The Journal of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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Sudbrook Camp, Portskewett, Monmouthshire

Iron Age hillfort, Sudbrook. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Iron Age hillfort, Sudbrook. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: ST 5053 8732. About half a mile south of Portskewett, Monmouthshire, on the cliffs overlooking the Severn Estuary, is the Iron-Age Sudbrook Camp, a promontory fort with its well-defined earthworks still largerly intact, although suffering somewhat at its south-side due to coastal erosion. It is known to have been inhabited from roughly the mid-2nd century BC up to at least the 1st or perhaps mid-2nd century AD – at which time it may well have been in use as a Roman trading post. The earthworks are located by going along Sudbrook road and, at the end of Camp road, they are some 50 metres to the south-west, close by the ruins of a 13th century church, some railway buildings, and the Severn Railway Tunnel (Gwent Levels). A coastal path traverses the camp. Caldicot village is 1 mile to the west, while the M4 motorway and the Severn Bridge, are half a mile to the east; the town of Chepstow is roughly 4 miles to the north.

Plan of Sudbrook Camp (After V.E.Nash-Williams) 1936.

Plan of Sudbrook Camp (After V.E.Nash-Williams) 1936.

Sudbrook Camp is made up of triangular-shaped earthworks. The whole site is 1.4 hectares: the inner section is approx 78 metres between the cliff and the first ditch, 109 metres across south to north and 280 metres in width west to east, but a section at the south-side has eroded away due to cliff falls, and so the camp would have been larger. A section at the north-side ‘may’ have been destroyed due the houses and also Sudbrook and Camp lanes . However, the rest is still resonably well-preserved, in particular the fairly deep ditches, three ramparts at the west and two ramparts at the east – indeed the defensive ramparts still stand up to 5.2 metres high, according to the work ‘Prehistoric Sites of Monmouthshire’ by Children & Nash. At the far south-western side of the camp stands a World War II concrete lookout post. Rather oddly the interior of the camp is sometimes used as a football pitch!

Camp road to the north-west cuts-off the earthworks, as do the ruins of Holy Trinity Church at the far south-eastern side. The entrance to the camp can clearly be made out at the north-side between the ditches and ramparts; this connected up to an ancient trackway which was used by the Silures tribe, and later by the Romans, linking the site to their newly established town at Caerwent ( Venta Silurum) ‘market town of the Silures’, which later became Caer Guent (Fortress Venta), some 5 miles to the west.

Sudbrook Camp would have been inhabited by an ancient Celtic tribe in the Iron Age (150 BC) and, later in 30 or 31 AD, by the Silures, a fierce tribe who worshipped a cat-like diety. The Silures ruled the south-eastern part of Wales. But at this time they were being put under pressure by the Roman legions making their way up the Severn estuary – led by one Julius Frontinus – who set out to invade Siluria, and at which time the Celtic chieftain Caradoc (Caractacus) had fled from north Wales to Sudbrook Camp, or maybe Llanmelin hill-fort, one-and-a-half miles north-west of Caerwent. Caractacus eventually ended up in Rome where he was pardoned by the emperor Claudius (after 51 AD). The Silures were ‘allowed’ to remain at Llanmelin hill-fort until about 70 AD. However, Frontinus did not make much of an inpact, and it was not until 51 AD that the Silures tribe had their so-called ‘last stand’ when attacked and routed by Ostorius Scapula and the XX legion, according to Roy Palmer in his book ‘The Folklore of (Old) Monmouthshire’.

There is evidence to think that after the routing of the Silures tribe from the camp the Romans used the place as a trading-post and, 17 metres below the cliffs in the estuary, there was a natural harbour facility that was used by the newly conquering Roman legions as ‘a possible docking facility’ and naval base (beach-head) for their sailing vessels – up until at least the late 1st century AD, or even the mid-2nd century AD – Bryan Walker’s work ‘The Archaeology And History Of Ancient Dean And The Wye Valley’.

Archaeological excavations were carried out at Sudbrook Camp between 1934-36 at which time many artefacts were found including: bones of oxen, pigs, sheep and goats and, also fragments of iron, glass, Roman bricks and coins. During the excavations the remains of two V-shaped ditches were discovered between the ramparts (north-west side) of the main bank which, would have been done in four stages. Two steep-sloping revetments of uncoursed drystone walling were uncovered on the inner scarp – ‘Prehistoric Sites of Monmouthshire’ by Children & Nash.

The sad-looking grey ruins of the 12th or 13th century Holy Trinity Church stand at the far south-eastern side of the earthworks, now alas almost hidden by ivy, bushes and trees, with only the front bell-tower gable-wall and a few ruined rear walls still standing; its graveyard has nearly gone over the cliffs. But the main part of the ruin dates from the 17th century, other earlier parts being from the 13th-14th centuries, notably the chancel, while the nave walls may be 12th century. Sadly the church was abandoned and left to the elements in the 1790s, due probably to the erosion of the nearby cliffs – Fred Hando ‘Hando’s Gwent – A Centenary Tribute’.

Fred Hando says of the ruin: “There is no great charm in the grey ruins of Holy Trinity, Sudbrook. It is difficult to account for its erection here, unless it was a private chapel for John Southbrook, who is mentioned in the Wentwood Survey of 1276″. He goes on to say that: “Holy Trinity at Sudbrook was in use, it seems, to the end of the Eighteenth Century. Bradney tells us that one of the last to be buried there was Captain Blethin Smith of Sudbrook, who left instructions that his corpse was to be borne to the grave by six seafaring men”. Captain Smith’s will was dated 1755.

Sources:

Barber, Chris., Exploring Gwent,  Regional Publications (Bristol) Limited, Clifton, Bristol, 1984.

Children, George & Nash, George., Prehistoric Sites of Monmouthshire, Logaston Press, Little Logaston Woonton Almeley, Herefordshire, 1996.

Hando, Fred., Hando’s Gwent – A Centenary Tribute, (Ed by Chris Barber), Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, 1987.

Houlder, Christopher., Wales: An Archaeological Guide, Faber And Faber, London, 1978.

http://www.sudbrook.info/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudbrook,_Monmouthshire

Palmer, Roy., The Folklore of (old) Monmouthshire, Logaston Press, Little Logaston Woonton Almeley, Herefordshire, 1998.

Walters, Bryan., The Archaeology And History Of Ancient Dean And The Wye Valley, Thornhill Press, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, 1992.

 


Mab’s Cross, Standishgate, Wigan, Lancashire

Mab's Cross by David Hignett (Wikipedia)

Mab’s Cross by David Hignett (Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: SD 5853 0628. At the east-side of Standishgate and just off Wigan Lane, Wigan, Lancashire, stands the rather weather beaten monument known as Mab’s Cross, Mabel’s Cross, or Wigan Cross, which dates probably from the 13th century. It is named after Mabel de Bradshaw, wife of Sir William de Bradshaw, of Haigh Hall in Wigan. But there is an interesting, though an also somewhat sad and painful story to tell that has long been associated with the old Wigan Cross, a tale of deep remorse and, at the same time, unrequited love. In All Saints parish church in Wallgate, Wigan, stands the altar-tomb of Mabel and her husband William de Bradshaw, a now rather forlorn and sorrowful monument with effigies of the two – whose legend has continued down through the ages since they both rested here in the 14th century. The cross is located by a footpath in a garden at the front of Wigan Girls’ High School, just to the north of Wigan town centre, and a little to the west of the A49 (Central Park Way).

Mab’s Cross or Wigan Cross is very battered and worn from centuries of wear and tear, weather, and other damage. It stands at 2.3 metres (6 foot 5 inches) high; its stump could be a remnant from the Saxon age, though more likely it is medieval – mid 13th century. Its large step is more modern, probably not the original step(s), but the plinth is well-worn and is made up of a large slab on top of gritstone blocks with a plaque attached to this, while the worn and broken stump is socketed into a large, rough base. The monument was moved to its present position in 1922 from the opposite side of the road. It is surrounded by railings and is grade II listed.

The often-told and very sad story, with minor variations, about the life of Lady Mabel de Bradshaw (Bradshaigh) of Haigh Hall, Wigan, is this: Mabel’s husband Sir William became involved in a local rebellion against the powerful Earl of Lancaster, known as the Banastre Rising, but this proved unsuccessful so he was forced to flee abroad to escape his enemies, according to author Kenneth Fields in his work ‘Lancashire Magic & Mystery’. Almost certainly Sir William goes off to fight in the crusades (c1314), but 10 years pass by with no sign of him returning – Mabel believing him to be dead – she decides to marry a Welsh knight, Sir Osmund Neville. Then, eventually Sir William turns up in Wigan market-place dressed as a beggar; Mabel recognises him and they finally return to Haigh Hall. But upon finding out what has transpired in the intervening years, he confronts Sir Osmund on horseback, and in the deadly combat Sir Osmund is killed at the place called Newton Park (Newton le Willows). The two are then ‘said’ to have lived happily together at Haigh Hall – at least that is the theory!

Mabel’s confessor now orders her to do penance for what she has done. She is told to walk barefooted and barelegged on pilgrimage once every week from Haigh Hall to Wigan Cross [Mab’s Cross], a distance of 2 miles, which she does do for the rest of her life, but now Mabel is re-united with Sir William and is happy once again? Sir William de Bradshaw dies in 1333 and the almost saintly Mabel builds a chapel for him (1338) in Wigan parish church (the Bradshaw Chapel) also called The Lady Chapel; she then has effigies carved on his tomb, one of her husband cross-legged and wearing armour, with sheild at his shoulder – his sword almost drawn from the scabbard and, one of herself in a long robe next to his; and on the sides of this the whole ‘sorry story’ is told in detail with various sculptures, including one of Lady Mabel with candle in hand praying at the foot of her cross. Mabel died in 1348 at the age of 30.

Of other interest in All Saints church is a Roman stone, part of an altar dedicated to their god Mithras, built into the splay of one of the windows of the tower, a relic from when the Romans had a fort or settlement (Coccium) on the outskirts of the town at Castle Hill, and where legend says: King Arthur fought one of his many battles. Author Joseph P. Pearce in his work  ‘Lancashire Legends’ says: “The Roman road leading from Warrington to Preston and Walton-le-Dale, passed through the very centre of the town of Wigan, bearing the traffic of the Legions and the Guilds and Traders of old.” The present church is modern, but it stands on the site of a Saxon foundation. Close to the church stands the medieval ediface of Haigh Hall – where the famous Bradshaw family lived and which is still haunted by the ghost of Lady Mabel.

Sources:

Fields, Kenneth., Lancashire Magic & Mystery, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1998.

Howarth, Ken., Ghosts, Traditions & Legends Of Old Lancashire, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1993.

http://www.prestonhistoricalsociety.org.uk/gallery-image?id=fd1a0be60126e19506ac2d9e488c65f8

http://www.wiganarchsoc.co.uk/content/History/Mabs_Cross.htm

Pearce, Joseph P., Lancashire Legends, The Ormskirk Advertiser, 1928.

Photo Copyright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mab’s_Cross


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St Barnabas Churchyard Cross, Bromborough, Wirral, Cheshire

Cross at St Barnabas Church, Bromborough (Photo credit: Peter Craine - Geograph)

Cross at St Barnabas Church, Bromborough (Photo credit: Peter Craine – Geograph)

Os grid reference: SJ 3490 8221. On Church Lane in Bromborough, Wirrral, stands the 10th century St Barnabas Churchyard Cross, where at the south-side beside the church porch stands this heavily re-constructed Anglo-Saxon wheel-head cross. There are apparently some other carved stones, possibly of Saxon origin, in the garden of the nearby parsonage; and in the churchyard there is an interesting 18th century sundial and, close-by stands the 19th century market cross. St Barnabas’ church is located in the centre of the village on Church Lane to the west of the river Mersey – at the east-side of the Wirral Peninsula. Birkenhead lies 3 miles to the north on the A41 road while Ellesmere Port is 3 miles south-east on the M53. Bromborough is thought to be one of the many contenders for the Battle of Brunanburh (937 AD), though there is ‘much’ debate about that.

The first church ‘may’ have been established here in 928 or 934 AD, but there may have already been a monastery here, and then a Norman foundation which stood for several hundred years, though the present red Sandstone parish church is of 1862-4. There may have been Viking incursions into the area during the 9th and 10th centuries, which is why it is sometimes assumed the cross shows some ‘tenuous signs’ of Scandinavian influence, though it is generally regarded as being Saxon carving. Early chronicles suggest that the first church, and quite possibly [the monastery] were founded by Aelfthryth, or Ethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians, sometime around 912 AD. Lady Ethelfleda was the daughter of King Alfred the Great.

The Saxon preaching cross was put together from three fragments of Saxon stones that originally resided inside the church, and was re-erected beside the porch in the churchyard in 1958. It looks to be quite a crude monument and something of a mish-mash of the three seperate carved stones ‘haphazardly put together’ that are thought to date from the 9th-10th centuries. These pieces of carved stone originally stood in the present church and, indeed in the earlier Norman foundation before that. The sculptured wheel-head is quite basic really, with only faint carvings across its middle; the only other bit of carving is a long panel of worn interlacing on the shaft, below which a plaque* is attached recalling its history and which, rather sadly spoils the monument. The two parts of the wheel-head above and below the middle (carved) section look to be of a later date, possibly the 12th-16th century?

Also of interest in the churchyard is a 18th century sundial. This may originally have been part of the market cross. It stands upon two square-shaped steps on a base, and has a thin tapering shaft with a square top and dial. The date is recorded as being 1730.

In front of the churchyard stands the very tall market cross with square-shaped pillar standing on an eight-stepped plinth, supporting a fine ornamental top. Author Derek Bryce in his book ‘Symbolism Of The Celtic Cross’ says of this monument: “The cross at Bromboro in Cheshire stands on a stepped pyramid base, the steps of which are clearly not intended for treading…..the cross is surmounted by a sphere and sundial, which have since been replaced by a cross ecclesiastical.” The steps (plinth) of the cross are clearly medieval, maybe 13th century, the rest is from 1874.

Sources:

Bryce, Derek., Symbolism Of The Celtic Cross, Llanerch Enterprises, Felinfach, Lampeter, Wales, 1989.

* http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2257157

http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1015600

Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Barnabas’_Church,_Bromborough


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Meir ny Foawr, Knocksharry, Isle of Man

Os grid reference: SC 2758 8495. The prehistoric site of Meir ny Foawr, near Knocksharry, at the far western-side of the Isle of Man, is a former Bronze-Age stone circle – however not much of it has survived – and some of its quartz boulders may have been robbed away over the centuries. This collection of boulders in a sort of part circle is located on the side of the hill called Lhergy Dhoo Uplands and is nearly half a mile south-east of Lhergydhoo house, in Kirk German parish. It can be reached on footpaths to the east from Switchback road, and the stones can be seen for many miles around. However there is a dearth of information regarding the site. The little village of Knocksharry is 1 mile to the north on the A4 road, while the town of Peel is 2 miles to the south-west along the same A4 coastal road, overlooking the beautiful Doon Bay.

Meir ny Foawr stone circle is also known locally as ‘the Devil’s Fingers’ or ‘the Giant’s Fingers’ indeed many Megalithic  monuments in the Isle of Man are in some way associated with the devil, or some mythical giant. The structure covers an area of around 30 feet (9.4 metres) and is formed by five large white quartz boulders in a sort of horseshoe shape, rather than a circle, though it may originally have been a circle? Three of the stones lean over at the north-side, while that in the centre is 7 feet high and may represent the altar; the three leaning stones are considered to be part of the original burial chamber. When the site was excavated some Bronze-Age urns were dug up. On the periphery there are a couple of smaller stones known as outliers. So, infact, we might consider calling this a ring cairn or cairn circle? We must assume, therefore, that there was at one time an earthen-mound covering the stones here at Meir ny Foawr?

The area around Knocksharry is rich in ancient remains. There is the prehistoric site of Crosh Mooar about 1 mile to the north-east of Meir ny Foawr – this was a Bronze-Age burial mound – but sadly it was almost destroyed in the early 1900s. And there are several cairns and tumulus’ dotted around the immediate area; at Knocksharry there is a Bronze-Age cemetary which is located close to the ruins of an early Christian chapel. Here three badly damaged funery urns were excavated.

Sources:

Hulme, Peter J., More Rambling In The Isle Of Man, The Manx Experience, Douglas, Isle of Man, 1993.

The Ancient And Historic Monuments Of The Isle Of Man, The Manx Museum And National Trust, Fourth (Revised) Edition, Douglas, 1973.

http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/iomnhas/v035p446.htm

http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/fulltext/pn1925/gn.htm


Onchan Celtic Crosses, Isle of Man

St Peter's Church, Onchan, Isle of Man (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

St Peter’s Church, Onchan, Isle of Man (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: SC 4005 7814. Inside St Peter’s church on Church Road, Onchan, Isle of Man, there is a collection of carved Celtic cross-slabs from the 7th-12th centuries AD. The present-day church stands on what was quite obviously a religious site back in the Dark Ages, although the first church which was dedicated to St Conchan (Connachan) was established in the 12th century when it was called Kirk Conachan – that dedication lasted for hundreds of years until a re-dedication to St Catherine and, then to St Peter in the 19th century. St Peter’s church is located on Church Road, just off the main A2 (Whitebridge Road), at the south-side of Onchan. The village of Onchan stands on the headland at the north-side of Douglas Bay – the Manx seaside town being 1 mile south, while Baldrine is 2 miles north on the A42.

Norse Cross at Onchan by Br Olsen (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Norse Cross at Onchan by Br Olsen (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

There are 6 cross-slabs in the church although one shows strong Norse origins, and there is an early Christian gable cross which originally stood on the roof of an ancient keeill, a small early primitive Christian chapel. One of these called ‘Thurith’s Cross’ stands at just over 4 feet tall, is of Norse origin, and dates from the 11th-12th century. It is decorated with a crude cross on both sides as well as ring designs, but of most interest here are the runic inscriptions (both sides). These inscriptions are in short bursts: (front) krus isukrut thurith – ‘Christ / Thurith carved the runes’ (back) asunr raisti ift kui nusina murkiaum – ‘the son erected this cross to the memory of his wife muirkiaum’ and then: ukikat aukrathikr – ‘I examined / read the runes and interpreted etc’.

The Kirk Conchan Cross is a wheel-head cross at just over 2 feet high. It may date from the 9th century. This is a broken slab that has a cross and four rings with plait-work designs and, also interlacing strap-work (in low relief); there are also two creatures that might be dogs – one of which has two heads! And, the Fylfot Cross is almost 5 feet high and is said to date from the 10th century. This cross-slab has a ‘fylfot’ design as its cross, similar perhaps to the swastika symbol. Again we have dog-like creatures at either side of the cross. This slab came from the keeill chapel which stood on this site before to the 12th century church was built.

There are another three slab-crosses all of which are Celtic in origin and date from the 7th-9th centuries. These are broken, but they are still interesting because of the carved crosses, circles, plaitwork, strapwork, spiralls, numerous other Celtic-style designs and, again there are strange animals, including the usual dog-like creatures. Also, there is what is referred to as a ‘gable-end cross’ which is 12th century and supposedly came from the roof of the old keeill chapel. This primitive little chapel stood here just prior to the 12th century church of Kirk Conachan; its remains are still visible in the churchyard.

Encased in the wall close to the crosses is a 17th century silver chalice that is said to have been used by King Charles I at his last communion before his execution in Whitehall, London, in 1649, afterwhich he was revered as King Charles the Martyr, with a cultus in parts of England as well as three church dedications.

There is little if any information on St Conachan, Connachan or Concenn who supposedly became bishop of Sodor and Mann in 540 AD, and has given his name to the village. He is sometimes identified with St Adamnan, the Irish saint who was a missionary in Scotland during the 7th century, and a contemporary of St Columba whose “Life” he wrote, but due to the ‘later century’ in which he lived this would seem not to be the case. To confuse things even more St Christopher, the 4th century Roman martyr was at some point ‘patron’ of the church at Onchan!

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onchan#

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manx_runestones#

Kermode, P.M.C., Manx Crosses, Bemrose & Sons Limited, London,1907.

The Ancient And Historic Monuments Of The Isle Of Man, The Manx Museum And National Trust, Fourth (Revised) Edition, Douglas,1973.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dolmen du Couperon, Rozel, Jersey, Channel Isles

Dolmen du Couperon (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Dolmen du Couperon (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Latitude: 49.234347. Longitude: 2.035263. On the headland at the north side of Jersey, in St Martin’s parish, stands the ancient monument Dolmen du Couperon, a late Neolithic gallery-grave that was partially restored in the early part of last century. Also known as Le Couperon and Le Couperon Dolmen. The monument stands 50 metres across the field to the west of Rue de Scez and the 17th century brick-building known as the guardhouse. Just to the north of the monument is the beautiful Jersey coastline of Rozel Bay, and a few miles further west the little village of Rozel. Dolmen du Couperon stands at the side of a field overlooking the seashore of the north Jersey coastline, a haven for holiday-makers; the nearest town being St Helier several miles to the south-west. Although the monument has been partly restored a couple of times it is still in a reasonably good state of preservation.

The gallery of this ancient tomb is roughly 8 metres long, while the whole monument across is 4 metres wide. It is formed from two parallel rows of upright stones and, above them large slabs laid rather ‘haphazardly’ across make up the roof. And 18 smaller upright stones or peristaliths surround the grave (at each side) and indicate the width of the original low, covering mound, which was made of stones, although the kerb may originally have continued in a straight line, instead of curving round like it does today. When it was being partially restored back in 1868 and 1919 some of the outer kerb-stones seem not to have been put back into their former positions, in particular the stone at the east side is not in situ – the thinking being that it should perhaps have been halfway along the gallery, acting as a sort of ‘dividing stone’? And the portal stone has been positioned so as to block the gallery’s entrance at the east-side, but again this ‘may’ not be in its original position. The tomb is thought to date from the late Neolithic period (3,250-2,850 BC).

No significant artefacts were excavated from the gallery-grave, apart that is from fragments of flint and pottery. Could the tomb have earlier been robbed by treasure-seekers?; and of the few finds here no knowledge exists as to where these were taken to! But all in all this is a very nice ancient monument.

Sources:

Dillon, Paddy., Channel Island Walks, Cicerone Press Ltd., Milnthorpe, Cumbria, 1999.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_dolmens#

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Couperon_dolmen_and_guardhouse

http://www.prehistoricjersey.net/Le_Couperon.shtml

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=10561


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St Mary’s Well, Cefn Meiriadog, Denbighshire, Wales

Ffynnon Fair at Cefn, Denbighshire (Photo Credit: Wellhopper)

Ffynnon Fair at Cefn, Denbighshire (Photo Credit: Wellhopper)

Os grid reference: SJ 0292 7107. Some 2 miles to the south-west of St Asaph and hidden-away in a wooded area near Cefn Meiriadog – stands St Mary’s Well (Ffynnon Fair) and its associated chapel (now in ruins), once a much-visited Roman Catholic pilgrimage centre. The site is of interest because of its ornate well-basin, considered to be very similar in design and age to the well-chamber at St Winifred’s Well, Holywell, which was linked to St Mary’s on the main pilgrims route across north Wales and, like that famous well – St Mary’s (Ffynnon Fair) was renowned for its healing properties. And, like St Winifred’s Well – St Mary’s does have “very cold water”. The well and its associated ruined chapel are located on private land beneath some trees, close to the river Elwy in the hamlet of Wigfair, Cefn Meiriadog parish, Denbighshire, a mile or so to the north-west of Trefnant. It is difficult to reach but from the A525 make for the bridge over Afon Elwy, then go left into the lane. A footpath runs close to the site, but access is ‘not good’ from the gate! Go across the fields and into the valley just to the north of the river to reach the well site in Chapel Wood which is, sadly, becoming ‘very’ overgrown and forgotten.

The well chapel (Capel Ffynnon) was built in the 13th century, or it was rebuilt in 1500 along with the octagonal, star-shaped well-basin and attached cistern (bath); the rest of the building consists of a chancel, of a later date, a north and south transept, while the holy well stands at the far-western side of the chapel. Water from the well flows along a channel in the south transept, before meandering down to the river – Paul Davis ‘Sacred Springs’. Davis thinks the well-basin had some form of elaborate vaulting over it, probably contained within a projecting wing, and so the building originally had a cruciform plan. Could the chapel have been in use at some stage as a religious hostel for pilgrims visiting the holy well – and paying homage to Our Lady at the same time. Unfortunately, the chapel is now in a very ruinous state, leaving the star-shaped well open to the elements. Some of the 15th century Perpendicular windows retain their splendid decorative work, as do the doorways.

Water in this holy well was known to cure infertility and eye disorders, according to Audrey Doughty in her book ‘Spas And Springs Of Wales’. As this well-basin looks broadly similar to that at St Winifred’s Well, in Flintshire, and given the size of the chapel could it be that the benefactor was the saintly Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and mother of King Henry VII (1443-1509) – almost certainly she would have had the money to build something on such a grand scale. Audrey Doughty says the well structure is 8ft (2.4m) square; she also says that it “had without doubt been in use for very many centuries before it is said to have been rebuilt”.

St Mary’s well would have been visited by Roman Catholic pilgrims and probably Protestant pilgrims as well up until the late 17th century, when the well and chapel fell into disrepair, although the well may have continued to be in use. Apparently, it is said, that up to 1640 marriages were performed here, but whether these were legal or illegal is uncertain, though a priest could ‘be payed’ to come and perform the marriage ceremony if required! Francis Jones in his acclaimed work ‘The Holy Wells Of Wales’ says of the well: “it flowed within a small well-chapel now in ruins”, and goes on to say that: “it was ruined in Lhuyd’s time who says that the ‘gwyl’ of Mary was held there”. Jones is, of course, referring to Edward Lhuyd, the 17th century English antiquarian who visited north Wales towards the end of the 17th century. Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) the Jesuit priest and poet payed a visit and wrote a little bit of prose about it; and a poem was written about St Mary’s Well at Cefn by Mrs Felicia Hemans (1793-1835), who lived at St Asaph in the early part of her life.

Many thanks indeed to Wellhopper for the use of his photo, thanks sincerely. Check out his website: http://wellhopper.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/ffynnon-fair-st-marys-well-cefn-meiriadog/

Sources:

Coflein:  http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/306714/details/FFYNNON+FAIR%2C+WELL+CHAPEL/

Davis, Paul., Sacred Springs, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, 2003.

Doughty, Audrey., Spas And Springs Of Wales, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst, Wales, 2001.

http://why-lydia.livejournal.com/9288.html

Jones, Francis., The Holy Wells Of Wales, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1992.

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