Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales


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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.

A full history of this well has been written by Jane Beckerman, available as a self published book through Amazon. Unholy Water? Ffynnon Elian ‘The Cursing Well’. 2017.


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Ffynnon Eidda and Ysbyty Ifan

Ff Eidda

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

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

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

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

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

Ff Eidda

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

Ff Eidda

Ff Eidda

Ffynnon Penrhyn

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

 

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

 

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

Chalybeate spring Ysbyty Ifan

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

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

Chalybeate spring Ysbyty Ifan


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Ffynnon Fair, Llanfairfechan

Everything you read about Ffynnon Fair at Llanfairfechan seems to lead back to a single source. By the time it is described in Hughes and North’s Old Churches of Snowdonia in 1924 it had already been lost for 50 years, but their account remains the sole readily accessible reference for the well. No subsequent writer seems to be able to add anything new to the record. North spent a part of his life resident in Llanfairfechan, so maybe he had the story from one of the older locals he met there.

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There is no indication on any of the Victorian OS maps of its location. North tells us that the well stood in a field, nearly opposite to the Rectory drive, in a field known as Cae Ffynnon, in a plantation by the remains of some yew trees. He records that water was taken from the well for use in baptism services in the old church. Articles that were supposed to be bewitched were dipped into the well to remove the enchantment. Bent pins were deposited in the well as an offering.

 The field Cae Ffynnon gives its name to Cae Ffynnon Road, along the western side of which runs a line of trees. Our best estimate of where the well might have been is within the somewhat wider clump of trees opposite what was the Rectory drive, now the entrance to Bryn Castell. Despite even the heavy rain which had fallen over the last few days the ground remained resolutely dry and our collection of bewitched objects had to remain un-dipped.

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From older maps the field seems to have been much bigger in the 1880s, additional field boundaries have been introduced since, and the coppice to the west was wholly within the field at one time, with footpaths marked inside it. Although this agrees less well with North’s comment about being opposite the Rectory drive, this could be an alternative possibility for the site of the well.

It should be noted that some sources quote the date of the well’s closure as 1874. Whether this comes from another more precise record, or whether it is based solely on counting back 50 years from North’s 1924 publication date is uncertain. I have information from one correspondent now in his 80s, with a strong interest in the history of Llanfairfechan,  who once asked his grandmother about the well, her memories would take us back deep into the nineteenth century, but she knew nothing of it.


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Ffynnon Elen, Dolwyddelan

IMG_3932This post was originally written in November 2013, describing the well as it was found at the time. In June 2014 the vegetation surrounding the well was cleared and an excavation started to investigate the well and the surrounding hillside. This article has now been updated with additional pictures taken in August 2014 which show progress in the excavation and reveal the structure of the well. 

 

2013
The name of Elen, or Helen, appears frequently in this part of the world.

There is a well, Ffynnon Helen, up the road near Caernarfon; an old long distance Roman road which passes through the area carries the name Sarn Helen, in the belief that she commissioned its building.

The history of Helen, presumed a local saint, has spread itself far and wide, becoming intertwined with those of other saints and deities from across the Christian and pre Christian world. She is made heroine of one of the later Mabinogion stories, The Dream of Macsen Wledig; and is claimed by wider British mythology, her story becoming confused with that of Helena of Constantinople.  Helen is cited as the alleged discoverer of Christ’s Cross, and actual mother of Constantine, first Christian ruler proclaimed emperor at York, There are more wells dedicated in Britain to St Helen than to any other, non-Biblical saint. [1]

Dolwyddelan lies on the A470 south west of Betws y Coed, under the shadow of its impressive Welsh castle.There was a belief that the name Dolwyddelan itself was derived from Dolydd Elen – Elen’s Meadow. The village more likely owes its name to St Gwyddelan, the Irish associate of Beuno who we met previously at Gwyddelwern and to whom the church here is dedicated. His original chapel was set up on the nearby hillside of Bryn y Bedd in around 600AD.

Despite this, the connections with Helen continue to run deep, a Methodist chapel first established in 1783 bears the name Capel Elen and the hotel beside the well  is called Castell Elen. 

But is the well Ffynnon Elen or is it Ffynnon Elan? The historical record prefers the former. Francis Jones [3] and the Gruffydds [2] both use Elan and both give an alternative dedication to Gwyddelan himself, citing Myrddin Fardd. For no other reason than choosing to follow the larger crowd we have used Elen for now, though we are obviously open to offers to change.

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In recent years the well here has suffered various attacks of nature. Trees growing close to the site were observed some 20 or 30 years ago to be spreading their roots into the well structure, displacing stones and leading to landslips around the well. Recently the most invasive of these trees have been removed to protect and stabilise the well; however problems with access means that the site is difficult to visit and maintain.

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I asked a passer by near the church whether he knew of the well and for directions to it. He immediately directed me to a small, stepped, pathway leading off the main road through the village between the hotel and the next door chapel. This path leads directly up to the well which lies some 50 yards up a steep hill beside the road. As I understand it though, the owners of the land across which the path runs have forbidden its use, it is not marked as a right of way, and although this path appears to have as its sole purpose giving access to the well, indeed North and Hughes state (in 1924) that this path is the access to the well [4], today  the primary access is supposedly through the gardens of the hotel.

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As a result rescue work on the well has been hampered and the site is, during my visit at least, almost totally buried beneath undergrowth and ferns. Beneath all of this it was just possible to make out the remaining stonework and structure, and to note that water still flows into the well, possibly being directed away through blue plastic pipes which cross the site.

Ffynnon Elen has a long history. Legend has it that Roman soldiers used it as a picnicking site, and possible Roman coins have been found close to the well in excavations. Excavation has also shown evidence of a road close to the well suggesting that the road through the village at one time ran much closer to the well.

The Royal Commission visited the well in 1956, recording that it consisted of

“A small rectangular basin now dry, 9ft by 7ft with walls of earth-mortared rubble, on ground sloping steeply to the south. The south wall is 1ft 6 ins thick and 1ft high; the remaining walls are revetments only, that on the north side reaching a height of 4ft; water emerging outside the south wall is now collected in a drinking trough. The name has also been applied to a natural spring about 100 yards to the NW. Condition; ruined and overgrown”

At some period in its history, the well was surrounded by a small stone basin, itself in a rough stone built well house, some nine feet by eight and a half. A narrow pathway ran around the well within the building. A sketch on the information board in the car park for Dolwyddelan Castle shows the shape of the remains of the well in  better days.

ff elan

The water entered the well from a spring to the north and flowed away in a stream towards the road to the south. It was noted for its tendency to steam during cold weather. The waters were noted as particularly efficacious for weak children and for paralysed limbs. The Gruffydds record an account of one old woman, sometime in the twentieth century, who feeling weak would ask for water from the well to drink, which she claimed strengthened her. [2]

It is to be hoped that access arrangements can be agreed for the well. Apparently grants have been secured to restore the well and to provide interpretation for the site. Much remains of the basic structure, and water does seem to flow. It would be a great pity if such a monument were to be lost for such a trivial reason.

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[1] Graham Jones (2012) Wells of St Helen: A told and untold story. Paper given to the Well springs conference, Caerleon, September 2012
[2] Eirlys and Ken Gruffydd(1999) Ffynhonnau Cymru vol 2. Gwasg Carreg Gwalch
[3] Francis Jones(1954) Holy Wells of Wales, Cardiff University Press
[4] Herbert North and Harold Hughes(1924) The Old Churches of Snowdonia, Bangor

 

2014
Excavation at the well were begun in June 2014 and are on going. The square basin of the well has been revealed, with back and side walls set into the hillside. The back wall has a niche similar to those observed at Ffynnon Beris at Nant Peris. The well is certainly not dry, although it flows very slowly and there is evidence from nearby channels that the water supply may have been diverted at some time. Water is currently drained away from a level below the well floor, via the pipes seen last year, to a pond further down the hillside.Possible road surfaces from the original road passing the well are found nearby

Public access issues remain to be  resolved.

ffynnon elen, dolwyddelan

ffynnon elen, dolwyddelan

ffynnon elen, dolwyddelan


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Ffynnon Bedr. Llanbedr-y-cennin

IMG_3992Llanbedr-y-cennin lies on the river Conwy, close to the site of the old Roman fort of Caerhun and under the shadow of the impressive Iron Age hill fort of Pen y Gaer. The settlement lies on the slope of a steep hill, with the church of St Peter at the higher end of the village. The Open Doors information from Conwy BC  states that St Peter’s Church was established in the thirteenth century on the site of an earlier “cell” built near two curative wells. I haven’t been able to  trace their reference for this detail.

Francis Jones in his book The Holy Wells of Wales [1] identifies two wells, one a little to the north and east of the church for the folks on the hill and a second on the flat land at the foot of the hill for those who couldn’t face the climb. He informs us that:

Llanbedyrcellin well. Near the church – curative – a yew tree grew above it. It was covered by a little building, now ruined some 10 feet by 9 and a half feet. The well itself being 6 feet by 4 feet and 3 feet deep. About 60 years ago sick children were bathed there and afterwards carried to a little chapel nearby which had disappeared before 1906.

Whereas

Ffynnon Bedr (St Peter’s Well) is about a quarter of a mile south of Llanbedrycennin. It is overshadowed by a yew. It was once covered by a building10 feet 9 inches by 6 feet. Up to about 1844 children were bathed there and afterwards taken to a little chapel outside the cottage garden.

The immediate reaction is to the similarity between the two descriptions. I’m sure there never were ever two wells with such similar properties, but has the description of one found its way to being applied to a second well or was there only ever a single well whose location has been misinterpreted at some stage?

The  sources cited by Jones for the two wells were two volumes by H L North, Old Churches of Arlechwedd and Old Churches of Snowdonia [2] themselves printed 20 years apart at the start of the twentieth century. I suppose it may be down to Mr North himself confusing two stories and failing to check his back catalogue before racing back into print, although probably more likely is that Jones himself, and not for the first time, failed to cross reference in his own gazeteer.

The associations of the yew tree and the noted use for healing children certainly belong to Ffynnon Bedr, the well to the south of the church at the foot of the hill. By the time the Royal Commission came out to investigate the Ancient Monuments of Caernarfonshire in the 1950s this was the only well they identified. By this time all vestiges of any building were removed, the well presenting itself as

A rectangular hollow 10feet by at least 14 feet, axis NE – SW, surrounded by a masonry revetment destroyed on the NE. Water enters through an opening on the SE side. The cottage of this name lies 150 yards to the S.

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The buildings around the well began to decay towards the end of the 18th century although usage continued up until the 1850s. At the turn of the twentieth century walls could still be seen Water flowed through the well, joining a small stream that runs along the nearby field boundary. It is believed the well was largely destroyed around the end of the First World War, when the farmer seeking to stop the flow of water, filled up the well with earth and large stones. The interruption of the well affected the health of the yew tree and there were fears that it was dying at some periods.

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A public footpath starting close to the old shop leads across the fields to the well. It wasn’t the best time of year to go visiting the well. Nettles grew waist high all across the site, and it was difficult to make out anything more than the jumble of large stones in the area. With a little stretch of the imagination it was possible to interpret them as a rectangular enclosure, though clearly nothing remains of the well itself, and I wasn’t able to identify any signs of the spring.

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In around 2003 members of Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru carried out work on the well to try to unblock the spring and restore water to the tree. A number of large boulders were removed from around the tree at that time, and it was noticed that the ground at the base of the tree was wet despite the lack of rain. The tree now appears to be thriving once again, although the outside appears dead, there are new shoots growing on the inside.

Ffynnon Bedr cottage, near which reputedly stood the well chapel, remains today. The oldest parts date from the sixteenth century or earlier. Its main claim to fame these days is that it was once the home of the celebrated school story author Angela Brazil, who lived there for around 20 years, around about the time at which the well was being filled in.

The contrast between winter and summer pictures below shows the extent to which any features are hidden for much of the year, but even when the weeds die down there is little other than heaps of stone to mark the site.

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Thus, whilst the decline and decay of Ffynnon Bedr has been relatively well documented, Llanbedr well, if it ever existed as a separate entity, has silently vanished away. There remains one drawing, a preliminary sketch for a painting entitled The Village Well exhibited in the 1870s by artist Henry Harris Lines, at the time when the area was occupied by a small artists’ colony. The title of the sketch is Llanbedr Well. Examining the lie of the land, the route the footpath takes  and the absence of a prominent yew tree, there has either been some huge degree of artistic licence used, or this is indeed an illustration of the second well, Llanbedr well, on the lane rising up the hill to the north of the church.

Lines_family_sketchbook_-_Disc1_039_-_Llanbedr_Well

So – one well or two?  I tend to believe that the well Harris drew was just a village water source rather than a holy well.  Returning in the winter of 2014 I walked up the hill from the church and found the water source below. There is a well marked on the map in this location – is this the remains of Harris’s Well?

Well Llanbederycennin

[1] Francis Jones(1954) Holy Wells of Wales. Cardiff University Press.
[2] H L North (1900) The Old Churches of Arllechwedd and H L North and H Hughes(1924) The Old Churches of Snowdonia.

A scene featuring a visit to Ffynnon Bedr occurs in the historical romance “Nectar From A Stone” by Jane Guill. Simon and Schuster (2005)


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Ffynnon Fach, Crimea Pass, Dolwyddelan

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(edit – October 2014, although this well still appears in the HER as Ffynnon Mihangel, we have adopted the more commonly accepted name of  Ffynnon Fach as discussed in the comments below. There is a Ffynnon Mihangel near Manod a few miles to the south of this site.

Follow this link to see my account of a visit to this spring.)

The A470 south of Dolwyddelan climbs steeply into the mountains of Snowdonia towards Blaenau Ffestiniog. Improvements carried out on the route in recent years mean that travellers now speed on their way, within five yards of Ffynnon Fach (or Mihangel), without even realising that it’s there.

This route is known as the Crimea Pass. The new turnpike road, replacing an earlier road to the west which dated back to Roman times,  was constructed  in the 1850s, around about the time of the Crimean War, and there are stories that Russian prisoners of war from the battle were put to work building the stone walls in the area. An inn, the Crimea, stood at the top of the climb from Dolwyddelan close to what is now a lay-by and picnic spot.

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Ffynnon  Fach, is on the eastern side of the road about 250 yards north of this layby. It was investigated during the rebuilding of the road in the early 21st century, but was unaffected by the building work. It is now enclosed in a mesh fence. Water from the spring is channelled under the road in a bright blue pipe, and emerges to form a small stream on the opposite side.

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The spring itself is relatively unremarkable and the investigation found no evidence that there had ever been a structure around it. It is, however, marked out by a large stone, St Michael’s stone, some three feet in length, which once stood beside the spring as a marker, but at some point fell over the spring. The stone is now totally covered by graffiti recording names and dates.

Local tradition is that people carved their initials into the stone before going to war in the belief that it would bring good luck, which may be a memory of a belief of in particular properties of the well   It may also be a mark of the popularity of the well as a watering place for travellers over the route in the past. The earliest date identified on the stone is 1887, and from the layout of the inscriptions it is clear that the stone had already fallen flat by that time.

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It is recorded that during the Revivalist meetings of 1859 a group of revivalists knelt down to pray at the well. This date again ties in with the construction of the new road which brought travellers much closer to the location although this again may hint at a longer tradition associated with the site.

source: Hopewell (2009) A470 Blaenau Ffestiniog to Cancoed Improvement Gwynedd Archaeological Trust


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Ffynnon Dudno, Llandudno

St Tudno’s Well
The Great Orme, Y Gogarth, that iconic limestone outcrop that defines Llandudno has been a centre of population and industry for thousands of years. Copper mining was been carried out here during the Bronze Age, It was later occupied by the Romans, and it was here in the seventh century that Tudno founded his church. In the medieval period it was home to a farming community and later the mines were reopened and once again Llandudno became a source of copper.

Ff Dudno - photo wellhopper

A small cave, little more than seven feet square, but with its own spring of fresh water, looking out to sea on the north coast of the Orme is reputed to have been Tudno’s cell; and his church remains, high above this point still isolated from any present day habitation.

Tudno was a Welshman, supposed to have been son of a King of Maes Gwyddino, lands that were flooded and lost in the sixth century and now lie under the sea in Cardigan Bay. On losing their lands he and his brothers took refuge and became monks at the great monastery at Bangor on Dee, and when that was destroyed by the Saxons Tudno, who survived the massacre, fled to form his cell at what has now become known as Llandudno.

The Great Orme was attractive for settlement throughout history as it has a number of strong fresh water springs scattered across it. These would have been invaluable in the mining process as well as providing water to early residents on the hillside. Close to Tudno’s church is Ffynnon Rufeining which can be translated as the Roman’s Well and close to which Roman coins have been found. Another well, some hundred yards from Tudno’s church became known and visited as St Tudno’s Well.

Ff Dudno - photo wellhopper

Llandudno, as it is known today, sprang up, with rapid development, in the mid Victorian period in the age when the advent of rail travel led to an explosion in the development of seaside resorts. The town became fashionable and grew rapidly, linking the former isolated settlements that existed around both the Great and Little Ormes. As the town developed the springs on the Orme were looked to for a ready source of fresh water. In around 1860 a reservoir was dug, the remains of which though now dry can still be seen to the east of St Tudno’s church. A number of springs were diverted to feed this, whilst water from others were piped directly down to the town.

A parliamentary Bill was introduced in 1875 to dissolve the existing Llandudno Gas and Water Company and pass its assets to a new Company. This Bill specifically mentions Tudno’s Well. The assets of the old company included

A line of pipe commencing at the Gogarth Springs and terminating at the junction of streets called or known as Church Walls and Abbey Road in Llandudno.

Whilst the new Company were given the rights to

Take, collect, divert and use all or some of the waters called or known as the Gogarth Springs Ffynnon Powell, Ffynnon Tudno, Ffynnon Llety’r Fadon and of the streams and waters which directly or derivatively flow or proceed into or out of the same respectively.

As a result the flow from St Tudno’s Well would have been significantly reduced, leaving us with the small trickle that we see today.

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This was described by the Royal Commission on Historical and Ancient Monuments in the 1930s, who observed it

… at the foot of steep ground formed by a small level platform in a hillside falling to the east. The water stands in a square basin, three feet each way, in a cleft cut into the steep slope. The basin has a slightly curved back and is walled on all sides except the east with drystone masonry, 3 ft 6 in high forming a revetment to the slope and capped by a massive limestone slab 3 ft 6 in long and 2 ft wide from to back and 6 in thick. The open side of the pool on the east is approached by a stone flagged passage 3 ft long. Some 9 ft in front of the well on level ground is another small pool 4ft by 2ft contained in a modern brick surround.

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This is much how the spring appears today. The brick lined trough in front of the well still full of water from the spring and used as a drinking trough for the animals grazing on the land. The current farmer in the 1990s told visitors from the Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru (Welsh Wells Society) that his cattle preferred the water from St Tudno’s Well to any other. [1]

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Despite its long history, and obvious use as a water source, I have found no description of it being used as a healing well, although undoubtedly it was. It is referred to seldom in the topographical and tourist books of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – clearly by that time Llandudno had new excitements to offer.

St Tudno’s feast day is celebrated on 5th June.

Note that Ffynnon Dudno lies on private land and there is no public access to the site. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to visit the well on a very grey, wet and windy day as a part of a group visit organised by the local churches with the permission of the land owner.

Ff Dudno - photo wellhopper

[1] website