Healing Well (lost): OS Grid Reference – TQ 313 822
Archaeology & History
Like oh so many of the healthy old springs and streams in that dreadful metropolis, the blood and natural health of Skinner’s Well was killed long ago by the self-righteous arrogance of Industrialists. Even its precise whereabouts seems to have been forgotten… So we thank the written words of antiquarians to keep its memory alive.
Mentioned as far back as 1197 AD in early fine records of the region (Hardy & Page, 1892) as Skinnereswell — and thereafter in various local history records from 1200, 1244, 1385 and constantly from thereon — the place-name authorities Gover, Mawer & Stenton (1942) told that the prefix ‘skinner’, “clearly derive from personal names,” from “the occupational name skinner, of Scandinavian origin.” But this isn’t to everyone’s etymological fancy! When A.S. Foord (1910) sought for information on this healing spring, he found the same 1197 account, in which
“Skinners’ Well is there described as lying in the valley between the Nun’s Priory and the Holeburn, in which was a large fish-pond… Strype, in his continuation of Stow’s Survey (1720) say, ‘Skinners’ Well is almost quite lost, and so it was in Stow’s time. But I am certainly informed by a knowing parishioner that it lies to the west of the church (of St. James, Clerkenwell), enclosed within certain houses there.’ The parish would fain recover the well again, but cannot tell where the pipes lie. But Dr Rogers, who formerly lived in an house there, showed Mr Edmund Howard…marks in a wall in the close where, as he affirmed, the pipes lay, that it might be known after his death.”
Mr Sunderland (1915) thought Skinners Well a probable holy well, “because Mystery Plays were were performed yearly around it by the Skinners of London.” Citing as evidence the earlier words of John Stow in his Survey of London, 1603, which he narrated:
“In the year 1390…I read, the parish clerks of London, on the 18th July, played interludes at Skinners Well, near unto Clerkes’ Well, which play continued for three days together; the king, queen and nobles being present. Also in the year 1409…they played a play at the Skinners Well, which lasted eight days, and was of matter from the creation of the world. There were to see the same the most part of the nobles and gentles in England, etc.”
Whether this “matter from the creation of the world” was a tale of a Biblical nature, or more related to indigenous creation myths of the waters and lands around Skinners Well, we have no way of knowing.
Foord, Alfred Stanley, Springs, Streams and Spas of London: History and Association, T. Fisher Unwin: London 1910.
Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, Allen & Stenton, F.M., The Place-Names of Middlesex, Cambridge University Press 1942.
Hardy, W.J. & Page, W. (eds), A Calendar of Feet of Fines for London and Middlesex, 1197-1569 – volume 1, Hardy & Page: London 1892.
MacLagan, David, Creation Myths, Thames & Hudson: London 1977.
Sunderland, Septimus, Old London Spas, Baths and Wells, John Bale: London 1915.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian