Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales


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Ffynnon Badrig, Llanbadrig

llanbadrig churchSt Patrick’s church at Llanbadrig stands high on the cliff tops looking out across the Irish Sea and the Wylfa power station near Cemaes. A wedding was just finishing as I arrived and I waited as guests released mauve helium balloons which floated away along the cliff top path.

The guests and I were clearly lucky this July day, Angharad Llwyd described very different weather conditions at the church:

The church is built most inconveniently upon a cliff washed by the Irish sea, and so near the sea that during the prevalence of northerly or north-westerly winds, the waves break over it with such violence, as to interrupt, and frequently to prevent the performance of divine service, and even the funeral service has been unavoidably deferred for several days, during the continuance of those winds, at which times the church is altogether inaccessible.[1]

llanbadrig church

St Patricks has popularly always been associated with the Irish patron saint, its feast day occurs on March 17th. One story has it that he was shipwrecked on the small rocky outcrop known as Middle Mouse or Ynys Badrig, a hundred yards or so offshore. He managed to swim ashore where he found a welcoming cave and spring of fresh water. Thanking God for his unlikely survival he founded this church on the spot. The more mundane though probably more realistic alternative is that this was the bay from which he set sail on his journey to Ireland.

More usual now is to attribute its founding instead to Padrig ab Alfryd of Arfon. Francis Jones in his Holy Wells of Wales attributes the well to this saint, following the line of Baring Gould and Fisher’s Lives of the British Saints. Bartrum’s 1993 Welsh Classical Dictionary also gives Padrig ab Alfryd as the church’s titular saint. [2,3,4] Padrig was a member of Cybi’s community at nearby Holyhead.

Deborah Crawford [5] has recently put up a very spirited and convincing argument for the reassociation of the site with the Irish apostle. I tend to think that this is the correct attribution, although it is not my purpose here to take sides.

The well and cave are on the headland between the church and the sea. Neither is particularly easy to access. A study of ten years or so ago looked at the potential of including reference to the well on the local tourist trail, but nothing seems to have come of it, probably on safety grounds, and the vicar, as he locked up the church after the wedding, warned me to take care getting down there.

ffynnon badrig, llanbadrig

Having dealt with the likes of Ffynnon Fair by Aberdaron, however, Ffynnon Badrig offered few problems. A steeply sloping track close to the stile leads down to the rocks around Patricks cave, Ogof Padrig. On the way down you should look out for the imprints of the saint’s feet in the rock, I don’t think I spotted them. The cave might have provided a welcome refuge from the storm, but filled with massive boulders it does not look like a place that any saint would want to live in for long.

There is though that important fresh water spring. Possibly more than one, since pools of fresh water are dotted around the area, flowing through channels in the rocks down to the sea. There is one large pool formed in a rocky cleft on the path, visible from the top, as you climb down. This is fed from a small spring in the rocks. This I initially take to be Ffynnon Badrig. There are some accounts place it below the cave and there may be a spring within the case itself although i couldn’t see any evidence of it below the large rocks on the cave floor. There are certainly substantial volumes of fresh water running in pools and streams in front of the cave.

Is one specific pool then Ffynnon Badrig? There is no evidence or record of any structure having existed that might point to specific use. I suspect that in its modern interpretation it is the body of fresh water in its entirety that forms Ffynnon Badrig, whether the source of this is a single spring or two or more springs drawing from the same subterranean source.

This is a view of the large pool at the foot of the pathway

ffynnon badrig, llanbadrig

This is water from the springs below the cave which flow down towards the cliff edge and into the sea. from existing documentation I believe that this body of water best represents Ffynnon Badrig.

ffynnon badrig, llanbadrig

Ffynnon Badrig was well known in older times. The Gruffydd’s [6] tell us that its water was once in demand for treating the disorders of children and that it was bottled and sold in fairs and markets across Anglesey. It was also claimed to be effective for rheumatism and toothache.

The Gruffydd’s book also suggests that there is a second Ffynnon Badrig in the east of the parish near Northwen. I have tried tracking down this spring but as yet have been unable to pinpoint it.

[1] Angharad Llwyd(1833) . The History of the Isle of Mona, Ruthin
[2] Francis Jones(1954) . Holy Wells of Wales. Cardiff UP.
[3] S Baring Gould and J Fisher (1908) Lives of the British Saints
[4] Peter Bartrum (1993) Welsh Classical Dictionary. National Library of Wales
[5] Deborah Crawford (2014) The Saint of Llanbadrig: A Contested Dedication. E-Keltoi 8 (57-95)
[6] Eirlys and Ken Lloyd Gruffydd (1999) Ffynhonnau Cymru.  Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst

Ogof Badrig


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Ffynnon Iestyn, Llaniestyn

St Iestyn’s Well

st iestyn This was a second visit to Llaniestyn, both on particularly gloomy, wet days, though I’m sure this is coincidence and not characteristic of the place.

Llaniestyn is a small, sparse parish close to Llanddona in the south eastern corner of Anglesey. Iestyn, its patron, is said to have been a nephew of local hero Cybi, and a brother to Saint Cyngar. A second parish is dedicated to him on the Llŷn Peninsula and he was also active further south, in Cornwall and Brittany. Some commentators suggest that he is the same saint as Justin or Just. His feast day is celebrated on October 10th.

The main item of note in the church is a striking 14th century relief of Iestyn, in the distant past it was thought to be his grave slab, but its date shows that it couldn’t be. It used to lie flat by the altar, but which is now upright on one of the walls. The parish was once a part of the lands of the priory at Llanfaes. Angharad Llwyd describes a stained glass depiction of St Catherine here in the early 19th century, but there is no evidence of it now, or any other recollection of it.

Iestyn’s well is rarely referred to in any of the descriptions of the parish. The only account that I have found is that in Jones’ Holy Wells of Wales,[1] which is repeated in the Gruffydd’s Fynhonnau Cymru [2]. They record that water from the well was taken into the church for use in baptisms; and also that the local population refused to drink from the well believing the water to be cursed. This may be due to the local tradition of taking corpse pennies, the coins use to close the eyes of the dead, and throwing them into the well following a funeral.

I have been given two potential locations for the well. Jones places it nearby in the corner of a field on Tyddyn Uchaf land; the Gruffydds qualify this by stating that it is to the north of the church. The most obvious location for this is marked on the map as a well beside the drive to the house now known as Tan-y-fynwent. Access to this location is very clearly unwelcome as shown below. I just assume that this is to prevent the unwary from falling victim to the curse.

ff iestyn

There is another spring in the corner of a Tyddyn Uchaf field to the east, this too was inaccessible, and probably to far away from paths to be a prime candidate.

An alternative site that has been given is a well within a thicket to the east of the church. This is much closer to the road from Llanddona, but would have been accessible if the thicket has not been so dense in the past. Brambles and undergrowth restricted access, but the well is shown below.

ff iestyn

Maybe this was the well, and maybe the curse is still active. Certainly for the rest of the day after taking these pictures my camera refused to work.

This has to be a work in progress type of post, questions about Ffynnon Iestyn remain open, and I’m sure further visits will be required. Maybe next time it won’t be quite so rainy.

ff iestyn

[1] and [2] – see references page


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Ffynnon Eidda and Ysbyty Ifan

Ff Eidda

It is, perhaps, its location rather than any history or tradition that draws people to Ffynnon Eidda. Several correspondents recently have suggested that I visit and it always was on my to do list anyway. So last weekend we headed off up the steep climb onto Snowdonia’s Migneint moorland from Ysbyty Ifan. Trickily we chose the day of a massive cycle race and had to dodge upwards of 800 cyclists hurtling downhill towards us as we drove.

Ffynnon Eidda lies around 1500 feet above sea level at a road junction on the B4407 between Ysbyty Ifan and Ffestiniog. It is indeed an impressive structure, standing out on the edge of bleak peat bog moorland. The spring basin, some two feet square is roofed and provided with an entrance enclosure with stone seat. The water is supposedly cold and pure, good to drink, though today it was rather murky, full of pond weed and not all that appealing. The bottom of the basin was covered with coins, evidence of the regularity with which passers by must stop.

The front of the housing bears a number of plaques recording the name of the well, its rebuilding in 1846 and the motto “Yf a bydd diolchgar “ – drink and be grateful.

The well is recorded as a drover’s well, used by the cattle once driven over this pass, heading towards the A5 and away to England. Beside it is the remains of a banked and ditched enclosure which may have been associated with either the spring, maybe a cattle pen used as a stop off point by the drovers or with the farm which once stood close by. The well would have represented a landmark and a convenient resting and refreshment point on the difficult path between Ffestiniog and Ysbyty Ifan – from observations during our visit it still performs a very similar function today .  It is marked and named on the OS maps back into the nineteenth century.

There is little record however of any wider significance of the well, although the Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru website does suggest that it may have been considered to have beneficial healing qualities at some time. Regarding the derivation of the name, Eidda appears associated to a few geographical features in the area and appears to be derived from the place name, Eidda being a small township to the west of Ysbyty Ifan.

Ff Eidda

Thomas Pennant crossed the route in the 18th century. He describes his journey through the “black and moory mountains” to see nearby Llyn Conwy, and although he would have passed the well he fails to mention the factm suggesting that at that time it was not considered significant.

Ff Eidda

Ff Eidda

Ffynnon Penrhyn

Heading back down into Ysbyty Ifan we passed the final stragglers of the cycle race and, at the roadside entering the village, another stone walled and roofed well. This is Ffynnon Penrhyn, which has no claim to fame other than being an old village water supply. It too has its name and date, 1866, carved in the stone surround. It is fed by a metal pipe in the back wall through which the spring water still streams.

 

Parking outside the church, once the site of a medieval hospital run by the Knights of St John, which gives the village its name, we walked up to a third spring. This is the only one we saw today with any real claims towards healing properties. This is the chalybeate and sulphur well above Tŷ Nant.

 

Until around 1910 the well was enclosed in a wooden hut with seats around for visitors. Any remnants of the hut have long since vanished together with a wooden cover that used to protect the well. However, the slate floor remains giving an indication of the size. At one end there is a bath, with stone sides and bottom, into which the spring water is piped. The outflow runs away down the hillside, the dark brown colour characteristic of the iron rich chalybeate water once so valued as a cure. The mineral content is supposed to be very similar to that of the much more well known Trefriw spring. It is recorded that this well was much resorted to up to the 20th century, Children were sent to soak warts in the basin and bottles and tins of spring water were taken away for drinking. Aching legs and feet would be soaked in the ice cold mineral rich waters. Up to the early part of the twentieth century it was a popular meeting place for people of the village on Sunday afternoons an summer evenings.

Chalybeate spring Ysbyty Ifan

The name of Ysbyty Ifan itself bears testament that it has long been a place of healing. In this case it was a hospital rather than a saint’s well that provided the focus and the cure. Our visit still found a couple of wells of note, and their condition and the settings made them well worth a visit.

Reference has been made to two articles in Llygad y Ffynnon, the publication of  Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru, in issues from Christmas 2011 and Summer 2010.

Chalybeate spring Ysbyty Ifan


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Henllan

It is some three years since we visited Henllan to find Ffynnon Wen, what would appear to have been an eighteenth century bathing house on the banks of the river Meirchion. This new article rambles around some of the other wells dotted around the village before coming to no particularly firm conclusions.

Henllan lay on the route of St Winefride’s pilgrims following her supposed route to Gwytherin from Holywell. The story tells that she first visited Deier at Bodfari, who quickly passed her on to Sadwrn at Henllan from whom she received instructions to join Eleri’s establishment at Gwytherin. Thus the route lies on the pilgrimage trail for followers of St Winefride, although there is no evidence of significant pilgrimage traffic until the post Reformation period. Gray Hulse [1] warns us that much of the factual basis behind the story is weak, the best dates for any of the historical characters involved place over 100 years between Winefride and Sadwrn and Deier, but on the well trail we find that adherence to the facts is rarely allowed to get in the way of a good story.

Gray Hulse notes that up to the 1620s there was a record of a relic of St Winefride being kept in Henllan, in the hands of a private Recusant family, an item which it is claimed had cured more than one visitor.

The church at Henllan retains its dedication to Sadwrn. It is first recorded in the 12th century, but has almost certainly been established on the site for much longer. Like so many others, the present building is a nineteenth century reconstruction with little of interest, although a much earlier doorway is preserved in the entrance to the new vestry. Its main claim of note being the towe which is still largely medieval in structure. This is not attached to the church, but stands above it on a rock some 30 yards away; Pennant, in his Tours of Wales in the 1780s records it when he visited what would have been a previous incarnation of the building

.. the parish church remarkable for the schism between church and steeple, the first having retreated into the bottom, the last maintains its station on the top of the hill.

There is little evidence around the village that it ever lay on  a pilgrimage route. Some old field names remain, we find a residential street with the name Maes Sadwrn, and on the Denbigh road leading up the hill from where a friary once stood there is a Maes y Groes. Naturally the community had a well dedicated to Sadwrn. Lhuyd’s inventory from the 1690s records Sadwrns’s well as being in Foxhall’s grounds. Foxhall remains there a large estate to the south of the town but the traditions of the well have long since faded.

Ffynnon Sadwrn

The Royal Commission’s report on the ancient monuments of Henllan made in 1911 included an investigation of one well under the heading Ffynnon Sadwrn. They give no indication to how they identified it as such. It must have been a known landmark in the area a century ago and bore the impressions of a medieval well, but even at that time I don’t believe that there  was any surviving tradition to  identify it as the historical Sadwrn’s well. It would appear to have been just a best guess, which shows that local memory of the well had vanished even by the late nineteenth century.. In its favour it is close to the present day gateway of Foxhall, it is not that far away from that Maes y Groes fieldname which must be a plus. and it lies close to the side of the main road from Denbigh into Henllan, if we assume that  the present route follows the line of the historic route;  although this is by no means obvious – there would have been more direct routes,  The Commission reported that

There is an ancient spring in the bank on the left hand side of the road from Denbigh to that part of Henllan called ‘Bwlch Sadwrn’ and near to Foxhall House. A low footstone 3 feet wide stands in front of the well and the well chamber is protected on all sides by rough walling. There is provision for and evidence of former overflow on both sides of the road, but only a little water is now to be found at the bottom of the well.

The well is marked on the Ordnance Survey maps from the earlier part of the 20th century although it disappears from later editions. A CPAT survey in 2003 concluded that the area had been levelled and all traces removed.

That need not deter us however; fruitless searches are our forte, Hunting along the bank is difficult. Cars fly past and the verge is very overgrown, it is in fact managed as a nature reserve. There was certainly no sign to be seen of a 3 foot wide footstone. There is however, a chamber built into the bank at the point where the well was recorded. A stone lintel supports the bank above the cavity which itself appears to be stone lined inside the bank. There was no sign of any water within the chamber. Now I could not make up my mind whether this is indeed the final remains of the spring associated with this well or just some old drain from the fields, but I can’t say how carefully those CPAT people looked, it does however tally fairly accurately with the location indicated on the maps and that in itself is reason enough to note it here.

So, this well does, just, fit the criteria of being on Foxhall ground, however there is no clear evidence to suggest that it is Ffynnon Sadwrn, in fact it is very unlikely that it is. A previous occupant of Foxhall has stated that the well has been lost  I have heard a suggestion that the well was on the path between Foxhall and Henllan and whilst maps do show that there are several other springs marked on the map on the Foxhall estate,  none on a direct route between the house and Henllan. One appears to be in the middle of an alder grove with signs of a path leading up to it which might have been nice to investigate, however unfortunately most of these are on private land and thus inaccessible.

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Ffynnon Meirchion

Henllan fontBack to the church now and outside the church door a mediaeval font has been mounted. The story told is that this was removed from the church in the 1850s following the donation of a newer, more ornate model. In a fit of cultural vandalism the old font was dumped in another well in the grounds of Llys Meirchion. It was not until the 1980s that it was recovered and placed in the church yard.

Ffynnon Meirchion, which has also been known as Ffynnon Abermeirchion, is regarded as the source of the river Meirchion which flows northwards for a few miles to join with the Elwy. Gray Hulse has reviewed the history of this amongst a number of local wells. In later centuries it represented a boundary marker, named and visited during the annual procession around Denbigh. He discusses the common use of wells, and other water features, as fixed, named reference points in the landscape which are regularly used as boundary markers. They are used for that reason, that they are fixed, indestructible features in the landscape that can be named and remembered from generation to generation. Although this use does not impute any specific holy nature to the well, the parish procession would stop at such points where the priest would say a prayer or bless the water as a symbol of the parishes prosperity. Thus the use of such wells is not necessarily evidence of any specific holy associations with the well although such properties have sometimes incorrectly been attached often at a later date.

However, Gray Hulse does point out that historian D R Thomas noted the one time presence of a chapel at this well which may give it some greater significance. There are no claims for sainthood for Meirchion, the name arises commonly locally, specifically in the nearby village name of Tremeirchion, and it is assumed it is derived from the dark ages ruler Meirchion Gul.

The situation of Henllan on the pilgrimage route following Winefride though, and the possible presence of a chapel here might raise the question of whether Ffynnon Meirchion played some role in the pilgrimage rituals in Henllan.. Indeed CPAT note that at one time there were reputedly four chapels in Henllan prior to the reformation which could not be identified by the nineteenth century..For a community of this size the point is made that this appears to be a significantly large concentration of chapels, although not conclusive since it may just be a function of better documentation for the area when compared to others of a similar size. [2][3]

Ffynnon Meirchion still exists within the grounds of Llys Meirchion, It avoided being recorded by Royal Commission’s inspectors so must have been considered of less importance or interest by that time. The best description I have of it is that it is enclosed in a small brick building topped off with concrete. So rather unassuming, though sadly being located within a private estate it was not possible to visit it to confirm this.

and finally

The last well on our tour lay just outside the church wall. It was in the back garden of a house built into the church wall. Although there are  no claims to any spiritual use of the well, it was probably attached to the church as a water source. A path and stairway, long since closed off, have once provided a link to the well directly from  the churchyard. The fact that parish paid for it to be capped off in the 1930s may suggest that it was church or public property at one time. It now lies beneath paving stones in the garden. The picture below shows the bottom of the pathway to the church, the steps now gone and  blocked up by a wall and hedge. The well is under the paving stones to the right.

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Thus at Henllan we find nothing but memories of wells and springs in all guises formal and informal. The well dedicated to the saint of the community, possibly once known for its healing capabilities or an important stop off on the pilgrim’s trail for both local residents and nationally. A spring tapped and developed by a local landowner, maybe from the Garn estate, keen to enjoy the health benefits and the fashion for outdoor bathing. A well once used as a marker in the landscape, to denote parish boundaries and visited as such, although possibly with a deeper and more important history. Finally wells as water sources, pure and simple. The house Bryn Fynnon lies to the south of the church; wells are marked down Lon Wilkin and then there is the well we visited – linked to the churchyard situated beside a pigsty. Probably used by the clergy, those responsible for the churchyard and maybe even church goers in days before public health was such an important concern.

 

I said at the outset that there was no firm conclusion other than a demonstration of the importance of water for so many reasons. I’m sure there is more evidence to be had to point us to the history of the wells in Henllan. This article was much inspired by some of the messages I have had lately through the website. As always any further information that can advance the record of these wells would be gratefully received.

[1] Tristan Gray Hulse (2002) The Documentation of Fynnon Ddeier: Some Problems Reconsidered. Living Spring Journal.
[2] CPAT Historical Settlement Survey – Denbighshire 2014. Henllan.
[3] CPAT Report 612 Early Medieval Ecclesiatical and Burial Sites in Mid and North East Wales. Field Assessment and its Impact on the Overall Study. 2004.

 

revised 10th June 2014


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Ffynnon Beuno, Tremeirchion

ffynnon Beuno Tremeirchion.Another Beuno’s Well, this time at Tremeirchion which lies a mile or so to the north of Bodfari, between the A55 and A541 and sitting directly on the pilgrims’ trail which traced the route of Winefride from Holywell to Gwytherin. There is little in the recorded lives of Beuno to link  him to Tremeirchion; it has been suggested that a pupil of Beuno built a foundation here. The first recorded church here dates from 1240 though it is quite likely that earlier churches stood on the site. Today the  parish church  bears a dedication to Corpus Christi.  Still, however Beuno’s name arrived in Tremeichion it echoes through the village with the well at one end and at the other St Beuno’s Jesuit College, now a retreat, built in the village in the 1840s.

The name Tremeirchion has in the past been mis-interpreted as the Town of the Maiden, again trying to link the location with Winefride. A more historically accurate interpretation, based on the original name of Dinmeirchion, is Fortress of Meirchion in memory perhaps of Merchion Gul, a fifth century king of Rheged.. The Ffynnon Beuno bone caves, in the hills above the well bear testament to the length of habitation of the area, finds of animal bones and prehistoric tools showing that these caves were home to the last of the Neanderthal population and the first humans in Britain some 35000 years ago.

Inside the bone caves above Ffynnon Beuno 
ffynnon Beuno  bone caves Tremeirchion.

Beuno’s well itself has interested me for several years, mainly through its apparent inaccessibility. It sits behind a high wall in the grounds of a cottage bearing the same name, with only the famous carved head, through which the overflow runs, visible to the passing public. So I was delighted to be given the opportunity by its new owners to see inside.

The original house at Ffynnon Beuno dated from around 1560 but was recorded as derelict in the 1980s. When reconstruction began around that time the remaining walls collapsed completely. What stands there now if effectively a new house, although attempts have been made through the use of photographs and local memories to recreate the original as far as possible. Although generally a farmstead, the house served as a public house in the nineteenth century, perhaps another echo of the hospitality accorded to passing pilgrims and visitors to the well. Continuing the theme of hospitality since its rebuild, the house has served as a restaurant; and the present owners will soon offer a “glamping” experience, providing accommodation in a few attractive shepherds huts sited on adjoining hillsides.

The spring rises almost beneath the house itself at one end of a rectangular tank measuring some 10 feet by 18 feet which holds the spring water. At the spring end of the tank two steps descend into the water, although these now lead down from a blank wall. Whether at one time there was actually access from inside the house, or just another external entrance is uncertain. one correspondent has reported that during reconstruction work during the 1980s evidence of an earlier door leading from the house to the steps could be seen, suggestive perhaps of an indoor dressing room with access to the pool. Water can fill the tank to a depth of around three feet before the overflow begins to trickle through the mouth of the stone figure on the side of the tank furthest from the source and closest to the road. From here the water would flow into a small basin with steps down to it, although at the base of this there is a grating and water is channelled away underground.

Remarkably at this end of the tank there is a large plug which can be removed to allow the water within the tank to completely drain away. The spring will fill the tank from empty to the level of the overflow in some 12 to 24 hours; whilst once the plug is pulled it will empty in something less than an hour.

ffynnon Beuno Tremeirchion.

The size of the well tank at once suggests that the well has in the past been used as a bathing pool, though whether for its healing qualities or for more general health and well being uses is unclear. It is well-documented that in the 18th century a number of springs were adapted as outdoor bathing pools and there are several other well preserved examples in the area. A note from the 1897 suggests that the tank is medieval, however it has been frequently restored and rebuilt and is so heavily rendered with concrete patches and lacking in features it is difficult to date.

Another more prosaic suggestion is that the tank merely formed a reservoir for the farm water supply. There is a water pump standing beside the entrance to the tank which draws water from the tank. The present working pump was restored in 1987. Given that the water source from the spring has been identified as being at a depth of several hundred feet below the farm any pump could not tap directly into the source so some form of reservoir would have been necessary. Such a feature of this size built solely as a reservoir would be unique in itself and relatively unlikely. It is probable that it was used at the very least as a bathing pool.

ffynnon Beuno Tremeirchion.

For such a substantial, named and well-maintained well the lack of surviving documentation is surprising. There are a number of twentieth century sources which refer to it stating that “it was once in great repute as a healing well”. The source of this phrase appears to be a short item in Archaelogia Cambriensis from 1887 written by C A Newdigate.[3] He was then a young student at St Beuno’s College, and although not native to the area presumably must have spoken to local residents concerning  the history of the well. Still the reliance on documentation, particularly from the internet can be a dangerous thing. It is more than possible that a major healing centre was active here before the eighteenth century, but no one thought it necessary to record the fact. A number of researchers believe that the layout of the pool is heavily indicative that it has had healing uses.at some period.

ffynnon Beuno Tremeirchion.

Representing the counter argument we have the journalist and African adventurer H Morton Stanley. He spent some of his teenage years living at Ffynnon Beuno in the 1820s, albeit unhappily, when it was run as a public house by his Aunt Mary. Writing in his autobiography in the 1890s he recalls the well clearly, likening it to that at Holywell although stating that, unlike St Winefride’s it boasted “no virtues beyond purity and sweetness.” He does state that the outflow from the tank is provided for “the benefit of villagers”, but what precise benefit he does not enlarge upon.[2] If accurate, this record could be a strong indication of the lack of healing traditions concerning the well. Such beliefs, although by then beginning to die out, would still be widespread within the population at the time, and sitting in the pub kitchen would be the best place to hear them.

A record from the parish register from precisely that time, reproduced in the current church guidebook indicates the remaining faith placed in some healing wells during that period since a sum of 2s 6d was paid out of parish funds so that John Davies may spend two or three weeks bathing at Holywell to the intent of reclaiming his health. [1] 

Thus the use of the well for healing must be in some doubt. The presence in the churchyard of a medieval carved cross, for many years lost but now restored, which itself had a reputation for miracles, may have been a more important healing location than the well in this village. A number of travel writers visited Tremeirchion in the 18th century, including Dr Johnson and Thomas Pennant. They each visited and commented upon the church but fail to mention the well in their accounts.

Despite this it is clear that the well has represented a significant landmark and probably carried important religious links for many centuries. It occupies a prominent place by the roadside on an important medieval pilgrimage route. The name itself has been recorded for several hundred years and was probably known long before that. The famous stone figure built into it is considered a medieval relic.

Many writers have considered the stone head through which the water flows to be representative of some form of head cult associated with the spring, traditions which occur in several parts of Wales and further afield. It has also been suggested that it represents another link with Winefride, recalling her severed and reattached head. It may also represent Beuno himself. The head cult theory is easily discounted, closer inspection shows that the effigy is much more than a head, since the upper part of a body can also be seen, with arms either crossed over the chest or with hands together in prayer, thus clearly having religious overtones.

ffynnon Beuno Tremeirchion.

The head has been in situ since at least Stanley’s time in the early nineteenth century. I have so far found no earlier reference to it. Maybe it was placed here when the occupants of the house decided to take control of the water supply leaving this an outlet for the pilgrims who had so long venerated and used the spring in passing. The provision of such a feature may have appeased early objectors to the annexation of a previously common water supply. Was it carved for the well, or is it, as seems perhaps more likely, a gargoyle or figure taken from some other demolished building and reused at the site of an historic well?

All in all a visit to this particular Ffynnon Beuno raised a few more questions than it answered. A well tank of that size must surely have had a use other than that as a farm reservoir – a handsome outdoor bathing pool but was it ever used for healing? And if it was once in great repute as a healing well how can it be that such traditions have been so completely lost?  Stranger things have happened and the story doesn’t end here I’m sure.

ffynnon Beuno Tremeirchion.

[1] Corpus Christi Church Tremeirchion. Guidebook.
[2] The Autobiography of Sir Henry Morton Stanley, edited by his wife Dorothy Stanley. Houghton Miffin 1909
[3]Rev C A Newdigate (1887) Carved and Incised Stones at Tremeirchion.  Arch Camb.

Beuno’s Huts


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Ffynnon Beuno, Bala

IMG_4335It was a wet, a particularly wet, January Saturday afternoon in Bala. I had driven up to watch my team Cefn Druids take on the mighty Premier League Bala Town in the Welsh Cup, only to find when I arrived that the match had been cancelled. Hardly surprising I suppose given the thunder, rain and hail I had met with on the way.

The one dry place in town was Beuno’s Well. The water no longer bubbles up here, replaced by stone flags and gravel, a victim of health and safety. Still, we are very lucky to have remains to see at all, and all due to the determination and dedication of various groups in the 1990s and early part of this century who saved the well from total destruction.

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I won’t go into details of Beuno’s life here. His mark is stamped heavily across North Wales and we have already given accounts of his wells at Gwyddelwen, Holywell and Clynnog. His specific connection with Bala is a little less clear; one just assumes he passed this way on his travels. To be precise, it is actually the Parish of Llanycil, a community a little further along the lake where the church, now deconsecrated, which was dedicated to Beuno. This historically was the parish in which Bala lay, so the well perhaps technically belongs to Llanycil despite having been subsumed by the urban sprawl of Bala.

Beuno’s well here had a reputation as a healing well, being good for ligaments and bones, for eyes and for the liver, kidneys and bowels depending on whether you bathed in it or drank it. Its fame lasted into the Victorian era when Richard Lloyd Price of Rhiwlas, on whose estate it then lay, jumped into the burgeoning health spas market, bottling and selling St Beuno’s Table Waters, efficacious for the kidneys, and Rhiwlas Sparkling Water. A bottling plant was established briefly in the old Workhouse Building on the High Street. Covering all bases he also operated a nearby whisky distillery.

As the craze for table waters receded, the well fell further into disrepair. In the 1970s the land surrounding the well was sold to builders for housing development. but by luck some covenant prevented the owners including the land the well sat on in the sale. So thus it stayed, a little island in the midst of a housing estate. Although not actually built on, it filled up with builder’s rubble and covered over with spare earth from the works.

For 20 years it remained, a circular wall around it and grassed over. Fighting off various attempts from the householders around it to surreptitiously annex it into their gardens; until attempts began to obtain permission to close off the well legally and remove the restraints on the land use. This came to the attention of Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru. They joined with local historical societies and the National Park to save the land and later to reopen the well. After many arguments and counterarguments work began in the early 2000s to excavate the site and reveal the structures below. What was found matched the record of the Royal Commission from 1913

“.. rising in a sunken rectangular enclosure of stone, 12 feet by 9 feet with six steps at one corner. The water is fairly deep and the overflow is copious; where it crossed the main road the roadway was roughly paved, hence the name ‘Pensarn Road.’ There are no traces of buildings over or immediately around the well. The hilly district to the south-west is called Bronydd Beuno.”

The image below belongs to and is linked from the website of Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru (link) showing the well during excavation

Once excavated, the structure once again filled with water although it was impossible to tell whether this was from the spring still flowing or from the general level of the local water table. Plans to leave the well as found, however, had to be abandoned. The site was considered dangerous within the housing estate, earth from the building works was piled high against the edges of the well and there was no scope for water to flow out. Consequently the well was refilled and the structure seen today created. The walls are largely new construction on the top of the original structure, with two of the six steps retained to give an idea of what was once there. The whole is filled with gravel and surrounded with paving stones to minimise the need for maintenance.

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So we see here the shadow of a well, a representation and importantly a reminder of what was there; and this is a tribute to those organisations that protect, preserve and rescue these wells. Had people not have stepped in, objected and campaigned when they did, then this site and almost all memories of Ffynnon Beuno at Bala would have been lost within a generation.

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The details of the restoration of the well is taken from the website of Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru


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Ffynnon Llechid, Llanllechid

From Llanfairfechan it is little more than a stone’s throw up the valley to Llanllechid. Stone’s throw is possibly appropriate description here, since the old residents of the village would have been quite used to stones flying round.

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The church of St Llechid has such a legend attached to it. The story being that the original plan was to build the church some mile away, close to  the site of the well, but each time the work began the stones miraculously transported themselves overnight to the place where the church now stands. This was repeated daily until the masons got the message that they were building in the wrong place and changed their plans accordingly. This legend is quite common, attached to a number of churches across Wales; indeed we recounted the same story at Capel Garmon not that far away.

The present church, largely rebuilt in the nineteenth century, has not been used since 2002, other than as a picnic site – as we found on our visit, surprising two hikers sitting eating on the doorstep.

Llechid came originally from Brittany, one of a family of saints who travelled widely across North Wales. She was sister to Trillo who has a number of churches and wells dedicated to him in the area; as well as of Tegai, Gredifael, Fflwyn and Rhedyw. Llechid’s feast day is given as either December 1st or 2nd.

Llechid’s well stood by the side of the old road from Llanllechid to Aber, about three quarters of a mile from the village. The well was noted as a healing well. Many claimed complete cures using it  to treat skin disorders. Fardd tells us that “…so great was their faith in it that people would call for a drink of its water when at the point of death”. At one time a chapel stood beside it, Capel Llechid known locally as  Yr Hen Eglwys. Hughes and North record that in 1780 the chapel was quite complete, although missing its roof, and that children would use it to play churches. It measured around 16 feet by 8 feet. However, the stone was robbed for building and by the start of the twentieth century only the foundations of one wall remained. baring Gould and Fisher place it near to the fields known as Cae’r Capel and Cae’r Bettws.

The site today is recalled only by the presence of the cottage Cae Ffynnon in the middle of a field on the right hand side of the road. The location was not recorded by the Royal Commission and does not appear on any maps of the last 100 years. Neither can we find a description in any other publications. So the only readily available source is Hughes and North who state that it is “… a few yards to the right of the road, just before you reach a little stream that flows past Cae Ffynnon”.

So, almost certainly putting far too much faith in one single 100 year old guidebook, we walked out of Llanllechid totally expecting to find a clear and obvious spring by the roadside. This approach often ends in disappointment. 

In the end we identified two possibilities. The site in the small copse shown below, which certainly lies close to a little stream. The area was wet, and may well have been aq spring, although recent rain had led to quite a bit of flooding in the area.

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The other alternative is in the field below Cae Ffynnon. A rectangular area grouping of stones seems to shout out – “here is the remains of the chapel, miraculously returned”  although we know  this is long since lost. Beside these is a brick built chamber, again surrounded by water, which, with faith,  may well house a spring.

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Both of these are based on guesswork on a wet day. The maps do show a couple of springs in the area of cae’r Ffynnon, but both are in the middle of fields at some distance from the road. We are certainly in the area of St Llechid’s Well here but by no means certain we identified it , as always, any more accurate information will be gratefully received.

ref
Baring Gould and Fisher(1907) – The Lives of The British Saints
Hughes and North (1924) – The Old Churches of Snowdonia

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