Os grid reference: TQ 288 899. A few miles to the north of the city of London, in Haringey district, is the London suburb of Muswell Hill (NW10), which takes its name from an ancient healing well (long ago) called Mossy Well or Moss Well and, later in the 12th century it was “perhaps” re-named by some local Augustinian nuns who built their chapel there – calling it St Mary’s Well at Muswell. Or could the name actually be derived from the river Moselle, locally called ‘the Mose’, which ‘springs to life’ in Hornsey (on Moss Hill), just to the south-east of Muswell Hill, and which was long known for its medicinal qualities, though it is in fact a brook. But are the two actually one and the same, probably not. The healing well (known as St Mary’s Well) has long since been capped under the ground, with only the place-name still there to remind us of this once holy, pilgrimage site. Today a private house (no 10 Muswell road) stands on the ‘presumed’ site halfway along the road. Muswell road is located just west of Alexandra Park and the famous Alexandra Palace, while to the north is Muswell Hill Golf Course, and a mile to the south Highgate Cemetery.
Mossy Well is described as being a natural spring, but undoubtedly in early Christian times it was used by the local community which would, at that time, have been just a settlement, though it must have had healing and beneficial qualities, maybe this was attributed to the ‘moss that grew in it’ or around it? Then, later in Saxon times it would have become a proper healing spring with people coming to visit it from farther afield. And in the 12th century some nuns came to the area and built a dairy farm; they saw the holy well, built a chapel beside it, and re-named both after St Mary the Virgin. After this time, in the medieval period, the well became a place of pilgrimage with healing occurring at the well, and votive offerings being made in the chapel, to Our Lady.
There is a legend that was told back in Tudor times which stated that: A Scottish king came to the Mossy Well and was cured of a disease there by drinking of the water, but there is no date given. The only other more recent record comes from a book called ‘Old London, Spas, Baths and Wells’, by Septimus Sunderland. What is known is that the Bishop of London gave some land to the Augustinian nuns of St Mary’s priory at Clerkenwell on which to found a chapel beside a healing well at Muswell – the place then became a Roman Catholic pilgrimage site with numerous cures being wrought there. The chapel was destroyed in the 16th century under the orders of King Henry VIII.
Sunderland, Septimus., Old London, Spas, Baths and Wells, John Bale, sons & Danielsson, London, 1915.