.
South Weald, Essex: A chalybeate well, once known as Weald-Hall Spring, used to rise in front of Weald Hall (c.TQ570938). Its curative properties were recommended for haemorrhages. In 1895, the vicar of the village said “There are persons still living who can remember the day when the good people of Brentwood – the sick, the halt, and the withered, as at Bethesda’s Pool – used to flock in crowds to drink at the waters of this spring”.
S. Sunderland: ‘Old London’s Spas, Baths & Wells’ (J. Bales, sons & Danielsson, 1915), p.58.
Miller Christy and May Thresh: ‘A History of the Mineral Waters & Medicinal Springs of Essex’, in ‘Essex Naturalist’ (1907), Vol.15, p.198.
Source: S. Sunderland: ‘Old London’s Spas, Baths & Wells’ (J. Bales, sons & Danielsson, 1915), p.58.
Steeple Morden, Cambridgeshire: Despite the 19th century field name Holywell Close, there never was a 'holy well' here. It apparently derived from the words 'hol, welle', meaning 'well in the hollow'.
Source: Jeremy Harte: 'English Holy Wells : a sourcebook' (Heart of Albion Press, 2008), Vol.3, p.437.
Sudbury, Suffolk: Probably as far back as the 12th century, a chapel known as St. Sepulchre's stood at TL871412, right next to the junction of Gregory Street and Gainsborough Street. This was presumably connected with the well recorded as 'S. Pulcher's Well' in a rental document of 1664, which could be found in a meadow later known as Springfield.
Source: W. W. Hodson: 'S. Sepulchre's Chapel, Sudbury', in 'Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute for Archaeology & History' (1889), Vol. VII, Part 1, p.13-16.
Thetford, Norfolk: In about 1746, workmen uncovered, in the meadows between the rivers Little Ouse and Thet, what they believed to be the remains of a holy well or shrine. The chalybeate waters became popular for a while for their healing effects on headaches and stomach problems, but the well soon became neglected. In 1818 a pump room was built over it, then a bath house in about 1833. But still it never gained enough patrons, and the bath was filled in by 1838. Thetford Spring House is now a private residence, standing at about TL871827, and the water is now said to feed a private swimming pool.
Source: Miller Christy and May Thresh: ‘A History of the Mineral Waters & Medicinal Springs of Essex’, in ‘Essex Naturalist’ (1907), Vol.15, p.235.
Wereham, Norfolk: "...to the west of the church is St. Margaret's Well, at which, in the times of popery, the people diverted themselves on that saint's day with cakes and ale, music and dancing; alms and offerings were brought, and vows made: all this was called Well worship."
The well, recorded as far back as 1450, is now under the road surface on St. Margaret's Hill, at TF6806601695. Across the other side of the village pond is an obelisk/fountain erected in 1849, and nothing to do with the well, though it often seems to be mistaken for it.
John Chambers: 'A General History of the County of Norfolk' (Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green, 1829), p.76, 77.
West Mersea, Essex: Although there’s nothing left of it now, there used to be a small Benedictine priory on West Mersea, probably just west of the church of St. Peter and St. Paul. This may or may not have a connection with St. Peter’s Well (TM006124), accessible from the Coast Road by a modern ‘boardwalk’. It was one of the main sources of supply for the island for at least a thousand years, and was “never known to run dry”. Declared unfit in 1925, in 2000 the wellhead was reconstructed in its Victorian form, capped and a plaque fixed to its lid.
Source: Miller Christy and May Thresh: ‘A History of the Mineral Waters & Medicinal Springs of Essex’, in ‘Essex Naturalist’ (1907), Vol.15, p.229.
Source: Jeremy Harte: 'English Holy Wells : a sourcebook' (Heart of Albion Press, 2008), Vol.2, p.276.
Witham, Essex: At Powers Hall End, west of the town, a chalybeate spring was discovered in the 17th century. The water was used by Dr. James Taverner to found a “much celebrated” mineral spa in 1736, but its fame didn’t last much more than ten years. A house for a resident physician was built about 100m from the spring, and still stands, called Spa Place (TL810152).
James Bettley & Nikolaus Pevsner: ‘The Buildings of England; Essex’ (Yale, 2007), p.841.
Miller Christy and May Thresh: ‘A History of the Mineral Waters & Medicinal Springs of Essex’, in ‘Essex Naturalist’ (1907), Vol.15, p.207.
Woodham Ferrers, Essex: A static spring somewhere in this parish was described as a “chalybeate purging water”.
Source: Miller Christy and May Thresh: ‘A History of the Mineral Waters & Medicinal Springs of Essex’, in ‘Essex Naturalist’ (1907), Vol.15, p.214.
Wymondham, Norfolk: St. Thomas Becket's Well (TG105014) is near the churchyard, 'a copious spring, once an object of pilgrimage'. The well, now sealed, is in private grounds in Becketswell Road near the abbey, with the spring that once fed it still flowing into a stream nearby. Pictures can be found here.