NGR: SJ 9305 5407. In Gratton Lane at Endon, in North Stafford-shire, is a former sacred, possibly holy well/fountain, which was originally known as ‘Signers Well’ or ‘Sinners Well’, and, before that possibly it was known as St Ann’s Well. Today it’s just called Gratton Lane Well. The large well-house structure that you see there today was built in 1845 by a local man, Thomas Heaton, whose name is inscribed above the well basin. Springwater issues through the mouth of an iron head and down into the basin. It is possible the head is that of Mr Heaton who was a local landowner and re-built the fountain. He died in 1875. But, going further back in time it may have been dedicated to St Ann, mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and, with that in mind, it was possibly a pre-Christian spring. In more recent times, however, it was called ‘Sinners Well’. Even more recently it has, and still is, the site of traditional annual well-dressing ceremonies which take place at the end of May and early June each year when the villagers decorate the well here at Endon; this being an ancient custom with pre-Christian, pagan origins. A well-dressing Queen (May Queen) ceremony is also held simultaneously. The well is to be found at the side of the lane at the north-side of Endon village (Endon Bank) in the very beautiful and picturesque Staffordshire Moorlands, some 5 miles to the east of Stoke-on-Trent (The Potteries).
The old custom of well-dressing (well flowering) and the decoration of such wells, springs and fountains is now not just confined to the counties of Cheshire and Derbyshire, because in recent times it has started to be practised in the North Staffordshire Moorlands where a few villages have now adopted this idea, in particular, the wells at Endon and Rushton Spencer, near Leek. The well at Rushton Spen-cer is called Saint Helen’s Well and is a miraculous healing spring, according to F. W. Hackwood. And how very colourful and pleasing to the eyes are these well-dressing ceremonies, especially at this time of the year – late May Bank Holiday – to the beginning of June. The decorative floral art-work which is laboured over as a ‘labour of love’ by the good folk of Endon is ‘truly wonderful to behold.’ These Spring-time floral designs, greenery and garlands covering the wells and fountains sometimes have a religious flavour to them. More often than not, though, local themes are now becoming more evident with depictions of war-time events that took place in the village of Endon.
Janet & Colin Bord (1986) say: “Apart from the well-known Derbyshire locations, well-dressing is still also practised at Endon and Newborough in Staffordshire.”
Doug Pickford (1994) tells us: “There used to be many well dressings in Staffordshire but now they are mainly confined to neighbouring Derbyshire. There was one at Rushton until the 1920s, as I have mentioned in a previous book. I had the pleasure of speaking to the last of the Well Dressing Queens, the former Miss Mary Eardley, who was crowned in 1924. There is a well-dressing ceremony still in existence at nearby Endon. I am pleased to say, and the thanksgiving to the water goddess has now been replaced by a Christian ceremony.”
Sources / References & Related Websites:-
Bord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Paladin Books, London, 1986.
Hackwood, Frederick, W., Staffordshire Customs, Superstitions and Folklore, EP Publishing Limited, 1974.
Pickford, Doug, Staffordshire — Its Magic & Mystery, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1994.
Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2022.