St Helen’s Well, Hemswell, Lincolnshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SK 932 911

Also Known as:

  1. Seven Springs

Getting Here

From the village lane at the east end of Brook Street, take the footpath through the first gate and then over the stile into the woods on your left (north).  Soon a clearing will appear on the left hand side as you climb the hill.  Careful as you scramble down (look for a swing set up by local children) on the left hand side will be the Devil’s Pulpit.

Archaeology & History

The village name deriving from ‘Helmes’, the genitive singjular of the Old English masculine name Helm, or from helmes, the genitive singular of OE helm ‘a helmet, the summit of a hill, a shelter’, so that the name is either ‘Helm’s spring’ or ‘spring at the summit or shelter’—which does rather neatly defines its topography.  However, other authorities suggest its gets its name from elm trees which once grew around the wells.

The site has an eerie but not unquiet atmosphere this is possibly due to the stone called the Devil’s Pulpit, a large approximately six-foot high piece of sandstone under which a small spring arises.

Folklore

This Thompson (1999) in his Lincolnshire Wells and Springs notes local opinion thought was St. Helen’s, he said it tasted sweeten than the other waters (a fact that I cannot testify as the spring has appeared to have almost dried up the year I went).  Binnall (1845) notes that the spring wells were regarded as possessing curative powers and rags were hung on the surrounding bushes.

The dedication of St Helen is an interesting one and can be seen as an outlier from those found widely distributed in Yorkshire (Whelan & Taylor, 1989), but rare in the adjoining counties of  Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.  Harte (2008) in his English Holy Wells suggests that the name is spurious; and Rudkin’s (1936) Lincolnshire Folklore does not refer to it as such.  However, in support of the view, I had no problem locally detecting the well using this name in the village (incidentally Harte makes an error referring to the springs as Aisthorpe Springs, these are clearly another site).  There was supposed to be a chapel or church associated with the site, of which there is no trace or record.

Taken from R. B. Parish (2012) Holy Wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire

References:

  1. Cameron, Kenneth, The Place-Names of Lincolnshire – volume 6, EPNS: Nottingham 2001.
  2. Harte, Jeremy, English Holy Wells, Heart of Albion: Loughborough 2008.
  3. o’ Neill, Susanna, Folklore of Lincolnshire, History Press: Stroud 2012.
  4. Rudkin, Ethel, Lincolnshire Folklore, 1936.
  5. Thompson, Ian, Lincolnshire Springs and Wells: A Descriptive Catalogue, Bluestone: Scunthorpe 1999.
  6. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.

Links:

  1. Holy & Healing Wells

© R.B. Parish, The Northern Antiquarian

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About pixyledpublications

Currently researching calendar customs and folklore of Nottinghamshire
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