Healing Well: OS Grid Reference – SE 1321 4332
From the famous Dick Hudson’s pub on the south side of Ilkley Moor, take the road right (east) for a half-mile until you reach the large Weecher Reservoir just off the roadside on your right. Less than 300 yards past the reservoir, a footpath takes you onto the moor itself. Walk up the path for about ⅔-mile — crossing one wall, then walking roughly parallel with another on your right — until you reach a crossing of paths where there are 2 gates or stiles. Tale the lower of the two stiles, through the wall, but below the fence. You’ll see an awful Yorkshire Water cover, which has just about destroyed the once-fine well that had always flowed here. Below this, by the wallside, are the trickling remains of this old healing spring.
Archaeology & History
When I was a young boy, Horncliffe Well was the site we would visit every weekend as our first stopping-spot on our regular ventures exploring these moorlands — “from Wrose to Rombalds,” as we use to call it! The old well was always very plentiful, strong-flowing, cold and truly refreshing. It was undoubtedly the best water source on the entire Rombalds Moor region, never drying up: even in the great droughts of 1976 and 1995, after all others had just about failed, the waters at Horncliffe were still flowing as strong as ever, as they had always done. But not anymore…
First described in land records of 1273 CE, this has always been a well of great repute and oral tradition told that this great old well never ran dry. It marked the ancient boundary point where the moorlands of Hawksworth, Burley and Bingley all meet. By name alone it is associated with the nearby and curious Horncliffe Circle, whose status itself is unclear (the circle seems more a place of refuge or living than a true ritual site).
The remains of old buildings on the flat just above where the waters once flowed were built in much more recent centuries. The building appears to have been started around 1799, for E.E. Dodds (1985) told that in 1800 it was used as a school for several years by local teacher Joshua Briggs. J. Horsfall Turner (1907) published a copy of an old drawing of the school, as it was soon after construction.
Horncliffe Well was vandalised by Yorkshire Water in the 1990s, who now channel much of its supply away for commercial benefit. When this work was being done, the workmen for the company broke an old stone at its base next to the adjacent Horncliffe House (in ruins). The well initially flowed quite freely; but Yorkshire Water have since returned to the well and have taken the vast majority of the water supply off the moor and into their financial control, leaving walkers, birds and animals to suffer from its demise. This damage to the archaeological environment and Horncliffe Well by Yorkshire Water is typical of a company that doesn’t give a shit about such things, with its sick retarded notion about the Earth’s blood being a ‘commodity’ and we, the people, ‘customers’ in its greedy mind. In all sincerity, it’s to be hoped that healthy heathens someday will visit this once-fine site and return it to its previous healthy status…
When we were kids and we came here every weekend, we got to know the old ranger who we’d meet either here or at the adjacent Horncliffe Circle, 250 yards NNE, where we’d sit and eat. In the mid-1970s, he told us that the old well was once a site where the fairy-folk would play, around Mayday (beltane). And though in later years I’ve sought for any information about this in all early antiquarian books that cover this area, I’ve never found any mention of this tale in print. The old ranger knew the moors and its history better than anyone I’ve ever known and many old stories died with him after his death.
Dodd, E.E., Bingley: A Yorkshire Town through Nine Centuries, M.T.D. Rigg: Guiseley 1985.
Laurence, Alastair, A History of Menston and Hawksworth, Smith Settle: Otley 1991.
Turner, J. Horsfall, Idle Upper Chapel Burial Registers and Graveyard Inscriptions, Harrison & Son: Bingley 1907.
Whelan, Edna, The Magic and Mystery of Holy Wells, Capall Bann: Chieveley 2001.
Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian