|Puckwell, West Knoyle|
Well of the goblinl
Puckwell lies in Puckwell Coppice at West Knoyle in the south-west of the county. It is a simple spring, little more than a muddy and foul-smelling hole in the ground when I visited it in the summer of 1994. Puckwell is puca-wielle, the spring of the puca or goblin (Gover 1939, 177) The English puck, like the Welsh pwka and Irish phouka, was a shape-shifting hobgoblin. Shakespeare turns Puck into a genial if mischievous figure, but in Middle English the name Puck was used of the Devil (Briggs 1977, 326; 336-7), and it is certainly as a denizen of hell that the early (and later) Church viewed all such goblins and well-dwelling spirits. The usual Church practice was to transform the well-spirit into a Saint, often by blessing the well and mingling the pagan cult with that of a suitable saint. At some wells this never happened, and again, we can only guess at the reason. Our Puckwell remains a goblin's well - perhaps the Devil's well - but certainly a well which was never Christianised, and whose name speaks to us of its pagan past.
GR 856318, OS 1:25 000 Sheet 1240. A footpath runs south-east alongside Puckwell Coppice, and there is room to park here. Puckwell Coppice is in the care of the Woodland Trust. The well lies just within the woodland on the south-east side, and is easiest located from the field on that side. While in West Knoyle take a look at the grotesque male exhibitionist on the south-east corner of the church tower. He is bent double in the acrobat's feet-to-ears position, flashing his all to the four winds, right above the spot where all the Victorian ladies and gentlemen would have passed under him on their way to Divine Service. Just the sort of joke to appeal to Puck, I guess.
Briggs, Katharine (1977). A dictionary of fairies, hobgoblins, brownies, bogies and other supernatural creatures. Harmondsworth : Penguin.
Gover, J.E.B. et al. (1939). The place-names of Wiltshire. Nottingham : English Place-name Society.
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