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Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs
Chapter XII - Offerings at Lochs and Springs


Votive Offerings—Gifts usually of Small Value—Toubir-nim-buadh—Rumbling Well—Heath—Rags—St. Wallach's Bath —Pins at St. Wallach's Well—Luckiness of Things Crooked —Pins Rising in Wells--Tobar-na-Glas-a-Coille—Lia Well — Pebbles — Coins --- St. Jergon's Well — Silver Wells —Brass Well—Well at Avoch Castle—Introduction of Loch Katrine Water into Glasgow—Some Glasgow Springs—St. Tbenew's Well—St. Winifred's Well—Dr. Patrick Anderson—Offerings in France—Gifts in Consecrated Buildings—Philosophy of Votive Offerings—Infection in Folklore—Safety of Offerings —Transference of Disease—Results of Theft of Offerings—Pennies in Holy Loch—Money in Clach-nan-Sul —Well—Dressing—Not Found in Scotland—Festival at Tissington—Roman and English Fontinalia-—Royal Oak-Day at Endon.

OFFERINGS at lochs and springs have been incidentally mentioned more than once, but the subject is one deserving separate treatment. Wells were not merely so much water, with stones and turf round them, and lochs, sheets of water, encompassed by moorland or forest. They were, as we have seen, the haunts of spirits, propitious if remembered, but resentful if neglected. Hence no one thought it proper to come to them empty-handed. The principle was, no gift, no cure. Classical literature contains allusions to such votive offerings. Numa sacrificed a sheep to a fountain, and Horace promised to offer to his sweet Bandusian spring a kid not without flowers. Near Toulouse, in France, was a sacred lake, into whose water the neighbouring tribes anciently threw offerings of gold and silver. In our own country, the gifts were, as a rule, of small intrinsic value. When speaking of Toubir-nim-buadh, in St. Kilda, Macaulay says:—"Near the fountain stood an altar on which the distressed votaries laid down their oblations. Before they could touch the sacred water with any prospect of success, it was their constant practice to address the genius of the place with supplication and prayer. No one approached him with empty hands. But the devotees were abundantly frugal. The offerings, presented by them, were the poorest acknowledgments that could be made to a superior being, from whom they had either hopes or fears. Shells and pebbles, rags of linen, or stuffs worn out, pins, needles, or rusty nails, were generally all the tribute that was paid; and sometimes, though rarely enough, copper coins of the smallest value." The appearance of this well is thus described by the author of "Ecclesiological Notes":—"A low square-shaped massy stone building with a stone roof, covers the spring, which, after forming a pool in the floor of the cell, runs down the russet slope like a thread of silver to join the stream in the valley."

The offerings, made by the St. Kildians, were indeed much the same as those commonly made in other parts of the country. We get a glimpse of what was done in the south of Scotland from Symson, who, in his quaint "Description of Galloway," remarks:—"In this parish of Bootle, about a mile from the kirk, towards the north, is a well called the Rumbling Well, frequented by a multitude of sick people for all sorts of diseases the first Sunday of May; lying there the Saturday night, and then drinking of it early in the morning. There is also another well, about a quarter of a mile distant from the former, towards the east. This well is made use of by the country people when their cattle are troubled with a disease called by them the Connoch. This water they carry in vessels to many parts and wash their beasts with it, and give it them to drink. It is, too, remembered that at both the wells they leave behind them something by way of a thank-offering. At the first, they leave either money or clothes; at the second, they leave the bands and shackles wherewith beasts are usually bound." The objects, commonly left on the cairns beside the Holy Pool in Strathfillan, have already been enumerated. In addition, bunches of heath, tied with worsted, were occasionally left. The Cheese Well, on Minchmoor, in Peeblesshire, was so called from the pieces of cheese thrown into it by passers-by as offerings to the fairies. Around a certain spring near Newcastle, in Northumberland, the bushes were so covered with shreds of clothing that the spring went by the name of the Rag Well. At St. Oswald's Well, near the foot of Roseberry Topping, in Yorkshire, the pieces of cloth were so numerous that, as a spectator once remarked, they "might have made a fair ream in a paper-mill." A contributor to "Notes and Queries," in 1876, observes:----"The custom of hanging shreds of rags on trees as votive offerings still obtains in Ireland. I remember as a child to have been surreptitiously taken by an Irish nurse to St. John's Well, Aghada, County Cork, on the vigil of the saint's day, to be cured of whooping-cough by drinking three times of the water of the holy well. I shall never forget the strange spectacle of men and women, creeping on their knees in voluntary devotion, or in obedience to enjoined penance, so many times round the well, which was protected by a grey stone hood, and had a few white thorn trees growing near it, on the spines of which fluttered innumerable shreds of frieze and vary-coloured rags, the votive offerings of devotees and patients."

In the Isle of Man, also, the custom of hanging up rags was at one time much in vogue. In Malew parish there is Chibber-Undin, signifying the Foundation Well, so called from the foundations of a now almost obliterated chapel hard by. The ritual practised at the well is thus described by Mr. A. W. Moore in his "Sv,rnarnes and Place-names of the Isle of Man":---"The patients who came to it, took a mouthful of water, retaining it in their mouths till they had twice walked round the well. They then took a piece of cloth from a garment which they had worn, wetted it from the water from the well, and hung it on the hawthorn tree which grew there. When the cloth had rotted away the cure was supposed to be effected." Evidence from Wales to the same effect is furnished by Professor Rhys in "Folklore" for September, 1892. He there gives the following information, lately sent to him by a friend, about a Glamorganshire holy well situated between Coychurch and Bredgled:—"It is the custom," he writes, "for people suffering from any malady to dip a rag in the water, and bathe the affected part. The rag is then placed on a tree close to the well. When I passed it, about three years ago, there were hundreds of these shreds covering the tree, and some had evidently been placed there very recently." Professor Rhys also refers to other Glamorganshire springs where rags are to be seen hanging on trees.

Scottish examples of the same superstition are numerous. At Montblairie, in Banffshire, pieces of linen and woollen stuffs were hung on the boughs beside a consecrated well, and farthings and bodies were thrown into the spring itself. The bushes around a well at Houston, in Renfrewshire, were at one time the recipients of many a rag. Hugh Miller, who took so keen an interest in all such relics of superstition, has not failed to notice the custom as practised near his native town of Cromarty. In his "Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland," he says:—"It is not yet twenty years since a thorn bush, which formed a little canopy over the spring of St. Bennet, used to be covered anew every season with little pieces of rag, left on it as offerings to the saint by sick people who came to drink of the water." St. Wallach's Bath, in Strathdeveron, was a popular health-resort till the beginning of the present century. Non-thriving children were brought to it annually in large numbers. No longer ago than 1874 an invalid from the seaside sought its aid. The bath—a cavity in the rock fully a yard in depth—is close to the river, and is supplied with water from a scanty spring, several yards higher up the slope. The supply trickles over the edge of the bath into the river, some four feet below. A bib or other part of the child's clothing was hung on a neighbouring tree or thrown into the bath. Sometimes when the Deveron was in flood, it submerged the bath, and swept these offerings down to the sea. As previously mentioned, St. Wallach's Well, hard by, was much resorted to for the cure of sore eyes. Pins were the usual offerings. They were left in a hole in a stone beside the well. May was the favourite season for visiting the spring, and by the end of the month the hole was often full of pins. This was the case down to a comparatively recent date.

Offerings, such as pins, were often thrown into the well itself instead of being left beside its margin. Near Wooler, in Northumberland, on the southern slopes of the Cheviots, is a spring locally styled the Pin Well. A fairy was believed to make it her home, and maidens, as they passed, dropped in a crooked pin to gain her good graces. Crooked pins were rather popular, anything so bent—e.g., a crooked sixpence—being deemed lucky. In the case of more than one English spring the notion prevailed that, when a pin was thrown in, the votary would see the pins already there rise to meet the newcomer. But faith was essential. Otherwise the mysterious vision would be withheld. We do not know that a corresponding belief prevailed north of the Tweed. Between the glens of Corgarff and Glengairn in Aberdeenshire, is the spring known as Tobar-na-Glasa-Coille or The Well in the Grey Wood. A pin or other piece of metal had to be dropped into it by anyone taking a draught of its water. Whoever neglected this duty, and at any time afterwards again drew water from the spring, was doomed to die of thirst. Some of these votive pins were found at the bottom of the well, no longer ago than the autumn of 1891.

Probably very few travellers by the Callander and Oban railway are aware of the existence of an interesting, but now neglected holy well, only a few yards distant from the line. It is situated at the entrance of rugged Glen Ogle, and from the spot a fine view can be had of Ben Lawers, Ben Moro, and Ben Loy. The well is on Wester Lix farm, and is locally known as the Lix Well. The spring rises in one of the many hillocks in the neighbourhood. The top of the hillock had been levelled. Round the spring is built a wall of stone and turf, about two feet in height, and shaped like a horse-shoe, the opening being to the east. The distance across the enclosed space is about fourteen feet. In the centre is the well, in the form of a parallelogram, two feet by one and a half, with a long drain leading from it through the opening of the horse-shoe. This drain was at one time covered with flagstones. Four shapely lintels of micaceous schist enclose the well. The spot used to be frequented at the beginning of May, the wall already referred to forming a convenient resting-place for visitors. Quartz pebbles were the favourite offerings on these occasions. Immediately behind the well, quite a small cairn of them can still be seen. Pebbles were among the cheapest possible offerings, the only cost being the trouble of picking them up. Coins were rather more expensive; but, as they were commonly of small value, the outlay was trifling even in their case. The more fervent the zeal of the votary, the greater would doubtless be the length he or she would go in the matter of expense. In the parish of Culsalmond, in Aberdeenshire, a gold coin of James I. of Scotland was found associated with an ancient healing-well. Such liberality, however, was rare. After desribing St. Maelrubha's Well on Innis Maree in the "Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland," volume iv., Sir Arthur Mitchell observes, "Near it stands an oak tree, which is studded with nails. To each of these was originally attached a piece of the clothing of some patient who had visited the spot. There are hundreds of nails, and one has still fastened to it a faded ribbon. Two bone buttons and two buckles we also found nailed to the tree. Countless pennies and halfpennies are driven edgeways into the wood—over many the bark is closing, over many it has already closed." Within recent years, another visitor from the south examined one of the coins stuck into the tree. It was ostensibly silver, but proved on examination to be counterfeit. The pilgrim, who left it as an offering, evidently thought that the saint could be easily imposed upon.

As in the case of the pins, the coins, given as offerings were, as a rule, thrown into the spring itself. As an example, we may cite the case of St. Jergon's or St. Querdon's Well in Troqueer parish, Kirkcudbrightshire. In an article in the "Transactions of the Dumfries and Galloway Natural History Society" for 1870, Mr. Patrick Dudgeon remarks, "Taking advantage of the very dry summer of last year when the spring was unusually low, I had the well thoroughly cleaned out and put in order, it having been almost obliterated by cattle being allowed to use it as a watering-place. Several hundreds of coins were found at the bottom—almost all being of the smallest description of copper coin, dating from the time of Elizabeth to that of George III. . . . None were of any particular interest or value; the greatest number are Scottish, and belong to the time of James VI., Charles I., and Charles II. The. circumstance that no coins were found of an older date than the reign of Elizabeth is not at all conclusive that offerings of a similar nature had not been made at much earlier periods. It will be observed that the oldest coins are the thinnest, and that, although many are as thin as a sheet of writing paper, the legend on them is perfectly distinct and legible; this, of course, would not have been the case had the thinning process been owing to wear and tear. When first taken out, they were perfectly bright—as new copper—and had all the appearance of having been subjected to the action of an acid. Something in the water has acted very slowly as a solvent on the metal, and, acting quite equally over the whole surface, has reduced the coins to their present state: it is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that, owing to the solvent properties of the water, any coins thrown into the well anterior to the date of those found may have been completely dissolved." Mr. Dudgeon mentions having been told by old people in the neighbourhood, that they remembered the time, when rags and ribbons were hung on the bushes around the well. It is a remarkable circumstance that even since the cleaning out of the spring above referred to, coins have been thrown into it. A recent examination of the spot brought these to light, and showed the persistence of this curious phase of well-worship.

What would be styled "a collection in silver" in modern ecclesiastical language was sometimes regarded with special favour. The name of the Silver Wells in different parts of the country can thus be accounted for. There is a Siller Well in Walston parish, Lanarkshire. Arbroath, in Forfar-shire; Alvah, in Banffshire; and Fraserburgh, in Aberdeenshire, have each their Silver Well. At Turriff, in the last-mentioned county, there is a farm on the estate of Gask called Silver Wells after a local spring. At Trelevean, in Cornwall, is a spring known as the Brass Well. Its name, however, is derived not from the nature of the offerings left there, but from the colour of the scum on its surface. Close to the ruins of Avoch Castle, in the Black Isle, is a well hollowed out of the conglomerate rock. Tradition says, that the treasures of the castle were thrown into it about the middle of the seventeenth century. This was done, not by way of offering a gift to the presiding spirit of the water, but to prevent the valuables from falling into the hands of Cromwell's troops. A diamond ring was dropped, not very long ago, into St. Molio's Well, on Holy Island, near Lamlash. It fell into the water by accident, and, after remaining in it for some time, was found and restored to its owner.

The present ample water-supply of Glasgow from Loch Katrine was introduced in 1859. For about fifty years before that date, the city looked mainly to the Clyde for the supply of its daily needs. Still earlier, it depended entirely on its wells. In 1736 these are believed to have numbered about thirty in all. Among the best known were the Deanside or Meadow Well, Bogle's Well, Barrasyett Well near the foot of Saltmarket, the Priest's or Minister's Well and Lady Well beside the Molendinar, the Arns Well in the Green—so-called from the alders on its brink, and St. Thenew's Well, near what is now St. Enoch's Square. Not far from the well was a chapel dedicated to St. Thenew, with a graveyard round it. Some remains of the chapel were to be seen in 1736, when M`Ure wrote his history of the city. Dr. Andrew MacGeorge, in his "Old Glasgow," when describing St. Thenew's Well, remarks, "It was shaded by an old tree which drooped over the well, and which remained till the end of the last century. On this tree, the devotees, who frequented the well, were accustomed to nail, as thank-offerings, small bits of tin-iron---probably manufactured for that purpose by a craftsman in the neighbourhood—representing the parts of the body supposed to have been cured by the virtues of the sacred spring, such as eyes, hands, feet, ears, and others." Dr. MacGeorge further mentions that the well was cleaned out about a hundred years ago. On that occasion there were "picked out from among the debris at the bottom several of these old votive offerings which had dropped into it from the tree, the stump of which was at that time still standing."

Horace tells of a shipwrecked sailor, hanging up his garments, as a thank-offering in the temple of the divinity who delivered him from the angry sea. In like manner, Pennant describes what he saw at St. Winifred's Well, in North Wales. "All infirmities," he says, "incident to the human body, met with relief; the votive crutches, the barrows and other proofs of cures, to this moment remain as evidence pendent over the well." In his "Spring of Kinghorn Craig," published in Edinburgh in 1618, Dr. Patrick Anderson has some curious remarks on the subject of votive offerings. He speaks of wells as being "all tapestried about with old rags, as certaine signes and sacraments wherewith they arle the well with ane arls-pennie of their health." He continues, "So suttle is that false knave making them believe that it is only the virtue of the water, and no thing else. Such people cannot say with David, `The Lord is my helper,' but the Devill." What can still be seen on the other side of the English Channel is thus described by the Rev. C. N. Barham, in an article on Ragged Relics, in "The Antiquary" for January, 1893:—"At Wierre Effroy, in France, where the water of St. Godeleine's Well is esteemed efficacious for ague, rheumatism, gout, and all affections of the limbs, a heterogeneous collection of crutches, bandages, coils of rags, and other rejected adjuncts of medical treatment, is to be seen hanging upon the surrounding shrubs. They are intended as thankofferings and testimonies of restoration. Other springs, famous for curing ophthalmia, abound in the same district, and here too, bandages, shades, guards, and rags innumerable are exhibited."

The leaving of offerings at wells finds a parallel in the practice, at one time common, of depositing gifts in consecrated buildings. The chapel of St. Tears, in the parish of Wick, Caithness, used to be visited on Childermas (December 28th) by devotees, who left in it pieces of bread and cheese as offerings to the souls of the Holy Innocents slain by Herod. This was done till about the beginning of the present century. Till even a later date it was customary for the inhabitants of Mirelandorn to go to the Kirk of Moss, in the same parish, on Christmas before sunrise. They took bread and cheese as offerings, and placed them along with a silver coin on a certain stone. The Kirk of Moss was dedicated to Duthac, patron saint of Tam; and the gifts were doubtless destined for him. On Eilean Mar is a chapel said to have been built by Charmaig, the tutelar saint of the island. In a recess in this building is a stone coffin, anciently used for the interment of priests. The following statement occurs in the "Old Statistical Account of Scotland":—"The coffin, also, for ages back, has served the saint as a treasury; and this, perhaps, might be the purpose for which it was originally intended. Till of late, not a stranger set foot on the island who did not conciliate his favour by dropping a small coin into a chink between its cover and side."

When we examine the motives prompting to the practice under review, we can discover the working of a principle, vaguely grasped perhaps, but sufficiently understood to serve as a guide to action. This crude philosophy was two-fold. On the one hand, the gift left at a loch or spring was what has been facetiously styled a "retaining fee." It secured the goodwill of the genius loci, and thereby guaranteed to a certain extent the fulfilment of the suppliant's desire. This desire, as we have seen, was commonly the removal of a definite disease. On the other hand, the disease to be removed was in some mysterious way identified with the offering. The latter was the symbol, or rather the embodiment of the former, and, accordingly, to leave the gift was to leave the ailment—the patient being thus freed from both. The corollary to this was, that whoever removed the offering took away also the disease represented by it. According to a well-established law of medical science, infection is transferred from one person to another by clothing, or indeed by whatever comes into contact with the morbid particles from the patient's body. But infection in folklore is something different from this. Disease of any kind, whether usually reckoned infectious or not, passed via the offering to the person lifting it. Hence such gifts had a charmed existence, and were as safe as if under the sweep of the "Ancient Monuments Protection Act." The Rev. Dr. Gregor thus expresses the feeling on this point, as it prevailed till lately in the north-east of Scotland:--"No one would have been foolhardy enough to have even touched what had been left, far less to have carried it off. A child, or one who did not know, was most carefully instructed why such things were left in and around the well, and strict charge was laid not to touch or carry any of them off. Whoever carried off one, of such relics contracted the disease of the one who left it."

The notion that disease can be transferred lies at the root of various folk-cures. Dalyell, in his "Darker Superstition.s," remarks, "It is said that, in the Highlands, a cat is washed in the water which has served for the ablution of an invalid, as if the disease absorbed from one living creature could be received by another, instead of being let free." In some parts of the Highlands, a common cure for an ailing cow was to make the animal swallow a live trout, so that the disease might pass from the one creature to the other. This was done not long ago, at a farm near Golspie, in Sutherland. In Norfolk, as a remedy for whooping-cough, a spider was caught, tied up in a piece of muslin, and pinned over the mantelpiece. The cough disappeared when the spider died. In Gloucestershire, ague was cured in the following way:—A living snail was worn in a bag round the neck for nine days. The snail was then thrown upon the fire when it was believed to shake as if with ague, and the patient recovered. Many more illustrations of this principle might be given, but the above are sufficient to show how it was applied.

Symson records an instance in Galloway of swift vengeance following the theft of certain votive offerings. He says. "Hereabout, i.e., near Larg, in Minnigaff parish, is a well called the Gout Well of Larg, of which they tell this story—how that a piper stole away the offering left at this well, but when he was drinking of ale, which he intended to pay with the money he had taken away, the gout, as they say, seized on him, of which he could not be cured, but at that well, having first restored to it the money he had formerly taken away." Accident, rather than disease, sometimes resulted from such sacrilegious acts. The offerings were the property of the guardian spirit who was quick to resent their removal and to punish the doer of the deed. In the district of Ardnamurchan is a cave, associated with Columba, who there baptised some freebooters. The water used for the purpose lay in a hollow of the rock, and, in after times, votive gifts were left beside it. On one occasion, a young man stole some of these, but he did not remain long unpunished, for before reaching home he fell and broke his leg. Tobarfuar-Marie, i.e., The big cold Well, situated at the foot of a steep hill in the parish of Corgarff, Aberdeenshire, consists of three springs about a yard distant from each other. Each spring formerly cured a separate disease—one, blindness; the other, deafness; and the third, lameness. The guardian spirit of the springs lived under a large stone called the kettle stone, because below it was a kettle where she stored her votive offerings. She was somewhat exacting in her demands, for no cure could be expected unless gold was presented, These particulars were obtained in the district by the Rev. Dr. Gregor, who records them in "Folklore" for March, 1892, and adds, "If one tried to rob the spirit, death by some terrible accident soon followed. My informant, more than fifty years ago, when a lad, resolved to remove the kettle stone from its position, and so become possessor of the spirit's gold. He accordingly set out with a few companions all provided with picks and spades, to displace the stone. After a good deal of hard labour the stone was moved from its site, but no kettle full of gold was found. An old woman met the lads on their way to their homes, and when she learnt what they had been doing, she assured them they would all die within a few weeks, and that a terrible death would befall the ring-leader."

That the guardians of spring look well after their possessions in the new world, as well as in the old, is proved by the following quotation from Sir J. Lubbock's "Origin of Civilisation":--"In North Mexico," he says, "Lieutenant Whipple found a sacred spring which, from time immemorial `had been held sacred to the rain-god.' No animal may drink of its waters. It must be annually cleansed with ancient vases, which, having been transmitted from generation to generation by the caciques, are then placed upon the walls, never to be removed. The frog, the tortoise, and the rattlesnake represented upon them, are sacred to Montezuma, the patron of the place, who would consume by lightning any sacrilegious hand that should dare to take the relics away." With the growth of enlightenment men's minds rose above such delusions. Had it not been so, the Holy Wells in our land would still have presented the appearance of rag fairs, or served as museums for old coins. Holy Loch, in Dunnet, Caithness, used to be much resorted to as a place of healing. The invalids walked or were carried round the lake and threw a penny into the water. Some of these pennies have been picked up from time to time by persons who have outgrown the old superstition. The hollow in the Clach-nan-Sul at Balquhidder, already referred to, contained small coins placed there by those who sought a cure for their sore eyes. Mr. J. Mackintosh Gow was told by some one in the district, that "people, when going to church, having forgotten their small change, used in passing to put their hands in the well and find a coin." Mr. Gow's informant mentioned that he had done so himself.

In the ceremony known as "well-dressing" or "well-flowering," the offerings took the form of blossoms and green boughs. For different reasons Scotland has not been abreast of England in floral matters. Only in the latter country did the practice take root, and even there only within a somewhat limited area. We must seek for its home in Derbyshire and the adjacent counties. At some places it has died out, while at others it still survives, and forms the excuse for a pleasant holiday. At Bonchurch, Isle of Wight, indeed, St. Boniface's Well was decorated with wreaths of flowers on the saint's day; but this was an exceptional instance so far south. Within comparatively recent years well-flowering has, at one or two places, been either instituted, as at Belper, in Derbyshire, in 1838, or revived, as at St. Alkmund's Well in Derby, in 1870. The clergy and choir of St. Alkmund's Church celebrate the day by meeting at the church and walking in procession to the well. Writing in the seventeenth century, Aubrey says, "In Cheshire, when they went in perambulation, they did bless the springs, 'i.e., they did read the Gospel at them, and did believe the water was the better." At Droitwich, in Worcestershire, a salt spring, dedicated to St. Richard, used to be annually adorned with flowers.

A correspondent of the "Gentleman's Magazine" of 1794 remarks, "In the village of Tissington, in the county of Derby, a place remarkable for fine springs of water, it has been a custom, time immemorial, on every Holy Thursday, to decorate the wells with boughs of trees, garlands of tulips, and other flowers, placed in various fancied devices, and, after prayers for the day at the church, for the parson and singers to pray and sing psalms at the wells." In Hone's "Every Day Book," under date 1826, are the following remarks by a correspondent.—"Tissington `well - dressing' is a festivity which not only claims a high antiquity, but is one of the few country fetes which are kept up with anything like the ancient spirit. It is one which is heartily loved and earnestly anticipated; one which draws the hearts of those who were brought up there, but whom fortune has cast into distant places, homewards with an irresistible charm. I have not had the pleasure of witnessing it, but I have had that of seeing the joy which sparkled in the eyes of the Tissingtonians as they talked of its approach and of their projected attendance." The festival is still held in honour at Tissington, and elaborate preparations continue to be made for its celebration. Flowers are arranged in patterns to form mottoes and texts of Scripture, and also devices, such as crosses, crowns, and triangles, while green boughs are added to complete the picture. A correspondent of "Notes and Queries" thus describes the decorations on Ascension Day in 1887: "The name of 'well-dressing' scarcely gives a proper idea of these beautiful structures. They are rather fountains or cascades, the water descending from above, and not rising as in a well. Their height varies from ten to twelve feet, and the original stone frontage is on this day hidden by a wooden erection in the form of an arch or some other elegant design. Over these planks a layer of plaster of Paris is spread, and whilst it is wet, flowers without leaves are stuck in it, forming a most beautiful mosaic pattern. On one the large yellow field ranunculus was arranged in letters, and so a verse of Scripture or of a hymn was recalled to the spectator's mind. On another a white dove was sculptured in the plaster and set in a groundwork of the humble violet. The daisy, which our poet Chaucer would gaze upon for hours together, formed a diaper-work of red and white; the pale yellow primrose was set off by the rich red of the ` ribes.' Nor were the coral berries of the holly, mountain ash, and yew forgotten; they are carefully gathered and stored in the winter to be ready for the May Day fete. It is scarcely possible to describe the vivid colouring and beautiful effect of these favourites of nature arranged in wreaths and garlands and devices of every hue. And then the pure sparkling water, which pours down from the midst of them on to the rustic moss-grown stones beneath, completes the enchantment, and makes this feast of the `well-flowering' one of the most beautiful of all the old customs that are left in Merrie England." Well-flowering also prevails at Buxton, and is a source of interest to the many visitors to that airy health resort.

Such floral devices do not now rank as votive gifts. They are merely decorations. The custom may have originated in the Roman Fontinalia. At any rate it had at one time a corresponding object. The Fontinalia formed an annual flower-festival in honour of the nymphs inhabiting springs. Joyous bands visited the fountains, crowned them with boughs, and threw nosegays into their sparkling water. The parallelism between the Roman and the English Fontinalia is too well marked to be overlooked. In Derbyshire and Staffordshire the ceremony of well-dressing is usually observed on Ascension Day. In more than one instance the festival has attracted to itself various old English sports commonly associated with May Day. Among these may be mentioned May-pole and Morris-dancing and crowning the May-queen.

At Endon, in Staffordshire, the festival is celebrated on Royal Oak Day (May 29th), or on the following day if the 29th is a Sunday. The following account—somewhat abbreviated—is from the "Staffordshire Evening Post" of 31st May, 1892, and gives some interesting particulars about the festival: "The secluded village of Endon yesterday celebrated the well-dressing feast. This institution, dear to the heart of every loyal inhabitant, holds foremost rank in the local calends, for it is not a holiday of ordinary frivolous significance, but a thanksgiving festival. The proceeds, which generally amount to some hundreds of pounds, are divided between the poor of the parish and the parochial schools. There are two wells at Endon. One is very old and almost dry, and has long since fallen into disuse. The other alone supplies the village with water. From a very early hour in the morning the whole village was astir, and those people who were gifted with taste and a delicate touch busied themselves in bedecking the wells for the coming ceremony. As the day advanced, crowds of visitors poured in from all parts of the potteries; and towards evening the village green probably held no fewer than two thousand people. The proceedings, which were under the personal guidance of the vicar, commenced a little before two o'clock. A procession of about a hundred and twenty Sunday-school children was formed at the new well, with the Brownedge village brass band at its head. The children carried little flags, which they vigorously waved in excess of glee. The band struck up bravely, and the procession marched in good order up the hill to the old parish church, where a solemn service was conducted. The villagers attended in overwhelming numbers, and completely thronged the building. There was a fully surpliced choir, whose singing, coupled with the music of the organ, greatly added to the impressiveness of the service. Hymns and psalms, selected by the vicar as applicable to a thanksgiving service for water, were sung by the congregation in spirited style. At the conclusion of the service the procession was reformed, the band leading the way back to the new well. Upon arrival, the clergy and choir, who had retained their surplices, walked slowly round the well, singing `Rock of Ages' and 'A living stream as crystal clear.' Both wells were very beautifully decorated; but the new well was a masterpiece of elaborated art. A large wooden framework had been erected in front of the well, and upon this a smooth surface of soft clay had been laid. The clay was thickly studded with many thousands of flower heads in great variety of kind and hue, and in pictorial as well as geometrical arrangement. There were two very . pretty figures of peacocks in daisies, bluebells, and dahlias, and a resplendent motto, '0, ye wells! bless ye the Lord!' (from the Benedicite) garnished the summit. The old well was almost deserted, although its decorations were well worthy of inspection. Its motto, `Give me this water' (from the fourth chapter of St. John) was very finely traced, and its centre figures—two white doves and a crown—were sufficiently striking. Maypole dances, including the crowning of the May-queen, occupied the greater part of the afternoon. In the evening the band played for dancing, and there was a repetition of the May-pole dances. After dusk there was a display of fireworks."

Though, as already stated, well-dressing was unknown north of the Tweed, any account of votive offerings would be incomplete without a reference to the picturesque ceremony.


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