Wells and Well Dressing

It is believed that when a person visits a wishing well it is possible to change ones luck and attract a desire by placating the spirits that dwell there, usually by leaving an offering in the form of a coin left in the water. However another method is after having formed an image in your mind of what you want, the wisher must then stoop and drink from the wells water which they have gathered in the palm of their hand three times, and without speaking, at the same time revolving the wish in their mind during this process.

The wish must not be told to anyone, no matter how close, until the wish has been accomplished, otherwise the breach of faith you have formed with the spirit of the well will have been broken. This will be followed by disaster and ill fortune, so be careful what you wish for, and remember that many wells are unsafe to drink from these days due to pollution.

In Derbyshire wells have more significance than on the other side of the border in Cheshire, this is thought to be due to the geology of Derbyshire. Many villages have in fact been built upon the limestone which can be found in abundance here, and with only a thin layer of top soil any rain that fell here would seep through the soil and the limestone rock to the underlying subterranean cistern that underlies the limestone.

In this area springs were vital and many hill settlements that were founded in Derbyshire were invariably sited around natural springs that emerged out of the limestone, so if the spring was to fail during a drought the village itself would be threatened.

It is thought that due to the importance of these wells and their life giving waters, that this is the reason that the ritual of Well Dressing emerged. Especially worth mentioning is Tissington well which due to its purity of water was able to sustain the population of the village during the Black Death of 1348-9, and also the waters kept flowing during the prolonged drought of 1615.

An example of well dressing outside Grindon church, the picture has been created by sticking flower petals onto a base of wet clay

The art of Well Dressing is a means of decorating wells or springs with natural objects to form pictures and designs as a thanksgiving for the gift of water. Although Pagan in origin, these days Well Dressing has strong religious links and three out of four pictures created usually have a religious theme.

This photograph shows the well in the foreground which appears to be overgrown, this seems to be rather odd as the reason for the well dressing is suppose to be a celebration of its life giving waters and yet this well appears to be overgrown and neglected?

During my research I have come across many strange wells, one such is the mysterious Egg well which I came upon close to the village of Bradnop, and which many local people are unaware of.

The Egg well

The Egg well takes its name from the fact that it is shaped like an egg, and it is thought to have special properties as an inscription can be found next to it which reads, “water of inward ailings may be yours, thousands of such this healing water cures”. Another well which can be found trickling out of the limestone hills known as the Bunsters near Ilam is St Bertram’s well named after St Bertram who performed many miraculous cures at this location.

A sign which marks the spot of the Egg well


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