Court Well, Thame, Oxfordshire

by Lesley Park & Alan Cleaver


     If you asked people in Thame where the town's holy well was I doubt many would be able to tell you. For it is a sad fact that the town's oldest historical feature is now sadly neglected and forgotten. When you gaze upon the crumbling brickwork and stagnant water today it is hard to imagine that this was probably once the town's most important site.

     The nineteenth century historian Lupton, writing in his History of Thame, talked of the Cuttlebrook to the west of the town centre and added:

...on the bank of the High Ground above is a fine pure spring of high repute for its many virtues. We doubt not that the spring is a holy one and that its original name was Court Well, that the brook below had its name from the spring which was corrupted into Cuttle [1].

     Brown's and Guest's history of Thame adds further that it was known for its particular ability to cure eye complaints [2]. The well was 'restored' probably about 1850, but this destroyed the scalloped front which originally existed around it. It is frightening how much history has been lost by so-called restoration.

     Lupton also tells of an inscription on one of the stones surrounding the well but infuriatingly says that 'this could not be got at' [3]. The well still exists today and can be found tucked under St Joseph's R.C. School on the private land that runs down to Cuttle Brook. The stone structure is in a dilapidated state and sadly the spring no longer flows through the structure. Probably the building of St Joseph's School cut off the spring from the holy well proper, and it now bursts forth from the ground in the corner of the field. Interestingly there are three hawthorn trees by the well. This recalls the legend of St Joseph of Arimathea who on arriving in England struck his staff on the ground and it took root as a thorn tree. This thorn tree (a cutting of which existed at Quainton, near Thame [4]) only blossomed at Christmas. Joseph buried the chalice of the Last Supper (the 'holy grail') at Glastonbury and immediately a spring gushed forth tinged with the Holy Blood. If the building of St Joseph's School did cut off the supply of water to Court Well, it would be suitably ironic.

     The only other hint we have about any possible origin of the well comes from its known ability to cure eye complaints. To folklorists this is an indication that the well may have once been associated with the Norse god Odin (the Germanic Woden, from whom we get Wednesday - Wodensday). He was also known as a healer and, more interestingly, he is said to have sacrificed one of his eyes in order to drink from the spring of knowledge, Mimir's Well [5].

     The well is now on private property but has sadly been vandalised over the years. There used to be a stone arch on top of the structure [6] but this no longer exists. An elderly woman told us that as a child she and her schoolfriends were told that hobgoblins haunted the well. She quickly added thas they did not seriously believe this story, but it does show that even at that time the well had some importance in the town.

6 August 1994.

 


Notes

1. Lupton, Harry, The History of Thame and its Hamlets, Thame, 1860.
2. Brown, D. Howard, & Guest, William, A history of Thame, Thame, 1935.
3. Lupton, op. cit.
4. Uttley, Alison, Buckinghamshire, Robert Hale, 1958, p.249.
5. 'Odin traded one of his eyes for a drink of [Mimir's Well]': Matthews, Caitlin & John, The Aquarian Guide to British and Irish Mythology, Aquarian Press, 1988.
6. Brown & Guest, op. cit.

 

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Text  Lesley Park & Alan Cleaver (1994)

Designed & Maintained by Richard L. Pederick ( 1999) | Created 26/11/99