Well Wishers

I’ve written previously about how the appearance (and apparently, the actual location!) of St Chad’s well has changed over the years here, but I’ve recently found some contemporary accounts of the well’s previous incarnation – a ‘vertical tube built of engineering bricks, covered with a kind of gloomy sentry-box of stone’, which had apparently become so neglected in the 1940s that only a few inches of stagnant water covered in a green scum remained in the bottom of the pool. (1)

In November 1946, the Bishop of Stafford lamented that the well had once been a place of great pilgrimage but had fallen into a state of neglect and considerable disrepair and in April 1948, E Sutton, a former caretaker of the well, described it as having degenerated into a wishing well. A few weeks later, Mr Sutton submitted a further letter to the Mercury, advising, ‘I have again visited the site and found it in a worse state than on my visit there last Autumn. Then boards covered the Well. These are now removed and the Well is full of rubbish, among brick-bats and wood being a worn out coal bag! I noticed too, among the bricks and stonework lying around in wild confusion the ancient ‘St Chad’s Stone’, which the historian Leland, writing of his visit to the Well some four hundred years ago, states was then believed to be the very stone upon St Chad stood in the icy water as an act of penance, it then being the bottom of the Well. When the small building was erected over the Well in Stuart times, this stone was incorporated into the building, no doubt in order to preserve it. Many hundreds of hands have been placed upon it, mostly with reverence, since. It now lies among the rubbish, one corner broken. A fitting symbol of the ideals of 1948!’ (2)

St Chads Well

St Chad’s Well today

Saint Chad's c.1915. Taken from Wikipedia

Saint Chad’s Well c.1915. Taken from Wikipedia

I’m intrigued by this reference to ‘the ancient St Chad’s stone’. When James Rawson described the site prior to his restoration in the 1830s, he noted that, ‘the well-basin had become filled up with mud and filth; and on top of this impurity a stone had been placed, which was described as the identical stone on which Saint Chad used to kneel and pray!’. Despite Rawson’s apparent scepticism about these claims, was he somehow persuaded to use this stone in his new well structure, thereby perpetuating the myth? I’d love to see what went on in those discussions and I’d really like to know what happened to this legendary stone. St Chad may not have been anywhere near it, but the fact that people believed he had should have made it worth saving for posterity’s sake.

Water in the well

Water in the well

Unfortunately for Mr Sutton, the restoration of the well did not put a stop to people using St Chad’s Well for wishes, as evidenced by the layer of coins that still glint beneath the water, tossed in at some point over the last half century or so. It’s often suggested that this is the continuation of a ritual that our ancestors were carrying out a long, long time before St Chad arrived in Lichfield. Some things change. Some stay the same.

Notes

(1) The octagonal stone well structure erected by Rawson in the 1830s, as described by the Lichfield Mercury on May 6th 1949!

(2) A little off topic, but it’s amusing to see that it’s not just nowadays that letters appear in the Lichfield Mercury suggesting that society is going to hell in a handcart. Once again, some things stay the same…

Under the Bridge

It might not have rained on St Swithin’s day here in Lichfield but water was still the theme this weekend. On Saturday, I was supposed to be at the Festival of History at Kelmarsh in Northamptonshire. However, it seems that nature wanted to get involved in the reenactment of history too and successfully managed to put the marsh back into Kelmarsh. Maybe Dr Rawson was right when he warned “Drive nature out as you will, and she will come back”!

Here in Lichfield, I’ve read that marshy land was known as ‘moggs’ and that the Museum Gardens were once known as Swan Moggs or the Bishop’s Fish Pool.  You can see an artist’s impression from 1848 of the scene in 1548 here.

A causeway was built to separate the Moggs from from Minster Pool in the early 1300s, and the road became known as Newebrugge St, later Brugge St and eventually Bird St. According to Rawson, the original bridge was widened by 5 foot in 1768. It was replaced by a new bridge in 1816, but I was quite excited to see that the listed building description  says that the remains of the old bridge could still be below the water of Minster Pool. Has anyone anyone ever been down there to have a look, I wonder? I’m probably not quite excited enough to hire a wetsuit and go looking for it, but you never know!

Adding Olympic Flames to the waters of Minster Pool, near the Causeway Brige

It seems that other interesting discoveries have been made near the site of the bridge. According to the Pastscape record, during the 19th century there was a malthouse on the causeway and in 1802, when they were digging a well they discovered a roman goblet called a cyathus and fragments of several human remains. How did they come to be there?

Once again, it’s worth taking a look at John Snape’s 1781 map of Lichfield as it show the extent of the Moggs at that time.

While we’re at it, here’s John Speed’s 1610 map again as well!

1610 map of Lichfield

As you might expect, the Bird St ward banner features the Causeway.

Something I’m especially interested in relating to all this are the references I’ve seen to a well in the vicinity. So far, I’ve seen it called Merelynswele, Merliche Well and Maudlin’s Well and various sources seem to place it adjoining the Bishop’s Fish Pool, and accessible from Shaw Lane.

View down Shaw Lane, off Beacon St

I might be wrong but is the original name made up of three watery elements i.e. Mere-lyns-wele with mere as in Windemere, lyn deriving from the celtic word for for lake and of course wele for well?

The name of the well seems to have changed over the years.  For example, John Jackson suggested that the well became known as Maudlin’s as, ‘Tradition says some person having enjoyed his bottle rather too freely tumbled into this well which has since been distinguished by its present epithet Maudlin signifying a state of inebriation. It is clearly however an abbreviation of Magdalen’s’. Dr Rawson referred to it as Merliche, the pool-marsh well.

What I really need to do is to get down to the record office to have a look at the plan of Maudlins Well and Dean’s Croft that they I’ve just found out that they have. Wait, Dean’s Croft? That sound’s familiar….. Might wait until it stops raining AGAIN though 😦

Sources:

(1) An inquiry into the history and influence of the Lichfield waters by Rawson 1840

(2) A short account of the city and close of Lichfield by Thomas George Lomax, John Chappel Woodhouse, William Newling

History & Antiquities of the Church & city of Lichfield by Thomas Harwood

Collections for a History of Staffordshire Part II- Vol VI (1886)

History of the City and Cathedral of Lichfield by John Jackson

A History of the County of Stafford Vol 14: Lichfield edited by MW Greenslade