In this post I’d like to take you a little farther afield than Glastonbury (25.4 miles away to be exact), to a holy well in the Quantocks and the story of its restoration. It’s a tale of one woman’s passion, of romance and community.
Glastonbury seems to attract people who are passionate about things. One such person is Becky Wright, a regular visitor to the town. Becky enjoys reading Normal For Glastonbury and she asked me to help with a piece of writing for her well-being business, in return we met up at her office in Bridgwater and she gave me a really illuminating and helpful life design coaching session.
I warmed to Becky immediately, she’s open, genuine and her enthusiasm for cultivating well-being in others is inspiring. It was only after our meeting that Becky wrote to me about some of her other interests. For someone whose work is in well-being it’s well funny she’s passionate about, well, wells. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!). It could be said that well water runs in her blood – her father restored a holy well in Watchet and her grandfather was very involved in the history of the Bath Spa. She was named after Rebecca’s fountain in Bath.
St Agnes Well in Cothelstone
In 2008 Becky came across a small medieval well on an OS map. When she eventually found the well it was very overgrown and in need of restoration, which was particularly sad as it was Grade 2 listed and had once been considered one of the most beautiful wells in the County. Becky contacted the landowner who gave her permission to clean up the site.
The Well is in Cothelstone, in the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, less than 10 miles from Bridgwater. That’s another thing Becky is passionate about – Bridgwater. It’s not a place I’d associate with passion, it’s got a bit of a bad reputation locally, in fact if you Google search ‘Bridgwater is…’ the second result you get is ‘Bridgwater is rough’.
For a town to thrive it needs social glue, an active community, a sense of belonging and a strong identity, Glastonbury could be said to have several identities, perhaps as many as there are people living in the town! Its reputation is as a place of history, myth and magic and of course, as home to several sacred water wells including Chalice Well and The White Spring . Ask many people about Bridgwater however and they’ll tell you about the terrible smell that used to dominate the town from its cellophane factory. The factory closed down in 2005, the smell has gone, but the preconceptions about the town linger.
Becky wanted the restoration of St Agnes Well to have wider benefits within the Bridgwater community. She received grants from Quantock Hills Sustainable Development Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund. She partnered with The Huntspill Project, who provide activities for Adults with Learning Disabilities, and Bridgwater College, through their Entry to Land Based Studies course. Students benefited from the experience of conserving this local landmark, learning about natural stone masonry and historic building restoration work. They took part in two projects, one based around art led by Artist, Lucy Large and the other to help develop creative writing using the folklore surrounding the Well.
It all became rather high tech, with a free app that tells the story of the well and it’s restoration and includes a video of the Well Dressing Ceremony that marked its opening and a ‘sound walk’ of the journey up to the Well. The St Agnes Holy Well project has since received a Certificate of Commendation from the Historic England ‘Angel Awards’ for ‘Best contribution to a heritage project by young people’.” The App, which is currently only available for Apple products, can be downloaded here.
Here’s a video telling the story of the well restoration, Becky appears towards the end of it.
Cleansing Room Spray Made With Holy Well Water and Gem Essences
Becky’s enthusiasm for the well didn’t end there, she created a cleansing room spray using the holy well water and herbal blends. She used it to ‘create a lovely still environment’ in her practise room before her counselling and coaching clients, before she delivers a training session and in her own meditation practice. So many people commented on how lovely the smell was when they entered the room and how peaceful the space is that she decided to make the spray available to buy.
Becky’s description is very ‘normal for Glastonbury’:
“The sprays are made around the time of the full moon and energised with the energy around at this special time. I also distill the water with crystal essence sometimes rose quartz and amethyst. It depends on what feels right at the time of making the sprays. They arrive fully charged and ready for you to use in your home and workplace”.
A 100ml bottle of spray is £10.99 plus postage, with £1 going towards the well restoration project, if you’d like to try if for yourself click here.
The Folklore of St Agnes Well
St Agnes Well may have simply been named after Agnes Cheney, wife of the local squire, but it came to be dedicated to St Agnes, the patron Saint of engaged couples, so the well was once visited by lovers, usually on St Agnes’ Eve (20th January) to find their futures. I would tell you all about St Agnes, but naturally being the story of a saint it is a sad and gruesome tale, you can read it here on the Historic UK website. Keats wrote a poem titled ‘On St Agnes Eve’, all about forbidden young love, knights, beautiful maidens, hiding in cupboards, and death.
St Agnes Well was said to have been a wishing well of considerable power, but many local people wouldn’t use it because it was also the place where mischievous pixies lived, the stream that runs nearby was called the ‘Pixie Stream’. My favourite bit of folklore about St Agnes Well comes from Ruth Tongue in Somerset Folklore (FLS, London 1965), the local dialect really brings the story to life:
“There was a maid servant, see, and she were coming on in years and she do serve a farmer’s wife as were high in station. Proper tackalackey she made of the dear soul, and she having no living kin. Twas pitiful, and her a-longing for a parcel of children underfoot, even if ’twas only to call her Auntie. But there, ‘twadn’t to be, and her with a heart so full a-drip with loving kindness as a honey comb. Oh, she were a proper mannerly maiden, no ways like her mistress who were just a old ewe dressed up lambs fashion and spending her days living two-three steps from nothing. But it didn’t seem like the maiden couldn’t never meet up with a proper man for her. She wadn’t no summer morning to look at, poor soul, and her mistress kept her so thin as a yard of pump water. But there Providence knows best! There were a old fellow over by Aisholt, and he were such a upstanding courageous man he’d a never got round to marrying, let alone finding the bravery to walk arm in crook with a maiden. Well o’ course he were lonely like she. And it come to a St. Agnes Eve when maids creepy over to her well at Cothelstone and whisper their heart’s desire when ’tis dark, and if St. Agnes do fancy the maiden she’ll send a husband that year. Now the poor maid she were coming to the end of her days of womanhood and beginning to blossom about the head, and she were desperate unhappy about it. Her heart was all a-set on children, and she find bravery to slip out after farm’s a-locked up. She didn’t feel ’twere mannerly to worrit St. Agnes over one who was so on in years when there was young maidens as plentiful as blackberries, so what do the dear soul do but go down all in the dimmit to the Wishing Well in Seven Wells Coombe. Proper unket well ’tis, and hard tew find. But St. Agnes must ha’ knowed, for she found’n though there wadn’ but little moon and old fellow he d’hear summat down in coombe and come to look-see. He were a wise old man and nothing hurted he, but he were shy of folks, seems like. Well, whether ’twere St. Agnes I can’t say, but in a year the farm was sold up and the maid was a-wed to the old fellow. So quiet as a sheep the man was, wouldn’ downarg no-one, but he made her a good husband. In a year or two she’d a babe in the cradle and one under her apron, and two clinging to her skirts, and they was all so happy as daisies in the sunshine, as they say.”
It’s easy to forget that what we might see as ‘Normal for Glastonbury’ doesn’t exclusively happen here. Thanks to the passion of people such as Becky, appreciation for our sacred water sources, and the subtle energies that can directly affect our well-being, is becoming more accepted almost everywhere, including Bridgwater. Becky’s story reminded me that there is magic to be found in the everyday, with just a little change of perspective. As they say in the Time Warp song “it’s just a little jump to the left, and then a step to the right’.
If you’d like to visit St Agnes Well check out the map. The project has a facebook page called Well Obsessed and you can read more about Becky’s ethos here on her New Leaf website, with more information on the well here. St Agnes Well is now included in the Cultural Secrets of Exmoor listings. The photos in this post are Becky’s own.
This post was commissioned by Becky Wright who wants St Agnes Well to be more widely known and wanted to support my writing so NFG can reach more readers. Would you like to commission me to write an article about what you do, for Normal For Glastonbury? You’d be reaching thousands of readers who love the Town. Please click here for more information.
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