Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales


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Ffynnon Gemig – St George’s Well, Llansansiôr, Abergele

St George’s Well, Ffynnon Gemig, Ffynnon Gegidog or Ffynnon Lansansiôr (see note at the end on naming) is a well I’ve often intended to visit but until now never stopped off to investigate. Speeding down the A55 to potentially more interesting sites I was often tempted to turn off just after the marble church at Bodelwyddan at the signpost to Llansansiôr, but mainly because I understood that the well was inaccessible I never have until now.

The inaccessible bit is very quickly confirmed and thus again this post will be light on pictures other than those that show the forbidding welcome you receive when you approach the site. The extremely impressive grade 2 listed gates tower above you as you look up the overgrown driveway to the equally impressive Kinmel Hall, the present incarnation of which dates from the 1870s.

The fate of the well in recent years has gone hand in hand with that of the Hall. The hall was used as a hospital during the Second World War, after which it was converted for use as a girls public school. A major fire in 1975 forced the school to close and the hall was reopened as a Christian Conference Centre until this in turn closed in 2001. Since then it appears to have been in the possession of a property development company registered off shore in the British Virgin Islands. Various plans to convert it into a hotel seem to have come to nothing. It appeared on the Victorian Society’s 2015 list of the top ten most endangered buildings.  It stands sad and lonely protected by high fences and apparently a complex system of security cameras, motion sensors and taped warning messages.

During periods when the hall was occupied access to the well was fairly readily available, and indeed at some times the owners were very encouraging. In the early 1970s a local group worked hard to excavate and restore the well, forming a society Friends of St Georges Well to fund and organise the project. Donations were sought to build up a trust fund to ensure that the well could be maintained going forwards. I’m not sure how long the group remained active, but certainly by the 1990s the well was once again becoming lost.

For the history of the well we are indebted to an excellent booklet produced by John Beckett in 1974, the heyday of the well’s restoration project. Beckett does an admirable job in differentiating between the actual recorded history of the well (which is limited) and the later unsubstantiated musings and deviations from fact (which are many). His booklet is something of an object lesson in picking out wheat from the chaff in the writings of antiquarians and folklorists from the 18th through to the 21st century.

According to Beckett virtually all we know of any custom or tradition associated with the well is drawn from two letters to antiquarian Edward Lhuyd dating from 1697 and 1701 in response to his Parochial Queries survey.

The initial response to Lhuyd from the then rector of the parish of St George gave a single sentence concerning the well, a sentence which has given writers free rein to interpret in different ways ever since

Ffynnon Lan San Shor Lhe y bydded ystalm offrymu kyffyle ag hevyd un I’r person. (Ita trad)

Beckett’s translation is

The well of St George where in former days horses used to be offered and also one for the parson according to tradition.

It was the former parson’s successor, new to the village, Humphrey Ffoulkes, who provided further information in 1701 writing

Having just done my Parochial perambulations on Ascension Day…. One of the most material ceremonies in the procession, which was to visit St Georges Well and to read a prayer or two by it as they usually do at a crossroad, the principal standing amongst us.

Our St George has been reckoned the tutelary patron of horses and they have used within these twenty years to bring horses from Caernarfonshire and the Uwchmynydd of Denbighshire to this well where they threw some of the water over the horses saying Rhad duw a St Sior arnat, then offering a groat to the church box.

Beckett focuses on the word offering in relation to the horses, pointing out how this has been interpreted in successive accounts of the well whether horses were either given to the parson alive or even sacrificed at the well.

Pennant, who visited the area some 80 years after these accounts were written, stated that the rich were often wont to offer one to secure his blessing on the rest; but it is Jones in 1954 who says

At this well it would seem that horses were actually sacrificed, one being given to the parson.

Again sacrifice could have a double meaning, either just to go without and give to the parson, or to actually kill. One has to assume that Jones is inferring the latter. It is notable however that even in 1701 Ffoulkes, a parson who might well have benefitted from the donation of a horse omitted to mention the custom, stating that a groat was the accepted offering. Beckett refers to an account from 1535 noting a sum of 23 shillings given in donations at St George’s, though it is not clear whether this is to the church or to the well.

A number of authors have drawn attention to a number of other horse linked place names (Meirch) within the immediate landscape. In particular Parc- y-Meirch is close by, the site of the discovery of a large horde of Bronze Age horse harness fittings in the nineteenth century. Whether the use of the well for horses is linked to a wider set of horse related customs in the area can only be speculation.

Clearly we are left with the conclusion that this well gained a reputation across North Wales as a site for bringing horses to be blessed. This custom had effectively died out by around 1700 although it remained in living memory. However, even then the well formed part of an Ascension Day beating the bounds perambulation (it lies close to the parish boundary) and was, we assume, still known and used. Wells as waymarkers on parish boundaries are common, and the practice of perambulation on certain days of the year with customs at specific points, including wells, was standard practice.

However, use must have declined. Although Pennant mentions its existence he doesn’t report seeing it, nor do other travel writers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was clearly not of tourist interest, even those horse-borne, as a noted site for  horse blessing in a village with little else to interest the visitor.

We know that up until around 1871 it wasn’t within the boundaries of the parkland of Kinmel Hall, it is shown as such on the 1871 Ordnance Survey map. Before this it lay within a farm called Gemig, from which it obtains its alternative name Ffynnon Gemig. It sometime during the 1870s, presumably at the time of constructing the present Hall building, that the grounds of Kinmel Hall were extended and the road to the village realigned, at which period the well is pulled into the parkland. Gemig farm appears on the tithe maps but must have been demolished during the extension of the park.

The hall was owned by the Hughes family, and occupied up until the late 1920s. Clearly access to the parkland to some degree must have been available to local residents since it is John Beckett again who says his earliest memories of the well were being taken to sit beside it by his brother at school lunchtimes in around 1906.

At this time all he remembers is a marshy area with some large stones scattered around. The well was visited by the Royal Commission on Historic and Ancient Monuments in Wales in 1912 when compiling their inventory on sites in Denbighshire. They reported that

This spring is situated in a glade of Kinmel Park. It is now nearly dry. The form of the well is a rude oval, about 15 feet long by 8 feet broad; the chamber is constructed of large stones and there is a wide channel for carrying off the overflow.

It was towards the end of the 1960s that a group of locals, John Beckett included, took it upon themselves to thoroughly investigate and restore the well. This would seem to have been done in an organised and professional manner, with advice sought and taken from experts from the RCAHM and the Department of the Environment. Clearance and excavation took place over about four years. During the work in 1973 the site was accorded the status of a scheduled monument.

What was found exceeded all expectation, and a much more complex site was found than that described by the Royal Commission in 1912.  The layout is essentially two square stone lined basins with a stone floor surrounding the two. There is a smaller pool around 30 inches square and to its east a larger pool about five feet by six feet. The spring flows into the smaller basin from where it flows into the larger pool. This two pool layout is reminiscent of other wells including Ffynnon Gybi at Llangybi, Ffynnon Fyw at Mynytho and Ffynnon Wenfaen at Rhoscolyn. There is then a stone lined channel which carries water away to the north east from the larger pool.

The layout is best seen in a photograph taken during the excavation in 1970 by Douglas Hague of the Department for the Environment.  For copyright reasons I will not show it here, although it can be seen at

http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/archive/6389882/details/504

The tree growing through the side was removed later during the clearance. I have taken the liberty of reproducing a cross section and plan from Beckett’s book.

When the work was finished, stones were replaced an iron fence was constructed around for protection, and initially at least regular maintenance was carried out to prevent weed and tree growth damaging the site.

I’m not sure how long the Friends group was in existence, or whether anything occurred to prevent maintenance of the well. Around 20 years later in August 1996 it was visited by Eirlys and Ken Lloyd Gruffydd of the Welsh Wells Society Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru. They found it to be

… almost impossible to see the well. Trees were growing through it and there were thorns and brambles everywhere covering the black water with all kinds of vegetation.

Following discussions with the site’s then owners the tenant cleared the well, although it was clear that there was a general intent then to discourage visitors to the well and the openness of the earlier times was gone.

Further photographs and sketches made by Ken Lloyd Gruffydd can be seen here:

http://www.ffynhonnaucymru.org.uk/llan_sain_si%C3%B4r.htm

Around this time proposals were also aired to excavate land below the well and to dam the outflow to form into a pool to attract wildlife to the area. An inspection in 1999 suggested that this might have been done although the site was once again overgrown. It doesn’t show on aerial pictures of the site today.  One assumes that it was following the closure of the conference centre in 2001 that access to the well was effectively lost.

Thus, the fate of the well remains to a great extent subject to the fate of the hall. This isn’t the only case of a massive Victorian building, apparently too important to lose but too expansive to save. Is it inevitable that it is gradually going to crumble into ruin?  And stuck in the middle of this process is a significant, still solidly constructed well complex, potentially one of the best preserved in the area. However there seems no desire to facilitate access to the well.

So here we have learned a salutary lesson, showing that the best laid plans for well restoration can only be short lived without the long term engagement of both community and land owners.

We can only hope, but with little confidence, that at some time in the not too distant future it can once again be cleared and suitable access provided.

On naming
Both parish and well have a number of names. The parish today is generally known as St George, or its direct Welsh translation Llansansiôr. In the 12th century the parish was known as Cegidog,,assumed to be derived from Cegid – hemlock, which grew in abundance. This name has persisted in parallel over the years. Lhuyd’s correspondent in 1697 referred to the well as being the well of Llansansiôr; his successor in 1701 called it St George’s Well.which is how it appears on all mapping of the area.

Up until the mid-nineteenth century the well lay on land belonging to a farm called Gemig,and thus it also carried the name Ffynnon Gemig which is the  name most writers appear to prefer these days. It is also  referred to as Ffynnon Gegidog after the alternative name of the parish.

References

Beckett John (1974) The Well of St Georges (privately printed)
Gruffydd  Eirlys (1996)  Ffynnon Lansansiôr. Llygad y Ffynnon Issue 1
Gruffydd Eirlys (1998)  Ffynnon Gemig, Llansansiôr. Llygad y Ffynnon Issue 5
Gruffydd Eirlys (1999)  Ffynnon Gemig, Llansansiôr. Llygad y Ffynnon Issue 6
Jones Francis (1954) Holy Wells of Wales. Cardiff Univ. Press
Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales (1914) Inventory –  Denbighshire

Information on Kinmel Hall has been sourced from Wikipedia and from the website of The Victorian Society.

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Three Mynytho Wells

A misty moisty morning in Mynytho, at the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula near Abersoch, searching out another group of wells was the catalyst for a rare bout of philosophising of the “why are we here, where are we going” nature. We have previously reported on Mynytho’s “holy well” Ffynnon Fyw, an impressive dry stone, two basin edifice which alternates between a state of overgrown-ness and cleanliness at regular intervals.

Today I was on the lookout for three other wells that merit a mention in Francis Jones’ book The Holy Wells of Wales. Which prompted the question, why does a relatively small place like Mynytho, not even a parish in its own right, merit having four notable wells in the record? Then , once having seen the wells, what even merits their inclusion? I have on the blog mast head “exploring the holy wells and healing wells of North Wales”, so how do I know when I am straying from the point, is there a marker and does it ever matter?

Jones’ book is specifically titled The Holy Wells of Wales, and has generally been regarded as the bible on the subject and while overall it serves its purpose well, realistically its veracity and dependability has been called into question over the years. In defining a holy well Jones leaps straight in on page 1 saying

It cannot be stressed too often that everything relating to wells, whether in early form or in mangled survival, traces to one subject – religion.

Which in effect allows him carte blanche to include any named well in his gazetteer.

Of course access to water is an inescapable necessity of life, and thus from the earliest times maintaining a reliable source of water would be paramount for a community to survive. It is inevitable and natural I suppose that practices and customs grew up around a water source. With springs subject to the vagaries of nature which maybe were not always fully understood, then maybe more ritual practices grew up to celebrate the water source.

Healing too relies on clean water, being free of impurities to wash with or maybe containing specific important trace minerals and elements. By trial and error it might be found that specific wells appeared to be efficacious in treating particular minor complaints.

It is undisputed that water cults were an important way of life back before recorded history, at wells, rivers and lakes, and evidence is widespread on the breadth and value of objects seemingly being offered to water sources.  Whether we jump from this to stating everything well related leads us back to religion may be a little overstating the mark. I’m well aware that opinions vary.

Perhaps a more realistic sentence prefaces Janet and Colin Bord’s book Sacred Waters where they state

Since so often the history of a given well has not been recorded it is difficult to sort them into their true categories and any anonymous well may be a now forgotten “holy well”.

The generality appears to be a case of hedging ones bet, if a well is named, and has any element of folklore attached to it, then we may treat it as a potential holy well. A recent study by Elfed Gruffydd found 17 named wells at Uwchmynydd, a small dispersed community near Aberdaron at the tip of the Llyn Peninsula. As he points out, this doesn’t indicate anything special about Uwchmynydd, it is merely indicative of the numbers of wells that would have once existed across the area, and indeed the country in general. One this basis we can turn full circle from the surprise that Mynytho boasts so many wells to the idea that it actually as so few.

Of course, as Elfed Gruffydd points out, it is all down to recording. It is a benefit of the nature of the community around Uwchmynydd that so many named wells can still be identified. In other communities the connections with the wells was lost much earlier, and the larger the settlement, the earlier that transient populations, spread of housing and the demands placed by people and industry on water supply have led to a loss both of wells and of well customs and well names.

The presence and absence of names is everything. It is often stated that Jones research finds so many more wells in South Wales than in the north.236 in Pembokeshire, 160 in Glamorgan but only 88 in Caernarfonshire and 35 in Anglesey.Jones admits that being in South Wales he had better knowledge of that area, and probably a greater level of earlier recording had taken place.

Even in the north there is a high level of variation. Anglesy musters 35 wells in total; in Jones’ record against Uwchmynydd’s 17. The Llŷn is fortunate that folklorist John Jones, who wrote under the pen name Myrddin Fardd lived and worked there. Indeed he attended school in Mynytho in the mid nineteenth century. His 1908 book Llên  Gwerin Sir Gaernarfon is a primary source for Jones list of Caernarfonshire wells, he cites Fardd as a reference for about 36 of the 88 wells he notes.

Thus the conclusion of a wet walk around Mynytho is that perhaps it’s hardly surprising that we have so many wells to find here, local boy Myrddin Fardd ensured that the names and customs, at least as they stood and were remembered in the middle of the nineteenth century, were set down and recorded. Whether they were specifically “holy wells” may depend on your definition of “holy” they were not specifically linked to a saint or church, but they had legends and uses attached to them which some people might seek to attach an unbroken link to some pre Christian customs if they wish. For the time being I will avoid that.

So here we go with three wells

Ffynnon Sarff

We find Ffynnon Sarff on the western side of Mynydd Mynytho following a footpath across Mynytho common. The well is still marked on the current OS map. It is beside a wooded area known as Gwinllan Sarff. Gwinllan normally translates to “vineyard”, though I think it can also be translated as “grove” which I think is more realistic in this case, I am not aware of a vineyard having been here. The name Sarff means serpent; and Fardd recounts the legend of the well having once been the home to a dangerous poisonous serpent. Fardd treats the story with respectable caution saying it was unclear whether the well gained its name from the adjacent woodland or vice versa.

The serpent tale is the sum total of the well’s interest, with no obvious holy or healing links. The well today is marked by a signboard, but is used as a water source by a nearby house so should not be disturbed to avoid dirtying the water.

Ffynnon Saethon
Ffynnon Saethon lies some mile to the north of Ffynnon Sarff.  Fardd describes it as a substantial structure, some three to four yards long and two to three yards wide. It produces a strong stream of pure water. It is believed that it was used for both summer and winter bathing in the distant past, and also that pilgrims would be drawn to it. In Fardd’s time it was better known as a well for divination. The youth of the parish would gather beside the well and throw pins into it, a pin floating indicated a strong pure love, while a pin sinking signified unfaithfulness.

Fynnon Saethon currently lies on private land, and on this occasion I was unable to gain access. A report from 2005 shows it as a brick and stone structure which retains a strong flow of water.

Ffynnon Arian

Ffynnon Arian lies close to the school on a grass verge beside the B4413 running through the village, this too is marked on the OS maps and also by a name board beside the well. It is also a brick and stone structure with a hinged iron lid on the top. Again water appears to flow freely; the spring is full and ground around it boggy.

This site is intriguing by the fact that it doesn’t appear in Fardd’s list of wells; one would assume that if it was of significance during the time he was there that he would have mentioned it, although it does appear as a named well on the 1914 OS maps. The only place I find it reported is in Jones where he identifies it as a wishing well without providing any source for this.

So it is, then that we add these three Mynytho wells to our own catalogue here. No records of Christian religious significance or of healing qualities, they seem to belong to nearby Ffynnon Fyw. Instead we have a collection of poisonous snakes, divination and wishing wells, all a link back through history, folk memories all of a pre-Christian belief set, holy wells in that respect?  That is something that can never be satisfactorily demonstrated, so in the meantime we move on regardless.

Jones, Francis (1954) The Holy Wells of Wales
Bord, Janet and Colin Bord (1985) Sacred Waters
Gruffydd, Elfed (2005)  Survey of the Condition of Wells in Pen Llŷn  (AONB, Gwynedd)
Fardd, Myrddin (1908)  Llên Gwerin Sir Gaernarfon

Ffynnon Sarff SH295314
Ffynnon Saethon SH297324
Ffynnon Arian SH304311


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Ffynnon Gadfarch, Abererch

This item will be necessarily brief, In the words of Lewis Carroll “I’ll tell thee everything I can, There’s little to relate….”

Ffynnon Gadfarch is one of those saints wells that has slipped away virtually unnoticed, the maps however still retain a faint trace in the name of the bridge that crosses the fast flowing River Erch just to the north, actually called Pont Fynnon-Gadfa ( I think we just have to assume the rest, but maybe even this shows the degree to which the well has been lost) a grade 2 listed causeway from the early 19th century. It lies a little to the north of the village of Y Ffôr off the Caernarfon to Pwllheli road.

(Then again maybe that always was the name and other people have jumped to conclusions)

 

Pont Ffynnon-Gadfa
Pont Ffynnon-GadfaTurning to the Lives of the British Saints, it is reported that Cadfarch was a monk at Bangor Dunawd, and a brother to saints Cawrdaf, Tangwn and Maethlu. He was formerly the patron of the church of Aberech, although this honour has now passed on to his brother Cawrdaf, whose own well, to be fair, has survived only slightly better. Cadfarch remains the patron of Penegoes church in Powys, where another well dedicated to the saint has survived a little better.

Lives of the British Saints notes that the Abererch Ffynnon Gadfarch is near the site of an extinct chapel called Llangedwydd, although the 1964 Report of the Royal Commission casts doubt on this, suggesting that the supposition of the existence of a chapel is based purely on the Llan- element of the surviving name Llangedwydd, which is more likely a corruption of an earlier name starting Llyn- or Llen-. Although Francis Jones notes that water from this well was once carried to the parish church for use in baptism, this is in fact an incorrect attribution and should refer instead to Cawrdaf’s well which is much closer to the church.

The Commission visited the well and noted that it had been modernised and indeed it ha. Basically what we see today is nothing but a large grey concrete structure in the field beside the river. These days the water is piped away, presumably to serve the local community.

Ffynnon Gadfarch

Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales (1964) Caernarfonshire West
Baring Gould S and John Fisher (1908) Lives of the British Saints
Jones, Francis (1954) Holy Wells of Wales

Ffynnon Gadfarch SH39974021


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Ffynnon Beuno, Aberffraw

This is the sixth well dedicated to Beuno that we have met with on this journey. Doubtless there will be more; though with the exception of the magnificent Ffynnon Beuno at Clynnog Fawr, we sadly report that the remnants of his wells range from the barely there to the completely lost. Unfortunately the well at Aberffraw falls into the “completely lost” category. This didn’t come as any surprise, we knew before our visit that the well had been buried beneath the realignment of the A4080 where it crosses the river by the new bridge bypassing the village to the east, and as a result I can only apologise for the pictures – think this post more than deserves its place in any competition run for the most boring blog photographs of the century. 

Although Beuno’s main centre of activity in his later years was on the mainland at Clynnog, some 13 miles to the south as the curlew flies, there are dedications to Beuno on the west coast of Anglesey The story is that he used to cross the sea from Clynnog to preach at Llanddwyn. He has closer links to Aberffraw and both church and well here are dedicated to him. A chapel at Llanidan was dedicated to Beuno, where until at least sometime in the eighteenth century a copper small hand bell, known as Cloch Felen Beuno, could be seen.

In the early Middle Ages, between the late ninth and the late twelfth centuries Aberffraw was the capital of Gwynedd and remained one of the region’s most important political centres into the 14th century when it was dismantled by Edward I. Even before this it was probably an important local seat of power. It would have been eager to claim links with one of the primary local saints.

We left Beuno’s as he restored life to Tegiwg near Clynnog when she was being taken to Aberffraw and versions of it continue bringing Beuno himself to Aberffraw.

Iddon, Tegiwg’s brother came to take his sister home, but she refused, preferring to stay with Beuno at Clynnog. Iddon and Beuno then travelled onto Aberffraw to retrieve the horses and treasure the carpenter had taken with him. When they arrived Iddon saw the man and immediately cut off his head. The King there was about to arrest Iddon until Beuno calmed the situation by restoring this man’s life too. The King gave Beuno land locally, a place called Aelwyd Feuno, Beuno’s Hearth, and he and Iddon were free to depart.

St Beunos Aberffraw

There are no accounts that I have been able to find of any use being made of this well for healing or indeed of any traditions associated with the well. It is named on OS maps in the early twentieth century, but by this time it would have already been converted to a pump which formed a part of the village’s primary water supply along with another village well, until mains water arrived in the 1940s.

The well house and pump stood on Malt House Lane, later renamed Bragdy, until the early 1990s at which time it was demolished for the road scheme. The iron pump was taken to the museum at Llangefni, though I have no knowledge of whether it is either displayed or preserved there today. There is a local story that the building over the well was constructed early in the twentieth century following the drowning of a local girl at the site.

The brick built well house measured about 2.4m by 1.6m and stood on a concrete base covering a much larger area, we would assume that any remains of an earlier structure would have been effectively destroyed during the building of this structure. An excavation prior to the road construction carried out by Gwynedd Archaeological Trust found evidence of several nineteenth and twentieth century road surfaces around the site, but no evidence of earlier structures or well usage.

So the picture below shows more or less exactly where the well once stood.

site of ffynnon Beuno, Aberffraw

St Beuno’s wells have a poor track record for preservation, with the obvious notable exception. Given his prominence, and the wide distribution of his dedications it is sad that more have not survived in better condition. In this case, as in several other wells we have come across, modern roads can prove to be a more important consideration.

Gruffydd A (1992) Archaeological Investigation at Ffynnon Beuno, Aberffraw. Gwynedd Archaeological Trust,

Ffynnon Beuno Aberffraw SH 3553 6907

 


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Ffynnon Rhedyw, Llanllyfni

St hedyw Church LlanllyfniAfter a forced, unexpectedly long, hiatus we are back on the road; the road today being the A487 from Bangor to Fishguard which has already led us past our previous well at Llanfair-Is-Gaer. The wide sweep of the Llanllyfni bypass as it crosses the River Llyfnwy passes close to the site of Ffynnon Rhedyw, the one well in Wales dedicated to Saint Rhedyw; the authors of the Lives of the British Saints suggest that he should be more correctly named Gredfyw. He is said to have been a brother to other local saints Tegai, Llechid and Trillo.

His church is some 300 yards to the north of the well, it was locked both times that I tried to visit but Hughes and North suggest that I missed little, writing that most of the earlier church was destroyed during restoration and reconstruction in the late eighteenth  and nineteenth centuries.  The earlier church contained a raised stone close to the altar known as Bedd Rhedyw, now apparently lost; while within the parish there was another stone, Eisteddfa Redyw, beside which the prints of both his horse’s hoof and his own thumb could be seen. All these remains show the power of the belief in St Gredfyw that there must once have been in the locality.

Sadly, his well, like these other venerated sites, has survived similarly poorly. However this could have been so very different. In 2005 the Daily Post and the BBC News website carried a story covering plans to restore this “pagan well” as a tourist attraction. It was to be linked to the church by a new path and accompanied by a notice board providing information on the well’s background. These plans seem to have rumbled on for a few years, but evidently came to nothing. At this time I can only speculate on the reasons why – maybe it proved difficult to obtain access, maybe when investigated the remaining structure was not sufficient or too difficult to conserve, or maybe other projects took its place. It would be interesting to know, since lessons may be learned for similar projects.

Ffynnon Rhedyw Llanllyfni

Ffynnon Rhedyw Llanllyfni

A description of the well’s remains from around 1920 is provided by Hughes and North. They saw a rectangular basin with two steps down on both the north western and south western sides. The remained evidence of an enclosing wall formed of stone slabs. The enclosure was entered from the north west and the well within the enclosure was close to the entrance. The mention of the well in Lives of the British Saints suggests that the enclosure may once have been a building.

The report of the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments visit in 1960 describes remains similar to those observed in 1920. Their description is of a rectangular basin two feet deep and eight feet wide by ten feet long to contain the water, with steps for access; the whole area being enclosed by the remains of a wall of boulders and slabs up to two feet thick. At this time they noted that the outflow had been adapted for the use of livestock.

Ffynnon Rhedyw Llanllyfni

How long this survived in this form I have been unable to determine, though it’s degradation must have occurred within living memory for many people. The next account I have is drawn from an assessment made in 1993 in conjunction with the planning of the bypass. By this time it is clear that very little sign of the structures described 30 years earlier could be identified. Although one may speculate how much of the 1960 description was clearly visible and how much was conjecture based on earlier reports and evidence on the ground. I have not seen any pictures from 1960.

A site investigation in 2010 found a similar lack of evidence, although it had a somewhat positive conclusion that some structures may remain beneath the rubble, noting that the interior is very wet with around 0.2m of grass and water over a hard base.

My visits show a similar lack of visible remains. A rectangular depression in the landscape is still clearly evident and there remains a great volume of scattered loose stone which clearly must have once formed the structures. There is still one large rectangular slab set into the ground at the southern end of the enclosure, with the water, which was once collected and carried to the church for use in baptism, still rising and forming a strong stream at the northern end which flows down towards the river.

Ffynnon Rhedyw Llanllyfni

So here we have another example of a substantial well structure fife timely obliterated within the last hundred years. It would be interesting to learn what happened to the rescue attempt, but I assume it came just too late to save the well.

Ffynnon Rhedyw Llanllyfni

Baring Gould S and J  Fisher (1908) Lives of the British Saints
GAT Report  75 (1993) A487 Penygroes/Llanllyfni Bypass Archaeological Assessment
Hopewell D and G Smith (2010) Prehistoric and Roman Sites Monument Evaluation.  Gwynedd Archaeological Trust
Hughes H and H North(1924) Old Churches of Snowdonia

Ffynnon Rhedyw SH46805195

 


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Ffynnon Fair, Llanfair-is-gaer

img_6819cIf it wasn’t for a road name there would be nothing left to show where Ffynnon Fair (St Mary’s Well) at Llanfair-is-gaer once stood. Written records of this spring can be traced back as far as an estate deed of 1458 which refers to a field named Cae Uwchyffordd alias Cae Ffynnon Fair, but this counts for nothing to most drivers today who speed past this site close beside the road between Bangor and Caernarfon. It is only the road that leads from the main road up to Bethel that still provides a reminder of the name, and although there are no name signs on the roadside Lon Ffynnon Fair, still appears on the maps.

There are no records of any medicinal properties of the well, but it was known as a reliable cold, pure water supply, and the persistence of the name for over 500 years attests to its continued importance. For notes on its local usage we can refer to a letter writrten to the editor of Llygad y Ffynnon in 1999 from an elderly local resident whio stated that

It was a long held local custom for residents of Bethel to spend time at the beach by Llanfair-is-gaer. On the way they would collect crystal clear water from Ffynnon Fair, then light a fire at the beach to make tea.

He also noted that it was an old custom for the singers at Llanfair church to call at the well to drink on their way home, and to leave a note there for others ready for the next service. The church, also dedicated to St Mary, stands on the banks of the Menai Strait around about a quarter of a mile to the north of the well. Though largely a medieval structure with walls thought to date to the 13th century, it was largely restored in 1865. As is usually the case, it was securely locked and we were unable to obtain access inside.

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It may have been the well’s location with respect to transport routes that ensured its importance. Ffynnon Fair was another reliable wter source on the old pilgrimage route between Bangor and Bardsey Island, although there is no record of it being a stop off point for pilgrims. However it is certainly transport links that sped its demise. The spread of the railways in the mid nineteenth century saw the provision of Griffiths Crossing station, which opened in 1854, just a few yards from the spring, on the Bangor and Caernarfon Railway. The station served Bethel and Y Felinheli, and this seemingly quiet backwater saw up to thirteen trains a day  until its closure in the 1960s.. During the station’s heyday Ffynnon Fair was seized up onto provide a water supply for the station master. Llygad y Ffynnon’s correspondent describes

It had four walls, three low walls and a fourth even lower. There was a simple roof over it and a steel door was placed at the mouth of the well. This aroused the ire of the residents.

The final  transport related incident to befall the spring was the construction of the A487 Y Felinheli bypass in the 1990s. The old railway line was the perfect route and the roundabout junction for Llanfair and Bethel was situated virtually on top of the old well. As we have seen previously at Ffynnon Farchell in Denbigh when it comes to a fight between a bypass and a well, the well inevitably comes off worse.

We are indebted to the detective work of Howard Huws carried out shortly afterward the road opened to determine what was done with the spring as a part of these works. He identifies the location at the foot of a small scarp in the landscape, recorded as Allt Ffynnon Fair, and sitting up against a the fence which separates it from the adjacent field, just to the south of the A487. He concluded that Ffynnon Fair is now

Enclosed in a concrete sump and access denied by a heavy iron grid. The water rises and falls according to rainfall, but for the most part looks stagnant and unappealing.

It would appear that the spring water is incorporated with the highway drainage at some point. Huws notes that the ground to the east of the sump remains marshy although concludes that this is probably runoff rather than being derived from the spring.

In the 20 years that have passed since Huws’ visit the spring has fared little better. The area between the fence and the foot of the slope has filled up with thick gorse and brambles making access to the spring from the roadside effectively impossible.

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Approaching it from the field side we could see that the foot of the scarp had been utilised by fly tippers for the disposal of building materials in exactly the spot where the well was expected, as can be seen to the left of the picture below. With some effort we managed to reach through gaps in the fence and remove the rubble to reveal below the grid Huws describes. The field to the east of the sump remains marshy as described.

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From this we conclude that Huws’ 1995 description remains accurate although through the actions of human and nature even the poor remains of the spring are now effectively inaccessible. It was reported in 2000 that the correspondent to Llygad y Ffynnon did make inquiries with the highways authority as to whether the spring could be restored in some form, but considering Howard Huws’ interpretation of the composition of the water, it is likely that this would not be particularly viable, and it is apparent now that no action was taken.

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In summary, as long as the road from the bypass up towards Bethel retains the name Lon Ffynnon Fair this local site name that has been recorded for at least 550 years will live on, although the reason for the name is now effectively gone.

References

Huws Howard (1995) Ffynnon Fair, Llanfair-is-gaer and Ffynnon Ddeiniol, Bangor, Gwynedd. Source, New Series 4
Llygad y Ffynnon. Letters to the Editor Winter 1999 and Summer 2000.

 

ffynnon Fair, Llanfair-is-gaer SH 50536564


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Ffynnon Edliw, Llandwrog

Coed Ffynnon EdliwFfynnon Edliw lies just to the west of the Glynllifon estate near the village of Llandwrog south west of Caernarfon. It sits within a small copse that bears the same name, Coed Ffynnon Edliw. I have chosen to use the name Edliw since that is how it has appeared on all the OS maps since 1888; however it is also referred to as Odliw and as Adliw in other sources. Despite having  managed to escape mention in Francis Jones’s Holy Wells of Wales, it was visited by the Royal Commission inspectors when compiling their 1960 Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Caernarfonshire. Although they don’t identify it specifically as a holy well it is referred to as such in the Historical Environment Record database (Archwilio). The Commission recorded that it was:

A spring at the foot of a slope facing NW has been enclosed with masonry so that it forms a rectangular pool 2 ft 6 ins by 4 ft, roofed by a single large slab on top of which is a course of masonry capped by stones and earth drifted down from  the slope behind. The open front is flanked on both sides by a revetment wall of mortared rubble 1 ft 10 ins high, probably modern but built up on older foundations of rough boulder walling; the complete frontage is 6ft 6 ins wide. The pool has a modern brick and cement sill and iron outlet pipe.

The description holds pretty well today, the spring is as described and flows strongly forming a stream that flows down the slope in front of it, forming a very muddy hollow lower down.

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It is H D Williams in his 1979 history of Bardsey Island who reminds us that the Reverend Robert Hughes (1811-1892) listed Ffynnon Edliw (although he wrote Odliw)  as being  one of the wells beside which  Bardsey bound pilgrims might have camped on their route from Bangor to Aberdaron. Hughes’s list of wells also included Ffynnon Beuno at Clynnog, Ffynnon Llanaelhaearn, Ffynnon Nefyn, Ffynnon Penllech and Ffynnon Fair near Aberdaron.

Whilst the majority of these wells are widely recognised today, and still feature on the modern pilgrimage trails, his evidence for his selection is not explained, although clearly  they form a chain of regularly spaced water sources along the route. The appearance of  Ffynnon Edliw in this august list of well known wells might  raise a few eyebrows. We have to note though that Hughes was born at Llanwnda, within two or three miles of Ffynnon Edliw, his father, a tenant farmer moved around between several farms during Hughes early life, thus Hughes would almost certainly have known the well during his youth and may well have heard stories about its use at that time. However, whether he includes it in his list on the basis of local legends he had heard, or merely to to ensure that his own local well features in the pilgrimage record, we do not know.

Largely self-taught Hughes walked to London at the age of 19 to find work and education. He returned to the Llyn in the 1830s where is father placed him in a large run down farm at Uwchlaw’r Ffynnon. Here, while struggling to run the farm he also read, wrote poetry, married and continued to educate himself in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and was an enthusiastic preacher becoming ordained in 1848. In later life he also became a noted local artist.

Thus Ffynnon Edliw has minimal extant claim to fame. Clearly the well is on the direct road between Caernarfon and Nefyn, and there has been a church at nearby Llandwrog since the medieval period (the present church being a nineteenth century replacement) and also evidence of an oratory near Glynllifon much closer to the well (GAT Report 834). So the well would have been close to the route of pilgrimage and thus it is by no means unreasonable to suppose it did provide a water source for passing pilgrims and may have been as noted as those other, better remembered sites on the route; but whether we have  any other cause to consider it as being  holy or a healing well is left to pure speculation. its memory now seems to be a tribute  to the enthusiasm and memory of this hard working Victorian priest.

Jenkins R T (1959) Robert Hughes in Dictionary of Welsh Biography accessed 12.11.2016 http://yba.llgc.org.uk/en/s-HUGH-ROB-1811.html
Williams H D (1971) Ynys Enlli. Wasg Ty ar y Graig, Caernarfon.
Cooke R, J Kenny and M Jones (2009) Glynllifon College Development, Archaeological Assessment. GAT Report 834

ffynnon Edliw

ffynnon Edliw

Ffynnon Edliw SH 4491 5539