History of the Village Wells

Extract from 'Well Well Well' - a book on the Wells, Pumps & Boreholes of Bere Regis, written by Local Villager John England.

Introduction

The Production of this small book started from an enquiry from a visitor at one of the local hostelries in Bere Regis, regarding the whereabouts of 'St. Mary's Well'. The enquiry was passed onto the Post Office and hence to myself. My initial approaches were to those more mature and long standing members of the Parish.

It has taken quite a long time to find the answer to this question (the most probable answer being the Anchoret's Well on Woodbury Hill) and even now it may not be quite correct, but all the enquiries have produced a fund of knowledge about wells, pumps, boreholes, springs and water supplies covering centuries and I felt that it should be put to paper before everyone had forgotten.

I must thank so many people who willingly gave me locations, information and stories and allowed me to take photographs of existing wells, or identified the places where they had been in the past. I apologise if any of the items are incorrect in any way and to those I may have missed during my enquiries.

The Anchoret's Chapel and Well

The next record of a well dates from at least the 15th century (or possibly earlier) on Woodbury Hill, the site of an Iron Age fortification with possible Roman occupation, in connection with an Anchoret’s Chapel on the hill. It is referred to in Dean Chandler’s register of visitations recording a chaplain there in 1408 and again a reference in 1411. Little more was heard of it till 1770 when its foundations were reported to be still visible. The well was necessarily very deep and according to tradition a golden table or tablet had been hidden in it. The well was reported to have water with remarkable healing properties and people made annual pilgrimages to it on September 21st, the date of its dedication, to drink the water.

The date of 21st September is St Matthew’s Day and it was always in this week of the 21st that Woodbury Hill Fair was held.

Sir Frederick Treves, in his book ‘Highways and Byways in Dorset’ mentions that the fair has been held since the time of Henry III who died in 1272 ‘commencing on September 18th near about the festival of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ but the Nativity is celebrated on September 8th and depending on the year the start date would of course change.

However the question of ‘St Mary’s Well’ may be answered, as the land on which Woodbury Hill is part of what was owned by the Abbess of Tarrant up to the time of the reformation (1539) and Tarrant Abbey, their home at Tarrant Crawford, had the chapel dedicated to St Mary and this could have been also the dedication of the chapel here as well.

The efficacy of the water is mentioned in Reference 3 page 100, where the Rev O P Cambridge (Vicar of Bloxworth) recorded the tradition of the use of the deep well on Woodbury Hill ‘where people were supposed to drink the water on September 21st and pay money offerings to the Abbot of Tarrant’. The hill consists of London Clay, so it is possible that the water may have contained some Epsom Salts!

Examples of Wells in and around the Village

Pump at Roke Farmhouse

 

Pump and Supply Pipe at West Street/Shitterton Junction

 

Well at 129 Bere Heath

 

Collecting water from Butt Lane Well

 

Well at Culeaze

 

Borehole at Watercress beds

John England, Summer 2012

(The Book can be bought for £5 at the Post Office and there is a Copy of it in the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist.)

 

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