Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales


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Henllan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ffynnon Sadwrn

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

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

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

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

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

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Ffynnon Meirchion

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

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

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

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

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

and finally

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

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

 

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

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

 

revised 10th June 2014


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Ffynnon Farchell, Denbigh

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St Marcella’s Well
There are some wells high up in snow covered mountains, others lie in sun dappled, tree lined valleys. Some wells are so long forgotten that their location will never again be known, whilst other wells lie buried deep beneath roundabouts on the Denbigh bypass. Ffynnon Farchell, the holy well of St Marchell or Marcella, the Latinised form by which she is usually referred to, falls firmly into this final category.

Marchell was a daughter of Hawystl Gloff and Tywanwedd. She and two of her brothers, Deifyr and Tyrnog arrived in the area in the early 7th century; reputedly following the destruction of the great monastery at Bangor is y Coed by Ethelfrith in 613. They each set up neighbouring cells. Deifyr’s eventually became the parish of Bodfari and Tyrnog’s the parish of Llandyrnog. Marchell’s own parish was known as Llanfarchell up until the fourteenth century at which time Denbigh began to develop where it is now. Other of her brothers travelled further afield establishing churches on Anglesey.

The image of Marchell above is from a recently restored fifteenth century stained glass window in the church at Llandyrnog.

The guidebook to St Marcella’s church paints the fanciful picture of her arrival:

“Here on this very spot we can picture her raising her little shelter of twigs and osiers, her food such as she could gather from herbs, roots and berries and her drink, water of the spring which henceforth bore the name of Marcella’s Well or Ffynnon Farchell.” [1]

The present church dates from the fourteenth century, although the thirteenth century tower remains from an earlier building. Over time, with the movement of the population further west it has at times fallen into disuse and disrepair. During the Civil War it was used for stabling, and in the mid 1800s Lewis commented:

The ancient parochial church, dedicated to St. Marcellus, and now in a very dilapidated condition, is situated at Whitchurch, about a mile from the town, from which place the rectory was transferred by act of parliament to Denbigh, which was made the head of the parish. [2]

The church was restored in 1908 and is now in regular use. Its characteristic colour, being covered in white plaster, stands out in the landscape, and gives the area its name of Whitchurch (White church) or Eglwys Wen.

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The well was located some 400 yards to the west of the church. It was recorded by Edward Lhuyd in his inventory of 1699.

“Ffynnon Fachell, near Whitchurch which is thought to be the Saint’s Well”

The uncertainty, even at this time, suggests that any traditions associated with the well were starting to become lost.

Eighteenth and nineteenth century writers, such as Pennant and Lewis, fail to mention it at all, suggesting again that most local tradition concerning healing traditions at the well had faded. However some memories of the significance of the well must have survived even at this period. Its use, maybe for  bringing luck or as a wishing well are  recorded by the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments description in 1914.

The son of the old man who told me of the well informed me that as a boy he used to visit the well early in the morning after the great Denbigh fairs; and always found a number of coins which had been thrown into the well by passers-by. Once he discovered a half crown. [3]

The well finally dried up when the spring that fed it was cut during the construction of the Denbigh and Ruthin railway line in the late 1850s, so that by the time of the Royal Commission vsit in 1912  they reported that

There is no trace of it at present, except the channel which took the water away. [3]

The site of the well did continue to be recorded  on Ordnance Survey maps up until the 1960s. This would suggest that it thus survived the building of the Myddleton Park housing estate, before it eventually vanished under the line of the bypass.

In visiting the well now the location identified below was based on these OS mapping records.

Let us assume that this represents Ffynnon Farchell, St Marcella’s Well.

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Then our best estimate of where it was is as shown in the photographs below, just beside the roundabout on the bypass where you turn off towards Whitchurch

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Yes, it is still there below see, just by the roadside
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The image below is the church of St Marcella as viewed from the location of her holy well.

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St Marcella’s feast day is celebrated on September 5th.

[1] R M (Bobi ) Owen (2010) St Marcella’s Church Denbigh – Guidebook
[2] Samuel Lewis(fourth edition, 1849) A Topographical Dictionary of Wales
[3] Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments (1914) An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouth – Vol 4 County of Denbigh.


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Ffynnon Ifan, Cerrigydrudion

Ffynnon Ifan lies on the slopes of Mynydd Hiraethog, on the path from Cefn Brith to the Alwen Reservoir above Cerrigydrudion. It is clearly marked on the current OS maps, and has been identified as Ffynnon Ifan on earlier maps for over 100 years, however nothing appears to be written about the well.

The name appears twice in the ancient monuments database coflein, however not in its own right but solely in relation to defining a nearby post medieval sheep fold and a small quarry from which it is assumed that the stone to build the sheep fold was extracted.

We were led to search for Ffynnon Ifan following the recent visit to St Mary Magdalene’s Well at Cerrigydrudion. In the discussion of  that well I note that the church had originally been built by St Ieuen Gwas Padrig, and that a well dedicated to that saint in the Cerrigydrudion area was recorded by Lhuyd [1], which was noted for possessing very cold water which was known for curing swelling in the knees, etc.  This is noted in Jones [2] as Ffynnon Gwas Padrig, although no further information is provided there.

There has been speculation, as mentioned in the previous post, that the well by the church had originally been his well; however comments I have received subsequent to making that post indicate that the Ffynnon Ifan shown here is the well originally identified as Ffynnon Gwas Padrig.

The photographs show the area marked on the map as Ffynnon Ifan. The area above was fairly boggy after recent rain, so it wasn’t totally clear whether the water was actually emerging from the hillside at this point or flowing down from the marshy areas higher up. On balance however it did appear to be a source of the stream that collected in the stony t the point marked and forming a small but steady trickle creating the small stream that flows down the hillside at this point.



[1] Edward Lhuyd (1698) Parochial Queries – see references page for more details
[2] Francis Jones(1954) The Holy Wells of Wales – see references page for more details


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Ffynnon Beuno, Gwyddelwern

St Beuno’s Well
Beuno seems to have been one of Wales’ most peripatetic of saints, travelling the length and breadth of the country practising his particular speciality of replacing severed heads and restoring the dead to life.

Born somewhat as an afterthought into the royal family of Gwent he was packed off at an early age to Caerwent to study for the priesthood. He established his first church in Powys following the death of his father there. Beside his father’s grave he planted a magical oak tree. It grew such that on of the branches dipped down into the ground forming an archway. It was said that any Englishman who walked through the arch would quickly die, although Welshmen could walk through it with impunity.

The king of Powys then granted him land at Berriew where he established his next church. Fearing attack from England however he soon moved north to Meifod where he teamed up with St Tyssilio.It soon proved that this town wasn’t big enough for the both of them and he travelled north again to Gwyddelwern where Cynan provided land for yet another church.

It was here at Gwyddelwern that he began his career of life restoring, supposedly bringing back to life an Irishman, Llorcan Wyddel. The name Gwyddelwern implies that it was once the home of people of Irish descent.

He didn’t remain here long though, for an altercation over the provision of hospitality to the grandsons of Cynan, in which it seems Beuno was very much in the wrong,  Baring-Gould explains:

Coming to Gwyddelwern they imperiously demanded food for themselves and their party. They induced Beuno to kill a young ox for their refection, but the meat did not cook in the pot to their liking, and the youths swore that this was due to Beuno, who was sulky at their quartering themselves upon him, and had bewitched the food. When Beuno heard this he was very wroth and cursed the young men. “What your grandfather gave to God free, do you demand of it tribute and service? May your kin never possess the land, and may you be destroyed out of this kingdom and be likewise deprived of your eternal inheritance!”

 Verily it was a risky thing to interfere with these old Celtic saints, who wielded the keys of Heaven in a very arbitrary fashion.

 The real facts seem to be that the young men claimed food and shelter as a right, such as they could demand of any lay householder in the tribe; but this was a claim from which the ecclesiastics considered themselves to be exempt.

He was, however, led to move northwards again to Flintshire. It was here that he made his greatest claim to fame in replacing the severed head of his niece Winefride and thus restoring her to life at the site which became the great St Winefride’s Well at Holywell.

Here he struck up a friendship with Cadwallan, king of Gwynedd, and he soon moved his establishment westwards to Caernarfon. He finally settled at Clynnog Fawr on the Llyn peninsula, founding churches and restoring life both there and on Anglesey. Perhaps his best known well today is that at Clynnog and we shall pick up on the later stages of his life when we cover that well.

In his travels through North East Wales he left behind five wells and several churches, including the one here at Gwyddelwern.

Both church and well here have seen better days, hopefully this isn’t still down to those sons of Cynan taking retribution. The church is currently unsafe for use and ringed around not with the traditional woven wooden fencing but with orange plastic mesh which prevented us visiting.

His baptismal well too is covered by grating, this of old iron. It lies in a field close to the side of the road, a couple of hundred yards to the north of the church. It is a deep well, lied with concrete, brick and stone, the water level being about four or five feet below ground level. There is another spring, at surface level, a few yards to the south which forms a stream running down the field boundary. Further water, possibly overflow from Beuno’s well,  is channelled away in an underground pipe, emerging down the field into an old iron bath, very like that at Ffynnon Wyryd.

The well was in the past resorted to for its powers to cure cattle, the beasts would be sprinkled with water from a yew bough that had been dipped into the well.

Beuno’s church and well at Gwyddelwern are probably not his greatest legacy to the Welsh tourist industry, but it still marks the spot of his introduction to the art of miracle cures.

St Beuno’s feast day is celebrated on April 21st.

There is a second spring, also dedicated to Beuno, to the south of the village which we did not locate on this visit.

This life of St Beuno is based on that in Baring-Gould and Fisher’s “Lives of the British Saints” which in turn is based on medieval manuscripts written long after Beuno’s death. I have seen it recently discussed that to fit in with all the timelines of other characters involved that it might be necessary to consider the possibility of  two  Beuno’s whose stories have over time been concatenated into a single history.


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Ffynnon Fair, Cefn Meiriadog

We first visited Ffynnon Fair (St Mary’s Well) during the Easter holiday in 2011, since then we have made several visits, it remains one of the most evocative settings for a holy well in North Wales.  Initially finding it was a challenge, mainly because we’d forgotten the map. After driving from St Asaph to Denbigh and back looking for signs we were forced to return to Denbigh and find a shop open enough to sell us an OS map on a bank holiday.

That got us close enough, and after asking a lady in a cottage up the lane for directions we finally found the route. Down a track, through a gate across a field of cows (always wary of cows), where we paused to watch a herd of wild deer grazing before they jumped a barbed wire fence, and then across a very boggy stream we finally found the well site.

It is set on the floor of a broad river valley flanked by steeply sloping woodland well below the level of the road. Beside the well are the remains of the ruined well chapel, encircled by an iron fence. In 2011 it was so totally overgrown that access to the buidlings was almost impossible.  The current photographs were taken in February 2012, at this time much of the undergrowth had died back and the whole site appeared to have been cleared and was more accessible on that and on subsequent visits.

The earliest part of the chapel building dates from the 13th Century. In the 15th Century a chancel was added to the south. The altar was then situated, unusually, below the southern window, traces of its base remain.

The well basin beside the chapel is in the form of a star, similar to the more famous well at Holywell. For a long time this led to speculation that there were historic links between the two wells and that they were rebuilt at the same time.  It was also thought that in the past ornate pillars supported a canopy over the well, similar to those at Holywell, however excavations in the 1960s concluded that it had never been roofed over. Although St Mary’s at Cefn regularly featured on the pilgrim path between Holywell and Gwytherin, there is no evidence that buildings at the two were linked, and it is now considered that all the archtetural similarities are due to nineteenth century embellishments rather than historical connections.

Following the Reformation the well began to fall into disrepair, although it remained in use by the landowning family. There are records dating from the 1640s which make references to clandestine marriages being conducted there.  The site was described as the Gretna Green of North Wales. It was finally ruined during the anti Catholic campaigns during the reign of James II toward the end of the seventeenth century.

Gray Hulse [1] quotes Browne Willis’s 1720 account of St Asaph to demonstrate that even then Ffynnon Fair remained firmly on the pilgrimage trail, suggesting that pilgrims to St Winefride’s Well at Holywell seldom failed to also make a visit to this chapel, and that “by the side of the well there grows a sweet scented moss much esteemed by pilgrims”.

There are few records of the healing properties of the well, although it has been claimed to have been resorted to for cures for rheumatism and arthritis. The small bath beside the spring has been explored during an excavation and it was concluded that it was added during the Victorian period, more as an architectural feature than for practical use. It is suggested that the changes carried out as part of a major reconstruction of the site during this time were intended to echo the design at St Winefride’s Well at Holywell by the then landowners who used the area as a landscaped walk and picnicing area.

By the 18th Century the chapel was in ruins and the pilgrimages had declined.  Lovers of the romantic and picturesque however continued to admire the remains. Poet Felicia Hemans (1793-1835), mainly known now for her poem Casabianca, spent her youth living close to St Asaph and would have visited the well around this time. She wrote her ode Our Lady’s Well in its honour, which can be read here.

She produced a sketch of the well as it stood in her day, which is a prime source of evidence for the level of reconstruction the site underwent in the nineteenth century. Her drawing shows the west wall of the chapel as standing little more than a few feet high, suggesting that this has been rebuilt since then, and the little bell tower is thus a relatively recent addition. Also she does not show the star shaped well basin, again supporting the idea that this is an embellishment added much later, to mirror the well at Holywell.

Another long term belief was that that the chapel had once been in a cruciform shape, with the well enclosed within the fourth arm. Recent excavations have disproved this idea too, showing that the spring itself was never enclosed within the chapel. Although the water from the spring was always channelled into the building by the west door. There is a theory that the stream could be dammed when required within the chapel beside the west door to form a small internal bath, however there is no documentary evidence for this.

Thomas Pennant describes it in his late eighteenth century Tour of Wales, repeating the idea that the spring was once internal to the chapel:

The Elwy here takes another direction, running west, and then north, alomng most romantic dingles, varied with meadows, woods, and cavernous rocks: neither is it destitute of antiquities. Y ffynnon fair, or our lady’s well, a fine spring, inclosed in an angular wall, formerly roofed; and the ruins of a cross-shaped chapel, finely over-grown with ivy, exhibit a venerable view, in a deep-wooded bottom, not remote from the bridge; and, in days of pilgrimage, the frequent haunt of devotees.

Lewis, in his 1843 Topographical Dictionary of Wales, writes:

Near the river Elwy, in the hamlet of Wigvair , is Fynnon Vair, or “the well of Our Lady,” situated in a richly wooded dell. This spring, which is inclosed in a polygonal basin of hewn stone, discharges about one hundred gallons per minute: the water is strongly impregnated with lime, and was formerly much resorted to as a cold bath. Connected with the well are the ruined walls of a cruciform chapel, which, prior to the Reformation, was a chapel of ease to St. Asaph, in the later style of English architecture: these remains are partly overgrown with ivy; and the ruin, elegant in itself, derives additional interest from the beauty of its situation

These descriptions hold true today, the well still discharges water which forms a stream running through the field to join the Elwy, deer are often seen nearby and the ruins, still covered with ivy, remain an evocative and peaceful location to visit at any time throughout the year.

[1] Gray Hulse, Tristan (2002) The Documentation of Ffynnon Ddeier. Living Spring.


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Ffynnon Sulien, Corwen

 

St Sulien’s Well

So after visiting Cwm, and the church and well dedicated to the saints Sulien and Mael, it was purely by coincidence that the following week we headed up towards Corwen, the church of which has the same dedication.  Corwen is probably best known as the location of one of Owain Glyndwr’s triumphs over English King Henry II.  Traditionally Corwen was the venue for a great fair held on May 13th, the feast day of SS Sulien and Mael.

The earliest reference to the present church dates from around 1222 although the site is clearly much older. An ancient pre-Christian standing stone has been built into the porch and the remains of a later Christian cross, dating from around 1000 stands on a prehistoric cup marked stone in the churchyard. [1]

The well at Corwen, however, ignores poor St Mael, and bears the name of Sulien only.  Actually Jones (1954) gives the name as Ffynnon Silian, probably after Lhuyd, and on Victorian OS maps the well appears as Ffynnon Sillin.

Baring Gould discusses the connection between Sillin and Sulien, stressing that although in his time (start of the 20th century) the two names were used interchangeably, they are not the same, and that Sillin has in the past been regarded as a Welsh equivalent of St Giles, who enjoyed an extensive cult in England and Scotland in the 11th century. This leaves us unsure as to whether the well has always been dedicated to St Sulien in line  with the local church, or whether an earlier  dedication to Sillin has become confused over time and the name changed to match with the patron saint of the local church. If this were the case it may explain the dedication to Sulien only rather than Sulien and Mael as at Cwm.

Ffynnon Sulien is a little over a mile to the north west  of the parish church, and across the River Dee from the village. It is, as Lhuyd noted in 1699 ‘by Rig Chappel’,  At the time Lhuyd was writing Rug Chapel  was writing Rug Chapel would have been a very new building indeed, having been built as a private chapel by Colonel William Salusbury for the Rug Estate in the 1650s.

We did actually go down to visit Rug Chapel, but it is closed for the winter period, opening between March and November.

Ffynnon Sulien lies on private land, in the grounds of a house of the same name, down an unmade lane, Gypsy Lane, less than half a mile from Rug Chapel. There has been a house on this site, bearing the name of the well since at least 1564. The well is currently being sympathetically restored and landscaped by the occupier of the property.

Baring Gould (1908) tells us that water from the well used to be carried to the church in Corwen for use in baptisms, the fact that this would involve a walk of a mile or so. including a crossing of the river may suggest the level of importance that may have been placed on the provenance of the water.

On the other hand, the Report of the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments (1914), whilst not  disputing the antiquity of the well, use this physical separation between the well and the village and church to argue against the possibility of this having been the holy well of Corwen. Curiously they also state that Lhuyd’s otherwise detailed description of the monuments of Corwen omits all reference to the well, (although other texts, as noted above suggest otherwise) and they use this to suggest it never had significant links as a holy well with Corwen parish.. The owner of the well understood that water had in the past been taken to Rug Chapel for use in baptisms. Maybe by the 17th century wider interest in the well had waned  and maybe it was the estate’s chapel  rather than the  parish church that by then had  closest association with the well. My having to rely on second hand accounts rather than having access to a copy of Lhuyd’s record is a problem here.

The spring emerges in a rectangular basin, around 12 feet by 6 feet, lined with stone slabs, and with steps down from one side for bathing. The water then flows out along a narrow stone lined channel.

It is recorded that Ffynnon Sulien was also resorted to for cures for rheumatism and arthritis.  In common with many wells that were used for baptismal water, it was also used for washing the eyes in belief that it would improve eyesight. Intriguingly, despite these uses,  the Coflein record for some reason comments  that this is not a holy well. The water today is used to supply the house in whose grounds it stands, being filtered after it emerges and then being pumped to a header tank above the cottage.

The water is generally clear, although clearly it was suffering from an attack of “ginny green-teeth” on our visit.

We would like thank the owner very much for her kind hospitality and for showing us her well on our visit. We promised that we would update her with any new information we discover about her well, and certainly we shall do so – and add it to this post as well.

It is nice to realise that the tea she gave us must have been made from water drawn  from Ffynnon Sulien.

[1] churchinwales.org.uk


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Vicarage Spring and Ffynnon Bwbach, Cwm

Cwm, near Dyserth could be a well hunter’s paradise, it is claimed that there are around 127 in the parish, although few are named and have any tradition attached. We went on the trail of four the day we visited Cwm, Cil Haul and Asa have already been covered in previous posts, so here we cover the two others, those closest to the centre of the village.

The church is dedicated to Saints Mael and Sulien, the church at Corwen is also dedicated to the same pair, who, it has been suggested, may have been brothers. Baring Gould believes they were related to St Cadfan. The parish history states they came separately to Wales in the 6th century from Brittany, Mael  with Cadfan and Sulien with Rhystyd and Christiolus to become a monk on Bardsey Island.  Their joint feast day is celebrated on May 13th.

The church was renovated several times during the 19th century, and although it was locked, the lack of stained glass allowed us to see in through the windows and there seemed to be little of interest inside, apart perhaps from some 15th century stone slabs, one of which may once have covered the well.

Lhuyd records two wells close to the church, Ffynnon Fael y Sulien and Ffynnon Fair. (St Mary’s Well).  Discussing Ffynnon Fael y Sulien, he notes that

“Some resort hither to bathe their eyes, etc.”

The specific locations of these two wells has become uncertain over time, it even may be that they were two separate names given to the same well.  Certainly the main village well was situated beside the church in the vicarage garden. The present building (now a private house) was built in 1847. For convenience this has generally become referred to as the Vicarage Spring, although recent commentators seem to assume that this is Ffynnon Fael y Sulien.

This well was probably restored in 1772 as that date appeared on a timber cover seen by the Royal Commission during their visit in 1910. They play safe, referring to it as The Vicarage Spring, noting that

 “The spring is in the Vicarage garden, adjoining the churchyard; it is protected by what appears to be a portion of a fifteenth century sepulchral slab and is approached by four or five steps. It is probably the Ffynnon Fael a Sulie(n) mentioned by Lhuyd, but that name is not now remembered”

The RCAHMW database Coflein does list both wells as separate entities, although Ffynnon Fael y Sulien is given a full grid reference attaching it to the Vicarage, whilst Ffynnon Fair is only approximately allocated to a grid square.

The CPAT Report on Wells and Springs (2011) [1] in questioning the naming of the well, says that given the links with the church the identification of the Vicarage well as Ffynnon Fael y Sulien is a reasonable link, although it stresses that it is Ffynnon Fair that is specifically mentioned by Lhuyd as being by the Vicarage. It may be that the well has borne both names during its history, and it has been said that Ffynnon Fair is sometimes used as a generic name for a holy well.

CPAT (2011) report that the well has now apparently been filled in, although the CPAT website record for St Mael and Sulien Church from 2007 implies the well still extant in the Vicarage garden. It isn’t clear whether this is from actual observation, or more likely just an uncorrected assumption based on historical records.

All that remains on view today is the overflow cistern from the well. This can be seen as a trough, a little less than a yard square, formed by upright ceramic slabs set into a recess in the Vicarage wall. This tank is now dry, although an underground pipe leads into it from somewhere within the Vicarage garden.

Ffynnon Bwbach

Ffynnon Bwbach is still marked on the OS maps of the village. The Royal Commission in 1910 recorded it as

“…on the side of the lane below the village school, and is still flowing, though much neglected and choked. It is not mentioned by Edward Lhuyd in 1699 or appears under a different name. – visited 6th July 1910.”

Today the school is no longer a school, the lane is no longer a lane and the spring is much more neglected and no easier to find than it was 100 years ago.

The lane opposite the old school appears at the top end to have been built up to form car parking spaces; lower down it is marked by two rows of trees, and banks to either side, the remnants of old boundary walls or banks. The public footpath across the fields now runs to the east of the old track.

Actually Lhuyd does record a Rhyd y Bwbach (a ford) in Cwm, it isn’t clear where this was in relation to the spring.

The well takes its name from the Bwbach , a particularly mischievous Welsh sprite along the lines of the brownie or the elf. The Bwbachod have one particular characteristic, which is their dislike of teetotallers and of dissenting ministers, they were often known to harass those who don’t drink alcohol. Thus this is one of a number of Welsh wells named after mythical folk, for example the Goblin well near Mold.

No tradition appears to exist in the area concerning this particular well and its name however. The location marked on the maps is occupied by a hawthorn and bramble thicket, which was completely impenetrable. There was a quantity of water flowing down the track, which may well be the output from Ffynnon Bwbach, no source for this could be identified in the mud and brambles.

[1] Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust (CPAT) (2011) Medieval and Post Medieval Monastic and Ecclesiastical Sites in East and North East Wales.