Soul Sister

Friend and well hunting expert Pixy Led described Nun’s Well at Cannock Wood as being, “…perhaps the most hidden of all the springs and wells I have investigated”, and it was only thanks to his post about the site on his brilliant Holy and Healing Wells blog that this well hunting amateur was able to locate it. Between Pixy’s and my visits, it appears the site has been tidied up considerably and this is my attempt to do the same historywise, purely to satisfy my own curiosity.  It’s much more appealing than sorting out the cupboard under the stairs. Or cleaning for the Queen.

nuns well board

Nun’s Well is a spring rising in a chamber cut from rock with a sixteenth century Tudor style brickwork arch. Legend has it that the well has healing powers, specifically for sore eyes, and takes its name from a nun who was murdered there. Centuries after she was pushed to her death, two farm labourers discovered her earthly remains in the sealed up well and her ghost materialised before them. As Pixy points out on his blog, however, two of the best known works on Staffordshire folklore don’t even mention the well let alone its resident spirit.  I have found a reference in Robert Garner’s 1844 Natural History of the County of Stafford, which also doesn’t mention the ghost story but does offer an alternative explanation of how the well got its name,

“To descend to more recent times we lately visited a spot where one of our early monastic institutions was placed, Redmore, from which the nuns were soon removed to Polesworth because the gay cavaliers riding that way to hunt on Cannock Chase spoiled their devotions. With some trouble we found the solitary quadrangular site not far from Gentleshaw in some low ground embosomed in a wood through which a brook flows now ochrey from the scoriae of an ancient smelting place above and here also is a well considered medicinal and still called the nun’s well”.

It’s still not an entirely satisfactory version of events though (although there’s something undeniably satisfying about seeing something described as being embosomed in a wood. Must be the logophile in me).

nunswell sign

There does appear to have to have been a monastic institution near to the well. Records show that in 1141, King Stephen granted land at Radmore or Red Moor to two hermits called Clement and Hervey and their companions. Frequent disturbances from passing foresters, rather than gay cavaliers, interrupted the quiet contemplations of Clement, Hervey and co, causing them to ask Empress Matilda if she could find them somewhere a bit quieter. It’s recorded that she agreed to this on the condition that their religious house be converted to the Cistercian order. It seems the hermits kept their part of the deal, and the retreat became a Cistercian abbey but according to the History of the County of Warwick, the foresters continued to cause problems. As soon as Henry II ascended the throne in 1154, the now Cistercian Monks petitioned him to transfer them to his manor at Stoneleigh. Henry did so and traces of the original abbey can still be found at Stoneleigh Abbey, now a grand country house.

Whether anything of the original abbey remains at Radmore is where things get really messy. Ordnance Survey maps of the area from the 1880s onwards show the site of a priory near to the well (see the 1949 map incorporated in Brownhills Bob’s post on Gentleshaw Reservoir here). According to Walsall place names expert and tricycle rider Duignan this is actually a muck up on behalf of the surveyors who, “… have mistaken furnace slag for ancient ruins (of the abbey)”.  What he found on the site was, “heaps of furnace slag, evidently of great antiquity, with 300-400 year old oak tress standing on and beside the slag”. It seems from the description of the site given by Historic England that that these could mark the site of a medieval bloomery or iron furnace. A medieval moated site also exists in the vicinity and there are suggestions that this is the site of a royal lodge established by Henry II shortly after the monks moved on to pastures quieter. As Staffordshire County Council’s Historic Environment Character Assessment report says, ‘the precise location of the abbey is unknown, but it is believe to have stood near Courtbank Coverts near Cannock Wood where a scheduled moated site and bloomery survive’.

nuns well fence

So, in the area we have a moated site, a hunting lodge, iron working and a short-lived abbey (somewhere) but how and where does the nun fit in to all this? Duignan suggests the name arose as the land was owned by the nunnery at Farewell. I read an interesting line in the History of the County of Stafford’s section on the Abbey at Radmore which says, ‘King Stephen granted Radmore, probably between 1135 and 1139, to Clement, Hervey, and their companions as the site for a hermitage…Bishop Roger de Clinton confirmed this grant and gave the hermits permission to follow any rule they wished and to receive and instruct any holy women who came to them after adopting a rule”. That suggests to me that there may have been holy women here at Radmoor…nuns? Hardly the most watertight of etymological explanations I know but then I don’t think Duignan’s is that convincing either. Is it? Although Nun’s Well is not technically a wishing well, please do feel free to throw in your two pence worth.

nunswell water

 

Sources:

G C Baugh, W L Cowie, J C Dickinson, Duggan A P, A K B Evans, R H Evans, Una C Hannam, P Heath, D A Johnston, Hilda Johnstone, Ann J Kettle, J L Kirby, R Mansfield and A Saltman, ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Radmore’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3, ed. M W Greenslade and R B Pugh (London, 1970), p. 225 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/p225 [accessed 4 March 2016].

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1003750

‘Parishes: Stoneleigh’, in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 6, Knightlow Hundred, ed. L F Salzman (London, 1951), pp. 229-240 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/warks/vol6/pp229-240 [accessed 7 February 2016].

http://cistercians.shef.ac.uk/abbeys/stoneleigh.php

Take a Bough

I’ve heard about a project called Tree Following via Gary Webb on Twitter, who is following a London Plane at Compton Verney. The project is being run by Lucy Corrander on her Loose and Leafy blog and the idea is to follow the life of a tree or a group of trees, returning at various points in the year to note the changes and what’s going on.

I love how trees reflect the changing seasons but also what they can tell us about our changing surroundings. For example, some like those at Beacon Park, are reminders of an old estate, when the buildings themselves are long gone.  I like the idea that each species of tree has a history, with its own uses and customs and also that there have been trees in the past which have been so important they have given their name to an area, such as the Shire Oak at Walsall Wood.

Which tree(s) should I follow though? Here are some contenders, in and around Lichfield.

My current thoughts are that I’ll choose a tree at Leomansley Wood and also our cider orchard at Fisherwick. I hope the comparison between a mature woodland tree and an orchard sapling will be interesting. Although, as you can see from the photo, the cider trees aren’t much more than sticks at the moment, so we’ll see!

Scheduled Visit

Sitting in the car park of a closed museum*, we pondered our next move. I remembered there was a sign for ‘Castle Ring’ a little way down the road, an Iron Age Hill Fort I’d always meant to visit, but hadn’t. Perfect. A short while later we pulled up in a much fuller car park that the one we had left.

Plan B

Ridge & Furrow I think. See edit below.

As Castle Ring is only about 6 miles away from Lichfield, this post is a nudge to get you to go and have a look for yourself if you possibly can, as descriptions and photos (especially the kind I take!) are no substitute for visiting the highest point of Cannock Chase (235m in fact), which also happens to be a site thought to have been occupied 2,500 years ago. For more information & directions, you can download the leaflet from here and read a much more detailed description on the Pastscape record.

On the subject of photos though, it is worth having a look at a photo of the site from above.

Now that I’ve been once, I shall definitely have to go back. There are the remains of a 12th century medieval hunting lodge I missed and as well as being a Scheduled Ancient Monument, it’s also been classified as a Site of Biological Importance. Adders and common lizards, damselflies and dragonflies are found in the grass and bogland habitats there.

Obviously, I am no expert, but it’s interesting to read the Management Plan  produced by Cannock Chase District Council (according to the plan, they purchased the site for £200 in 1933 at a sale at the Swan Hotel in Lichfield. It had previously belonged to the 6th Marquis of Anglesey). It must be a hard task to maintain a balance between public access to somewhere like this and protecting the site’s ecology and archaeology. 

I’ve mentioned the Scheduled Ancient Monument we have here in Lichfield before. Other than this listing, is there anything in place to protect, manage or inform about this site, as there is at Castle Ring? Should there be?

*My fault entirely. Considering I spend so much time on the internet, you’d think I’d use it for useful things like checking opening times!

Edit 25/1/2012. Doubt has crept in about when that ridge & furrow dates to. I originally said it dated back to early 20th century, based on something I’d read but ‘Born a Lichfeldian’s’ comment has made me rethink this. So if any knows any better (and I’m sure there are plenty that do!) please don’t hesitate to put me straight!