Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales


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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 Rhedyw, Llanllyfni

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

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

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

Ffynnon Rhedyw Llanllyfni

Ffynnon Rhedyw Llanllyfni

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

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

Ffynnon Rhedyw Llanllyfni

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

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

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

Ffynnon Rhedyw Llanllyfni

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

Ffynnon Rhedyw Llanllyfni

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

Ffynnon Rhedyw SH46805195

 


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Ffynnon Fair, Llanfair-is-gaer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

 

ffynnon Fair, Llanfair-is-gaer SH 50536564


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Ffynnon Edliw, Llandwrog

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

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

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

ffynnon Edliw

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

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

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

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

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

ffynnon Edliw

ffynnon Edliw

Ffynnon Edliw SH 4491 5539


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Ffynnon Fair, Llanbedrog

Ffynnon Fair, St Mary’s Well, lying in open country, half a mile or so to the north of Llanbedrog was apparently once an important local feature. I place it now in Llanbedrog, although a little to the north east we find a farm, and site of an old mill,  called Cefn Llanfair suggesting there may have been a St Mary’s Church there at one time to which the well may have been linked. To see it now, a brick and concrete block secured with a manhole cover from which water pours into the surrounding ground, this is difficult to imagine. But this is often the fate of a spring neglected when its powers are forgotten. Even a century earlier Fardd described it as being “crumbling and vulnerable with only few then knowing about it”. Curiously it still features on the OS Map. A name In gothic script to tempt the casual visitor and then to disappoint them if they should try to find it. At least, in this case, the spring is still flowing, the ground around it is very wet and an old metal bath collects water presumably for animals in the field.

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But it wasn’t always such a sorry sight. Fardd describes it as having been a three cornered structure its shape “something like that of a Welsh harp”; a spring which never dried up and water that was capable of curing any sore on either person or animal. But it was a cure that depended on the cure-seeker’s belief; it wasn’t going to work for just anyone.  The sufferer had to approach the well, kneel before it and affirm their faith in it before bathing to be able to hope for relief.

Not only was this a powerful healing well, its abilities extended further. A victim of a theft could approach the well to discover the identity of the thief. The method was to throw a piece of bread into the water and to name a suspect. If the suspicion was correct then the bread would sink; if not then you could continue the process naming new suspects until the bread sank and true culprit was identified.

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Now comes the difficult part. The practise with the bread seems so good that in recent accounts it is associated two wells in the parish, Ffynnon Fair here and also that of St Pedrog himself, Ffynnon Bedrog.

Now this raises several possibilities:

  • Confusion and misreporting, the story has been heard concerning one well, but as memories, and even the wells themselves, fade from view, then the tellers of the stories forget which well they relate to as easily as they forget where the wells are.
  • Success of the method, if it works in one well, or at least is believed to work, then the custom spreads and is repeated in the neighbouring well.
  • Are there really two different wells, or is it that the location of the real well has been forgotten and the stories from one well attached to each of two rival contenders.

The primary problem is that neither well appears to attract the writers of the earlier Victorian period, Any such customs at the well would obviously have been prevalent a long time before this, and may only just be clinging on in living memory by the end of the nineteenth century. So our earliest source of readily accessible information is Fardd and this can hardly be considered as a completely accurate record.. John Rhys in 1893 also relates the story, saying he got it from Fardd. The only problem here is that he assigns the legend to “the big well at Llanbedrog” without giving a name to it. Marie Trevelyan in 1908 provides the same story, relating it to “the well at Llanbedrog” without naming the well.

The first occurrence of the story that it was Ffynnon Bedrog that was used  in this way that I can find is in the Lives of the British Saints. The authors here  identify St Pedrog with St Petroc , a Cornish Saint with minimal connection to North Wales, hence their references to  particular this well are limited. The sources they use are unclear. It certainly seems possible in their hurry, and particularly not being interested in Ffynnon Fair, since it wasn’t relevant to the saint under consideration, they have conflated the two wells at this stage. However many subsequent accounts take their record as authoritative and repeat the story. Francis Jones in his book states quite happily that the custom of divination with bread took place at both.

We have to note that Ffynnon Fair appears marked on all the OS maps of the last 100 years. Ffynnon Bedrog only makes its named appearance on the most recent maps. This in itself doesn’t imply anything in particular, it may just be due to improvements in knowledge or mapping, but may be taken to imply that Ffynnon Fair was the more important of the two.

Were there even two holy wells close to Llanbedrog? The Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments visited and recorded two in 1964, but reported very little other than the condition of each and that Ffynnon Bedrog was known locally as “the wishing well.”

So in summary, was this Ffynnon Fair an important well for curing all ills and for the detection of thieves?

1893 – Rhys states that Fardd told him that it was “the big well at Llanbedrog”
1908 – Fardd says it was Ffynnon Fair
1913 – Baring Gould and Fisher say it was Ffynnon Bedrog
1914 – Ffynnon Fair is marked on the OS Map
1954 – Francis Jones records the same story for both wells
1970 – Ffynnon Bedrog makes its first appearance on the OS Map

So I am afraid we have to leave this story slightly hanging. Given the current level of information available the balance may be just slightly tipped in favour of Ffynnon Fair and this is the assumption I shall make for now while I hope for someone to provide a counter argument in favour of another well.

Obviously we left Ffynnon Fair in search of Ffynnon Bedrog, but despite our best endeavours failed to find it. I have a deep suspicion that the location marked on the map is wrong; but hopefully more will follow in a subsequent piece.

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John Rhys (1893) Sacred Wells in Wales. Folklore Volume 4.
Myrddin Fardd (J Jones) (1908) Llen Gwerin Sir Gaernarfon

Marie Trevelyan (1908) Folk Lore of Wales
Sabine Baring Gould and John Fisher (1913) Lives of the British Saints
Francis Jones (1954) The Holy Wells of Wales.

Wellhopper acknowledges information from the AONB Team at Gwynedd CC which helped to find Ffynnon Fair.

SH 3113 3293


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Ffynnon Engan, Llanengan

IMG_6480_redLlanengan lies towards the tip of the Llyn Peninsula, a mile or so from Abersoch  above the wide bay  Porth Neigwl commonly known as Hell’s Mouth. The church here is dedicated to Engan as is a nearby well.

Engan, the Lives of the British Saints informs us, Is more correctly  Einion, once a prince of the area and a brother of Saints Seriol and Merion. It was Einion who reputedly gave land and founded the monastery at Penmon on Anglesey where his brother Seriol took charge; and we are told it was Einion who gave the island of Bardsey to Cadfan to start the monastery there.

A fifteenth century poem celebrates Einion, the golden handed prince and his churches at Llanengan and at another unnamed location in Gwynedd. It was at Llanengan where he was buried and where his gilded, crowned effigy stood before the Reformation.

Leland, writing in the 1530s, records a great pilgrimage there in the very early sixteenth century. Many cures were obtained at his shrine, and the parish grew rich on the proceeds of offerings from pilgrims and cure seekers.

Interestingly, although the well is known in the early writings, and its water is used for baptism up into the beginning of the 20th century at least, , it is generally not the spring that  was resorted to for healing. Most cures were obtained at either Einion’s shrine, or at an indented stone said to bear the hoof print of his horse, Troed March Engan, in which water collected and which was claimed to have healing properties

ffynnon Engan Llanengan

Ffynnon Engan is located on private land around 50  yards to the west of the church. The site received grade 2 listed status in 1996. The listing description records it as a

Holy well, roughly square basin with surround so stone slabs set deep within rubble stone retaining walls, partly dry stone, partly stepped back

It notes that it was restored and repaired around 1990. This layout is similar to a description made in 1910 by HR Roberts who describes a rectangular wall with seating and a convenient staircase, although the description recorded by the Royal Commission in 1964 suggests much less structure remains. The Royal Commission report notes conflict between successive maps pointing to two nearby wells. At one location they report “slight signs of masonry“. The Archwilio database also cites  a 1972 OS Reference and identifies two wells, Ffynnon Engan which is recorded as being more substantial than the 1964 record, and a second nearby unnamed well which they suggest was used when Ffynnon Engan ran dry. At the second spring they identify no sign of masonry or water and note that “there seems to be no ancient record of association with the saint“. One does get the feeling that the Inspectors were having an off day. This record is only partially supported by  the site listing on the Coflein database which  notes that the site is

Possible holy well, slight remains of masonry, walled basin 3m square a new 0.6m deep. Water filled. .

ffynnon Engan Llanengan

The implication here is probably that during the first half of the 20th century the structure fell into a very poor state of repair leading to the state the  Royal Commission inspectors reported in 1964. It is certain that the restoration work carried out in the 1990s was extensive. The basin previously described in 1910 and hinted at in the Coflein record can clearly be seen today with stone seating  around the bath, and it is supported with dry stone walls on two sides to retain the earth bank into which it is set. It is a little unclear how much of this latter stone work is modern landscaping and how much  follows the original construction.

ffynnon Engan Llanengan

The owner, who was there at the time of the restoration mentioned that the stone steps into the well in the corner closest to the church, which are mentioned in the 1910 description, had been omitted at the time of the repairs, but which she would like to reinstate at some time. More recently the stream formed by the outflow from the spring, which forms a substantial flow away from the spring has been landscaped..

ffynnon Engan Llanengan

Einion’s feast day is given originally as February 9th but later appears to have moved to the 10th or 12th.

We are very grateful for the interest and help given to us by the land owner, despite being called on early on a Sunday morning.

ffynnon Engan Llanengan

 

H R Roberts Llanengan, History of Churches and Parishes in Llyn, Pwllheli 1910. cited by Llygad y Ffynnon 2003.