Holy Well (destroyed?): OS Grid Reference — SJ 84596 90400
Archaeology & History
In Henry Taylor’s gigantic survey on the Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire (1906), he told that “records of the existence of holy wells in this (district) are scanty in the extreme.” Indeed. He certainly missed this one which, it seems (if modern lore is correct), has sadly fallen prey to that sickness which those ghastly people call ‘progress’. Cited to have been in or near the old graveyard of St. James church in the old village, this once ever-flowing spring of water was of great repute in earlier centuries, not only for general health, magick and traditions, but also supposedly in prolonging life itself!
It was to be found down Stenner Lane, and thanks to the help of local historians Geraldine Dowsing and Bret Gaunt, we have some old and not-so-old images of the site—both as it was, and as depicted in the artistry on the old wall next to where the waters once flowed.
One of the standard historians of Didsbury, Mr Fletcher Moss (1898), was of the view that this Well may have been the “origin of Didsbury, the place the Saxon settlers would choose first for their church and community.” He may be right. He told that,
“It was said ‘to be holy in papist times.’ Only last summer I several times saw three young ladies who came every morning to bathe their eyes and faces in it, saying, “It was good for sore eyes.” I could not see anything the matter with their eyes, but that may have been my ignorance, or that they were already getting better. In the spring time or early in May the well has often been nearly choked with wild flowers, and pins have been put in for luck. If rags or crutches were ever left there, it was when the water bubbled up in the roadway on the hillside. The flow of it is lessened by drains or sewers, and now it is taken down in pipes. The lane is enclosed with brick walls, and all the romance is gone; but in the longest drought or severest frost the water from the holy well has never failed, and though it may come from the churchyard, we and many others drink no other.”
In an earlier passage (Moss 1891), he talked about the longevity and good health of the local people and who credited it to the waters of this Well:
“Like most of the old Didsbury folk who never bothered with doctors or change of air, Sam Gaskill, the last clerk, lived to be long past the fourscore years, for I remember him and others much older than he was, regularly going to the Holy Well for the water for their households. As in patriarchal and primitive times the villagers went to the well or spring at eventide and tarried and talked while the water flowed. It mattered nought to them that the water flowed from the churchyard, from the burial-place of their forefathers; they had always been healthy as their forefathers had been healthy, and they wanted no other water and would have no other; that always bubbled up fresh and sparkling in summer or winter, in drought or frost, and never failed.”
Nearby to the east, spirits of the dead were said to come from the old trees of Parrs Wood, long since destroyed by those self-righteous Industrialists…
- Million, Ivor R., A History of Didsbury, E. J. Morten 1969
- Moss, Fletcher, Didisburye in the ’45, Cornish: Manchester 1891.
- Moss, Fletcher, Folklore, Old Customs and Tales of My Neighbours, privately printed: Manchester 1898.
Acknowledgements: With big thanks to Bret Gaunt, Paul Hornby and Geraldine Dowsing for their input.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian