Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales


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Well Hopper

So what has changed recently?

03.07.2015 – Ffynnon Fihangel, Ffestiniog added
13.06.2015 – Ffynnon Fair, Maentwrog added
06.05.2015 – Ffynnon Ddeiniol, Llanfor added
11.04.2015 – Ffynnon Elian, Llanelian yn Rhos added
10.03.2015 – Bardsey Island wells added


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Ffynnon Fihangel, Ffestiniog

IMG_5676 - small We visited Ffynnon Fihangel, St Michael’s Well, on the Crimea pass between Dolwyddelan and Ffestiniog in 2013, reporting on the noted fallen stone there, with the countless names of visitors carved into it, and a small spring emerging beneath.  Correspondence and comments received since have thrown into doubt whether this spring is actually known as Ffynnon Fihangel, it may just have been a misrecording, although it still appears as such in the Historic Environment Record (HER); and while it may possibly remain as an important site, linked with 19th century preachers, what is certain is that it is not the Ffynnon Fihangel of Ffestiniog.

This spring lies a few miles further along the road at Manod, about half way between Llan Ffestiniog and Blaenau Ffestiniog.  The spring here lies equally as close to the A470 as the previous one, and is perhaps equally as lucky to have survived recent road improvements. It is covered by the remains of a small building, built probably in the mid 19th century called Ffynnonddwr. It is beside a fast flowing stream ion private land belonging to the farm Y Ffynnon.  

At present nothing can be seen of the spring itself as it lies buried under the debris of the collapsed building and the build-up of earth inside; however the spring still flows strongly emerging from the end wall of the cottage and flowing towards the southwest to join the stream. We are referring  to this as Ffynnon Fihangel now although it has not always been known as such in recent times. The earliest known reference to the name Ffynnon Fihangel being applied to this spring is from a map of 1795; later maps refer to it simply as Y Ffynnon. Williams in his History of the Parish of Ffestiniog (1882), which provides this 1795 information, suggests that until the beginning of the 19th century the well attracted numerous visitors looking for cures for arthritis, paralysis and seizures; although it might have fallen out of popular use relatively early in the 19th century, to the extent that a house could have been built over it. Visitors to the well continued into the 20th century. Emrys Evans (1997) records a case of it being resorted for a cure for a sprained ankle early in the 20th century. IMG_5686  

Evans identified one description of the spring, from Owen Roberts a local poet who wrote in 1910 that the spring was in a six sided bath with two steps down into the water. Evans also suggests that a relative of Roberts had lived in the house during 1881 and that Roberts would have been familiar with the spring.  By 1914 when the Royal Commission visited to record the Ancient Monuments of Merionethshire the house was in ruins and there was no sign of any bathing pool. They recorded it only as Y Ffynnon (The Well)  This is not so much a well as a spring of water which, rising beneath the floor of an old ruined house, flows copiously through an iron pipe from under the ruins. It is still resorted to by sufferers from rheumatism, fractured limbs and other maladies, but not to the same extent as in former days. For this reason it has been suggested that it might have been the old sacred well of Ffestiniog but it is not associated with any saint and is known only as Y Ffynnon.

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According to the notes on the Archwilio website, the owner of the farm in the 1990s believed the building was the remains of the old church of St Michael and that water from the spring had been carried to many churches in the area for use in baptism. I am not aware of any other written evidence for this idea. On the basis of a visit in 1994 another note state that there are actually two buildings on the site connected by 6 slate steps.  

Efforts to restore the spring in the 1990s appear to have come to nothing, and thus it remains buried within the ruins of the cottage beside the stream, gradually being taken over by rampantly growing Japanese Knotweed.

G J Williams (1882) Hanes Plwyf Ffestiniog

Emrys Evans (1997) in Llygad Y Fynnon No 2,  Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru, Summer 1997

RCAHMW (1921) Inventory of the Historic and Ancient Monuments of Merionethshire

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The floor under which the spring rises
IMG_5662

water emerging on the south west side of the building
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Ffynnon Fair, Maentwrog

ThMaen Twroge village of Maentwrog, beside the road from Ffestiniog to Porthmadog is a place of steep steps and slopes, a village where, in places, it seems that you look out at your neighbour’s house at chimney level. This topography must have helped sixth century St Twrog who, it is claimed, once launched a massive boulder from the top of Moelwyn, a hill to the north of the village, neatly crushing a pagan altar in the valley below, close to where he built his church. This stone remains in place beside the church and gives the village its name – Maen Twrog – Twrog’s stone.

Twrog we find in Lives of the British Saints, he may be the brother of saints Trillo, Lechid and Tegai, all of whom we have come across as having been active in the local area, Wells dedicated to Trillo and Llechid we have visited previously. Twrog was possibly a disciple of Beuno at Clynnog and is reputed to have written the long lost Book of St Beuno which once lay in Clynnog church.

Twrog himself has two churches dedicated in his name in Llandwrog and Bodwrog. His feast day is celebrated on June 26th.  The present church in Maentwrog, dating from the early nineteenth century,and having been extended and improved in the 1890s is not dedicated to Twrog, instead it is St Mary’s.. Some sources do suggest that previously the local church was dedicated to St Twrog, The well too carries the name Ffynnon Fair, St Mary’s Well.

Although the information sheet provided in the church informs the visitor that St Mary’s Well can be seen in the village, it gives no indication at all as to how and where to find it. Fortunately we were forearmed with a route and climbing the steep steps opposite the church, turning right at the top in front of a row of cottages and then bearing left up towards another terrace we soon reached Ffynnon Fair. It lies around 80 yards to the south east of the church on a sloping hillside immediately north of this second terraced row, again the name gives it away, Bron Fair.

The spring itself is enclosed in a slate tank, some three feet high, three feet deep and around two feet wide. From the front water flows, or leaks into a concrete gully and down into a drain. When we visited the tank was almost covered in ivy and brambles, and if we had not known what we were looking for we could have easily passed it by.

Ffynnon Fair Maentwrog

This housing would appear not to have changed in over 100 years, since the description provided by the Royal Commission when they visited in 1914 to compile its Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Merioneth matches exactly what we see today. They stated that the spring is used as a water supply for the neighbouring houses, so we may suppose the slate tank was constructed at the same time as the terrace in the nineteenth century.

Ffynnon Fair Maentwrog

Apart from its name, nothing seems to mark it out as a particularly special site. I have found no account regarding any particular customs practised at the well or of any special properties of the water. Clearly this is the holy well of Maentwrog, but beyond its name all history has been lost.

Ffynnon Fair Maentwrog


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news: Ffynnon Elen, Dolwyddelan

Ffynnon Elen, Dolwyddelan

I have written in the past concerning the restoration of wells and of the potential conflict between retaining the characteristic atmosphere and environment of the site while preserving and presenting the structure for the future.. While obviously, by their definition, many wells have had spiritual functions and had specific powers attached by visitors throughout time; there can be a tendency to the romanticising of these springs today, applying particular twenty first century viewpoints and sensibilities to sites sometimes somewhat removed from their original uses. It is this perception that can be often severely degraded by restoration. There is a danger in restoration that a site can become over-sanitised, as I have in the past highlighted  at one or two locations, and thus lose the very characteristic environment that continues to draw visitors. Still I would argue that restoration and preservation, in any form, is almost always better than ignoring the site and allowing further degradation until it is lost forever.

Thus we have taken a close interest in the work carried out at Ffynnon Elen over the last year. When we first visited the site two years ago it was virtually lost. Overgrown with ferns, brambles and small saplings we stumbled around blindly, falling into ditches, in a hunt for what little remained to be seen of the well – see  previous post for more details on the site’s history..

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Since then excavations by archaeologist Bill Jones and members of  the Dolwyddelan Historical Society, supported by the site owners Elen’s Castle Hotel and the National Park Authority, have gradually brought the site back to life, initially felling trees which threatened the structure of the well, then excavating the site and its surrounds to explore the history of a site which is said to date back to Roman times. Finally conserving the site to preserve what remains within a sensitive setting. Comparing the “before”  as seen above and the “after”  seen below indicates the scale of work carried out.

Ffynnon Elen, Dolwyddelan

So we were very pleased yesterday, to join a large crowd to witness the unveiling of the completed restoration and the interpretation boards produced to inform future visitors of the history of the site.

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Ffynnon Elen, Dolwyddelan

The results show what a little lottery funding and a great deal of determination and enthusiasm can produce, and could serve as a model for the investigation and restoration of similar sites elsewhere.

Ffynnon Elen, Dolwyddelan


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Ffynnon Ddeiniol, Llanfor

St Deiniol Church LlanforLlanfor is a small settlement clustered around its church on the right hand side of the road just before you enter Bala from Corwen. The church, dedicated to St Deiniol has been closed since the 1990s. I understood that it had recently been sold when I first visited early last year, but nothing appears to have changed there since then so maybe I was mistaken. It has also, at some times, borne a second dedication to a shadowy little known St Mor. It is more than probable that this is due to a misinterpretation of the name Llanfor which appears more likely to be a corruption of its earlier more usual name Llanfawr.

The well associated with the church lies around 40 yards to the north east, beside a footpath accessible from the rear of the churchyard which runs back west parallel to the road. This path is supposed to be the remnant of the medieval route into the village.

Lhuyd, at the end of the seventeenth century, recorded the spring as Ffynnon Ddeiniol, though by the start of the twentieth century the Royal Commission reported that this name was all but forgotten and that it was generally identified as the old well of the parish. It was then surrounded within a rough stone enclosure some 3 feet by 2 feet 3 inches. It can now be seen within a small, three sided construction of stone, brick and concrete roofed over with a large stone or slate.

ffynnon Deiniol, Llanfor

The field in which the well stood was known as Cae’r ysgubor. In recent years the area around the well has been incorporated within the garden of the house at the foot of the hill. The Royal Commission stated that the stream from the spring once flowed through the churchyard. When we first visited the area around the spring had been landscaped and the stream flowed downhill for about 20 yards before forming an ornamental pond. On this visit we found the area around the spring much more overgrown with the pond drained and abandoned. With no one around it wasn’t possible to get a closer look.

A substantial brick built feature close to the spring raises the possibility that at some time it may have been tapped for a water supply.

ffynnon Deiniol, Llanfor


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Ffynnon Elian, Llanelian yn Rhos

Ffynnon Elian Llaneilan . Photo WellhopperNot in the mystic Elian’s grove,
Did feather’d songsters sing of love,
But birds of omen harbour’d there,
And fill’d with brooding shrieks the air;
The blasted trees so rent and riven,
By fi’ry speed of burning levin,
Had prov’d the bolt and wrath o heaven,
Some stretch their wither’d arms on high,
In scornful mood to mock the sky,
Whilst shadow’d by their branches sear,
And deep, and dark, and dank and drear,
The baneful fountain rises here.

 

At long last we visit another well with a widespread reputation, one that I admit to having put off describing for as long as possible for fear of failing to do it justice. This is the well of St Elian at Llanelian yn Rhos near Colwyn Bay.

The reputation of Ffynnon Elian has spread far and wide, and really for the wrong reasons because from the late 18th century and for much of the 19th century it appears to have been a predominantly bad reputation. The above is drawn from a lengthy dramatic poem by the youthful Charlotte Wardle published in 1814 and titled St Elian’s or the Cursing Well.

It is said that the well first sprang forth at the request of a thirsty St Elian in the 6th century and that in thankfulness for the water, he prayed that whoever should come to the well with faith would be granted their wish. Lhuyd in 1699 (cited in Lives of the British Saints) refers to rituals and offerings carried out there for the cure of sick children. However, while for the vast majority of its active life the spring may have enjoyed a favourable reputation and was resorted to for  healing well it is perhaps inevitable that given such powers it should be those who wished evil rather than those who wished good might eventually take precedence and give the spring such an undeserved bad name and it is difficult not to dwell on this aspect of its history here.

Ffynnon Elian Llaneilan . Photo Wellhopper

We are told that cursing became a big business during the 18th century, with unscrupulous well guardians growing rich by taking advantage of the supposed powers of the spring for their own ends. The idea of a facilitator at the well was not limited to this location and appears to have been a relatively common practice – someone who knew the required procedures that should be followed to ensure the efficacy of the approach to the well and someone willing to take donations, either, as in this case, for their own or in other cases for the church or communities benefit.

When Charlotte Wardle wrote in 1814 the practice appears to be firmly established here, her dramatic piece imagines a local hag paid to place a curse on behalf of the villain of the piece on his enemy.

The witch drew water from the well –
Invok’d the saint, and forthwith sped
Beneath the wave the mystic lead
On which Sir Gryfydd’s name was read;
The charm has pass’d her quiv’ring lips,
And now once more the bowl she dips,
Beneath the darkling surface – then
Repeats her orgies o’er again.

There was apparently quite an established  scale of charges in the early 19th century for cursing at the well, providing both a fee for laying on a curse and a substantially higher one for removing the curse again – thus the well attendant could profit twice and some seemed able to do very well for themselves for providing this service.

Ffynnon Elian Llaneilan . Photo Wellhopper

But probably, side by side with its duties as a curing well, people would have  continued to visit for its original, more positive, reasons. The practice documented by Lhuyd includes the need to empty the well three times during the ritual, a process remembered in the passage from Wardle’s poem quoted above which demonstrates the persistence of the customs, albeit being applied for very different purposes.

Rhys tells of a meeting with an old woman at the well which must have occurred in the 1860s. She could recall pieces of rag being tied to branches of trees around the well with wool. Traditionally this was done around wells by those in search of a cure. This must place the presence of rags around the well in the early 19th century implying double use for curing and cursing even then. She stressed that here natural wool rather than anything that had been spun or treated should be used. The same account refers to sightings of corks with pins stuck into them floating on the well surface. These too had been a common sight throughout the earlier part of the century and these were taken to be emblematic of curses.

The spring was described in 1816 as being circular in shape with a diameter of about 30 inches, covered with a stone arch and sods and enclosed by a strong square wall 7 feet high. It lay in the corner of a field within a grove of trees. (Pugh, 1816 cited by Baring Gould and Fisher). They quote a source suggesting that this structure was destroyed around 1829 in response to the reputation of the well. However a spring is not that easily stopped and customs continued at the site throughout most of the century. Janet Bord cites a number of cases of individuals suffering in the belief that they had been cursed at the well.

The spring has recently been restored by its present owner and historian and is now used to provide a water supply to the nearby house. In memory of its previous history a pipe leads from the bricked up well head feeding a shallow circular basin close by where it collects before running away down the hillside. A stone wall in the nearby bank provides a niche where a small figurine – representing St Elian perhaps, sits; surrounded by the remains of a number of burnt out candles.

Ffynnon Elian Llaneilan . Photo Wellhopper

It is indeed curious that the two wells we have seen in North Wales that both have this reputation of double use in cursing and healing are both dedicated to Elian, the other being at Llaneilian on Anglesey,, although we should remember that cursing at wells is more widespread and not a peculiar preserve of these two sites. There is nothing in St Elian’s life that indicates a predisposition for cursing so although possibly the tradition has spread from one to the other by association with the name or maybe it is just pure coincidence. The conclusion is that both have a much worse reputation than they really deserve.

Ffynnon Elian Llaneilan . Photo Wellhopper

 

references:
S Baring Gould and J Fisher (1907)  Lives of the British Saints
Charlotte Wardle (1814) St Elian’s or the Cursing Well.
Janet Bord (1995) Cursing Not Curing, Source Journal
John Rhys (1893) Sacred Wells in Wales, Folklore Vol 4.


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Bardsey Island Wells

Bardsey Island - wellhopper

Four and a half hours is not anywhere near enough time to begin to explore Bardsey Island, but still that’s the time allowed for on the day trip ferry service and it is four and a half hours better than nothing. However, readers will have to accept that this piece is necessarily a preliminary and very cursory view of the wells of the island. There are inevitably going to be errors and omissions and I hope that you will bear with them. As always i entreat comments, information and corrections through which I hope to clear up loose ends and better plan my next visit.

Pennant in the 18th century described his crossing thus:

From this port (Aberdaron) I once took boat for Bardseye island, which lies about three leagues to the west. The mariners seemed tinctured with the piety of the place; for they had not rowed far before they made a full stop, pulled off their hats and offered up a short prayer.”

Our crossing from Porth Meudwy was less ceremonial, despite that day being filmed by a German television unit for something like their equivalent of the “Coast” programme, though even still it was probably much quicker and less hazardous than that which may have been experienced in centuries gone by.

The Welsh name for Bardsey is Ynys Enlli – island in the currents, referring to strong and often dangerous seas which surround it. Bardsey as a community turns its back on the mainland, looking out over open sea. The mountain on the landward side hides all traces of the rest of Wales from view. Once on the island it becomes very easy quickly to forget that anywhere else in the world exists; maybe this was the attraction to the early settlers when the first monastery was set up.

Bardsey Island - wellhopper

 

Cadfan is often credited with the establishment of the first monastery on the island although it was probably established earlier in the mid fifth century. This establishment was the lure of the early saints. Its importance, and population, is said to have grown following early 7th century Saxon attacks on the major monastery at Bangor-Is-y-Coed near present day Wrexham. This monastery declined around this time and surviving monks may have fled westward and may have eventually settled at Bardsey.

The buildings preserved today are part of the thirteenth century Augustinian Abbey of St Mary’s which flourished right up to the dissolution in 1537, after which Bardsey was largely abandoned until the establishment of a fishing and farming community in the eighteenth century.

Bardsey has featured in so many of the well stories we have encountered across North Wales. It seems that almost every saint wanted to see out his days there, and thousands of ordinary people took part in the pilgrimage to the island, a well worn trail that leaves its mark to this day down the length of the Llyn Peninsula and which boosted the fame and economies of so many of the communities through which it passed.

Obviously wells are important here too, without them life on the island would not have been possible, and its importance as a monastery and place of pilgrimage would never have begun. Given the vast number of saints who are said to have congregated here, many of whom have left their names on chains of wells across the mainland, it seems a little surprising that none have been associated with specific wells on the island. At least in naming terms, although of course it is possible that names have been lost and traditions forgotten over time.

Of course there are wells here for which healing and miraculous powers have been claimed, but then I think we should expect nothing less in this special place.

Surprisingly little information is readily available concerning the stories of the wells on the island, and some of what was available was quite confusing. The Royal Commission Survey of 1964 identified just one well of note which they write up as “unnamed well”.

“… is a short distance from Ffynnon Corn. It is built in a cleft at the foot of a rocky outcrop and consists of a stone basin 2ft 3 by 3ft 6. The surviving masonry is very well built and includes some slabs of yellow gritstone. There is a step or shelf at the back beneath which is a larhge slab containing a rounded inlet….. A considerable quantity of fallen stone suggests that there was a superstructure of some kind, although there are now no datable features.”

The Coflein database calls this Bardsey Island well and also records Ffynnon Corn. The two are said to be close to each other and this location was our first destination on arriving on the island.

The primary well on the island that which probably served the monastery and which still provides the water source for many of the houses is Ffynnon Corn. We find it close to a path leading up Mynydd Enlli from behind the Victorian chapel close to the abbey. Still an important water supply it has a bright green plastic lid fitted over the square well basin. It is surrounded by a small wire fence for protection. It lies at the base of a small rocky outcrop and there are signs of earlier stonework at the foot of the rocks. The section below the water level is lined in stone, although it has been built up higher at the top in brick.

Bardsey Island - Ffynnon Corn - wellhopper

 

A man working close by came across to see what we were doing and confirmed this as being Ffynnon Corn. He knew nothing of any second well lying close by, which judging by the grid reference should have been a little to the left and higher up the hill.

Bardsey Island - Ffynnon Corn - wellhopper

Using GPS to find the location given by Coflein we found it to lie deep beneath an area of bramble and gorse. To be fair, the described rocky outcrop stands clearly above the given location, but half an hour of trampling down branches and getting totally scratched revealed no sign of a well or remains of surrounding masonry.

Bardsey Island - site of unnamed well - wellhopper

In retrospect, the well we saw as Ffynnon Corn is by far the best fit to the description given by the Royal Commission for their unnamed well and it is hard to believe there is a second similar site close by.. This leaves three possibilities:

  • The well we were told was Ffynnon Corn actually wasn’t. We saw the second well (although at an incorrect grid reference) and Ffynnon Corn was actually lower down the hill.
  • The Royal Commission were confused – giving us a description of an unnamed well which was actually Ffynnon Corn
  • Another Ffynnon Corn existed 100 years ago, and the name has now been transferred to this site.

We did note a number of smaller, apparently less significant springs on the land between the abbey and this well, and perhaps any of these options are feasible.

Our other main source of information was a useful illustrated sheet produced by the Bardsey Island Trust and available on their website. This names and describes seven wells, and provides a record of several more which are not located. This too describes Ffynnon Corn and also names a second nearby well as Ffynnon Owain Rolant or Ffynnon Uchaf. This again provides another strong hint that there is a second well above Ffynnon Corn, but tellingly this is the only well described on the sheet for which a photograph is not provided, we can only assume that they too failed to find it. The sheet does point out that for this well there is “some evidence that it has medicinal powers”. Williams (1979)  however suggests that Ffynnon Owain Rolant is higher on the mountain, closer to Ffynnon Barfau – which we didn’t have time to go looking for on this visit; again giving the tradition of some medicinal virtues for the well.

Heading back towards the ferry, and more importantly an enterprising farm that provides coffee and cake in its garden, we pick up another three wells from the Island Trust information sheet.

Ffynnon Bryn Baglau lies beside the main road through the island on a raised area of land known as Bryn Baglau. Baglau is the Welsh word for crutches and hints at its reputation. The story goes that people would leave their crutches beside the well after having been cured by its water. The tradition apparently leading back to the story of a notable feud between Saints Cadfan and Lleuddad which was settled through the tactical application of crutches on one another at the site. Baglau is apparently a relatively recent name for the well, it has also been known as Ffynnon Dalar and a cottage named Dalar once stood close by.

The pictures show the feature we concentrate on at the site, a deep dry hollow, but in retrospect it doesn’t look that spring like even though we wer told locally that the spring is usually dry in the late summer when we were there. Maybe I should have been concentrating on the area in the nearby bushes – a return visit to re-examine this location is definitely called for.

Bardsey Island - Ffynnon Bryn Baglau - wellhopper

Closer to the coffee break is Ffynnon Weirglodd Bach. The information sheet tells us that this also has a reputation as a holy well without going into any more detail.. On our visit it was dry, and is at best nothing more than a muddy hollow, the stones in the bank identify its location in a field called Cae Ffynnon.

Bardsey Island - Ffynnon Weirglodd Bach - wellhopper

Close to the ferry landing we find Ffynnon Dolysgwydd. This is an active spring jsut above the shore. The rock beside the outflow has been ringed around with a course of bricks to form a shallow circular pool. Again the information sheet informs us mysteriously that “it is sais a number of miracles have happened here” without going into any further detail.

Bardsey Island - Ffynnon Dolysgwydd - wellhopper

Bardsey Island - Ffynnon Dolysgwydd - wellhopper

Our visit to Bardsey, as so often, raises as many questions as it answers. At least one return visit is inevitable and I hope that we can do this journey again soon. In the meantime I would love to hear from people who can shed light on which is the real Ffynnon Corn and is there a second healing well close by. And what of the legends surrounding the other wells? The miracle bringing Ffynnon Dolsysgywd, the holy Ffynnon Weirglodd Bach or any of the other named but not located wells on the island. I knew before we went that this island at the edge of the world had so much history for its size and this fleeting visit demonstrated just how long it would take to discover even a part of it.

Bardsey Island  - wellhopper

References

Thomas Pennant(1778)  Tours in Wales

 

Wells on Bardsey, Bardsey Island Trust.

H D Williams (1979) Ynys Enlli. Wasg Ty ar y Graig, Caernarfon

 


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Deborah’s Well, Gwernaffield

deborahs well4We launch into 2015 with an oddity, a well that failed to cure. Deborah’s Well lies by the side of the road to Cadole from Gwernaffield, just to the west of Mold. The only account of its history that I have found anywhere dates from the 1980s and was written by local historian, the late Councillor Arthur Smith.

That the name of Deborah has some historical association with the area is undoubted. The woodland close to the well site is known as Deborah’s Wood and a field opposite also carries her name. A lead mine seam, dug in the late nineteenth century is marked on contemporary maps as the Deborah seam. However, no well, named or unnamed, appears on any of the OS maps back to the 1870s.

Cllr Smith’s account of the history of the well, first written in a local history magazine, is engraved on a metal plaque mounted beside the well. It tells of an outbreak of cholera in the area. Deborah led the healthy residents into the hills above the village in hopes of avoiding the disease. She established a hospital in the woods above the well as a refuge from the outbreak. However, despite her precautions cholera reached her hospital and the villagers died. Survivors then concluded that the spread of the disease was not a natural inevitability but rather a direct result of Deborah’s actions and concluded that she must be a witch and responsible for the deaths. They burned down the hospital with her inside.

deborahs well3

We find some obvious holes and inconsistencies in the story. The account on the plaque beside the well sets the story in the 16th century although a retelling in a local history pamphlet adjusts the date to the 6th century. Both accounts in passing refer to a local chieftain, Byffna, supposedly buried in a stone cyst close to the site, although they fail to mention whether or not the story of Deborah is linked to Byffna. Clearly the survival of a story in local folklore from the 6th century may be harder to credit than one from the 16th century and perhaps the possibility of it being a much later invention to explain the naming of local landmarks increases.

In addition, whichever date is chosen, we must note that cholera did not appear in the UK until much later and could not have been the disease Deborah sought to avoid. Clearly in a story passed down through successive generations these specific details may easily mutate in response to current attitudes and fears.

The site we see today includes the plaque bearing Cllr Smith’s account and a stone monument with the name of the well. The well itself is enclosed on three sides by a low stone wall. The whole site was constructed in 1989 as a gift to the village by the local quarry company on the instigation of Cllr Smith, and was unveiled then with much ceremony. I do not know what, if anything occupied the site prior to this time.

deborahs well2

A final story of the site, again from Cllr Smith’s account, tells of an event late one night in 1972. A couple were driving home stopped close to the site. A woman, with flames leaping from her hair ran from the woods. The couple fled, but when they returned the next day, no evidence or accounts of injury could be found. This we must assume was the spirit of Deborah, seen fleeing from her burning hospital.

deborahs well1

ref: A Photographic History of Gwernymynydd Village. (no date) http://www.community-council.org.uk/gwernymynydd/

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