1st July 1652. Well Well.
A spring issued from the staff of Moses and in both the Old and New Testaments the spiritual cleansing benefits of water is a constant theme.
In classical times holy sites were associated with springs, with the Nymphaeum a monument to the Nymphs of the springs.
They were numinous places associated with healing properties under the guardianship of a spirit, later a saint, with the water flowing at his behest.
Today in 1652, Thames Waterman, John Taylor, the ‘Water-Poet’ visited St. Winifred’s Well at Holywell, Flintshire and reported: ‘the fair chapel over the well in now much defaced by the injury of these late [Civil] wars’.
The Puritans were against all superstition associated with holy-wells and other relics of Catholicism.
Many religious sites acquired a patron saint who had ‘worked a miracle’: shrines of Aiden at Lindesfarne, Cuthbert at Durham, Edward the Confessor at Westminster, St Wulfstan, Worcester, St Gilbert of Sempringham, Columba at Iona, Oswald at Gloucester, Thomas Bishop of Hereford.(1)
Many Holywells having running water were later adopted as sites for monastic houses as the many Holywells, Canwell, Sandwell and Farewell.
Cornwall had over 100 holy-well shrines associated with an equal number of obscure saints for which the county is famous.
Wells in Somerset from early times had a supply of natural waters exuding from underground, becoming a sacred site and the loci of pilgrimage which soon, like all others, realised the commercial possibilities from the gullible. Bath and Wells became a bishopric and a magnet for tourists.
London had many ‘holy-wells’: Shepherd’s, St. Pancras, Lady Well, St, Chad’s, St, Blaise’s, with Holy-Wells at Shorditch, and Aldwych, with its Holywell Street. However this had degenerated in the late 19thc to being a: ‘dingy old Elizabethan thoroughfare…[where] windows are packed with vicious and gaudy literature’.(2)
William Fitz Stephen a late 12thc monk wrote: ‘There are also in the northern suburbs of London springs of the high quality, with water that is sweet, wholesome, clear, and whose runnels ripple amid pebbles bright among which Holywell, (which could refer to Shoreditch), Clerkenwell and St. Clement’s Well, have a particular reputation; they receive throngs of visitors and are especially frequented by students and young men of the city, who head out on summer evenings to take the [country] air truly a good city-if it has a good lord’.
Clerkenwell’s water supply, apart from the well springs, also had the River Fleet running through and its not surprising that brewery and gin distillery flourished. The site grew up around the Benedictine Nunnery of St. Mary and the Priory of St. John of Jerusalem.
Today wells are still associated with pilgrims as the numbers flocking to Walsingham and Glastonbury testifies.
Holywell in Flint once called the Lourdes of Wales is now a depressed area and even more ‘injured’ than in the days of the Water Poet.
However Burton-on-Trent, the Author’s home, once the home of St. Modwen’s Well, still thrives as the brewing centre of Britain, with the water coming from…wells.
(1) Gilbert died 4.2.1189.
(2) (RD Blumenfeld Diary October 23rd 1900.
(3) Taylor was referenced in 2nd Canto of Scott’s ‘Marmion’.
Ref: zythophile.wordpress.com/short history of water NB Times 1.2.1848/stogumber.
Ref: Book of Days. Year of 1652.