The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Lyd Well, Kemble, Gloucestershire

Commentarii de Bello Gallico, an account writt...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference SO9896 9847. The ancient spring known as Lyd Well, Lydwell and sometimes the Roman Well is located in the corner of a field between the A433 (Tetbury road) and the A429 (Crudwell-Malmesbury road) about half a mile north of Kemble village. It is a short distance south of the old disused Thames and Severn canal, beside an area of trees and bushes and an old wind-pump. The name ‘Lyd’ is Old English and means ‘loud well’. In the dry, summer months it is difficult to find, but in a long wet spell of weather it is in full flow. This is now considered by historians to be the source of the river Thames, rather than at Thames Head 1 mile to the north-west where the water has given up the ghost and where all there is to be seen today is a small circle of stones on the ground and a hidden stone gulley close by. Even the reclining statue of ‘Old Father Thames’ had to be re-located from Thames Head to St John’s lock at Lechlade due to vandalism, in 1974; and a bit further north-west is Seven Springs on the river Chun, another possible source of the Thames? with at least 5 of the springs still evidently flowing into a large 8 foot-high stone-built pool. Here a latin inscription on a stone tablet claims that this is the actual true source: HIC TUUS O TAMESINE PATER SEPTEMGEMINUS FONS. The other problem being that there are several springs in this particular area just to add to the confusion, some of these are said to be at least 14 foot deep, and even as much as 30 feet deep in some cases.

Cirencester (Corinium Dobunnorvum) Roman town and the Fosse Way are another 3 miles due north-east of Lyd Well and, so the theory is that Roman soldiers would have known this spring and may have even placed offerings into the water; certainly they would have drank of the once clear, cold water after a long march along the nearby Roman road, a short section of the Fosse Way linking up with Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) in the south-west of England and running in a north-easterly direction towards Lincoln (Lindum), which is now the section of the A433 road between Kemble Airfield and Cirencester. A number of objects of Roman antiquity have been found in the Thames. To the Romans the river was referred to as Tamesa or Tamesis – this being the first recorded account in ‘Commentarii De Bello Gallico’ the written work of Julius Caesar’s exploits in Britain in the early days of the Roman Empire (55-54 BC). But in the Celtic Age the river was probably a derivative name for Tame and Isis (Tameisis) old pagan gods or a single river divinity of myth and legend. The first ‘real’ record of Lyd Well comes from ‘The Doomsday Book‘ of 1086 AD.

Statue of Father Thames, alongside St John's L...

Old Father Thames,  Lechlade, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The spring called Lyd Well emerges from a large circular hole covered with an iron grate and flows out into an even larger stone-lined pool which is often overflowing or ‘positively gushing’ with water; the quickly flowing water then heads along a water course that gradually gets more and more noticeably like a stream and, after some miles forming something more like a river in one’s eyes towards Cricklade. In wet weather the gushing, thundering water is quite forceful and very loud – hence the name Lyd Well. Long ago the water was clear and, probably drinkable, but this is not the case today and it’s “not” advisable to drink it. I don’t know whether the water ever had any healing qualities, apart from being cold and crystal clear to drink when one was very thirsty – maybe up until the 17th century or earlier than that at least.

In the 16th century John Leland the noted royal antiquarian came to view the sources of the Thames and, later in the late 18th century William Combe also viewed these river sources and wrote about them in his celebrated work ‘History of the Pricipal Rivers of Great Britain’ (1794). No doubt other notary people from the last two hundred years or so have also tried to find the true source of the river Thames.


Prichard, Mari & Carpenter, Humphrey., A Thames Companion, (2nd edition), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1981.

Bord, Janet & Colin., Sacred Waters, Paladin (Grafton Books), London, 1986.

Combe, William., History of the Principal Rivers of Great Britain, John & Josiah Boydell, London, 1794.

Walsingham, Norfolk

English: The statue of Our Lady of Walsingham,...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference TF9360 3678. Walsingham the famous English ‘Marian’ shrine and pilgrimage centre in north Norfolk is actually made up of two villages, Little and Great Walsingham, some 5 miles north of Fakenham and 20 miles east of King’s Lynn on the A148. In the grounds of the Augustinian priory ruins at Little Walsingham just south of Holt road, founded in 1153, 1162 or 1169? by Geoffrey de Favarches, are two holy wells that were dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Our Lady of Walsingham), but today these have, sadly, become wishing wells. Geoffrey de Favarches, son of Richeldis who had visions of the Virgin Mary in 1061, having visited the Holy Land had vowed to build a religious house on his land at Walsingham when he returned to England. He did not go back on his vow. Geoffrey was also associated with endowing Castle Acre priory in Norfolk, which had been founded earlier in c.1090 by William de Warenne, Earl of Suffolk.

The two healing wells are located just a short distance to the east of the turreted monastic archway, all that remains of the priory church (east side gable end), now a rather forlorn looking ruin standing all alone, but which in earlier times was a very grand religious house that had strong links to the shrine of Our Lady (which had stood at the north side of the priory church) and the healing wells. There are other ruins here, notably the west end of the refrectory, dating from around 1300, and other ruins including gatehouse and frater. To add to the religious buildings, a Franciscan friary was established in 1347, as a hospice for poor travellers, under the patronage of Elizabeth de Burgh, Countess of Clare, despite much opposition from the Augustinian canons of the priory who thought this would be a distraction for pilgrims coming to their house. Walsingham priory was dissolved in 1538 even though King Henry VIII had himself earlier visited the ‘Catholic’ shrine and left a candle burning there! – the friary was abandoned at the Dissolution in the same year, although some ruined walls from that building are still visible including guest-house and church, but today these stand on private land.

It was here in 1061 that the lady of the manor of Little Walsingham, Richeldis de Favarches, who had earlier been married to a Norman lord, had at least three visions, one of the Virgin Mary on her own who instructed her to build a replica of the holy house (Santa Casa) at Nazareth, one of St Mary with baby Jesus and another of St Joseph. This was done and a chapel and wooden shrine were established two years later. During the middle ages Walsingham became something of a place of pilgrimage and, this even more so in later centuries when kings, queens, the nobility and also the poor and disabled came to the Slipper Chapel, at Houghton St Giles, on what was the best known of the pilgrim routes to complete the 1 mile journey to the Roman Catholic shrine itself without shoes (barefooted). The Slipper Chapel fell in to ruin in 1538, but was restored by the local Catholic community in the 1890s; and later in 1914 it became the National Catholic Shrine to Our Lady – to where thousands of pilgrims come every year from all over the world. The Slipper Chapel houses a very lovely statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and baby Jesus.

During the 14th and 15th centuries Walsingham had become known as ‘little Nazareth’ and even the ‘English Holy Land’- such was the fame of the place at this time in history. In 1931 an Anglican shrine was established near the priory ruins and a well was discovered where the foundations were to be built – this well was rather ‘curiously’ found to be connected up to the two healing wells, and so it too has curative properties. Today it is a renowned place of pilgrimage for Anglo-Catholics, Roman Catholics and, the Orthodox Churches, both in this country, and in Europe. According to the author David Pepin in his book Discovering Shrines And Holy Places, “For many twentieth-century pilgrims the annual pilgrimage to Walsingham is a highlight of the Christian year”. And it still is in the 21st century.

The two circular healing wells, with a larger square-shaped pool between them began to flow “again” at the instigation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, having been dried up for some considerable time; they were almost certainly pre-Christian, pagan springs. Our Lady instructed the saintly and, wealthy widow, Richeldis, to build a shrine and chapel that would represent the holy house at Nazareth; from which time the water in the two stone basins, close-by, became ‘effacious with healing qualities’ that would miraculously cure such ailments as: stomach problems and headaches etc. There also existed a chapel of St Lawrence at or beside the healing wells, but this has long since vanished. The small Romanesque entrance with a round-headed doorway and nice carvings was re-erected here in the 19th century but it originally stood eleswhere as part of the priory buildings. The two wells are covered with decorative iron lids and the larger bathing pool is often covered over. Also at one time a worshippers stone stood between the wells to allow pilgrims to sit and perform their usual water rituals.


Butler, Lionel & Wilson-Given, Chris., Medieval Monasteries of Great Britain, Michael Joseph Limited, London, 1979.

Bord, Janet & Colin., Sacred Waters, Paladin (Grafton Books), London, 1986.

Reader’s Digest., Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain, (2nd Edition), Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1977.

Pepin, David., Discovering Shrines And Holy Places, Shire Publications Ltd., Princes Risborough, Aylesbury, Bucks, 1980.

Bottomley, Frank., The Abbey Explorer’s Guide, Kaye & Ward Ltd., London, 1981.

Chun Quoit, Morvah, Cornwall

Chun Quoit, Cornwall

Chun Quoit, Cornwall

Os grid reference 4021 3395. On the windswept moorland of south Cornwall at the northern edge of Woon Gumpus Common stands the famous and well-preserved mushroom-shaped Neolithic burial chamber or portal dolmen, Chun Quoit, which is also sometimes called a cromlech (cromlech being a Welsh term). It’s not an easy monument to get to but it is probably best reached from footpaths coming off the B3318 (north road) to the west and walking in a north-easterly direction. The author John Hillaby in his book ‘Journey through Britain’ sums up the approach to the ancient burial chamber like this: “It loomed up over the horizon like a huge stone mushroom”. A quoit is the Cornish term for a burial chamber, of which there are several in this part of the country. The little village of Morvah lies about 1 mile to the north on the B3306 road, while the Cornish town of Penzance is 4 miles east on the Lanyon-Madron road.

In myth and legend giants used these megalithic monuments for games practise and, according to author Sally Jones in her work ‘Legends of Cornwall’, she says “It is easy to see why it was said to be the plaything of the local giants in their games of bob-button and why a group of Saxon kings are thought to have used it for a dining table” though “here” she is referrering to another megalithic tomb, Lanyon Quoit, a mile to the south-east. They are though just like giant tables with supporting legs and, so down the centuries have come to be called prehistoric ‘table tombs’. We can still see table tombs in old graveyards in Britain today

Chun Quoit - Morvah - Cornwall - UK

Chun Quoit, Cornwall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chun Quoit sits within a low, round-shaped mound 35 feet in diameter, all that now remains of the original soil mound (round barrow) that covered the burial chamber before erosion took over. A number of small outer boulders stand in this kerbed mound that was probably the forecourt. The quoit stands proudly over 7 feet in height with a huge boat-shaped granite capstone that sits quite comfortably on it’s 3 upright granite stones all roughly 5 feet high; but at one end it overhangs – looking precariously like it could slide off at any time – this is because a fourth upright stone has itself slipped to one side and does not “now” support the monument. The rounded (convex) capstone measures 10 feet by 9 feet and is over 2 foot thick; and is said to have a single cup-mark. Almost certainly it weighs several tonnes. It’s inner chamber is closed or blocked off by the 3 large upright stones thus stopping any would-be intruder from entering the grave and so allowing the body and soul of the dead chieftain to ‘rest in peace’. It obviously worked too because anyone would have great difficulty squeezing through to the chamber’s inner sanctum. Chun Quoit is thought to date back between 4,000-6,000 years to the Neolithic Age. The name ‘Chun’ means ‘House on the Downs’.

Some 300 yards (100 metres) to the east of Chun Quoit are the round-shaped earthworks of an Iron-Age hillfort, Chun Castle, which is more recent in date, roughly 2,000 years or so. But all around this area there are other prehistoric sites:- Lanyon Quoit, the sacred Men-an-Tol holed fertility stone with its adjacent phallic stone, and the Men Screfys standing stone, being just three other local antiquities within a couple of miles. This particular part of Cornwall appears to have been a Neolithic trading route to and from the coast of Brittany and probably northern Spain as well.


Sykes, Homer., Mysterious Britain, Cassell Paperbacks (Cassell & Co), London, 2001

Hillaby, John., Journey through Britain, Paladin Books (Granada Publishing Ltd)., London, 1983.

Jones, Sally., Legends of Cornwall, Bossiney Books, St Teath, Bodmin, Cornwall, 1980.

Church of St Mael and St Sulien, Corwen, Denbighshire, Wales

Cross-Shaft in Corwen churchyard (Jeff Buck - Geograph)

Cross-Shaft in Corwen churchyard (Jeff Buck – Geograph)

OS grid reference SJ 0788 4341. Near the centre of the little town of Corwen, in the Dee Valley, beside Chapel street and London road (A5) – stands the parish church of St Mael and St Sulien, a building that dates back to the 12th-15th centuries, although there was an earlier, Norman church on this site as far back as the 12th century and, probably even further back to the 6th century AD. The church houses a small collection of antiquities that are well worth viewing. In the porch there is a strange-shaped stone in the wall that could pre-date the church, and above the priest’s door a flat stone bearing an incised cross; also an ancient font and medieval tomb. Out in the churchyard a Celtic cross-shaft stands upon a pre-historic stone base that has what are ‘considered to be’ cup-markings. The town of Llangollen is 11 miles to the east on the A5, while the historic town of Ruthin lies some 10 miles to the north along the winding A494 road.

The first church, whether that be in the 6th century or the 11th century, according to legend, it was built where a large and ancient pointed stone stood – as it could not be built eleswhere because a “voice” from a higher place (not of this world) had warned against it. At some stage this large pointed stone 6 feet in length was incorporated into the wall of the north porch, but it is difficult to see it today as the porch has been plastered over. Local people called it the ‘Thumb Stone’ or ‘Pointed Stone’. It could well pre-date the church and be pre-historic in date. It is also known in Welsh as ‘Carreg y big yn y fach rhewllyd’ or “the pointed stone in the icy corner.” On the outer south wall of the church, above the priest’s door, a large flat stone lintel has an incised Celtic-style consecration cross carved onto it, possibly dating from the early Christian period. Local people believed that this mark was actually the impression made by Owain Glyndwr’s dagger when he hurled it at the church in a fit of rage from Pen-y-Pigyn hill overlooking the town; and ever since it has been referred to as ‘Glyndwr’s Dagger Stone’. Glyndwr (1349-c.1445) led the Welsh in a revolt against King Henry IV. A few others have suggested the dagger or spear was thrown by Owain, King of Gwynedd, from Caer Drewyn in the 12th century? Also in the church a Norman font of circa 1100, a dug-out wooden chest and a beautifully carved 14th century memorial tomb to Iorweth Sulien, a prevoius rector of the church.

In the round-shaped churchyard near the porch stands a slender Celtic preaching cross-shaft, dating from between the 9th to 12th centuries, which sadly, has a broken head. It is made of granite and is 7 foot (2.2) metres high. There is interlacing on the broken cross-head (capital) and some other decoration on the shaft, including a small incised Latin cross. The cross stands on a large, circular (octagonal) base-stone that is 5 foot 3 inches in diameter and 1 foot in depth; this stone is ‘thought’ to date back to the Bronze-Age and has what are considered to be 7 depressions or cup-marks (is this the only cup-marked stone in Wales), quite possibly, and could it have come from a pre-historic burial site that once stood in the churchyard or close by? where there was originally an alignment of stones.

The dedicatees of the church St Mael and St Sulien were, according to the Legend, Christian missionaries who came to Wales from Brittany in 516 AD along with St Cadfan, St Padarn, St Cynllo and St Tydecho. However, it is quite plausable St Mael never existed at all because Corwen church now adopts St Michael the Archangel as it’s second patron, in a way dropping St Mael, although the name is very similar. But St Sulien is remembered in north Wales – indeed he was the cousin of St David. Sulien or Silian went on to establish a number of churches in northern Wales, including Llansilin and Llandyssil in Powys and Capel-St-Silin in Cardiganshire, but over time he has become confused with another saint called Tysilio. In later life we are told: Sulien settled at Luxulyan in Cornwall but returned to Brittany and died there. He has a feastday on the 13th May. At Tyn Llan near Llansilin, Powys, there is a holy well named for him (Ffynnon Silin) and there is a St Sulien’s holy well (Ffynnon Sulien) near Rug Chapel – west of Corwen on the A494 road.


Barber, Chris., More Mysterious Wales, Paladin (Grafton Books), London, 1987.

Gregory, Donald., Country Churchyards In Wales, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Capel Garmon, Llanrwst, Gwynedd, 1991.

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

Spencer, Ray., Historic Places In Wales – An Exploration of the Fascinating and Mysterious (unpublished manuscript), Nelson, Lancashire, 1991.

Spencer, Ray., A Guide to the Saints Of Wales and the West Country, Llanerch Publishers, Felinfach, Lampeter, Dyfed, 1991.