Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales


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Ffynnon Beuno, Llanwnda

There really can’t be many wells this remote that are so conveniently reached by public transport, but Ffynnon Beuno here in the hills above Bontnewydd is only a couple of hundred yards away from Tryfan Junction station on the Welsh Highland railway, which has welcomed passengers on and off since 1877. I’m afraid to say we didn’t take the green travel option on this occasion; the line doesn’t run in the winter, so we had to visit by car.

The site is a couple of miles to the south west of Caernarfon,;  closer both to Bontnewydd, from which we reached it, and to Rhosgadfan than it is to Llanwnda, but since Llanwnda parish covers the area that is where I have located the well in the title.

At first sight it seems curious to find a well for St Beuno in such an apparently isolated spot seemingly unrelated to other dedications to the saint. However, this site reputedly marks Beuno’s first foray into Caernarfonshire.  The account of his arrival is recorded in the fourteenth century Buchedd Beuno; the relevant sections of the 1930 translation by Wade-Evans are most succinctly summarised by Bartrum as follows

After the death of Cadfan, Beuno went to visit his successor, Cadwallon ap Cadfan. Cadwallon gave Beuno a place in Arfon called Gwaredog [in the parish of Llanwnda, in return for which Beuno gave him a gold gwaell, ‘brooch’ [ some other earlier versions give this as sceptre] which Cynan ap Brochwel had given him when he died. The brooch was worth sixty cows. But when Beuno began to build there, a mother appeared with her child, claiming that the land was the child’s patrimony.

 Beuno took the woman and her child to the king at Caernarfon. He demanded that the king should give the land to the woman’s son, and give Beuno other land in return for his silver (sic) brooch. The king refused and Beuno cursed him, desiring that he would not rule for long.

 Gwideint [Gwyddaint], cousin of the king, gave to God and St. Beuno his own township of Clynnog, for his own soul and the soul of Cadwallon.

Thus Beuno moved on to build his church at Clynnog another eight miles down the A499 and the rest, as they say, is history. How easily could Beuno’s legacy have been in Llanwnda rather than Clynnog? However the well isn’t the only sign of Beuno’s brief presence in the area; as you dig down there are number of further dedications to Beuno. The church in Llanwnda, a relatively recent building of the 1840s replacing an earlier structure, is dedicated to St Gwyndaf, though a number of writers suggest an earlier dedication to Beuno, for example Fenton writing in the early 1800s, obviously seeing the earlier structure, sums up the village tersely as

Llanwnda.
Church dedicated  to Beuno, yet it bears the name of Gwyndaf.
Wake 21st April. In this parish at a place called Gwaredog was born Maenwyn, afterwards called St. Patrick.

While noting another mention of Gwaredog, it must have been a place of more significance in the past than it is now; I’m not sure where he derives the information about Patrick.

The Royal Commission visit report notes that at the time of the Reformation the church in Llanwnda was a chapel of Clynnog Fawr, which obviously is dedicated to Beuno. The parish feast day continued to be celebrated on April 21st – St Beuno’s day.

A river, albeit a small one, flows down from north east of Bontnewydd, joining the main river, Afon Gwyrfai just to the west of the village. This is Afon Beuno. Up until the early twentieth century a large house stood on its banks carrying the name Glan Beuno. Although this has now been replaced by more modern housing Beuno is remembered in some of the street names.

It is curious too to consider why the well here should be so far away from the centres of population; of course settlements and routes shift over time. The well lies beside a track that was almost certainly once a busier route linking the two valleys either side of the ridge between Waunfawr and Bontnewydd. It is also close to two farms that retain the name Gwredog pinning this down to the area where Beuno supposedly failed to establish his first church. The earliest reference I have found so far for the well name is on the early Victorian tithe maps, where the field in which the well lies is named as Cae Ffynnon Beuno demonstrating that the well must have been thus named and regarded as a landmark since long before that period.

Clearly being so far from the recently modern road network, it fails to get mentioned by any of the Victorian travel writers and it was passed over by the Royal Commission survey.

The only previous physical description I have found dates from a Gwynedd Archaeological Trust (GAT) survey of 2010, where they noted that it was to be seen to be emerging from the side of a gravelly slope beneath a tree, though the site was noted as being largely destroyed. Today even the tree is gone, just a stump remains; it appears to have been brought down relatively recently.

Ffynnon Beuno, Llanwnda

The well though still emerges from the bank, below the tree stump. There is a suggestion in the GAT Report that the well may have once have been surrounded by a structure with steps into it. While this is difficult to see, it is clear that there are still a significant number of scattered stones in place around the point where the spring emerges, and a pile of stones, maybe removed from the site lie close by. Another large stone is set into the ground at the top of the bank where the water emerges. It is reasonable to assume that there was once some form of structure to the site.

The well still produces a reasonable output; water can be seen flowing from the spring and flooding the field below the outlet, before forming a stronger stream that flows through woodland below the site and out beside the road lower down.

Ffynnon Beuno, Llanwnda

Ffynnon Beuno, Llanwnda

So, all in all, this was a welcome discovery. This was our eighth and possibly last Ffynnon Beuno (I’m not currently aware of any more in the area – though that doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be), three of which have been totally dry and filled in, and while this is far from the best it joins a select band that continue to flow, it’s just a shame that any further history, earlier description  or tradition associated with the well appears to have been lost.

Tryfan Junction Station is a request stop, should you ever wish to alight there you must notify the guard when boarding.

Bartrum, Peter (1993) A Welsh Classical Dictionary, National Library of Wales
Fenton, Richard. Tours in Wales (1804 – 1813) . Edited by John Fisher and published by the Cambrian Archaeological Association, 1917.
Hopewell, David and George Smith (2010)   Prehistoric and Roman Sites Monument Evaluation 2008-10. GAT Report 921.

Ffynnon Beuno SH 5040 5889

Ffynnon Beuno, Llanwnda

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Ffynnon Saint, Criccieth

For a well with so little remaining substance or recent history, Ffynnon Saint in Criccieth is remarkably well signposted. It lies (lay) at one end of Holywell Terrace and the spot is more emphatically marked by a slab of slate, upon which its name is recorded. Holywell Terrace is set back across a grassed area beside the B4411 as it leaves Criccieth towards the north.

Although there is nothing to see of the structure on the ground, the well appears not to have completely vanished. A fast flowing stream runs in a channel in front of the terrace, and close to the point where the well should have been a piped flow of water joins the stream. I have been informed that this is indeed coming from the spring and is one of three pipes that carry the spring water into the stream, it is good to know that despite all the changes Ffynnon Saint is still down there somewhere. (Again many thanks to a local correspondent for providing information on the well).

While the signs help to retain a vestige of the spring in public memory, it is clear that the substance and the traditions have been long gone. Fardd writing at the start of the 20th century notes that it was already lost. He records that the well lay in the corner of a field sloping down from the church. Holywell Terrace appears in the 1889 OS maps, and even by then the field system appears to be breaking down being replaced by building.

Ffynnon Saint, Criccieth

Fardd notes that formerly it was the custom for local people to visit the well on Easter Sunday and to throw either keys or pins into the well to secure the patronage of the Saint, presumably Saint Catherine. The well was also noted as a resort for the cure of eye complaints. St Catherine’s church la hundred yards or so to the east of the well. It would seem that there were once clear paths between church and well, although now the route between the two is a little more convoluted.

Wikipedia, yes i know, I’m sorry, but sources are thin on the ground for this one, Wikipedia quotes a local history (Eira and James Gleasure, Criccieth: A Heritage Walk, 2003 from Cymdeithas Hanes Eifionydd) of which I haven’t yet found a copy, to suggest that it is possible that at one time the outflow was tapped in an outhouse beside the end house in the terrace, where it was used in the manufacture of ginger beer which was sold there.  In 1960 the site was visited by the Royal Commission of Ancient Monuments who noted that it was

“Partly rock-cut and lined with masonry. Encumbered with garage scrap”

Ffynnon Saint, Criccieth

Around 1962 the well finally vanished from view when it was filled in so that a garage could be built on the site, and we thus effectively lost another holy well. A little coincidence that both this well and St Beuno’s well mentioned in the previous report seem possibly (according to some accounts at least) to have been lost to the requirements of the car.

Myrddin Fardd (1906) Llen Gwerin Sir Gaernarfon.
Royal Commission on Historic and Ancient Monuments in Wales.(1960)  Central Caernarfonshire.

Ffynnon Saint, Criccieth

Ffynnon Saint SH 4992 3837


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Ffynnon Beuno, Penmorfa, Porthmadog

There is a very clear theme running through our reporting of Beuno’s wells and I risk becoming very repetitive. The last one we saw, at Aberffraw, had disappeared under a road scheme, and with the exception of that spectacular well at Clynnog Fawr, just up the road from Penmorfa, none of the others have fared much better.

Where perhaps Beuno loses out in quality, he makes up in quantity. His wells mark the trail of his career across North Wales, this is the seventh we have reported on,  and many come with legends attached to the saint and his talent for restoring life to the newly slain.

Alas, Ffynnon Beuno at Penmorfa fails also to provide a decent story. Beuno’s church here is a gem, much dating from the 15th and 16th centuries it is in the capable hands of the Friends of Friendless Churches charity who appear to have undertaken recent restoration and repair to the woodwork around the windows.

One window contains fragments of ancient stained glass which purports to represent Beuno himself; indeed the image is used to illustrate the article on  Beuno in Baring Gould and Fisher’s Lives of the British Saints. However, there is no definitive identification, and it has also been suggested that it might actually represent St. Deiniol!

The well lay in the garden of a house some 500 yards away from the church. It is recorded as far back as 1585.in a document referring to “maes ffynnon veyno”. The house still bears the name Ffynnon Beuno has appeared on maps since the nineteenth century. From an local  account recorded in 1987 by Eirlys and Ken Lloyd Gruffydd the well was destroyed in around 1980, their informant suggested it was done to create more parking space.

The only description of the well I have seen was also recorded in 1987 by the Gruffydds from local residents who remembered that the well was around three and a half feet wide and set into a bank. It had blue slate at the bottom which was taken out for cleaning.

The landscape around the cottage has changed considerably, it would appear that the bank into which the well was set was removed at the time of the clearance work in 1980, such that today there is absolutely nothing left to be seen of where the well might once have stood. The house too has changed hands several times since then.

I am deeply indebted to the lady we met nearby for a very interesting discussion and for providing a copy of the images below. We can’t say for certain that this is actually a picture of the lost Ffynnon Beuno., maybe it is  just another similar well that has been used as an illustration being indicative of what Ffynnon Beuno might have looked like. However the image provided was appended to  a brief account left by someone who remembered the house and well and had been interested in its story. The image fits very well to the description given to the Gruffydds in 1987, and so it just might be one of the only remaining pictures of Ffynnon Beuno at Penmorfa.

and i stress that these are very old pictures – absolutely nothing remains to be seen on the ground today

Eirlys and Ken Lloyd Gruffydd (1999) Ffynhonnau Cymru.  Cyf. 2. Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst.

I forgot to take a photograph of the stained glass, and so until I return and rectify that I acknowledge the use a copy of a picture obtained from Wikimedia Commons attributed to Llewelyn2000 and taken in 2015.


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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