There are literally hundreds of Holy Wells in Cornwall, each associated with a saint and usually famous for providing some kind of miraculous cure for some ailment – from rickets to infertility to lameness and eye complaints, there’s a well out there that will help you.
We forget of course that the vast majority of wells and springs were precious for a far more mundane but vitally important reason – they provided the local population with clean drinking water. So important were these supplies of water that there are still numerous laws protecting springs and wells from interference or pollution.
You might be surprised to know that mains drinking water didn’t arrive to some of Cornwall’s smaller villages and isolated hamlets until the 1950s, some as late as 1970.
The spring at Quenchwell in Feock really doesn’t seem anything special. It can be found just beside a public footpath near Carnon Downs but this little well still actually supplies a number of properties with water to this day. And with a name like Quenchwell it must be fine drinking!
Despite it having no obvious legends associated with it and no famous curative effects I have chosen to celebrate it in this post because as far as I can gather its existence has been almost entirely forgotten. (Apart from by the people who live near it in Quenchwell hamlet clearly!)
When I went looking for it I wasn’t sure what, if anything, I would find.
I had read that the spring had wooden doors protecting it and that it bubbled up from the ground clear and fresh and fast flowing. It turned out that that was all pretty much true.
Quenchwell spring gushes up out of the ground in a deep stone lined well behind a single green wooden door and starts off down the hill at a pace. I can’t vouch for it’s clarity as I didn’t actually taste it but it did seem very clean. The footpath follows it’s rushing path for roughly half a mile and I tripped along after it.
The water, after running out under the wooden door and across a large piece of slate, darts off down a channel, then tumbles over a granite ledge, beneath the road and then shoots off down the hill in what appears to be a man-made kennel towards Bissoe where it joins the Carnon river.
While I was trying unsuccessfully to research the history of Quenchwell spring I did come across a little newspaper report which I found both funny and fascinating in equal measure. The story goes something like this. . .
Early one morning in February 1843 Margaret Nichols, a 37 year old servant working in Quenchwell for the carrier Samuel Mitchell, was making her way down a muddy path on her way to wash. In the dark she was tripped over head first into the mud by Thomas Chipman and robbed of her pocket.
At this point I should add that a ladies pocket at that time was not quite how we know them today. Below is a picture of a pair of pockets, they were detachable little bags that women hung around their waists underneath their skirts for extra safety. And it was partly the contents of Margaret’s pocket that amused me and, according to the newspaper report of the trail, amused the whole courtroom too. On her way for her morning bath Margaret was carrying with her 9 sovereigns, 11 shillings and 4 pence, a snuff box, a pin cushion, a small knife, 2 nobs of sugar, a thimble and a padlock and key. What tickled me most however was that her ruffian assailant was a neighbour and well known to her. Margaret quickly reported the robbery to the police. However when the constable picked Thomas up a matter of 2 hours later and found in his possession a ladies pocket containing 9 sovereigns, 11 shillings and 4 pence, a snuff box, a pin cushion, a small knife, 2 nobs of sugar, a thimble and a padlock and key he tried to deny the theft, saying that the items were his! A master criminal obviously.
For other stories of holy wells try: Saint Keyne and Equal Rights for 5th Century Women or how about another local lady Hannah Jory: Mother, Prostitute & Convict