The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

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St Winifred’s Well, Woolston, Shropshire

St Winifred's Well at Woolston (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

St Winifred’s Well at Woolston (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: SJ 3225 2435. In the centre of the little village of Woolston, Shropshire, a few miles east of the Welsh border, is St Winifred’s Well, which rather curiously flows out from beneath a wooden building. This cottage was apparently once in use as the local court-house! The well has been a place of pilgrimage since the 12th century when the saint’s relics were rested here on their way to Shrewsbury Abbey, although it has never been as famous as the other St Winifred’s well at Holywell, Flintshire, but like that one this well was also built with the endowments of Lady Margaret Beaufort in the early 1500s. It was said to have had miraculous healing qualities. The place-name Woolston is derived from Walla-ton and Wella-ton with the ‘s’ added later, which both include the well in early reference, and probably meaning ‘well/spring beside a farmstead.’ The Welsh border is 4 miles to the west, Oswestry 4 miles north, and Shrewsbury 9 miles south on the A5 road.

The holy well of St Winifred at Woolston seems to have been a place of pilgrimage and healing since the year 1138 when the saint’s relics were being brought by monks from Gwytherin in north Wales to Shrewsbury abbey where they were placed with those of her uncle, St Beuno. But Woolston seems to have become known due to the number of pilgrims being healed there after the saint’s relics were rested on their journey to Shrewsbury, though the spring was almost certainly there long before that; and so could it have had another dedication before the arrival of St Winifred! The half-timbered building which the well flows from beneath is said to date from the 16th-17th century and may have replaced an earlier chapel, according to Janet & Colin Bord in their book ‘Sacred Waters’ 1985. The authors go on to say: “Through the gate a path soon reaches the well cottage, and the well itself and the pool into which it flows are behind the cottage. The various stone troughs through which the water flows could be dammed up to form bathing pools.

‘Source – The Holy Wells Journal’ Autumn 1994 has some interesting information on this well in its section called ‘The Other St Winifred’s Wells’. It says this is: “a rare example of a well covered by a secular building, in this case a half-timbered cottage originally used as a court-house. The present sixteenth or seventeenth-century building may have succeeded a chapel…. the well itself and the pool into which it flows are seen behind the cottage.” The Journal goes on to say: “that the house replaced a medieval well-chapel is in fact far from certain; and even the patronage of St Winifred is atested only from the early 19th century.” And it says: “Woolston Well, dedicated, according to Hulbert’s History of Salop (1838) to St Winifred. Some have sought to explain this dedication (now locally forgotten) by supposing that the relics of St Winifred may have rested here on their way from Gwytherin in North Wales to Shrewsbury Abbey, in the twelfth century; but it is easily accounted for by the fact that certain small stones spotted with indelible red marks singularly resembling bloodstains are occasionally found in the water, which have obviously led to the former localizing here of the legend of the well which sprang up on the site of St.Winifred’s decapitation.” However, it is now known that these red spots on stones is a type of algae – the very same algae can be seen at Winifred’s other well at Holywell, Flintshire.

The water of the well at Woolston is known to have had the power to heal broken bones and cure bruises and wounds, among other things, much like at Holywell. Of course, most of us know the “Legend” about St Winifred being beheaded by a local chieftain called Caradog at Treffynnon, having refused his advances to her. But she was healed by her uncle, St Beuno, afterwhich she became abbess of a convent at Gwytherin in north Wales. When she died in 650 AD her body was placed inside a church at that place; and in the Middle Ages her feast-day was held on 3rd November.


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

Hulbert, Charles., The History And Description Of The County of Salop, 1837-8.

Hulse, Tristan-Gray & Fry, Roy., Source – The Holy Wells Journal., Vol 1, Cefn, St Asaph, Autumn 1994.

Spencer, Ray., A Guide to the Saints Of Wales and the West Country, Llanerch Enterprises, Felinfach, Lampeter, 1990.

Photo Credit:,_north_Shropshire

Brandsbutt Stone, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Brandsbutt Stone near Inverurie.

Brandsbutt Stone near Inverurie.

Os grid reference: NJ 7599 2240. At the north-side of Inverurie town and at the corner of Brankie Road and Garden Terrace stands the Brandsbutt Stone, a Pictish symbol stone that has been lovingly restored. This large rock has a number of ancient symbols and an Ogham inscription on it. Strangely enough it now stands next to a modern housing development, but two large pieces of it were retrieved from a ditch near Brandsbutt farm, while another piece was found in a wall close by. The stone is sign-posted from the A96. Chapel of Garioch, where stands the famous Maiden Stone another Pictish stone, is 4 miles to the north-west on the A96, while the city of Aberdeen is 13 miles south-east in the opposite direction, also on the A96 road. There are several more Pictish stones in Aberdeenshire.


Brandsbutt Stone at Inverurie, Scotland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Brandsbutt Stone at Inverurie, Scotland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Brandsbutt stone is a class 1 Pictish symbol stone that is 3 foot 6 inches high and over 4 foot wide. It has some interesting carvings on it: a crescent, V-rod, Z-rod and a twisting serpent. There is also an Ogham inscription, a series of notches, recalling IRATADDOARENS which could be simplified as ‘Iratad Doarens….’ with a few notches possibly missing at the end which could be IUS or SIUS? Ogham was the ancient Irish alphabet script widely used in the Celtic west during the 5th-6th centuries, but also used in Scotland at a slightly later date due to the close ties between the two countries. The rock is made of whinestone, much quarried in Scotland, especially in the south.

Thanks to a local man the Brandsbutt Stone has been lovingly restored to what it originally looked like. Two lumps of the stone were rescued in 1899 from a field-dyke dividing two fields and another piece from a wall, a little to the east of Brandsbutt farm, which has now been demolished to make way for the new housing estate (Elizabeth Sutherland ‘The Pictish Guide’). Thankfully, the stone was recognised as being of great historic importance and part of the Pictish kingdom of Scotland which “flourished” during the 8th-9th centuries, but which actually began ‘its life’ as early as the 4th century AD, according to Anthony Jackson in his delightful little book ‘The Pictish Trail’ 1989.


Photo Wikipedia:

Jackson, Anthony., The Pictish Trail, The Orkney Press Ltd., St Ola, Kirkwall, Orkney, 1989.

Sutherland, Elizabeth., The Pictish Guide, Birlinn Limited, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1997.

Caedmon’s Cross, Whitby, North Yorkshire

Caedmon's Cross at Whitby.

Caedmon’s Cross at Whitby (Front)

Os grid reference: NZ 9009 1126. From Church street it’s a fair-old climb to the top of the precarious flight of 199 steps up to the west side of St Mary’s churchyard, overlooking the river Esk where it meets the north sea; but at the very top we are compensated by the tall monument called Caedmon’s Cross, a late Victorian-style Celtic cross that commemorates the famous 7th century Anglo-Saxon poet, Caedmon. He lived for most of his life at St Hilda’s monastic community of Streonaeshalch (Whitby), the predecessor to the present-day abbey, as a laybrother and herdsman. But Caedmon was to become an outstanding religious poet, and we have St Hilda to thank for that! The cross is richly decorated on all four sides and, although it’s not an ‘ancient’ cross as such – it’s still a remarkably stunning monument. It’s well worth visiting.

Caedmon’s Cross is almost 20 feet high and stands upon a solid stone-base. It was made from a hard type of sandstone quarried close by Hadrian’s Wall; and was set-up in 1898 to commemorate the 7th century poet of Whitby Abbey, founded by the Northumbrian saint, Hilda. The monument is very reminicent of the Bewcastle, Ruthwell and Gosforth Crosses with its panels depicting various Saxon saints, kings and Biblical figures, and there is an inscription recalling Caedmon. On the front side (east face) in 4 panels: Christ in the act of blessing – his feet resting upon a dragon and a swine, King David playing a harp, the abbess Hilda  with her feet on tiny fossilised creatures (ammonites) with a gull by her side, and behind her her five best scholars. Also Caedmon in his stable being inspired to sing his hymn about ‘The Creation’ – below which an inscription: “To the glory of God, and in memory of Caedmon, Father of English sacred song. Fell asleep hard by AD 680.”

Caedmon's Cross, Whitby (East Face)

Caedmon’s Cross, Whitby (Front Face)

On the west face in panels: double vine stems symbolising Christ, loops with 4 scholars of Whitby at the time of Caedmon: Aetla, Bosa, John and Oftgar, below which are carved the first 9 lines of Caedmon’s hymn of Creation. The two sides of the cross show an English rose, birds, animals and an apple tree (Eden). Also, a harp at the foot of The Tree of Life (harmony with Christ). The cross-head is carved on one side with the Agnus Dei and the four Evangelists with their symbols, while the other side has knotwork, bosses, and a dove representing the Holy Ghost.

We know from what Venerable Bede tells us in his ‘Ecclesiastical History Of The English People’ that Caedmon was ignorant, at first, of words and song and, knew nothing much about ‘life and creation’, being teased and mocked by the other monks, but that his life literally changed overnight when he had a wonderful dream in which he was visited by an angel. He was told to compose a hymn about the Creation with our Lord at its ‘very core’. The following morning he rushed to inform abbess Hilda about this dream. Hilda was filled with joy at what she heard and encouraged him to write down what the heavenly angel had revealed. And so the great hymn to ‘God the Creator’ was composed; he even sang it in a angelic voice in front of his fellow monks.

Abbess Hilda invited scholars from the monastery to evaluate Caedmon’s work, and she asked him to take the tonsure of a monk – which he did. But he also set out to write about the Christian Church and compose other religious hymns and poems with the Bible at the heart of each one. Sadly the Creation hymn is Caedmon’s only surviving work and is said to be ‘the oldest recorded Old English poem.’ He is said to have died in the monastery hospice in AD 680 surrounded by his friends after having a premonition of his own death; St Hilda also passed away that year, aged 66. However some accounts claim that Caedmon died in AD 684? The 11th February is St Caedmon’s feast-day. Close by there is a rather battered medieval wayside cross on a circular stepped base.


Bede, The Venerable., A History Of The English Church And People, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1982.

Roberts, Andy., Ghosts & Legends of Yorkshire, Jarrold Publishing, Norwich, 1992.

Smith, William., Stories & Tales Of Old Yorkshire., (Ed by Dawn Robinson-Walsh), Printwise Publications, Bury, Lancashire, 1993. (Orig. ed by William Smith in 1883).





The Crossgates Stone, Seamer, North Yorkshire

The Crossgates Stone near Seamer railway station.

The Crossgates Stone near Seamer railway station.

Os grid Reference: TA 1268 8163. In a grassy area at the top of Station road, Crossgates, Seamer, some 3 miles south-west of Scarborough, stands a solitary glacial erratic boulder that is known to have been deposited by a glacier many thousands of years ago. Local legend says the boulder originated from the Lake District, or did it? The large stone has been a landmark here for many years, but originally it stood a little further down the road, and there may have been other glacial boulders in this area. The village of Seamer is about 1 mile up the road, while Scarborough is 3 miles to the north-east on the B1261 and A165 roads.

The Crossgates Stone at Seamer near Scarborough.

The Crossgates Stone at Seamer near Scarborough.

This large, solitary granite boulder is around 6 feet in height and double that in girth, and is set well into the grassy ground at the top of Station road (at the junction of the B1261 Scarborough road and Station road), but it had originally stood in the yard of Seamer railway station at the bottom of the road where it had resided for some considerable time. In 1947 permission was granted for the boulder to be moved up the road from the old railway station. The information plaque alludes to the fact that the stone was carried here by a glacier moving south-eastwards from Shap in Cumbria at the end of the Ice-Age thousands of years ago, but could it in fact have been carried south from Scotland or maybe Northumbria instead? On the way south it apparently got dislodged in a natural gap in the higher land at either side – the B1261 and A165 roads to Scarborough now run through this naturally-formed gap. So it’s ‘highly probable’ that there were other boulders in this area, though where they are remains something of a mystery.

The Crossgates Stone close-up.

The Crossgates Stone close-up.

The iron information plaque at the front of the stone does not say a great deal about the stone’s history, but in brief it says that:- “A boulder of Shap granite moved to Seamer by a glacier in the Ice Age. It was moved to this site on 3rd December 1947 from Seamer station grounds with the co-operation of The British Railways Board and Dowsett Ltd.”