A holy well or sacred spring is a spring or other small body of water that has a religious connection, either Pagan or Christian. Quite often, the Christian religion took over a Pagan site and adapted it for their own use. Most are not wells in the accepted sense, ie a deep shaft, but are where a spring comes to surface and is trapped in a stone trough. Quite often such sites are the subject of local legends. Possibly the practice started with the Celts, who believed that water was the interface between the living and dead. In Christian legends, the water is often said to have been made to flow by the action of a saint and the well thus bears their name.
Shropshire has a number of holy wells and many others that do not class as such. Often the water contained minerals and this was claimed to give it healing properties. Some were call Boiling Wells and this refers to where gases bubbled up in the water. People would visit the well to drink it or bathe in it. In some cases, a Spa was built for richer customers to “take the waters”. The most common minerals found in Shropshire holy wells are :-
Alum – aluminium sulphate
Chalybeate – iron sulphate
Magnesia – magnesium sulphate
Muriate of Lime – calcium chloride
Salt – sodium chloride
Selenite – calcium sulphate
Gazetteer of Sites
Acton Burnell - Frog Well (SJ527002)
The Frog Well is reputed to be satanic rather than religious. A reference says “By the side of the Roman road between Ruckley and Acton Burnell, and half-way down the Causeway Bank, there rises out of a ferny, flowery bank a most beautiful spring, which drips into a deep rocky basin, partly natural, of great grey slabs of stone, placed there by the hand of man. Behind it rises the ancient Causeway Wood, with its yews and hollies, its ash and mountain-ash trees. The spring is never known to fail, even in the driest seasons. Its waters, say the folk, are always cold in summer and warm in winter and, needless to add, they are good for sore eyes. Here the Devil and his imps appear in the form of frogs. Three frogs are always seen together; these are the imps; the largest frog, being Satan himself, remains at the bottom and shows himself but seldom.” No frogs are to be found in Frog Well and one source names it as the Causeway Well (it lies by a Roman road called the Devil's Causeway).
Admaston - The Spa (SJ637130)
During the 19th Century, Admaston was a commercial spa with several springs containing chalybeate, calcium chloride, selenite and sea salt. There is a reference to a medieval holy well in Wrockwardine, in whose manor Admaston would then have been situated, and it was known for providing the purest water available in Wellington. The map of 1882 shows two springs next to a small pond in the grounds of the Spa Hotel. One of these is marked as containing chalybeate and salt, while the other was sulphurous. On the 1902 map the building was shown as the Clock House and on the 1959 map it was called The Spa. Houses have been built on the land surrounding the area but the wells may still exist, albeit on private property
Baschurch - Eas Well (SJ405215)
The word Eas is believed to be a corruption of East. Sited 1 mile to the West of the church, in a field beside the River Perry. There is a brook described as flowing from the spring and this is marked on the map. There used to be a Palm Sunday Wake or festival where sugar lumps were taken with the water and cakes distributed. There were also competitive sports. The modern map does not show the spring or brook so it may have dried up.
Bayston Hill - Boothby’s Spa (SJ472094)
A source mentions two spas to the south of Shrewsbury which were implied to have been holy wells. Another source mentions Boothby Spa, between Welbatch and Pulley Common. The water contained salt, calcium chloride, magnesia and selenite.
The 1902 map shows wells just South of Middle Farm, with what may be a trench leading to a small building. Well Dressing took place in the village on May 14th until 1810.
Bettws y Crwyn - Lady Well (SO208815)
The Lady Well is marked on the map of 1884 to the North-East of the church. Close to the village are two fields called Jew's Well and Christian Well but there is no trace of an actual well there.
Bilmarsh - Bill Well (SJ498251)
The name is a corruption of Boiling Well. The only likely well marked on the map is Captain’s Well. Interestingly enough, the current road from the village to the B5476 only appears on maps from 1954.
Bourton - Shepherd's Well (SO597962)
There is a legend that the well was associated with St Milburga's Thorn, which had miraculous healing properties. Some workmen who were recently laying a drain near the well said that the water of that well could not be stopped. One of them claimed that he had cut finger which had healed remarkably quickly after repeated immersions in the well. Just behind the well is an old thorn tree in a hedgerow which, though it is not the original St Milburga's Thorn, could be its daughter. It is worth remembering that sacred thorns, on which rags and so on were hung, often grew over sacred wells.
Chadwell - St Chad’s Well (SJ785143)
The well is located at the end of the Chadwell Mill pond, furthest from the mill buildings. The spring itself appears to originate in the small pond on the other side of the road and the water reaches the mill pond by three entries; two of these are natural and one, with the greatest flow, was constructed recently. They can be found on either side of a small wooden bridge. The well was approached by stone steps and the water was of very good quality and highly thought of for tea-making. There is reference to a circular, stone walled structure and the remains of a sandstone construction are visible near the entries but much disturbed.
The waters of the spring were supposed to heal cripples and weakly persons. The last person who was dipped in the well was Mary Ann Jones in 1817 and she subsequently died in 1830, aged 24 years. There is no spring marked on the map but there is a Spring Dingle and the source of the stream flowing through it is probably the spring in question.
Corfham - Rosamund’s Well (SO524849)
Dedicated to Rosamund of Godstow. The site of the well is filled in and lies just South-West of her father's stronghold at Corfham Castle.
Dawley – Pin Well (SJ675057)
Sited between Little Dawley and Lightmoor on Holywell Lane, just by Stocking Farm. It was a Pin Well, ie a wishing well into which pins were thrown. The custom of throwing pins in wells (generally found in counties where metallic ores are mined) is a pagan belief in placating the gods for robbing them of their metal. It is claimed that John Wesley drank from it. Another reference says that 'My mother's family lived in Holywell Lane (Dawley) for about four generations. It was always much colder in Summer than Winter, and in Winter a resemblance of steam could be seen rising from it.'
Ercall Heath (SJ689237)
There is a reference to a holy well on Ercall Heath. There are several wells shown on the map but these look domestic. A likely site is the spring that flows into the nearby Howle Pool.
Gorsty - Boiling Well (SO477734)
Sited in Well Wood to the West of Ludlow. There is a path to it and the modern map shows an associated wind pump. It has been regarded as a wishing well in the past.
Haughmond Abbey (SJ542150)
A holy well in the grounds of a religious house meant pilgrims and increased revenue. On the North side of Haughmond Hill, north of the Augustinian abbey there is a well in a well house.
Hookagate - Hanley’s Spa (SJ468092)
A source mentions two spas to the south of Shrewsbury which were implied to have been holy wells. Another source mentions Hanley Spa, between Welbatch and Pulley Common. The water contained salt, calcium chloride, magnesia, selenite and chalybeate. Hanley House is in Hookagate and is the likely location.
Hope Bagot - St John the Baptist’s Well (SO58887406)
Sited in the North-West corner of the churchyard.
Huglith - Diggory’s Well (SJ410023)
The most likely location for this is a spring leading into a small pond to the North-East of Huglith Farm.
Sited in St Mary's Churchyard there is an unimposing arched structure with water at the bottom. It looks like a number of holy wells in the county but there is no reference to a holy well in Jackfield. However, positioned as it is in the corner of the churchyard at the side of the road, and given that St Mary's is set a little way away from the original village, it could be possible that the church was sited by a holy well.
Kingley Wick (SJ693150)
A reference says “About two miles to the West of Lilleshall is a spring of saltwater that yields 4-5,000 gallons per 24 hours. It is an impure brine but was formerly used to make salt. The brine was used for making soda at a factory in Wombridge on the banks of the canal, using sulphuric acid derived from mined iron pyrites.” There is no current place named Kingley Wick but at 2 miles to the West of Lilleshall the map shows a pump and leat leading to a small pond
Knockin - Lady Ida’s Well (SJ332227)
Sited a little to the north of the village. Lady Ida was the wife of the 4th Earl of Bradford, whose estates included land in this area. In 1895 she discovered a spring which was found to be most efficacious in curing her of whatever ailed her. It soon became a popular spot among those who needed to take the waters and some even had it delivered weekly by carrier's cart to Shrewsbury.
There was a well near Lawley Farm and this seems the likely location. The farm and well area have now been built upon.
Sited to the east of Lilleshall Hall on a path then called the 'Ghost Walk'. Associated with a small pond and icehouse.
Lilleshall - St Mary’s Well (SJ736142)
Sited to the South of the track from the road to the Abbey, in the middle of a field with a small fence to keep cattle off.
Little Wenlock (SJ649070)
Sited on the North-East of the village, on the left hand side of the road, are two brick arches. The largest is about 4'6" high, set into the verge and somewhat overgrown. Behind them are small water troughs somewhat lower than the base of the arch, obviously fed by springs. There is also a Witchwell Lane in the area.
Llanymynech - St Bueno’s Well (SJ266205)
St Bueno was a Herefordshire man who moved to North Wales and founded several monastic cells, becoming the dominant saint of the area. The Ordnance Survey has misspelt the name to St Benion. The water was claimed to cure certain diseases and there was once a custom of drinking upon the Wake Day of February 5th a mixture of sugar and water at the well. Its water was formerly always used for baptisms and no one would think of the rite being performed without using this particular water, on account of its supposed virtue. It was frequented for charms as late as 1878.
Long Mynd - Boiling Well (SO421945)
The well bubbles up through rushes and feeds the Ashes Hollow stream through Little Stretton.
Ludford – Saltmoor Well (SO518724)
A saline spring below Ludford, on the opposite side of the river Teme at the foot of a hill. The water of this spring contains a small quantity of iron carbonate with a little magnesium sulphate and a considerable portion of salt. It was said to benefit various disorders, especially those for which an aperient and corroborant medicine was required. There were facilities at Saltmoor Cottage for cold and warm bathing in the water. The latter was recommended for curing cutaneous afflictions such as scrofula, rheumatism, paralysis and disorders suffered by young females. The map shows a short length of stream, which originates next to the modern A49, and this was probably the spring. It seems to have been diverted into a “well” for people to bathe in.
Ludlow - Boiling Well (SO508752)
Attributed to St Julian and so called from its continual bubbling. Legend says that an old man journeying to Wales was delayed some days at Barnaby House by sickness and the maid of the house waited on him. The maid had very sore eyes and, when he got well, he asked what he could do for her. “Oh, master” she said, “that my sight might be healed”. He then led her outside the town until they stood beside the Boiling Well. The old man blessed the well and declared it to have the power to heal all manner of wounds and sores “to be a boon and a blessing to Ludlow as long as the sun shines and water runs”. The maid washed her eyes with the water and they were healed. A man used to come with a horse and cart from Bromyard in Herefordshire to fetch a barrel of the water for his wife's use and when the barrel was empty he came again.
Ludlow - St Julian’s Well (SO518750)
St. Julian's Well, in the old precincts of the Austin Friars at Ludlow, is probably actually dedicated to St. Juliana, a patroness of healing waters. The Friary was closed in 1538 and all surface remains were destroyed when building a cattle market on the site.
Moreton Say (SJ630343)
There is reference to a salt spring at Smythmore, in the lordship of Longford “at Moreton Say is a mineral water that purges those who drink it”. There was a well not far from the Parsonage House and this spring was valuable as a strong chalybeate but had no other peculiar qualities. There is a pump marked in the village itself but that would not be on Smythmore. The most likely location is as shown, which is on the moor and also near the parsonage. It appears to be a pump with a stream leading off.
Much Wenlock - St Milburga's Well (SJ625998)
Sited near the Priory and it survived, even though the buildings were pulled down. Archaeological evidence suggests there was a conduit supplying a fountain within the abbey grounds.
Much Wenlock - St Owen’s Well (SO62289999)
It is said that St Milburga, who founded the Priory at Much Wenlock, chose the site because of its proximity to St Owen's Well there. This is sited by the side of the black and white house on the corner of Queen Street and Back Street. There used to be a festival of the wells in the town and there is also a Witchwell Lane in the area.
Half a mile north of Plowden, on the Asterton road overlooking Myndtown, by a large boulder in the bottom of a valley. The well is amongst some alder trees and has a stone trough with a hole through which water gushes up.
In Medieval days it was famous for wells dedicated to Mammon. These were alum wells, whose products were much sought after for the Shrewsbury wool trade. At one time alum production was a papal monopoly, pure alum could only be produced by papal agents and the Holy See derived a large part of its income from this. It could well be that well-water, which happened to contain alum, was not affected by this rule: which would have made the Oakengate wells of particular interest. The area was subsequently much worked for coal and iron so this has probably destroyed all traces of these wells.
Oldbury - Potseething Well (SO710913)
Reference to a well in the parish of Oldbury near Bridgnorth, said to resemble a seething pot and supposed to cure rheumatism.
Oswestry - Crumpwell (SJ310268)
Near Wat's Dyke, south of Oswestry. The map shows two wells but the Northern one seems most likely.
Commemorates King Oswald, killed at the Battle of Maserfield in 642. It is said that an eagle picked up his arm, flew with it and dropped it at this site, whence a spring miraculously gushed forth. Used until about the middle of the 19th century as a place to go for cures or to collect bottles of water for those incapable of making a pilgrimage. St Oswald's degenerated by the end of that century into a wishing well. Located in a sunken garden area just off Maserfield Road in Oswestry and landscaped in 1985.
There is a reference that 'the well is known locally as the Roman Baths, though no Roman masonry has been found. Its water is popularly believed to be cold in summer and warm in winter'.
Prolley Moor (SO398931)
Recorded as a brine well that was regarded as holy. There are two wells marked on the old style maps of the moor but none on the new style. Given that one well lies immediately South of Robury Ring, the well is likely to be linked with the ring. The spring contained a small proportion of selenite and salt but calcium chloride was the principal ingredient. It showed no appearance of iron with the usual test.
Richard’s Castle - Boney Well (SO480702)
A source recorded 'This spring is remarkable from the fact that its waters, in wet seasons, cast up numbers of small fish bones from the fossil-bearing strata below. The Victorian geologist Murchison, however, believed that they were frog bones.
Rorrington had well-dressing fairs on Ascension Day until 1833. Because the fairs assembled on Rorrington Green, to proceed over the hills to the wells, some accounts assume the well was on the Green, which is called Halliwell Green. However, though there may have been a well there in Mediaeval times, and though there is a spring by the Iron Age fort, locals are sure the holy wells are the springs on the far side of the hill on Stapeley Ridge. The stream flowing from these is called Holywell Brook.
Shelve - Ladywell Mine (SJ327992)
The mine is disused and the area is now a plantation. It is possible that there may be a spring hidden in the trees but there was no record of where the well was when the mine was working and it is more than likely the waters were diverted.
Sheriffhales - St Cuthbert’s Well (SJ808045)
A reference records that “This well, still resorted to for bathing weak eyes, is just below the church which is believed to have the same dedication and which it doubtless preceded in sanctity”.
Shirlett Common (SO652987)
The well water contained chalybeate and salt.
Shrewsbury - Pengwern Ferry (SJ485121)
A well is marked on the map near the old Pengwern Ferry.
Shrewsbury - St Peter & St Paul’s Well (SJ504113)
Two wells in a field near Burnt Mill Bridge. They were good for sore eyes and were much resorted to till they were destroyed by drainage of the field about 1820.
This is the St Milburga who founded Wenlock Priory but the legends connected with the well bear clear pagan connections and probably date back to some pre-Christian goddess whose name bore sufficient resemblance to the saint to be adapted. Legend says that Milburga was waylaid whilst riding by 2 men armed with clubs, who jumped out from the brush at the roadside and demanded all her possessions. Since her destination, the church at Godstoke, stood less than ¼ mile ahead, she dug her heels deep into her horse's side and rode straight at her assailants. They jumped out of the way and Milburga galloped on. She was elated at the villains' defeat but her concentration flagged and she did not see a rock in her path that caused the horse to stumble. She was flung from her horse and landed against a rock, cracking her skull. Blood gushed from her wound and she fell into a faint. The horse rose upon its hind legs and crashed its hoof down against the offending rock. Healing waters gushed from the stone to bathe the saint's gash and miraculously she was well again with not so much as a scar to tell of her ordeal. The well is said to have great powers to cure the sick and ailing.
Sutton - Sutton Spa (SJ502106)
Described as a medicinal spring but no more details are given. Sutton Spa is situated two miles south of Shrewsbury on the slope of a gentle eminence. The spring issues from a rocky stratum and contains a small portion of lime. In the neighbourhood are several beds of soft limestone and coal, the latter mineral accompanying nearly the whole course of Meole Brook. In the Sutton Pits it is mixed with so large a proportion of pyrites or iron sulphide as to be used only for inferior purposes.
The Wrekin - St Hawthorn's Well (SJ626070)
The Wrekin has a large number of streams originating from small springs, carrying water down the hill on all sides, so there are many candidates. However, where one stream emerges onto the road the place is known as The Spout, and this may possibly commemorate St Hawthorn's Well. The well was supposedly good for skin diseases and in the 19th Century it is recorded that a man used to walk 6 miles from his home before 2.30am, so that he could drink the water and bathe his face before sunrise, which was necessary for the cure. Unfortunately his trouble was in vain. It has been suggested that St Hawthorn was a corruption of St Alkmund, to whom a nearby monastery was dedicated, but other authorities suggest that there was a tree there that was venerated and the spring was close by.
Clearly marked on the map and signposted on the road. The well is not easy to locate. A gully leads from the road, turning into a path and the well is in a little wood. While the spring is in a bricked-up construction, this is obviously for farming purposes. Water from the spring has carved out a little stream running down the short distance to the River Meese.
Titterstone Clee Hill - Newfound Well (SO601782)
Part of a deserted farmstead above Cleeton St Mary.
Wellington - Miners' Well (SJ652098)
In the Lime Kiln Woods and appears to be associated with a building.
Wellington - St Margaret’s Well (SJ656123)
A reference said 'This is renowned for its eye-healing virtues and was yearly visited by Black Country folk and others who "douked" or dipped their heads in it on Good Friday'. It was visited annually on Good Friday but destroyed in the mid-19th Century and the site is now built upon.
Wem - St John’s Well (SJ508290)
Named after the legend of St John causing a serpent to show itself in the poisoned chalice which he then drank unharmed. A neighbouring chantry chapel was built to accompany the well.
Whixall - Lady Well (SJ495346)
By the side of the road but now only visible as a brick culvert almost opposite Ladywell Farm. There used to be a well in the field at this point but now obscured by vegetation and probably filled in.
The area is called Holywell Moor and a feature is shown on the map that appears to be a spring. This is not shown on later maps so may have been filled in
Woolston - St Winifred’s Well (SJ322244)
Supposed to be where the saint's body rested while being transported from Holywell to Shrewsbury in 1138 and the water is said to be occasionally stained with her blood. Presumably the spring flows through iron ore. The well house was built by Edward Jones of Sandford, who bought the property in 1635. The water of this well is still used by the country people for complaints of the eyes. It is a beautiful clear stream, running under a small black and white chapel into two paved square baths bordered with stone walls, one of which is lower than the other. The higher one has steps down to the water. Under the chapel, which overhangs the stream, is a long-shaped niche which has evidently contained the statue of the saint. At this side is a small cell where probably the priest or monk stood to dispense the water. The chapel is now a dwelling.
Worfield - St Peter’s Well (SO757958)
Sited in the churchyard to the West of the church. A reference says 'A spring of pure water, issuing from the sandstone rock is known as St Peter's Well. A wake was always held on the festival of St Matthew'.