Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales


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White Well, Whitewell

IMG_3666 croppedWhen a whole community, however small, is named after a well, then it is a great shame that the well can be allowed to be lost so easily. It does feel a little like biting the hand that feeds you.

Admittedly the community around Whitewell is relatively sparse, It lies very close to the English border, south east of Wrexham and a couple of miles to the east of Whitchurch in Shropshire.

CPAT notes that there is no historic core to Whitewell nor any convincing evidence that it was ever a nucleated settlement [1]; and to be fair the well as never going to be a major tourist attraction.

When the Royal Commission visited it in 1910 they found it to be

covered with a locked iron plate, beneath the supporting stone work a copious flow of water still issues.

There is no information immediately available to support its history, or any indication that the well was ever endowed with any sacred importance. Although for an area to take on its name it must at the very least have been used in some manner. Thus the current Historical Environment Record (HER) records it somewhat sniffily as an Alleged Holy Well, pointing out that there is no evidence there of great antiquity and that the remains are certainly post medieval.

All this became somewhat academic however around 2011, when Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru wrote that they believed that the well had been buried. My visit, therefore, became an expedition to see whether or not this was the case; and, after spending an hour poking around in grass and nettles in the area indicated by the grid reference supplied, I concluded that this does appear to be true. The iron plate and the well below are lost to view.

There follow a couple of photographs showing where something used to be:

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The location of the well was some 20 to 30 yards to the south of St Marys Church. A small whitewashed brick building dating from around 1830. This replaced a much earlier chapel, in a sequence that stretches back to at least 1570. Earlier buildings may have been closer to the well, reinforcing its significance.

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In passing, it is worth recording that a second feature in the next field to the south, which has been variously indicated on maps since the 1870s as a well or a sluice, and which could previously be seen, surrounded by a small wooden fence, has suffered a similar fate and is no longer visible.

[1] http://www.cpat.org.uk/ycom/wrexham/whitewell.pdf

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St Chad’s Well, Hanmer

We’re close to the English border here and Chad is an English saint rather than Welsh, having a wide scattering of churches and wells dedicated to him across England; even still there are suggestions that his name implies some Welsh or Celtic ancestry. He was bishop of Mercia towards the end of his life and there are stories that he visited Hanmer in around 670 (he died in 672), performing baptisms in a lake now called Llyn Bedydd. The settlement retained the name Chadhill for some 500 years until it was renamed Hanmer sometime in the late twelfth century.

Despite its dedication to a saint from across the border, the church holds an important place in Welsh history. It was here that Owain Glyndwr was married to Margaret, daughter of Sir David Hanmer, in 1380. The church now is a distant relative of the churches that stood in earlier times. Massive fires destroyed successive church buildings in 1463 and in 1889, so the present building is largely modern in construction, dating from the late nineteenth century and completed in the 1930s, although the 1720 chancel remains relatively intact.

 St Chad’s well lies some half mile to the north of the church, beside a footpath. The church tower can still clearly be seen from the well. It was visited in 1910 by the Royal Commission for Historic and Ancient Monuments who saw

“…a deep circular pool, 4 feet in diameter, formerly the sacred well of Hanmer church.”

St Chad. Photo wellhopper

However,by the 1970s the spring had dried up so much that that visitors then reported it as merely “a marshy hollow”  trampled by cattle. The spring was first disturbed by drainage works in the mid nineteenth century. John, Lord Hanmer himself, in his memoir of the parish, holds up his hands as being “without intention” the guilty party. He also records that up until the early part of the nineteenth century Hanmer Hall was supplied with water from St Chad’s Well, being taken twice a day in a barrel.[1]

At this stage a little confusion may have crept in as to which of a number of marshy hollows represents the remains of the well. Maps from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries show a distinct pool, a little to the east of the field boundary, clearly marked as St Chad’s Well. Later maps, and the grid reference provided on Coflein seem to have allowed it to drift a little westward so that it is closer to the hedge. This is supported by photographs in the church purporting to show the site of the well. The two possibilities are only some 10 to 15 yards apart, well within the permitted margins of error of grid references, GPS and folk memories.</span>

 We therefore conclude that the well is around the location of the gate below

 St Chad. Photo wellhopper

Or within the hollow shown below, which clearly does become wet at times, with the growth of plants and the dried up marks of cattle hoofs

 St Chad. Photo wellhopper

Both sites were dry at the time of our visit, although a gully containing water flows along the hedge by the gate.

That the well was important in the past is beyond doubt, remembered well into the nineteenth century; Eirlys and Ken Gruffydd record that the custom of dressing the well died out sometime before 1879. [2]. However as CPAT point out that now

 St Chads’s Well is one of the many wells which has largely disappeared through lack of use and neglect despite its links with Hamner church.[3]

[1] A memorial of the Parish and Family of Hanmer. John Lord Hanmer , privately printed 1877.

[2] Ffynhonnau Cymru 2, Eirlys and Ken Gruffydd, Llanrwst 1999

[3] CPAT Report 1090. Silvester et al, 2011.


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Ffynnon Ddeuno, Broughton

Ffynnon Ddeuno stood on the Gatewen Estate near Broughton until it vanished from view under the spoil heap from a nearby coalmine.

The name of the well, or at least its spelling, varies to some degree. The RCAHMW database records it as Ddeuno as does Francis Jones, other records spell the name as Deuno.  In 1699 Lhuyd reported it as Ffynnon Dheyno, suggesting that at one time a small chapel was said to have stood over it.  Jones cites the Deeds of Gatewen 1738-1823 in which the farm is named Ffynnon Beuno, alias Capel Beuno; suggesting that the name Deuno may have been derived from Beuno through the Welsh habit of switching aspirants in relation to grammar. If the well was indeed to have been a Saint’s well then Baring-Gould’s Lives of British Saints does not record a St Ddeuno.

The well originally stood on the Gatewen Farm lands which were incorporated into the Gatewen Hall estate in the early 19th century by Thomas Hayes, who substantially enlarged the Hall and estate on the back of income received from the slave trade. the Hayes family having occupied Gatewen Hall since the 18th century. [1] The well was “rediscovered” in the 1870s by the Misses Hayes, daughters of then Hayes family owners. They restored it by constructing a new building over it, forming an arched roof with bench seats along either side of the well. Ivy and other trailing plants where grown over it.

Unfortunately, around the same time further coal seas were discovered in the area and the Gatewen colliery opened in 1877. The mine grew such that by 1908 the mine employed 800 men and by the 1920s over 1000 men. The pit eventually closed in 1932. However, the spoil heap from the colliery gradually encroached upon the area where the well lay. Local historian A N Palmer [2] saw the well in the early twentieth century, reporting that the building “though modern and unpretentious is very picturesque, still stood, although the well had by that time run dry, and eventually, at some point soon after both the well and the Misses Hayes structure vanished under earth extracted from the mine.

location of Ff Ddeuno. Photo: Wellhopper

Photo – looking across the brook towards spoil heaps covering the old well site

The best records of memories of the well are included on the very informative website of the Broughton Local History Society [3] , which has been drawn upon for the preparation of this entry. They quote from the notes of Thomas Morgan (1878-1965), who lived all his life in the area.

“I have just written about the yew trees. They stood between the brook and the path, and looking from them across the meadow to the woods, you saw on the edge of the wood, a stone building about six feet wide and about four foot six inches wide, and this was Ffynnon Deuno. I often wondered what it was. There were few children who could speak Welsh and they always called the place ‘Farina Dina’”

“…the water of it was very soft, cold and sparkling and much resorted to by persons “with bad legs, and sore arms, or who were hurt in the coal mines.”

“The well was never or rarely dry in summer, but always in autumn and then for about two months, generally throughout September and October.”

Yew tree near Ff Ddeuno. Photo: Wellhopper

A single yew tree remains today, between the brook and the path; but looking across towards where the well must have stood all one sees now is the steeply rising, now tree lined slopes of the last remnants of Gatewen colliery. The top of the heap is levelled off, and new housing estates are spreading across the old Gatewen farm lands.

Gatewen colliery spoil. Photo; Wellhopper

[1]  http://www.chris-myers.co.uk/gatewen-hall-and-moss-valley.html

[2] A N Palmer (1903) A History of the Thirteen Country Townships of the Old Parish of Wrexham

[3] Broughton District  History Group website


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All Saints and St Catherine’s Wells, Gresford

“Pistyll Rhaeadr and Wrexham steeple
Snowdon’s mountain without its people,
Overton Yew trees, St Winefred’s Well,
Llangollen Bridge and Gresford bells

Although Gresford’s bells may remain one of the seven wonders of Wales, its wells are a little mystery. Lhuyd’s survey of 1698 identified one holy well at Gresford, dedicated to All Saints, the same dedication as the church, however no details as to its location or traditions realting to it were recorded at that time.

Current OS maps identify a site on Springfield Road as All Saints Well. This lies down the hill and across the railway from the church. However, in mapping terms, this is a recent amendment. On late nineteenth century and most twentieth century maps the well at this point is noted, but not named.

The conenction netween this particular well and the historical All Saints Well may be due to the report of the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments in Wales who noted following their inspectors visit in April 1911

Below the church and the railway station is an ample spring which without doubt is the ‘Ffynnon Holh Seint’ or All Saints Well mentioned by Edward Lhuyd in 1698. The water still supplies the village, being now forced to the top of the hill by mechanical power; the way to the well was by a covered stone passage, of probably niot earlier date than the 18th century, and fifteen stone steps which are evidently much older.

However, the evidence on which they made this judgement of it being “without doubt” All Saints Well is unclear. It appears that at least during the late nineteenth century this well may then have been known as St Catherine’s Well. History records that

“…up until this time the main water supply came from St Catherine’s Well on Springfield Lane and was taken to the village using water carts or barrels and donkeys” [2]

and in the late nineteenth century the pumping system, that the Royal Commission noted was instaled

In 1860 Miss Anne Townshend of the wealthy Trevalyn family discussed the (village water problem) matter with Miss Egerton, with the vicar and with Mr Price at the mill. They decided that an automatic hydraulic ram was the thing. It would be built just behind St Catherine’s Well, be engineered by Mr Price and have attached to it a pipe leading up to four handy places in the village. [3]

It is quite possible that at this time the old All Saints Well had merely been renamed St Catherine’s Well. There is a St Catherine’s Chapel within the All Saints Church and the well may have been renamed at some period in her honour.

Alternatively, maybe the Royal Commission and subsequent mappers were wrong, and this is not the All Saints Well identified by Lhuyd.

This well lies a couple of hundred yards to the north of the church, on a little wooded buffer between the railway and the A483 dual carriageway, surrounded by the upended roots of fallen trees. It is accessed from Springfield Lane, the name maybe recording the one time importance of the well. But even though the entrance to the well is almost on the roadside it is very easy to miss unless you are actually looking for it.

All Saints Gresford. Photo:Wellhopper

All Saints Gresford. Photo; Wellhopper

Any aspects of its role in religious or medicinal uses seem to have been lost, although  in its time, judging by the construction, it must have been viewed with importance to the community. This was probably due to its use as a water supply though, to provide access for the water carriers rather than pilgrims. It does not merit a reference in any of the Victorian gazetteers, so it must be presumed that by that time any greater significance that it may have once had was lost.

All Saints Gresford. Photo: Wellhopper

The well basin lies about five feet below the current ground level. It is reached by around fifteen stone steps which lead down into a narrow stone lined corridor which curves slightly round for about five yards between the foot of the steps and the well.

All Saints Gresford. Photo: Wellhopper

All Saints Gresford. Photo: Wellhopper

The church at Gresford dates from the 15th century when the existing parish church was demolished and replaced with the magnificent building which stands there now. At the time the church was massively out of scale with the small village in which it stood, and there is some debate as to how exactly the funds were raised for a building of such size, and the necessity for such a church. Whether it was financed as a special location on a pilgrimage route – it is suggested that at one time it may have contained an important image or relics; or whether financed by a rich benefactor, such as Thomas Stanley who endowed other churches at Wrexham and Mold is discussed on the church website.

All Saints Gresford. Photo; Wellhopper

Another Gresford well

More recently another curious Gresford well has been brought to my attention. To find this one you follow the footpath that begins opposite the junction between Springfield Road and Gresford Road, running parallel to and between the railway and the A483. The path turns and goes through an archway under the railway and just there, on the right hand side beneath a tree is this well.

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In the past it is been suggested that it may be the remains of St Leonard’s Well after the old chapel dedicated to the saint. Another suggestion is that it is the remains of the Parsonage Well, so named since it is close to the site of the old Parsonage. Underneath the mud it seems to be completely lined in stone within, and there is an inscription on the top – possibly reading A:E::M:N (or X or K) and also a date – possibly 1818?  Any other suggestions as to its origin would be welcomed.

The inside is lined with stone on three sides, it was filled up with silt so it wasn’t possible to determine the depth of it or whether it had a stone base too.

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[1] AN Palmer (1905) History of the Old Parish of Gresford. Archaeologia Cambrensis
[2] Wrexham BC (2009) Gresford Conservation Area and Management Plan
[3] Colin Jones (1995) History of Gresford Village and Church and Royal Marford. Privately published.


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St Peter’s Well, Rossett

There could be those who don’t want you to visit St Peter’s Well at Rossett. It may not be protected by a strange force field or guarded by a secret society of mysterious albino monks; but the spring is surrounded by lengths of severe rusty old barbed wire half hidden in the undergrowth. The field in which the well lies is further surrounded by an insurmountable barbed wire fence, and the padlocked field gate has similar wire wound around all the cross bars. St Peter’s Well does not welcome visitors these days.

The Report of the visit by the CPAT archaelogists in 2011 states “The owner could not be located, and the field access has a locked and barb-wired gate prohibiting entry”. [1] Whatever happened to the Indiana Jones spirit?

The coflein record describes St Peter’s chapel well as “450yds North West of chapel, now choked, but spring still flows”. This remains an accurate description. It was impossible to identify the precise spot at which the spring rose in the dense undergrowth; however the water does still flow, and produces a stream which flows along to  Llyndir Lane forming the boundary between two fields.

Somewhere in the mass of undergrowth and wire below is the spring

The stream flowing out from St Peter’s Chapel Well

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Francis Jones records St Peter’s (Ffynnon Bedr) as being – possessed a reputation for the cure of sore eyes and sprained limbs, and was still being visited at the beginning of the present (20th) century. I suspect it is rarely visited for any reason now.

[1] CPAT Report 1090 April 2011. See links page for CPAT website.