The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Rebecca’s Well, Wargrave, Berkshire

OS grid reference SU 7993 8048. One mile north of Wargrave village in woodland on the side of Crazies Hill and a few hundred metres north-east of Gibstroude farm, stands a Victorian wellhouse covering a more ancient spring now called Rebecca’s Well, but before that time it had always been called Rebra’s Well. The curious name ‘Crazies Hill’ is locally said to mean Cray-wy-seath Hill or ‘the hill of the fresh clean water of the waterless place’, which obviously refers to the old well there. Rebra’s Well is apparently ‘the healthy water place on the hill’, being pronounced in the local dialect form ‘Reb bar yagh wylle’, and “perhaps” being named for Rebecca (Rebekah) the prophetess from the Old Testament. The well is located in the woods just a little to the south of Crazies Hill Lane on the way to Cockpole Green. The town of Reading is 8 miles to the south-west.

The ancient well of Rebra had become, over the years, a muddy pool in the woodland at Crazies Hill, but it had been a source of water for the folk of Crazies Hill for some considerable time, indeed they had apparently frequented it for its health-giving, healing properties. In 1870 the local parson Reverend Greville Phillimore ordained that his flock “should not be revering the water alone,” so he decided to build a proper wellhouse and honour a Biblical personage in the form of Rebecca, believing the original name Rebra to be a shortened form of her name? The good reverend designed the interior well-basin himself, but he commissioned Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) the celebrated English garden designer to design the wellhouse, and what a delightful job she did too.

The folly-like building made of plastered-over brickwork is 10 foot high and has a conical tiled roof with gabled frontage; the design plan is a semi-circular one. There is a circular arch at the front with an inscription ‘REBECCA AND THE SERVANTS OF ABRAHAM AT THE WELL OF NAHOR’. The colourful painting on the front depicts Rebecca and a servant, or Isaac her husband, standing beside the well of Nahor. Inside the wellhouse there is a large round-shaped stone basin where the water now collects, sometimes though not always in a good quantity, and at the rear of this a carved stone with another inscription and a cross all in segmented panels. The well usually has an iron gate in front of the water basin that can be opened for access.

According to the O.T. (The Book of Genesis) the servants of the Prophet Abraham ran to meet Rebekah and said “let I pray thee drink a little water of thy pitcher” at the well of Nahor. The actual Biblical well was at a place called Haran or Horan just outside the city gates of Nahor in Mesopotamia, which is today the land between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, including parts of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Rebecca was the wife of the Patriarch Isaac and granddaughter of Nahor, brother of Abraham. She was the mother of Jacob and Esau and great-niece of Abraham. Legend says the died at Haran (Horan) and was buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs at Machpelah, near Memre. But Rebecca is remembered for her great hospitality to travellers (guests) traversing the hot Mesopotamian desert with their camels and, for providing water for them at the well of Nahor, which she always did with much humility, kindness and graciousness, thinking only for the well-being of her guests at all times.