Bridewell Springs - Holy Wells - At the Sign of the Black Cat
Bridewell Springs, Bratton

Well of the White Horse

briddle.jpg (16160 bytes)These springs, between Westbury and Bratton, lie in a wooded hollow below Bratton White Horse at the foot of the steep escarpment which borders Salisbury Plain. Springs break all along this scarp, which runs around the west and north side of the Plain from Warminster to the Pewsey Vale.

In the nearby village of Bratton Bridewell is pronounced Briddle, and it seems that this is the more authentic pronunciation, for earlier forms of the name are Brudewelle (1341), Breddel Spring (1773) and Briddle Spring (1830). Gover et al. suggest that the name means 'bride's spring', and that it is perhaps a fertility spring. (Gover 1939, 150) The fertility element seems likely whether the name derives from the Anglo-Saxon bride, a woman about to be married, or from St. Bride or Brigid, the patron saint of midwives and newborn babies. (Jones 1994, 59) It is widely accepted that the cult of St. Brigid derives in part from the Celtic triple goddess  Brigid or Brid:"She would appear to have survived in Irish tradition in the guise of the Christian saint, Brigid of Kildare, whose cult was extremely popular...and who is commemorated all over Britain in church dedications and holy wells." (Ross 1993, 289)

However, local folklore has nothing to say about this. What is said in Bratton is that, when Bratton church clock strikes midnight, the White Horse goes down to Briddle Springs to drink. This is a typical piece of folklore in two quite different ways. Many landscape features - usually stones, but statues and hill-figures too - are said to wander about when certain conditions are met: the Diamond Stone at Avebury crosses the road when it hears the clock strike midnight, for example. (Grinsell 1976, 113) But very often these stories are a joke to take in the unwary: the Diamond Stone could not possibly hear the clock strike. The joke in this case, which Bratton folk would know, and the gullible visitor would not, is that Bratton church does not have a clock. 

Location

ST 892518 OS 1: 25 000 sheet 1200.

Park at the Westbury White Horse viewing point on the B3098 near Fair View Farm. Walk up the unsurfaced road which runs ENE towards Bratton: this is the old Westbury Road and is a bridleway. Opposite some farm buildings take the track right which leads back towards the B3098. Halfway along here on the right in a deep overgrown hollow are Bridewell Springs. 

References

Gover, J.E.B. et al. (1939). The place-names of Wiltshire. Nottingham : English Place-name Society.

Grinsell, Leslie V. (1976). Folklore of prehistoric sites in Britain. Newton Abbot : David & Charles.

Jones, Alison (1994), The Wordsworth dictionary of saints. Ware : Wordsworth.

Ross, Anne (1993). Pagan Celtic Britain : studies in iconography and tradition. Rev. ed. London : Constable.

web metrics

Wiltshire Holy Wells

Design by Black Cat Folklore
Page originally created on 13 Feb 1998.  Reset in this style 30 May 2007

j0323082.wmf (15990 bytes)
Sign of the Black Cat