Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales


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Ffynnon Dudno, Llandudno

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

Ff Dudno - photo wellhopper

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

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

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

Ff Dudno - photo wellhopper

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

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

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

Whilst the new Company were given the rights to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ff Dudno - photo wellhopper

[1] website

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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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Ffynnon Asa, Cwm

There must have been a time when Ffynnon Asa, one of several wells in the area dedicated to St Asaph, was as spectacular as other local wells such as St Winefride’s at Holywell and Ffynnon Fair at Cefn Meiriadog. Lhuyd recorded that Richard Perry of Pwll-Alog “had sett neat pillars” aound the well. According to Dr Johnson it had been at sometime  “covered with a building that has now disappeared“. Pennant wrote that it was “inclosed with  stone, in a polygonal form and had formerly its votaries, like that of St Wenefrede“, and even at  the  end of the 19th century Thomas records that there were still indications of “five angles or porches”. [1]

By the time the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments visited in 1910 the spring was “seen to rise in a modern roughly octagonal stone reservoir from 9 to 10 feet across yielding from four to five million gallons per day and supplying the parishes of Prestatyn, Dyserth and Melidan.”

Now, at the start of the 21st century Ffynnon Asa is surrounded by tall metal spikes, fences, keep out and danger signs. The well, that was once resorted to for cures for “nervous disorders” and rheumatism is now part of a reservoir, polluted and unsafe for bathing.

Ffynnon Asa’s attraction has been the sheer volume of water it provides. Up to four million gallons per day pours from the well, at one time it flowed down the hillside in a torrent, and until the late 18th century it formed a dramatic and much visited waterfall, “in the deep and rounded hollow of a rock, finely darkened with ivy”  (Pennant) at Dyserth a mile or so away. [see postscript]

This power was readily harnessed for water mills, the streams were modified and diverted. Below the well at Felin Fawr the remains of a massive wheel can still be seen, with the aqueduct that carried the wheel water now dry and bypassed by a new channel. A little downstream the remains of further, smaller mills can be seen.

It isn’t clear where the well actually rises today. Most sources seem to suggest that there is a locked brick building beyond the reservoir that houses the outlet from the hillside. Although the water still flows vigorously downhill it is possible that more is drawn off and piped away for use elsewhere.

Ffynnon Asa is about a mile to the north east of Cwm. We reached it by following the footpath running up the side of the churchyard and then joining up with the Offa’s Dyke Long Distance Footpath which runs beside the well. Despite the changes it remains a dramatic sight in the landscape overlooking the sea above Prestatyn, and seeing it and its setting demonstrates how the use of the well has continued and changed over the centuries.

[1] D R Thomas (1870) History of the Diocese of St Asaph. Vol 2

postscript

Apparently during the late eighteenth and much of the nineteenth century the rivers were diverted upstream of Dyserth and for much of this time the water fall was dry.  It was dry at the time of  Johnson’s visit, although the stream was diverted back so that he could see the spectacle. Towards the end of the Victorian era it was reinstated and has been a  tourist attraction in the area since then.


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Ffynnon Newydd, Llanrwst

It was a case of so near and yet so far in our search for Ffynnon Newydd. The only information we had when we set off was a copy of the OS map showing the location and a copy of the Royal Commission description which states that it is (or at least has been)

“a stone enclosure 15ft square, the walls of which rise to a height of 12feet and covered by a  ruinous slate roof. Seven steps lead down to the water which is about a foot in depth. Adjoining the well is a  dressing room of the same length as the well chamber, about 9ft broad. and with ethe roof continued over. The whole probably belongs to the end of the  17th century and was doubtless erected by one ofr the prosperous families of the neighbourhood, but no tradition concerning it seems to have survived. Its present name suggests it was freshly built or rebuilt about that period.”  [1]

Unfortunately when we arrived, after a very long journey, we discovered that it was actually in the back garden of a farmhouse.

Nothing daunted, we applied to the owner for permission to visit the well, but this was refused, and the summary terms in which the refusal was issued appeared to preclude any opportunity to negotiate a more suitable alternative time to visit.

Wellhopper, though disappointed, always respects the need to treat sites we visit with care and the landowners right to privacy. No one, even those with an historic monument occupying half their back garden, should be required to allow every Tom, Dick or Harry to come walking up to their gate on a Sunday afternoon expecting a free guided tour. But then again, it would be nice to think that those who have custodianship of such ancient monuments would  be prepared to negotiate access for people who have a genuine  interest, so  we would welcome the opportunity to return, even if it were under the proviso of no photography.

We did comply with a request to delete the one photograph we took of the site from a viewpoint on a nearby public footpath.

For the record,  the well remains in  existance and appears to be a substantial feature, may be two or three courses of stonework high, though certainly no longer the 12 feet high described in the Royal Commission record and the slate roof referred to no longer appears to exist. Whether or not there is water in it we couldn’t determine.

There appears to be very little information around concerning this well. There doesn’t seem to be any indication that it had any religious significance, although Jones assumes that it must have had some healing powers at some time.. Its scale and layout reminds me most of sites such as Ffynnon Wen near Henllan, and may have been some form of  bathing pool, although I’m not sure for whose use it would have been in this case.  It isn’t clear whether in this case the spring is actually sinside the bath, or whether, like at Henllan the bath is filled from a nearby spring.

The location of the well  appears relatively clearly on the satellite photos on google maps, although no detail is visible.

[1] An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire. Vol 4 – Denbighshire. Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments 1914.