A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

Holy Wells of Gloucestershire

The Holy Wells of Gloucestershire by Brian Torode

It is worth remembering that in old English the word well includes everything that we would now describe as a spring, and the word originally referred to any water WELLING out of the hillside. The veneration of wells and rivers is one of the most ancient and universal forms of worship. Water was a necessity of life and because it moved and made a noise, it had a will of its own and nothing could control it. It appeared suddenly in unexpected places, life and fertility came from it and so did death – the cruel silent death of the angry tide or raging torrent, which killed Moses Egyptian pursuers.

Naturally water one of the four elements, is such a necessity for life, that water and wells were considered to have curative properties – soothing, cool, cleansing – and indicated to primitive man a mysterious power. They believed that a special magic dwelt in the water and the tendency developed to personify this magic, and it became associated with some spiritual being – a goddess or similar. The great god Nodens had a temple or shrine at Lydney on the banks of the Severn, and here a mosaic pavement with a pattern of sea serpents and fishes has been found, as well as two bronze pieces. One bears the figure of the god himself, while the other has a triton and a grateful worshipper in the from of a fisherman catching a salmon. Nodens was a pre Roman god but was adopted by them when they conquered Britain. Wells and water have been objects of adoration and devotion – worshipped by the Druids, decorated with flowers by the Romans and sacrificed to even, by pagans after the departure of the Romans from our shores. Wanswell near Berkeley may be one such place. In order for the spirit to ensure the continuance of the water, gifts were offered, and if the water dried up, it was a sign of the displeasure of the spirit and it had therefore to be placated with sacrifice. In Roman times this practice was continued with coins being thrown into springs or wells to placate a deity and this custom may well have entered Britain with their arrival as did also decoration of wells.

One of the oldest songs in the Bible describes how God told Moses to dig a well as the Israelites journeyed to Beer and ceremonies involving water became part of the religious ritual of many religions – the Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and of course Christianity.

In the second Council of Arles, 452, it is recorded, If in the territory of a Bishop, infidels venerate trees or fountains or stones, and if he neglects to abolish this usage, the Bishop is guilty of sacrilege.

Again, Pope Gregory commanded St Augustine, concerning the matter of the English, not to destroy their temples of the idols, but to destroy the idols only. Then the temples are to be sprinkled with Holy Water and altars erected to convert them from the worship of the devils to the worship of the true God. Then the Nation, seeing their temples not destroyed may be encouraged to remove error from their hearts and adoring the true God may resort to the places to which they have been accustomed.

A large number of pagan wells were thus hijacked by the early Church and became places of pilgrimage connected with the cult of a local saint. As Christianity advanced, and paganism was on the wane, the Church had to supply a substitute for the superstition, so nymphs and niaids became saints and angels. Pagan wells were blessed and became Holy Wells – often a stone cross being erected on or near the well. Many of the wells were renamed in memory of some local Saint and this has ensured the preservation of a local saint’s name that might otherwise have been forgotten. Also some well loved and hooly local Saint would baptise his converts in what had been a pagan well – St Paulinus baptised King Edwin of Northumbria in one such well in AD 627. Sudeley’s fountain became Kenelm’s Well. Nearly all the healing wells had their rituals which had to be followed in order to activate the power of the water. This usually involved visiting the site only on certain acknowledged days, and the Christianised wells or sainted wells almost always had to be visited on the Saint’s feast day, Easter or Whit Sunday. At one Holy Well in Perthshire, the patient was led three times round the well first in the name of the Father, second in the name of the Son and third in the name of the Holy Spirit. Finally he was dipped in the water in the name of the Holy Trinity.

These customs were intensified by Christianity, but old practices still survived and in 10th century, King Edgar and King Canute thought it necessary to forbid the worship of fountains but it was still being done 200 years later. Later c 1102, the Canons of St Anselm laid down a rule that no one was to attribute reverence or sanctity to a fountain without the bishop’s authority. But still pilgrims came on special fixed dates and despite the frowns and prohibitions of their bishops, the waters were drunk at night and again in the morning and prayers said – believing that they would surely be answered in good time. Parish priests often complained that these night time pilgrimages sometimes led to immoral activity but their real objection was that offerings were being directed away from the church.

Wells were often known by the offering left there – pin wells, rag wells, button wells, bead wells etc, all signs of the pilgrim letting the Saint know, that ‘I have been here.’ (cf votive candles today) Pins were an offering usually to ward off evil spirits, bent pins an offering from those seeking good fortune. Sometimes the patient had to wipe the affected or afflicted part of the body with a rag dipped in the water or arrive at the site with a rag bound round the afflicted part of the body. After bathing in the water, the rag was left on the tree or bush to rot. Once this had happened the cure should have taken place – an indication that cures were not immediately wrought. So too many Marian shrines throughout Europe have crutches, bandages, jewels or pieces of clothing left at a shrine, as evidence of a cure having been effected. Boxwell has two large yew trees growing alongside the well and these were the trees usually to hold pieces of offering cloth- the tree being the symbol of the Cross. When I went to Flaxley, St Anthony’s well there were pieces of coloured cloth on the trees and so too at Glastonbury’s Chalice Well.

Holy Wells did come in for a lot of attack and denial at the Reformation and many sermons were preached against pilgrimage practice. Bishop Latimer preached against the superstition surrounding St Anne’s Well, Brislington, in 1536 and under Crowell’s persecution, wells were locked, so that nobody could use the water for miraculous washing, and places where shirts, petticoats and crutches had been left were defaced.

There are probably many Holy Wells in our County about which published literature amounts to almost nothing, although RCS Walters’ Ancient Wells, Springs and Holy Wells of Gloucestershire (Bristol 1928) provides what appears to be an exhaustive account of most of them. The Wells and Springs of Gloucestershire, (HMSO 1930) attributes the title Holy Well to the following:

Wishanger, near Miserden; Shepscombe; Hempsted; Wanswell nr Berkeley; St Chad, Twyning; St Kenelm, Winchcomb; St Edward’s Stow on the Wold; Holy Well, Chedworth; Oak Well, St Mary’s Well, Box Well, Down Ampney; Holywell, Wooton under Edge; Holy Well, Blaisdon; St Anthony’s Well East Dean (Flaxley); and St Aldhelm’s Well, Pucklechurch.

Many of the Wells of our county – and our country it must be said, – are in danger – danger of being lost to human eye for ever. As the older generation dies, the local traditions and knowledge of sites of Holy Wells will die with them. Many Holy Wells are now on private land and farmers are reluctant to publicise their existence for fear of hordes of careless pilgrims trampling their crops or passing on disease – as at St Arild’s Well at Oldbury. So many wells are allowed to fall into ruin through neglect. If there is one near you, visit it, publicise it and do what you can through the countryside commission to maintain it as a place of public access.

Now let us look at a few of the wells of Gloucestershire, remembering that Holy may not be what the committed Christian might understand by the word, nor would they bear comparison with such venerated and much visited places such as Lourdes, Fatima, Holywell in North Wales, or Walsingham in Norfolk all of which are still visited by Christians to this day.

Hereford – St Ethelbert’s Well.

Painswick: A town of wells but most commonly known and referred to is St Tibba’s or St Tabitha’s Well. St Tibba was a 7th century Anglo Saxon Saint who was a relative of St Kyneburga , Abbess of the Abbey in Gloucester. Her feast day is March 6th.

Tradition has it that St Tibba actually died in Leicestershire and her relics were buried in Peterborough in 963. Why the well is named after her is unknown, but her name may be a derivation from Celtic Towy or Tibey. The word tow is Celtic for flowing water. There are other wells in England dedicated to her.

The tradition is that the well was an appropriate place to visit if you had eye problems. Bread was mixed with the water from the well, and applied as a poultice to sore eyes. In the time of Henry VII a fine of 20d was imposed on anyone caught washing clothes in the water of Towy’s Well.

Elizabeth I confirmed this prohibition extending the offence to clothes nor any vile or impure thing in Tobye’s Well.

James I added no washing of entrails of swine in Tibby’s Well upon a fine of 6/8 and in 1617 no tress were to be felled anywhere near the Tybbe Well.

The well is today a simple stone spout which pours water into a small pool halfway down Tibbeywell Street near the top of the lane leading down to the mill.

Other wells at Painswick were Washwell, and Friday Street Well. They were really public springs and no known legends have come to light.

Stroud: Hemlock’s Well, is a spring lying three quarters of a mile SE of Stroud Church and was esteemed for its healing properties. The water was very cold and people used to take bottles of the water home as a cure ( or relief) from bone and muscle complaints, and lameness. The name may be attributable to hemlock plants which once grew there. The water is ordinary spring water common to the Cotswolds but is frequently contaminated.

Bisley Wells.jpg

Bisley: Just below the church at Bisley a spring emerges from the hillside, onto a semi circular stone enclosure – rather like an ornamental fountain. The water flows next into a gravel pool. Two other springs issue from the wall on either side of the enclosure and flow into stone troughs.

The well is noted for the well dressing on Ascension Day, when the ceremony was established by Thomas Keble, who also restored the ancient well in 1863. After a short service in the church, a procession moves to the well where it is blessed and decorated. Above the well is the legend:

O Ye Wells, Bless ye the Lord. Praise Him and magnify Him forever..

Dursley: South West of the church at Dursley a spring rises up out of the ground, around the Old Nunnery, formerly known as St Mary’s House. The Broadwell which it forms covers a space 15 feet square and two feet deep. It is described in Rudder (1779) and named, Broadwell. Leland in the 1500s also refers to this goodly spring. Around the back of the remains of the nunnery is a well probably built for the residents. Inside the building have been found stone figures of angel heads, of the virgin and child and some holy water stoups. Therefore this well has been called the Nuns’ Well. Sir Robert Atkyns says that the water is hard, and leaves heavy limestone deposits which are as tough as stone.

St Briavel’s
is the home of St Bride’s Well. The well is situated to the south of the crossroads to the south of St Briavel’s Castle and is a stone lined niche. It is named after St Bride or St Bridget who died about 525.She was abbess of Kildare and reputedly baptised by St Patrick. Many legends about her life abound, the most likeable being her gift of being able to change her bath water into beer to satisfy the thirst of her clergy visitors. Her feast is 1st February and is deeply rooted in Irish folk-lore but she has many devotees on the continent of Europe where convents and churches are named after her. St Briavel is the name of a Celtic Saint and one chronicler says that he was a hermit in the Forest of Dean after whom the place is named in writing for the first time in 1130. Nothing is known about his life, but June 17th was kept as his feast day.

Clearwell: On the roadside from Clearwell to Llandogo, one and half miles SW of Clearwell, just below and opposite Stowe Hall, one can hear, and after a challenging search, actually find the Stowe Well. The Hall was built on the supposed site of the Hermitage and Oratory of St Margaret and this has given its name – St Margaret’s – to the well. On the hill across the road, are the remains of a small single cell chapel, no doubt connected with the founding of a chantry here in 1226, by Grace Dieu Abbey, Monmouthshire and later turned into a Grange by the Cistercians.

The water issues from the hillside into a sunken well through a fairly large brick arched wall. On my recent visit it took nearly twenty minutes to clear the brambles and other growth in order to locate the well, which was still full although very muddy. A resident on the other side of the road form the well, said that it used to be maintained by Clearwell Council but of recent years it seems to have been abandoned.

St Margaret died in 485 and her feast day is July 20th. By the 13th century there were over 250 churches dedicated to her. She was born in Antioch, the daughter of a priest., One legend says that was put to death for being a Christian, another says she was swallowed by a dragon and her cross stuck in his throat so she was able to get out and save herself, holding a dove in her hand. Pagan legend has the goddess Aphrodite rising from a fish or dragon, carrying a dove in her hand. Thus this well may have had pagan origins and the cult of St Margaret substituted to combat the pagan devotion.

St Anthony's Well.jpg

Mitcheldean, nr Flaxley. St Anthony’s Well lies beneath beech trees just 100 yards from the edge of the trackway on the edge of the Edgehill Plantation near Gun’s Mill. It is one of the largest and most picturesque pilgrimage wells in the whole of England, and is probably contemporary with the founding of Flaxley Abbey in c1140. Rudder says the well is good for skin diseases and mangy dogs – dogs thrown in 2 0r 3 times are cured of the mange – but also for all sorts of skin diseases.

The spring collects in a small chamber issuing into a stone lined bathing pool, 7 feet square and 3 feet deep constructed in the C19th.

The ritual associated with the use of the waters according to the monks of Flaxley, is as follows:

Nine dippings on nine consecutive days in May or at sunrise. Naurally sceptics say that the monks invented the tradition of healings in order to attract pilgrims and their attendant offerings. It is also on record that the pool and water were used for baptisms as well as healings.

The water is a constant temperature at all seasons, and the name Anthony was adopted from an itching skin disease called St Anthony’s fire, which reached epidemic proportions in the Middle Ages. Dedication to St Anthony is a popular dedication.

St Anthony was a 4th century saint whose feast day is 17th January. In adult life, he followed a hermit’s life in Egypt near water, and sufferers used to come to him to be healed through prayer and the pouring of water. On one occasion, pilgrims nearing his hermitage ran out of drinking water and Anthony had a premonition of this fact, so he sent one of his followers to take water to the person. On another occasion, in a similar dry season, he knelt down, stretched out his hands and prayed and water gushed forth.

Didmarton, St Laurence’s Well: An easily recognisible and accessible well, consisting of a spring, a well and a pump. The water issues from the grounds of a nearby house and flows into an old circular 4 foot diameter well. The well is covered by a semi circular wall about 8 feet high, and four stone steps lead down to the water. The water flows from the well into a trough and then to a nearby pump, now out of action.

It has been the tradition that the well was actually blessed by St Laurence himself at which time he foretold that it would never run dry. How or why St Laurence was in this area is not clear. He was a companion of St Augustine on his first visit to England, and Augustine chose Laurence as his successor as Archbishop of Canterbury which position he held from 604. When he died he was buried in St Augustine’s Abbey at Canterbury and his tomb was opened and examined in 1915.

Wanswell, near Berkeley. This is undoubtedly a pre Roman source and the place where the water is collected appears to have been a Pagan well. The name originally was Wodenwell, after the god Woden who gave his name to Wednesday.

It had the reputation again for being a place where cures for eye problems took place and Smyth in his 1816 description of the hundred of Berkeley, wrote : From this well have been related so many miracles and strange cures that from the concurrence and confluence of all ages and sexes meeting at this Unholy Well, the proverb of the egg shell arose. This proverb was “All the maids of Wanswell could dance on an egg” – ie it was a place for promiscuity suggesting that there were few maids – virgins – in Wanswell. In 1930 Berkeley Castle and many houses in the town were still supplied with water from the Holy Well at Wanswell, in Hamfallow Parish. The undertakking had been initiated by Lord Fitzhardinge.

Today the well is shrouded by under and over growth but the water still flows and gathers in man made and artificial reservoirs. It is situated on the road from Wanswell to Holmore, about half a mile up the hill on the right. One needs to cross a meadow for about quarter of a mile, but the thicket in which lies the well is clearly visible and approachable

Oldbury on Severn. St Arild’s Well: St Arild was born in the Thornbury area, at Kington. She was a Virgin who refused to yield to the advances of one named Muncius, a tyrant, and he had her head cut off. A Saxon hymn in her honour talks about three attempts by Muncius to rape Arild, and after her death her body was taken to Gloucester and buried in the crypt of the St Peter’s Abbey. Miracles soon began to be experienced on visiting her burial place there,, and long hymns and poems were written about her wonderful deeds. Her image appears in a 14th century window of the Lady Chapel in Gloucester Cathedral, and in the reredos of that same chapel, there used to be a statue of St Arild, her name still being there carved by one of the masons. Two churches are dedicated to her, at Oldbury on Severn and Oldbury on the Hill near Didmarton. A third reminder of devotion to her is to be found at Oldbury on Severn where a well dedicated in her name still exists. It is another of the red wells, where the water that issues near the well’s overflow, gives a reddish colour to the stone over which it flows. Legend has it that the water runs red with St Arild’s blood. Her feast day is July 20th and in recent years a pilgrimage has been organised to the well on private land at Oldbury on Severn.

Siston: A Pin Well. Situated right of the roadside SW of the church of St Anne just before reaching St Anne’s Bridge is St Anne’s Well. It is a rough stone trough 4 feet by 2 feet, at road level divided into two unequal sections. In its heyday it drew people from Bristol especially the poor and those with weak eyes or those who were infertile. Pins were dropped into the well by women, hoping to become pregnant at the next intercourse. The efficacy of the waters as an eye cure was locally publicised as late as the 1930s. Similar wells with this custom and intention existed at Wrington, East Harptree and Portishead.

The cult of St Anne was at its height in the 14th century, and the bridge spans a stream which flows into the Bristol Avon.

The well is situated in a dangerous bend in the road, and is not immediately obvious, having become a repository for all sorts of litter. Local residents regularly attempt to keep it clear but seem to be fighting a losing battle. The bridge was rebuilt in 1790 but is very narrow and pedestrians standing looking at the well are in danger of accident from traffic passing over.

Holbrook/Abson. Not far from Siston is the hamlet of Holbrook where a Holywell gets its name from a spring dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, according to Rudder. It once supplied the local drinking water which was famed up to the 1920s as good for cures for eye problems. The Parish was once an estate of Glastonbury Abbey and the monks came here to bathe their eyes thus bestowing the holiness reputation of the well. In 2005 the well cannot be seen, although the water from the spring can be seen and heard. The well has been covered over for safety reasons, and also to discourage the vandalism which had taken place in recent times. The whole site is covered with foliage.

Glastonbury: This well probably supplied the Holy Well at the great Abbey Church and is called Chalice Well. This well attracted pilgrims as late as the 18th century for healing purposes and it was in the hill behind it that the Holy Chalice was supposedly last seen.

Pucklechurch – St Aldham’s Well. Pucklechurch is blessed with three known wells, Bridewells, Holywell and St Aldham’s Well. Sadly all three are no longer visited and only St Aldham’s well is easily accessible, but not recognisable as such. It is now covered by an iron manhole cover and is level with the farm driveway outside the main house of the Ash Farm Garden Centre. Gone is the well wall, as the result of a direct hit by the Luftwaffe in the last war.

Aldhelm was Abbot of Malmesbury and Bishop of Sherbourne in Dorset. He was born c639 becoming Abbot in 673. His life was one of much reading and fervent prayer. He had little use for money and if any came his way he spent it on the poor. He was appointed Bishop of Sherbourne in 705 near the end of his life, and he died at Doulting, exhausted by the stress of travelling around his large Episcopal See. His body was taken back to the Abbey at Malmesbury, accompanied by crowds of people who wanted to touch his coffin and stone crosses were erected along the way to mark the places where his coffin had rested on its final journey. His body was buried in the Abbey and for 200 years lay in the same place. Then in 955 his body was exhumed and interred in a costly silver shrine and various signs and miracles took place there amongst the many pilgrims who came to visit him.

Holy Wells were named in his honour as a result of the many miracles that were wrought there. The place of his death, Doulting , and Pucklechurch being just two. Both are said to provide water which is very good for the eyes, and Atkyns says, ‘renowned for its virtue in diet drinks. The water is holy and inextinguishable.’

It is traditionally held that Aldhelm came to Pucklechurch on one of his preaching visitation tours and having sprinkled a sick child with water from the spring, the child was immediately cured. At the same time he struck his pastoral staff into the ground and it sprouted to provide shelter for him while he was preaching. On another occasion, a girl from Pucklechurch was cured of a spinal disease on visiting his shrine at Malmesbury.

Matson, The Holy Red Well. Known as Edith’s Spring, the well water was a cure for tired eyes. Named after Edith, a noblewoman from Upton St Leonard’s who married an Earl at the age of 18. Shortly after giving birth to a son, her husband was killed fighting for King Harold. She decided to kill herself and her son, for fear of what the Normans might do to them. She took her child to Matson Hill, and began to dig a grave, red water sprang up and she took this as a sign of Divine intervention. As a result she dedicated herself to holy living and her son became an anchorite. The water still runs red to this day.

200 yards south of Matson Church on the road to Sneedham Green, above the road trough is Rag Well. It used to be near a thorn bush, and boasted very good water good for the eyes. The water however is red, as it flows through iron stone and clay into a roadside trough. It is mentioned by Rudder. The well is supposed to be of 1066 vintage when the church at Matson was given to the Abbey at Gloucester.



Hempsted, Gloucester: Ladyswell. The well is on private land and not easy – though possible – to reach, and overlooks the River Severn. The well house is a stone structure, quite tall, resembling a small chantry. On the west side is an arched opening. Water issues in front of this into a stone trough. On the gable end of the east wall is a very worn stone sculpture showing probably St Anne standing between her daughter, the Virgin Mary, and an angel. Because of these two figures it is sometimes known as St Anne’s Well, or equally frequently Our Lady’s Well or Ladyswell.

It was probably connected to Llanthony Priory dedicated to St Anne in 1136, the remains of which are just metres away. It may however have been a pre-Christian well dedicated to the god Wan or Woden, and this became ‘Anne’ when it was Christianised. Countless pilgrims have been recorded as coming here to seek cures, through drinking, bathing, washing the eyes etc. Pilgrimage was revived in 1989 and continued for a few years but has now ceased once more.

One imaginative legend says that the Virgin Mary came to England to visit St Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury. She was sailing upstream on the Severn when her boat was swept out of control by the bore. She wandered across the hills and found the spring from which she drank, before continuing her journey.

Gloucester – St Cyneburga’s Well. Another Holy Well in Gloucesterwith a similar background to that of St Arild existed at one time near the South Gate to the city. St Cyneburga was born and lived at Morton near Thornbury. Her parents arranged her marriage to a neighbouring nobleman against Cynburga’s will, so she fled to Gloucester where she secured a job in a baker’s household. The baker was so inspired by her piety that he adopted her as his daughter, which made his wife very jealous. One day when he was away from home, the wife had her killed and her body thrown down a well near the South Gate. On returning home, the baker called for her and she replied form the depths of the well. He had the body drawn but she was dead. Soon the story spread and miracles were wrought there and she became revered as saint and martyr.(W Hart ed, Historia et Cartularium Monasterii Gloucestriae (Rolls Series 1863) I, pp lxiv – lxviii; W Bazeley TBGAS 26 1903, p50) Heighway (Ancient Gloucester) claims that Cyneburga is the only inhabitant of Gloucester to have been canonised.

Highnam: At the bottom of Two Mile Lane is the remains of another chapel, now a sympathetically preserved and restored cottage, containing in the garden, another Holy Well. A small stone niche up in the south wall of the cottage would have held a statue possibly of Our Lady.

When Sir William Guise, in about the year 1870 was passing through Highnam, he asked a woman if she was living in a house that had once been a wayside chapel. She told him it was and that there had been a Holy Well on the premises, dedicated to St Mary. Not a single Irish traveller passing that way would not stop, cross himself with water form the well and offer a prayer there, she said. Today the well is in the cottage garden, appropriately restored to a height of about three feet. The well itself is about 11 feet deep, and peering into it one can easily see the original stonework lining. The owners have been told on several occasions that the house was originally a wayside chapel and that at the Reformation, the statue from the exterior niches was thrown down the well. Its recovery awaits to be accomplished. Inside the house, there are many indicators of the suggested use of the property as a chapel.

Coberley: Seven Springs. One of several springs allocated the number seven. – Northleach, Ozleworth, Bisley, and Doddington to name a few.Coberley was the acknowledged source of the River Thames, but in fact is the source of the river Churn. A stone inscription bears the legend in Latin: Hic Tuus O Tamesine Pater, septemgeminus fons. (Here O Father Thames is your sevenfold spring).

The spring bursts out of the pretty stone walled dell and is both safe and accessible for pilgrimage.

So why seven? Pythagorus taught that every number had a character, virtue and purpose. Seven belongs to sacred things, it was very powerful for good or evil – seven days of the week (creation) seven heavenly bodies, (Sun Moon, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn.) Nathan dipped himself seven times in the river to effect a cure, the seven deacons, seven sleepers, seven churches of Asia, seven wonders of the world, seven hills of Rome, seven ages of man etc. So seven has no physical meaning as far as wells are concerned and often there were only 5 or even three.

Winchcombe and St Kenelm: Kenelm was the young son of King Kenulf of Mercia and live at the beginning of the ninth century. Kenelm had an older step-sister Quendrith who was jealous of her step brother’s right of succession after the death of their father. One day, Kenelm asked his sister, in the absence of his father, if he could accompany the royal hunting party on an excursion to the Clent hills. Quendrith saw this as an opportunity to get rid of her brother. She bribed his tutor Askbert, to arrange his death while on the trip. The hunting party set off and while resting on the hills, Kenelm fell asleep and Askbert began to dig a grave, intending to kill the boy. Kenelm awoke, asked about the hole, but Askbert managed to talk his way out of the situation. Kenelm stuck his staff into the ground and it blossomed. So amazed was he that he knelt down to pray and as he did so, Askbert cut off his head, buried the body making it look as if the head was still attached, and when the hunters returned they were told Kenelm had wandered of on his own. After a frantic search, no sign of him was found so in fear they retuned to Winchcombe. In a vision, the Pope in Rome heard about the murder of the young prince and sent orders to the Archbishop of Canterbury to search for the body. Eventually the body was discovered, near to Romsely in the Clent Hills, and as it was taken out of the ground, a spring burst forth. The search party then set off to return to Winchcombe, carrying the body with them. They rested on their journey several times, but on one occasion as they approached Winchcombe carrying the body, they stopped just outside the town, and where they rested, a spring of clear water burst forth. Kenelm’s body was taken to the Abbey at Winchcombe, and buried there. Soon reports of miracles were recorded by the monks and pilgrims came in droves to visit his grave, and a chapel was built on the hillside at Sudeley where the spring had appeared, attracted by the healing properties of the miraculous waters. All that remains of the chapel today are some windows in an adjoining farmhouse as the chapel was demolished in c1830.

However, Kenelm was canonised and a well house was constructed where the spring burst forth. The present building is a replica of the one of 1572, built by the Dent family in 1887.

St Kenelm’s well is a small chapel like structure and on the west side of the well house is a doorway over which is a sculpted plaque of St Kenelm aged about seven. He is crowned and seated with a sword and sceptre in his hands. This effigy is copied form a 14th century manuscript. Above the sculpture is the date 819, and below, St Kenelmus. Inside the building is the well, and upon the walls are several inscriptions, one of which reads:

This well dating from Anglo Saxon times AD819, marks the spot where the body of Kenelm, King and Martyr, rested on the way to interment in Winchcombe Abbey.

The holy well was enshrined by a conduit house in the time of Elizabeth I and the sculpture was erected in 1887.

Sapperton: St Kenelm’s Well, so named after the church dedication. Another one of the sites where the body of the boy saint was supposed to have rested on his journey from Clent, but the village is in fact miles away from the burial place at Winchombe, and certainly not on the route the procession would have taken.

Beachley Head – St Tecla’s Well. Off Beachley there is a rocky Islet stretching out between the Wye and the Severn. On the island stands the remains of an old chapel, of which only an arch still exists. The chapel was the chantry of St Tewrog, (Twrog) and was the sanctuary of a hermit virgin, named Tecla, who in seventh century chose the island as her retreat. It would appear that she was a disciple of St Beuno or St Tatheus. She is recorded in the 6th century as being entertained by a rich man near Chepstow who still has his bath on Saturdays in the manner of his Roman forebears. (Webb, in Early medieval Dean). Danish pirate invaders murdered this virgin and she was later canonised. Her well remains in a small building, the successor to her chantry and was frequented her well of pilgrimage right up to the time of the Reformation.

The famous Saxon chronicler, William of Worcester records the ruins of this chantry chapel which he says was on the Rok Sent Tracyle. The Valor Ecclesiasticus calls it the Capella Sancti Triaci and Leland describes it as St Terendaca’s Chapel. In the Old English Church Calendar, Tecla’s feast day is 23 September – Virgin and Martyr and it is still in the Latin Prayer Book of 1560.

Canon Bazeley in the 1900s claimed to have evidence that the hermit dwelling there at the time of St Augustine, was visited by Welsh Bishops on their way to confer with Augustine at Aust. There on St Tecla’s Island, the hardy fisherman of the Wye and the mariner of the Severn, have bent the knee in prayer and received the blessing of many a forgotten saint.

Brislington – St Anne’s Well. Situated at Brislington about two miles from Bristol,in St Anne’s Wood. The Holy Well was associated with the Chapel of St Anne which stood about 300 yards to the NW. Throughout the middle Ages, pilgrimages were made here especially by sailors from Bristol. Henry VII visited this place in state in 1485 and his queen also came in 1502. The Chapel dating from 1392 was destroyed along with Keynsham Abbey to which it belonged, in 1539.

The Chapel had an image of St Anne before which thirteen candles continuously burned, paid for by the Guild of Weavers and Cordwainers. Leland, William of Worcester and the Duke of Buckingham in his diary, all attest to the efficacy of pilgrimage to the Chapel and the Well in search of St Anne’s protection.

Today there is no sign of the Chapel, but the Well is easily reached. It still retains its stone wall and the site is surrounded by iron railings. In the undergrowth is a carved stone shrine, probably depicting St Anne.

Down Ampney: The Rector in 1930 provided information that a well in a hedge in a field near the Oaks Cottages is known as St Augustine’s Well and is held by some authorities to have been the spot where St Augustine met the Welsh Bishops.

Twyning: Chad Well is a little well 2 feet deep and 3 feet in diameter, some 20 feet from the river and a quarter of a mile south of the ferry at Twyning Fleet. The well is on property forming part of Abbot’s Court and the water never fails.

Chedworth: close to the Church is Holy Well: in a farm enclosure to the south two good springs which formerly formed a fine cascade in the “Poor Land”. Water was taken from thes e springs for the supply of Manor farm buildings.


5 comments on “Holy Wells of Gloucestershire

  1. Sarah Head
    November 5, 2017

    Please could you tell me, if possible, what source Brian used for Chedworth Holy Well. There is no mention in Hope or in Scyring Walters and no subsequent well experts have talked about it. On visiting Chedworth there is no clue as to the wherabouts to the well and locals living next to the church have no information either.

    • Richard Barton
      November 5, 2017

      Dear Sarah, that was surprisingly easy! You will find the reference to ‘Holy Well’ if you look at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Memoirs of the Geological Survey England – ‘Wells and Springs of Gloucestershire’ by L. Richardson F.R.S.E., F.G.S., printed under the authority of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (1930), page 69 under ‘Chedworth’. Kind regards Richard.

  2. Sarah Head
    November 10, 2017

    Thank you so much for your help with this. I am hoping to return to Chedworth next week to take some photos and report my findings to some of the locals inhabitants. Best wishes, Sarah

  3. Anne Hayward
    March 19, 2020

    Fascinating website. Came across it whilst researching pilgrimage in Gloucestershire.

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This entry was posted on June 19, 2014 by in Saints and Holy Wells and tagged , , , , .
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