DIPPING WELLS - Stephanie Poultner
|Wells and Springs around Trellech
by Stephanie Poultner
Before the advent of mains water, every village or community had wells. These were either very deep, where a shaft was dug down to the water table, or shallow, where a spring naturally bubbled up and flowed freely at the surface.
Both types can still be found in and around Trellech, an area where many springs arise. The impressively deep shaft-well underneath the Village Green Inn and Restaurant and the old Town Well where spring water bubbles up into a chamber underneath a large stone slab on the ground are typical examples of both local types of well.
The name 'well' is derived from the old English words 'wella', 'wielle' or 'waella', meaning a spring or moving water. Since these springs and wells carried on flowing when other sources of water dried up, they were often linked with a deity or nymph of healing or fertility to whom offerings were made in order to obtain the deity's good will.
Customs such as tossing coins into a well or leaving offerings of flowers, metal tokens or pieces of cloth tied to nearby trees survive from ancient practices, the hope being that the spirit of the well may be persuaded to cure diseases, grant wishes, bring good luck or give glimpses of the future.
The 'miracle' of underground water rising spontaneously to the surface lead to wells gaining many supernatural associations. The Celts often raised altars and made sacrifices by them which may be how well-dressing ceremonies originated. In Derbyshire, wells are decorated with fluorspar (a local mineral), stones, petals, bark and grasses, forming elaborate pictures which are displayed at the well on Ascension Day.
According to the writer Geoffrey Grigson, such wells are 'relics of an ancient delight in the ceaseless welling up of springs, a delight in clear sparkling water which is about as old as mankind.'
The Christian authorities often denounced and forbade this well-worship, but as these beliefs persisted they eventually 'Christianised' many 'Pagan' wells. For example, what we now know as the Virtuous well was called St Anne's well. St Anne, the mother of the Virgin, was a favourite patroness of holy wells, possibly to encourage fertility. At St Anne's well at Llanfihangel in Glamorgan, water flowed out through the stone breasts of a figure of this saint.
Sometimes wells were roofed with small stone buildings and the spring water often flowed into a stone bath or tank so that people could totally immerse themselves in the healing waters. The remains of a splendid local example can still be found below Hygga Farmhouse, half a mile south-west of Trellech.
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Created May 1, MM