NGR: SX 37499 69220. At the southeast side of Dupath Farm, 1 mile southeast of Callington, Cornwall, is a late medieval wellhouse-cum-chapel-cum-baptistry known as Dupath Well. The ornate wellhouse is built from local granite and stands beneath some trees at the corner of the farmyard and is surrounded by a wooden fence. It was built over an existing holy well/spring which was dedicated to St Ethelred, King of Mercia, who died in 709. Augustinian canons from St German’s Abbey, near Saltash, built the wellhouse sometime between 1500-1510. The building was restored in the Victorian period. It was to became a place of pilgrimage when water flowing into a stone basin inside the building was found to have miraculous healing properties. The well water was reportedly able to cure whooping cough, but also other diseases too. Dupath Well is the site of a legendary fight between two local notaries over the love of a lady. The wellhouse is a Grade I listed building and is under the guardianship of Historic England, and managed by the Cornwall Heritage Trust. From the A390 at the NE side of Callington take Dupath Lane SE for about 1 mile. Dupath farm is on the left-hand side. The wellhouse is on private land. However, it may be closed due to the current Covid-19 re-strictions, so please do check before visiting the site.
Robert Charles Hope (1893 & 2012) tells us that: “Dupath Well is a pellucid spring, once the resort of pilgrims and still held in esteem. It overflows a trough, and entering the open archway of a small chapel, spreads itself over the floor and passes out below a window at the opposite end. The little chapel, 12 feet long by 11½ wide, is a complete specimen of the baptisteries anciently so common in Cornwall. It has a most venerable appearance, and is built of granite, which is gray and worn by age. The roof is constructed of enormously long blocks of granite, hung with ferns, and supported in the interior by an arch, dividing the nave and chancel. The doorway faces west; at the east end is a square-headed window of two lights, and two openings in the sides. The building is crowned by an ornamental bell-cote. The well is famed for the combat between Sir Colam and Gotlieb for the love of a lady; Gotlieb was killed, and Sir Colam died of his wounds.”
Garry Hogg (1968) says of the: “Well-Chapel, Dupath, Cornwall, off A388, two miles south-east of Callington. The best-preserved of Cornwall’s well-chapels, built in the sixteenth century to serve as a baptistery and preserve the holy well beneath its massive roof of moorstone. The site (as so often) was probably a pagan one, sanctified in medieval times by the Christian Church as the new Faith spread further into this ‘outlandish’ corner of the country. Inevitably it has an accretion of legend. Local belief is that it was built as a penance by a Cornishman who had slain a rival for the hand of the woman he loved.”
As for St Ethelred to whom the well-chapel at Dupath was dedicated, Stenton (1942), says: “Ethelred, King of Mercia, founded Abbingdon Abbey. Abingdon is in S. Oxfordshire. The abbey was more likely founded by Cissa. St Wilfrid was under the protection of Ethelred and was a close friend. Ethelred was the benefactor of many churches in the various provinces of his kingdom. and in 704 he retired into the monastery of Bardney in Lindsey.” King Etherlred had founded the Benedictine monastery of Bardney in 697 and became its abbot sometime after 704. He died there in c 709 and his relics were interred there. His feast-day is on the 4th May. Butler & Given-Wilson (1979) add that: “Ethelred gave his consent to the founding of a double monastery at Gloucester 674-81 being founded by Osric, whose sister Cyneburh was 1st abbess.”
Sources / References & Related Websites:-
Butler, Lionel & Given-Wilson, Chris, Medieval Monasteries of Great Britain, Michael Joseph Limited, London, 1979.
Hogg, Garry, Odd Aspects of England, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1968.
Hope, Robert Charles, The Legendary Lore Of The Holy Wells Of England — Including Rivers, Lakes, Fountains and Springs, (orig. published by Eliot Stock, London, 1893. Classic Reprint Series: Forgotten Books, 2012).
Stenton, F. M., Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford University Press, London, 1943.
More info here:- https://www.cornwallheritagetrust.org/our_sites/dupath-well/
And more history: https://cornishbirdblog.com/2019/03/31/dupath-well-a-romantic-history/
Cornwall’s mysterious Dupath’s Well
Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.