St. Margaret’s Well, Binsey, Oxford, Oxfordshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SP 486 080

Archaeology & History

A sacred water source that is thought to have taken its name from the adjacent church of St. Margaret (makes sense!).  The site was described at some length in the fine work of Robert Charles Hope (1893), where he quoted extensively from earlier works:

At the west end of this chappel, about three yards distant, is the well or spring, antiently and to this day called St. Margaret’s Well, being the very same that she by her prayers at the building of the chapple opened. Of which heare a certaine old English poet, who in the life of St. Frideswyde in the legend of English saints, speaking of her various fortunes and of her passage from Bampton to this place, saith thus:

Ther fer with her [fellows.] she be laft ther
And to serve Jhesu Christ . a chapel leet [raise.]
Ther as is yit a fayr cort . and a cherche fayr and swete
Arerid in the honour . of her and Seynte Margrete
As this mayde [lived.] ther . in holy lyf and clene
The maydenes that were with her . gone hem ofte be [bemoan.]
That water was sum del to fer . hem ofte for smale dede
And cride on Seynt Friswid . that she schold hem therof [rid]
This mayde Seynt Friswid . bad our lordis sonde
That he water thorw his gras . hem sente ner honde
So sprong ther up a welle . cler [enough] and clene
That fond hem water inowf . tho dorst hem nought be mene
That beside the cherche is [it] . in the west syde
That mony a mon hath bote do . and that men seggeth wide.

Over St. Margaret’s Well was a covering of stone, and thereon on the front the picture of St. Margaret (or perhaps St. Frideswyde), pulled down by Alderman Sayre, of Oxon, a little before the late war, 1639.

To this well also and her image and certaine reliques in the chapple did the people come on pilgrimage with as great devotion to ease their burdened soules and obtaine resolutions of their doubts, as they would to an oracle.

And here, also, when those maimed and unsound folke had bin cured either by bathing in, or drinking of; this water, hang up their crutches as a speciall memorandum of their cured griefs. For which end and purpose there were severall preists that inhabited here appointed by the Prior of St. Frideswide’s purposely to confess and absolve those pilgrims.

Near to this place it was that the Lady Edyne, of Wynton, the widdow of Sir William Lancelot, knight, had a vision. (See Twyne, xxi., 199.)

The well wee find almost to the last frequented by superstitious people, and especially about a hundred years before the dissolution.  Soe much, that they were forced to enclose it–as in old time before, they had defended it–with a little house of stone over it with a lock and a dore to it. But all decaying and going much to ruine, at the suppression of St. Frideswyde’s Priory, was at last –I meane the little house–about twenty-five years agoe, pulled downe and quite taken away. Soe that now being overgrowne with nettles and other weeds, and harbouring frogs, snails, and vermin, scarce owneth the name of a well; noe more than the old and small building joyning to the north side of the chapple doth–as formally it did–a court.

The well is now in better condition. When I visited it on 25th October, 1887, the churchyard was tidily fenced and very neatly kept. At the well a descent of some five steps brought one to an arched vault, beneath which, in the centre of the flooring, was a round basin containing the water of the well, the surface of the water being about six feet below the level of the ground.  On the wall above the arch was this inscription:

“S. MARGARET’S WELL.

S. Margaretae fontem, precibus S. Frideswidæ (ut fertur) concessum, nquinatum diu obrutumque in usum revocavit T. J. Prout, Aed. Xti alumnus, Vicarius, A. S. MDCCCLXXIV.

At the time of the restoration of this well, an Oxford wit, having regard to its proximity to the church, suggested for an inscription:

Ariston men hydor
When you open your pew-door,
This may comfort supply
Should the sermon be dry.

(Ibid., pp. 323-328, et seq.)

Denham Tracts, p. 151: The well of St. Margaret or St. Frideswide, in Binsey churchyard, scarce two miles from Oxford, is supposed to have sprung from the prayers of St. Frideswide, and many in olden times consulted it as an oracle on the state of their burdened souls; maimed and sick persons drank and bathed in the waters, and were cured by them. The stone edifice was in the last century destroyed, but has been restored.

References:

  1. Hope, R.C., The Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliot Stock: London 1893.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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About megalithix

Occultist, prehistorian and independent archaeological researcher, specializing in prehistoric rock art, Neolithic, Bronze Age & Iron Age sites, and the animistic cosmologies of pre-Christian & traditional cultures.
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