Well, well, well . . .
PUBLISHED: 12:12 07 April 2015 | UPDATED: 13:01 07 April 2015
Lindsay Want's indulgence in tucked away stuff that's simply oh-so-Suffolk
Sources of much mystery or founts of all knowledge? Suffolk’s watery array of natural springs and pools, historic wells and village pumps have stories to draw on by the bucket-load. Some tales are set in stone, others have cast iron alibis, but many have become the stuff of ‘mere’ legend.
From Bury St Edmunds to Blythburgh, Hoxne to Hawstead, would-be watering holes of all shapes and sizes have dried up, disappeared or simply been filled in over the centuries. Time, oral traditions and a few free-flowing imaginations have undoubtedly topped up the storylines too. Could they be brim-full of truth or are they all rather far-fetched? You decide.
Memories clearly last for ages in Newton Green near Sudbury. The great Iceni Queen quenched her thirst at ‘Boudicca’s Well’ here whilst en route to wage war on the Romans in Colchester. At Hoxne, monks spotted a ‘healing’ spring where St Edmund’s head was discovered in the paws of a local wolf, but there are no sources to explain what mermaids were doing in the clear water pits at Bury St Edmunds. In Hawstead Green near Whepstead, ol’ Jacob discovered a never-failing spring when he got a bit riled and bashed his stick in the ground, whereas ‘Basket Wells’ in Lowestoft reputedly took its name from benevolent ‘sisters’, Elizabeth and Katherine – aka Bess and Kate, who lived above St Margaret’s Church porch.
Almost every Suffolk town and village has a story to tap into. Long Melford’s Grade II* listed Tudor red brick water conduit supplied Melford Hall, but proved popular with locals who thought the water source by the churchyard contaminated by dead bodies! Rushbrooke boasts a smaller, octagonal Elizabethan brick conduit and Bungay’s ‘Borough Well’ hides under a Tudor archway though its origins may go back to Roman times.
The 16th century well on Halesworth’s market place received a Victorian makeover. However, the ball on the fine stone column did a disappearing act to be replaced with today’s urn. Woolpit went to town for Victoria’s Jubilee, carving a wooden pump canopy with all the queens of England. Southwold’s pump with its fishhead spout doubles as a lamppost, whereas Saxmundham’s is a more subtly ornate part of today’s street furniture. Made in 1838 by Garretts at Leiston, it bears testimony to the benevolence of W Long, who also built the local market hall and school room.
Possibly deep and meaningful?
Down the Beccles Road by the A12 junction at Blythburgh lurks Lady’s Well. Its 19th century brick arch is hidden in the left bank, a ‘travellers’ rest’ courtesy of Henham Hall’s Countess. Once it had brass cups chained to the wall and stone benches, but do its origins run deeper? Is this a sacred spring marking where King Anna was slain in AD 654? Legend says he had St Felix baptise his daughters, Etheldreda, Sexburgha and Wendred, in springs near Newmarket. Names muddle over the centuries, but there is still talk of St Wendreda’s Well around Exning.
Just a trickle of the truth then?
So were the Holywells of Ipswich and Bury just sites of hollow wells, hole wells, or were their waters really blessed with healing powers? There are tales of Victorian pilgrims visiting Lady’s Well behind Woolpit church and enterprising Lowestoft locals selling spring water for ha’penny a bottle near Sparrow’s Nest. Apparently these pure waters did wonders for eye afflictions. All quite miraculous, or perhaps just a stark reminder of the otherwise poor quality of water supplies at the time.