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

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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…

Cross County

Looking for ancient crosses in Lichfield, has so far lead only to hints of their existence – a one line reference in an old book here, a placename there. Nothing concrete (or should I say stone?).  So imagine how happy I was when I visited Ilam Park yesterday and found that were two thought to date back to the 10thc standing in the churchyard with a third shaft incorporated into the church wall…..

Church of the Holy Cross, Ilam, Staffs

 

…..and imagine how much I kicked myself when I got home and found out there was yet another stone, known as ‘The Battle Stone’, located in the grounds of Ilam Hall that I had missed!

However, as a consolation, I learnt at home that this spring near to the church is thought by some to be St Bertram’s Well (although others place this on a hillside near to the village).

St Bertram’s Well?

The Shrine of St Bertram (also known as St Bertelin or maybe Beorhthelm of Stafford) is inside the church. As you might expect, there is more than one account of St Bertram’s life. The most well known version seems to be the tragic story that he was a Mercian Prince whose wife gave birth to a child in a forest. The wife and baby were killed by wolves and St Bertram became a hermit near to Ilam, It’s thought this story might be represented on the churches font, which dates back to around the 12thc.

You can decide for yourself, if you look at this website on Romanesque sculpture, which gives a detailed description of the font, together with photos.

However, Stafford Borough Council have this version on their website, which doesn’t feature the tragic part of the legend.

The legend of St Bertelin derives from the 14th century account of him by Capgrave in his ‘Nova Legenda Anglie’, retold by Dr Robert Plot in his ‘Natural History of Staffordshire’ (1686). He is reputed to have been the son of the Mercian prince, the friend and disciple of St Guthlac who, after St Guthlac’s death c 700, continued his holy vocation on the islet of Betheney now Stafford. Here, he remained until forced to retreat from the ill-will of jealous detractors, when he repaired to Ilam, in Dovedale, Derbyshire where ultimately he died. His burial place in Ilam church was once a place of pilgrimage.

His burial place still seems to be a place where people come, not just seeking out history like me, but for spiritual reasons. As you can see from the photo of the shrine, prayers (I didn’t read them) and candles are still left there.

I have found a copy of the ‘Nova Legenda Anglie’, but as my Latin only stretched to ‘Caecilius est pater’, I need a bit of time alone with google translate.  So, I’ll leave the legend of St Bertram/Bertelin there for now other than to say that it’s believed that the remains of St Bertelin’s chapel in Stafford were excavated in the 1950s and they discovered part of a 1,000 year old cross. And this one is made of wood!

Ilam, Stafford and I’ve seen references to existing crosses in Wolverhampton, Leek, Chebsey (between Eccleshall & Stafford), amongst other places. With the discovery of the ‘Battlestone’ in Ilam (the one that I missed!) in the foundations of a cottage, during a restoration in 1840, I’m still clinging to the hope that at least a fragment of one survives somewhere in Lichfield!

Sources:

http://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/gateway/

http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/ (Entry numbers 1038113, 1012654, 1012653,

Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain & Island http://www.crsbi.ac.uk/index.html

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/705619

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/ (St Bertram’s Well http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=14731)

http://www.staffordbc.gov.uk/in-touch-with-the-past

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

 

Well Being

My visit to Farewell several weeks ago got me interested in finding out more about wells. Brownhills Bob showed me a map of the area around Farewell and it’s amazing to see how many other ‘well’ related placenames there are in that area alone e.g. Stoneywell, Cresswell, Coldwell, Nuns Well and my own personal favourite, Giddywell (wonder what was in the water there?!).

I’ll come back to these another time but for now I thought it would be interesting to find out a bit about what’s probably the most well known well in our area – St Chad’s Well here in Lichfield.

The well has changed a fair bit over the years. The earliest description of the well is said to come from Leland who visited in the 1500s and is quoted in a Lichfield history book published in 1819 as saying “…Stowe church on the east of the towne where is St Chad’s well a spring of pure water where is seen a stone in the bottom of it on which some say St Chad was wont naked to stand in the water and pray at this stone…”.

Today, St Chad’s Well looks like this.

 

 

 

Below is a picture of the well and church drawn by William Stukeley in 1736. As far as I know, it’s the oldest image of the well that there is.

However, James Rawson reported that by 1833 the well had ‘degenerated into a most undignified puddle, more than 6 feet deep’. He seems to dispute Stukeley’s drawing, saying that there was no outlet for escape of water and the brook was not near to the well as depicted above. The well basin had become ‘filled up with mud and filth’ which Rawson believed was due to drainage in the surrounding meadows. As a result an octagonal building was erected over the well, which remained in place until 1947, when I understand that the well was actually moved to its present position and took on its current form. It would be interesting to see if there are any first hand accounts of this?

St Chad's Well, 1915. Image from Wikipedia

 
At some point it seems people may have thought the water in the well was harmful to drink. In a volume of ‘The Antiquary’, published in 1889 a Rev C F R Palmer is quoted as saying “It is popularly believed that it is dangerous to drink of the water of St. Chad’s Well, as it is sure to give a fit of the ” shakes,” Yet, in spite of the attendant’s remonstrances, I took a good draught, and, instead of ague, experienced only great refreshment in a fatiguing walk on a sultry day”. Like Rev Palmer, the lad in the photo looks like he’s about to take a good draught and doesn’t seem too concerned!

In 1806, Thomas Harwood wrote that ” The superstitious custom of adorning this well with boughs and of reading the gospel for the day at this and at other wells and pumps is yet observed in this city on Ascension Day”.  According to St Chad’s church website, the tradition of well dressing (mostly associated with our neighbours over in Derbyshire) was revived in 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Christian Aid. I think the last well dressing was in 2010 with a girl guide theme. I wonder if the custom will be revived again?

I had always assumed that the well and the spring were one and the same, but it seems that it was separate, or at least it became separate at some point. I don’t feel too bad about my ignorance though, as in 1923, the churchwarden Thomas Moseley said ‘no living person knew where the water came from’. In a book published in 1846, I’ve read that ‘The water of the well is sulphurated and near to it is a pretty iron pump giving water from a second well which is a superfine chalybeate’ and in an archaeological survey from 2006, it refers to a little brick building containing the spring. The survey was carried out as there was a proposal to build a visitors centre in the well’s vicinity. I understand that plans for the centre were abandoned in February 2008 but the survey makes for an interesting read and you can find it here.

Though plans for a visitors centre didn’t come to fruition, there is another project that will bring people to the well. On 1st April,  at 2.30pm the Bishop of Lichfield will be opening the first interpretation panel on the Two Saints Way, a pilgrimage route linking Lichfield Cathedral and St Chad’s Well with the shrine of St Werburgh at Chester Cathedral. I hope this is a success and I wish David Potts and all those involved……well!

Sources:

Some account of Croyland Abbey, read by JM Gresley by William Stukeley

A Short Account of ther City and Close of Lichfield by Thomas George Lomax, John Chappel Woodhouse and William Newling

The Gentleman’s magazine, Volume 217

www.saintchads.org.uk/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/parishprofile2011.pdf

www.stchads.org.uk

 The Wanderings of a Pen & Pencil by F P Palmer (1846)

The Antiquary Vol 22

http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/catalogue/adsdata/arch-841-1/dissemination/pdf/oxfordar1-50626_1.pdf

 

 

Bricks & Water

With traces of snow on the ground, but the sun shining, I headed back to Farewell last weekend.  Following my previous visit, I’d had a look at some old maps and another extremely helpful conversation with BrownhillsBob on the subject of wells. I was hopeful that this time I’d be able to find the site of the well, that gave the place its name.

This description of the well is from ‘A Tale of Fairwell’, set at the priory in 1527 and published in the early 1800s  – ‘Exactly in the centre, the sparkling tide of a large well or rather fountain leapt from a carved stone basin and hurrying hither and thither amidst rich grass floated under an arch in the wall into the pool that supplied the mill.’ Whether there is any element of truth in this description or whether it’s completely imagined, I don’t know!

All I could find is this hollow, which is marked on maps ranging from 1884 to the late 1960s, as a pond. The maps also show a well or spring to the north east marked as ‘Well’ or ‘Fare Well’.

 Just down from this old pond, is a small brook in which there are some big chunks of stone. This brings me onto the next question! What remains of the priory of St Mary, initially founded as a hermitage but shortly afterwards converted into a nunnery?

The priory was dissolved in 1527. It seems that the old nunnery chapel was retained as a church but most of it was rebuilt in 1747 in brick,  leaving only the stone chancel.

The two different parts of the church.

Pat suggested that a nearby wall might contain some of the stone from the earlier building(s).

A brick wall has been built around the church yard, and this too seems to incorporate some older stone?

A archaeological resistivity survey carried out in 1992 located areas of higher resistivity thought to relate to demolition debris from structures associated with the church. Staffordshire Record Office hold the results of the survey which ‘revealed significant archaeological remains relating to the priory, including walls of buildings and the remains of the precinct wall’. I wonder whereabouts?

Until I can get my grubby mitts on a copy of this or any other real evidence, I’ll just have to be content that Farewell is a lovely place to speculate about!