OS Grid Reference: SD 73660 37014. Medieval well in the grounds of the former Bramley Meade Maternity Hospital, near Whalley, in the Ribble Valley, Lancashire. The structure is thought to date back to when Cistercian monks lived at the nearby abbey. It has, however, never been considered to be a holy or medicinal well as such though it was used by the monks and, in more recent times, maybe by the maternity hospital itself. This curious stone grotto-like structure surrounds what appears to be a fairly deep water-filled circular well basin, which may originally have been in use as a “plunge pool”, or in medieval times as a baptistery? A bit of a problem to reach though as its on private land, but you can maybe ask for permission to view the well from the lodge building on Clitheroe Road, or at the main entrance on Wisewell Lane walk up the driveway for a short distance, then turn sharp left and go through the wrought-iron gates (if open) passing the beautifully restored Neo-Classical style water-fountain with carved ladies around its wellhead, which stands in front of the former hospital building; the well is a little further along at the right-hand side on the grassy area.
This curious looking well-house with its circular water-filled basin is now perhaps rather forgotten, although it is still of great interest to the town of Whalley in the Ribble Valley. The well-house stands at 8 feet in height and surrounds what looks to be a deep circular basin or plunge pool. It might have been used as a baptistery in late medieval times, but there is uncertainty about that. There are apparently three steps goings down into the water where the entrance is, but I could not see them when I looked down as the water was quite mucky and filled with grass cuttings. It’s an odd mixture of lumps of small and large stones cemented together in a crude sort of fashion to make it look grotto-like, but inside the stonework looks much stronger and more complete and, becoming more circular as the structure tapers downwards, forming the well basin which has the appearance of being more ancient perhaps. At the top of the well-house roof is a sort of crude stone pinnacle. Today, for safety reasons the well entrance has a sort of picket fence barring the way, which is very sensible given the possible deepness of the water.
Apparently the well was originally called ‘Hey Well’ or ‘Hey Wall Well’ after the area in which it stands; more likely the name has just altered over the centuries and in more recent times become High Wall Well. There is an 18th century map showing the area where the well is situated in a book by Jimmy Fell (1979), who also says the well supplied the abbey. The well is briefly mentioned in History of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster, Volume 3′. In this it is referred to as having no medicinal qualities but was used by the monks “as a cold bath.” And John & Phillip Dixon (1993) give us a few more interesting details about the well. They say that: “High Wall Well is sited inside the grounds of Bramley Mead Hospital. Covered by a grotto-type structure, the waters are reached by descending three steps. It is said to be the clearest and purest spring in the Whalley district, the only one that was never polluted.
“Perhaps for this reason the Abbey monks laid leaden pipes from the well into their convent, sections of which have been located by the local History and Archaeological Society.”
Sources of information:-
Baines, Edward, History of the Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster (Volume 3), Fisher, son & Company, Lancashire, 1836.
Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys Through Brigantia, Volume Nine: The Ribble Valley, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1993.
Fell, Jimmy, Window on Whalley, Countryside Publications Limited, Brinscall, Chorley, Lancashire, 1979.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.