The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Mossy Well, Muswell Hill, Haringey, London

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.


St Mary’s Well, Cefn Meiriadog, Denbighshire, Wales

Ffynnon Fair at Cefn, Denbighshire (Photo Credit: Wellhopper)

Ffynnon Fair at Cefn, Denbighshire (Photo Credit: Wellhopper)

Os grid reference: SJ 0292 7107. Some 2 miles to the south-west of St Asaph and hidden-away in a wooded area near Cefn Meiriadog – stands St Mary’s Well (Ffynnon Fair) and its associated chapel (now in ruins), once a much-visited Roman Catholic pilgrimage centre. The site is of interest because of its ornate well-basin, considered to be very similar in design and age to the well-chamber at St Winifred’s Well, Holywell, which was linked to St Mary’s on the main pilgrims route across north Wales and, like that famous well – St Mary’s (Ffynnon Fair) was renowned for its healing properties. And, like St Winifred’s Well – St Mary’s does have “very cold water”. The well and its associated ruined chapel are located on private land beneath some trees, close to the river Elwy, in the hamlet of Wigfair, Cefn Meiriadog parish, Denbighshire, a mile or so to the north-west of Trefnant. It is difficult to reach but from the A525 make for the bridge over Afon Elwy, then go left into the lane. A footpath runs close to the site, but access is ‘not good’ from the gate! Go across the fields and into the valley just to the north of the river to reach the well site in Chapel Wood which is, sadly, becoming ‘very’ overgrown and forgotten.

The well chapel (Capel Ffynnon) was built in the 13th century, or it was rebuilt in 1500 along with the octagonal, star-shaped well-basin and attached cistern (bath); the rest of the building consists of a chancel, of a later date, a north and south transept, while the holy well stands at the far-western side of the chapel. Water from the well flows along a channel in the south transept, before meandering down to the river – Paul Davis ‘Sacred Springs’. Davis thinks the well-basin had some form of elaborate vaulting over it, probably contained within a projecting wing, and so the building originally had a cruciform plan. Could the chapel have been in use at some stage as a religious hostel for pilgrims visiting the holy well – and paying homage to Our Lady at the same time. Unfortunately, the chapel is now in a very ruinous state, leaving the star-shaped well open to the elements. Some of the 15th century Perpendicular windows retain their splendid decorative work, as do the doorways.

Water in this holy well was known to cure infertility and eye disorders, according to Audrey Doughty in her book ‘Spas And Springs Of Wales’. As this well-basin looks broadly similar to that at St Winifred’s Well, in Flintshire, and given the size of the chapel could it be that the benefactor was the saintly Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and mother of King Henry VII (1443-1509) – almost certainly she would have had the money to build something on such a grand scale. Audrey Doughty says the well structure is 8ft (2.4m) square; she also says that it “had without doubt been in use for very many centuries before it is said to have been rebuilt”.

St Mary’s well would have been visited by Roman Catholic pilgrims and probably Protestant pilgrims as well up until the late 17th century, when the well and chapel fell into disrepair, although the well may have continued to be in use. Apparently, it is said, that up to 1640 marriages were performed here, but whether these were legal or illegal is uncertain, though a priest could ‘be payed’ to come and perform the marriage ceremony if required! Francis Jones in his acclaimed work ‘The Holy Wells Of Wales’ says of the well: “it flowed within a small well-chapel now in ruins”, and goes on to say that: “it was ruined in Lhuyd’s time who says that the ‘gwyl’ of Mary was held there”. Jones is, of course, referring to Edward Lhuyd, the 17th century English antiquarian who visited north Wales towards the end of the 17th century. Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) the Jesuit priest and poet payed a visit and wrote a little bit of prose about it; and a poem was written about St Mary’s Well at Cefn by Mrs Felicia Hemans (1793-1835), who lived at St Asaph in the early part of her life.

Many thanks indeed to Wellhopper for the use of his photo, thanks sincerely. Check out his website:



Davis, Paul., Sacred Springs, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, 2003.

Doughty, Audrey., Spas And Springs Of Wales, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst, Wales, 2001.

Jones, Francis., The Holy Wells Of Wales, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1992.

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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

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St Gregory’s Well, Clooncree, Co. Galway, Southern Ireland

Holy Well (Photo credit: Fr John Musther.

Holy Well (Photo credit: Fr John Musther)*

Irish grid ref: L6537 5807. Close to the eastern shoreline of Lough Ballynakill (Loch Bhaile na Cille) at Doonen, near Clooncree, in Connemara, Co.Galway, is St Gregory’s Well, a pre-Christian healing spring that is dedicated to St Gregory (Ceannanach), a follower of St Patrick, who died about 500 AD. The well is a roughly half a mile to the southeast of a ruined 15th century chapel (on Cartron road), which is also named for this saint. The chapel stands at the top end of the large graveyard, now almost submerged in foliage and in a rather sorry state of repair; originally it would have been a fairly large, ornate building. Close to the ruined chapel there is a small, carved pillar-stone with an incised cross. St Ceannanach (Cononagh) was a native of Iararna at the southeastern side of the Aran Islands and is said to be buried at Inishmaan where Tempull Canannagh was founded by him in the 5th century AD. According to legend, the saint was martyred for his faith on the eastern shoreline of Lough Ballynakill where a stone, said to have blood stains on it, used to stand at the place where the saint died. The little village of Cartron (Moyard) is 1 mile to the north-west of Clooncree on the Tooreen road, while Cleggan is 2 miles to the west on the coast. Ballynakill means ‘The Lake of Church Town.’

There isn’t a great deal to see of the ancient well close to the Doonen road, to the east of the lough, just an opening down amongst some rocks but, almost certainly in the past it would have been regarded as a place of pilgrimage and the water no doubt having healing properties due to the very fact that an early Christian saint was murdered here, indeed, according to the well-told legend St Ceannanach the son of an Irish king was set upon by a pagan chieftain from Bundowlish who was ‘greatly’ annoyed at the holy man’s fervent desire to spread the Christian message in his territory; where the saint was beheaded there was a stone which forever afterwards was stained with blood. However in recent times the bloodstone, as it was called, has been lost although local children used to try and find it! Legend also says that: after being martyred the saint picked up his severed head, washed it in the well, and then miraculously re-attached it to his body. The well is 2 feet wide and surrounding it a stone-wall some 4 feet high, while the well enclosure is 12 feet in diameter; its spring issues from deep between some rocks and, when it is flowing properly it forms a little stream or rivulet. In days gone by pilgrims performed the Stations of the Cross round the well on sundays, but more especially on the saint’s feast-day 10th March.

Cross-Slab (Photo credit: Fr

Cross-Slab (Photo credit: Fr John Musther)*

St Ceannanach’s 15th century church at Cartron (Irish grid reference: L 6479 5828) is now in a very ruinous state, with only two gables left and fragmentary walls in between, nature having almost taken over with trees and bushes growing where the congregation once sat. However in this state it looks quite romantic and even evocative. There were churches on this site before the present one, one of which was said to have been built by the saint himself, or maybe by his followers? The church was 60 feet in length and 20 feet in width, its wall being 8 feet high; the east gable is 15th century, while the west gable retains its twin-light windows and a circular feature above. Close to the ruins (12 metres northeast) there is an early Christian pillar-stone with a thin incised cross, dating perhaps from the 6th century? But the centre of Ceannanach’s missionary work was on the Aran Islands, especially at Inishmaan where he founded an oratory called Tempull Cannanagh (Cononagh), which is now a ruin, and, at Iararna (southeast point) of the Aran Islands, his gravestone can still seen. He is probably to be identified with ‘Gregory the Fairheaded,’ while ‘Gregory Sound’ beyond Cleggan is ‘thought’ to be named after him – alluding to another, or the same legend concerning the saint’s martyrdom.


Previte, Anthony., A Guide to Connemara’s Early Christian Sites, Old Chapel Press, 2008.

*Photo Copyright: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License


Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2014 (up-dated 2021).


St Maughold’s Well, Maughold, Isle of Man

Click Photo  OS grid reference: SC 4961 9193. On the top of the headland overlooking the Irish Sea beside a footpath, 350 metres to the north-east of St Maughold’s churchyard, is the place of medieval pilgrimage called St Maughold’s Well or Chibbyr Vaghal, a pre-Christian spring that was adopted by a 5th century Celtic saint called Macaille, Maccald or Maughold, who was an Irish prince. To reach the well head east along the track to the lighthouse, but after 100 metres via off along the footpath in a northerly direction; keep on this path for 320 metres towards the headland (north side) and, on reaching a gate take the footpath in a south-easterly direction for a short distance to the well which, flows into an oblong pool beneath some rocks that jut out forming the surround at one side of the well, on the gorse-covered Maughold Headland overlooking the Irish Sea. The town of Ramsey is 2 miles north-west on the A2 road and Laxey village is roughly 6 miles south, also on the A2 road.

The sacred healing spring flows into a little pool beneath ancient rocks and, although it is said to be ‘a never failing-spring’, it does sometimes seem to stop flowing at certain times. This source of water issuing from deep in the ground once served a Celtic monastery, founded in the 5th century by the Irish saint, Maughold, who had come here in the footsteps of two of St Patrick’s disciples St Conindrus and St Romulus, to live on the headland after apparently trying to deceive St Patrick by placing a live man in a shroud, then asking St Patrick to come and revive him with a miracle, but the ‘evil deed’ did not work on the great Irish saint and so Maccald, a well-known outlaw and robber, became a Christian and was sent, as a penence, to live out his humble life as a hermit on the remote and rather windswept headland of the island. Legend says the well was formed (sprang forth) where his horse came ashore after it carried the saint over the sea from Ireland! There is a long flat stone beside the well which is shaped like a ‘chair’ and in more recent times it was indeed called St Maughold’s Chair, but whether this is the original stone chair is another matter because it was recorded recently that the stone had disappeared from the side of the well.

In the book ‘More Rambling In The Isle of Man’ the author Peter J.Hulme, 1993, informs us, interestingly, “That the spring may have been the work of men since among the unique collection of Christian monuments (housed at St Maughold’s church in the village) of the period is one reading “Bramhui led off water to this place.” So although the spring was already there, could it be that the monastic community here somehow managed to divert the spring – Bramhui perhaps being the monk whose idea it was?

The water used to have healing qualities according to the authors Janet & Colin Bord in their brilliant book ‘Sacred Waters’, 1986. They go on to say that: “women wishing for offspring would drink the water of St Maughold’s Well and sit on the saint’s chair close by”, and the well had its full virtue “only when visited on the first Sunday of harvest, and then only during the hour the books were open at church (ie when the priest was saying Mass)”. They also say: “Its water was believed to cure many ailments, including sore eyes and infertility. Barren women would sit in the ‘saint’s chair’ nearby and drink a glass of the well water. Pilgrims would drop a pin, bead or button into the well before leaving”.

And the author William Bennet in his work ‘Sketches of the Isle of Man,’ 1829, says of the well: “most celebrated in modern times for its medicinal virtues is the spring which issues from the rocks of the bold promotory called Maughold Head, and which is dedicated to the saint of the same name, who, it appears, had come upon the well and endowed it with certain healing virtues. On this account is is yet resorted to, as was the pool of Siloam of old, by every invalid who believes in its efficary. On the first Sunday in August, the natives, according to ancient custom, still make a pilgrimage to drinks its waters; and it is held to be of the greatest importance to certain females to enjoy the beverage when seated in a place called the Saint’s Chair, which the saint, for the accommodation of succeeding generations obligingly placed immediately contagious persons”.

St Maughold became bishop of the island, succeeding St Conindri and St Romulus. He died in 488 or 498 AD. He was also, apparently, a missionary in Scotland and Wales – indeed in Wales he goes under the name St Mawgan – if that’s correct then it would appear that the penence afforded to him by St Patrick did not come to complete fruition!


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

Hulme, Peter. J., More Rambling In The Isle Of Man, The Manx Experience, Douglas, Isle of Man, 1993.

Bennet, William., Sketches of the Isle of Man, London, 1829, p.65.

The Ancient And Histotric Monuments of the Isle of Man, The Manx Museum And National Trust, (Fourth (Revised) Edition, Dublin, 1973.

Photo courtesy of Pinterest

St Trillo’s Chapel, Rhos-On-Sea, Caernarvonshire (Gwynedd)

SH8413 8113. The tiny medieval chapel-cum-baptistry of St Trillo stands just off Marine Drive, close to the promenade, at Rhos-On-Sea, some 2 miles north-west of Colwyn Bay. Also called Capel St Trillo, the tiny building stands in a quiet area beside the seashore in what has been a hallowed spot for many hundreds of years. Within the chapel is a holy well (Ffynnon Drillo) which has been a place where pilgrims have come in the hope of a miraculous cure. An earlier Celtic chapel or a hermit’s cell stood here previous to the present structure, a cell where the 6th century saint, Trillo, had once lived.

St Trillo’s Chapel, Caernarvonshire

St Trillo’s chapel is a tiny, plain stone-built roofed building measuring 11 feet by 8 feet inside with walls that are 2 foot thick and low vaulting inside. The building is so tiny that only a small number of people are allowed in at any one time, the door is also quite narrow and there is only one tiny stained-glass window which shows St Elian another local Celtic saint. But it is open every day for prayer. The holy well is located beneath the altar but it is often covered by a metal grid – though this can be removed for access to the water inside a square-shaped basin. Even today the water from the well is used for baptisms. The monks of Aberconwy abbey looked after the chapel and holy well from roughly 1283 until the dissolution in 1538 at which time the monks had relocated to Maenan in the Conwy Valley, near Llanwrst.

What we know about St Trillo is that in the 6th century AD he came to Wales from Brittany and worked as a missionary along the north Wales coast as far as Anglesey where there is another church dedicated to him at Llandrygarn. He was the son of King Ithael Hael and his brothers were called Tegai and Twrog – both saints in their own right. St Trillo lived at his humble little cell at Rhos-On-Sea between the years 570-590 AD. He was buried on the holy island of Bardsey.