Holy Wells: a source of inspiration or just an archaeological distraction?

Roadside well in Lumb Lane, Almondbury

Roadside well in Lumb Lane, Almondbury

As many people will know I’ve been interested in the historic wells and water troughs of West Yorkshire for many years. It does, however, bother me that basic utilitarian wells seem to be disregarded amongst all the chapter about holy wells. Earlier this year I had an article on the subject published in the Archaeological Form Journal and the editor has given me permission to reproduce it on this website.

To download a PDF of the complete text , click on the link below.

Holy Wells – a source of inspiration or just an archaeological distraction



Wells in Clark Spring Wood (3)

Sunday 14th Septemnber 2014

One of the reconstructed wells

One of the reconstructed wells

Today was a day of cleaning up the two wellheads and taking photographs. There are times when recording a site seems to take longer than digging it. After this the area around the two wells was landscaped to present them as attractive features within the woodland. The outflow from the larger well has also been dammed to give a second large sheet of water before flowing on into the beck. All that remains to be done now is to write up a report on the findings: hopefully this will be done in the next couple of weeks.

 Looking to the future

This all makes it sound like all the archaeological work is soon to be wrapped up and parcelled away. “Job done”, as they say. However, life’s never quite so simple. There is an immutable law of archaeology that if there’s anything unexpected waiting   to be found, it will always turn up at three o’ clock on the last working day. I can remember one excavation I worked on early in my career when it was the wheel pit with the bottom third of a wooden millwheel in it.

The mystery feature

The mystery feature

Nothing so spectacular in Clark Spring Wood I’m afraid, but the unexpected did happen. Somebody was asked to find a rock to fill a gap in a piece of rebuilt walling. Instead of finding a single loose stone he found a whole row of them set on edge across one of the present channels of the beck. I’ve no idea of what they are for. Perhaps there’s scope for another archaeological project in Clark Spring Wood next year…


Work on site

Work on site

Finally I would like to thank the Churwell Environmental Volunteers for all the hard work which they put into the archaeology project over the past couple of days. Without their efforts none of this could have been accomplished.


Wells in Clark Spring Wood (2)

Saturday’s work

As you might expect, Saturday produced a very muddy day’s work. However we have managed to reveal what remains of the structure of the two well heads. One is fairly well preserved as a stone lined recess with a stone threshold which holds back the water to form a trough. The other, though larger is less well preserved. There is currently no trace of any superstructure only an array of three stone slabs which would have dammed the flow of the water.

A reflection of geology

Both wells were cut into a layer which consisted of stones mixed in with clay. This is probably the local subsoil: we’ll be getting a geologist to look at it tomorrow. If so this is the point where rainwater percolated through the soil and flowed across a layer which it could not penetrate – an ideal place in fact to place a tank in order to catch it.


The function of the two wells is also a bit of a mystery. The smaller one, though very similar to many wells which can be seen by the roadside as you travel around West Yorkshire, is hardly deep enough to get a bucket into. The other as well as being larger, is also deeper. If there were no superstructure, this could perhaps represent the remains of an animal trough.


We’ll just have to see what tomorrow brings…



Wells in Clark Spring Wood (1)

Excavations this weekend

One of the wells in Clark Spring Wood

One of the wells in Clark Spring Wood

Clark Spring Wood is a small area of residual woodland in Churwell on the outskirts of Leeds (West Yorkshire, UK). Churwell Environmental Volunteers, a local voluntary group, have been working hard there to put in new paths and to provide pond dipping facilities and other amenities for the public to enjoy. While they were carrying out this work they discovered what appear to be two small troughs where springs emerge into the open. Their date is uncertain though I would guess at late 18th/ early 19th century. We are going to have a small excavation there this weekend to see if we can find out one way or the other.

 A confusion of wells and springs

I was asked if the two water features might be the reason that Clark Spring Wood was given its name. Many people think on similar lines. Unfortunately it’s not correct. A spring in this context is not a water source but the new growth that springs up when trees are coppiced (cut down to a stump). Coppicing was a common form of woodland management which enabled a regular harvest of timber to be taken from the woodland. The thin poles which spring up this way could be used for a variety of purposes including the making of broom handles or charcoal.


Oddly enough the adjacent area of Springfield probably does get its name from the fact that a spring of water rises there. It the last century it was dammed to form the millpond for Springfield Mills.

The mill has long gone but the remains of the dam have been converted into an attractive pond in Springfield Park.


And if all that wasn’t complicated enough, there’s the question of where was the spring which gave its name to the township as a whole? (The name means something on the lines of peasants’ well.)Was it the beck which rises at Springfield and runs through Clark Spring Wood? Or a different well? I guess we’ll never know. There are some problems that even archaeology can’t solve.


Calverley Wells Revisited

Calverley Town Wells in spring 2014 – totally flooded

Calverley Town Wells in spring 2014 – totally flooded

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from Geoffrey Morris, a correspondent in Wales who is researching his family tree. He writes:

Christopher Keighley and his second wife, Elizabeth née Wade, lived in Well Close, Calverley, in 1881, with two of their children: Arthur and Anne, my mother’s mother. I’ve just come across your website, and wonder whether you can tell me anything about Well Close: exactly where it is, and perhaps even a photo!

It’s a very interesting problem and one to which I don’t think I can provide a solution. I’ve had a look at a couple of sources only to draw a blank, but readers might like to follow the same process themselves just to see if I’ve missed anything.

I started by looking at Tracks in Time  which will allow you to search the Leeds Tithe Maps in a variety of ways and to compare the results with modern maps and aerial photographs. This gives me the location of two groups of fields called Well Close in Calverley Township. One is situated at SE 209 351, the other on SE 193 346. According to the 1880s O. S. map there is no habitation at either site so these are unlikely to be the one Geoffrey is interested in.

The Leodis database , an index of old images of Leeds also offers no matches either.   Neither does a modern A-Z. So I guess I’m stumped. Perhaps someone else can help out.

For more information about the historic wells of Calverley see:

Calverley Town Wells

 More about wells in Calverley

The Meanwood Valley: a new addition to Heritage Education’s range of Guided Walks

Hessle Well

Hessle Well

Meanwood Beck

Meanwood Beck

Heritage Education is now offering a new addition to the range of guided walks which it can deliver to local groups and societies. This focuses on the Meanwood Valley, one of the most attractive spots in Leeds. Now a public park, it has been many different things in its long history. In the 19th century it was the home of Edward Oates who built his famous American garden there. Before that the valley had developed as a centre for the regionally important Leeds tanning industry. Even further back the land belonged to the monks of Kirkstall Abbey who had quarries, watermills and smithies there.

For a more detailed description of the walk click here.


ll walks cost £50 for group bookings.  A 20% discount is available if you book two or more talks or guided walks.

 How to book

To book walk for your group contact me here.

More about wells in Calverley

Visiting Calverley Town Wells

Visiting Calverley Town Wells

Last year I put up a page about Calverley Town Wells which attracted some readers’ comments. One of these, from M. Chappellow, gave the history of the Calverley Spa Well.

My family have lived in Calverley for generations ,
The chalybeate well or waters were first discovered around 1830 whilst digging a coal pit by the Sutcliffe family who dug numerous coal pits in the Shell Lane area of Calverley , there was a bit of a dispute as the Sutcliffes wanted a cut out of it as they found it but so did the Thornhills who owned the land as well as the farmer J Thornton who rented the land then as the actual source of the water ran under Glebe land which is where roughly the Calverley arms hotel is which was then owned by the Vicar or church they wanted a cut out of any money generated ,the story goes that after digging 37 yards into the hillside they came upon a water source that tasted like crab apples .
After about 6 months someone drank the water & died that was the end of that ,
All that’s left now is a damp patch in the middle of the field ,
There was also another well in the next field up just in the dip on Farsley Lane where the millennium way foot path is think that one was called Coates well .
We used to have an old map with the springs & wells of the village.

At the time I was a little unsure of the dating here but I’ve since been doing some more research on the subject and I find that M. Chappellow is right in what s/he says. The confusion is entirely my fault. I had remembered reading an account of a visit to Calverley in The Spas of England by Augustus Bozzi Granville. However I had misread the publication date and thought that Granville’s visit was too early for the date given. It’s not: the book was published in 1841 and so fits in well with the account given by M. Chappellow.

According to Granville, the water tasted like ‘an unripe crab apple – it puckers up the membranes of the mouth’. (This reminds me that there’s a Crab Tree Well at South Crosland near Huddersfield. I’d always assumed that the name derived from a nearby fruit tree. Perhaps it actually got its name from the taste of the water.) Granville was also of the opinion the Calverley would ‘never rise to the rank of a fashionable watering place’…

I also wonder if the spring which formed the abortive spa was known at one time as the Farewell as the Calverley TitheAward  map (which can be searched electronically through the Tracks in Time website) has the field names Farewell Ing and Farewell Close in the area where the chalybeate well is shown on the modern map. Coates Well Close is a little further to the south.

These were not the only wells in Calverley. In his 1988 booklet The History of Town Wells and the Green E. W. Garnett mentions wells in the following locations:

Woodhall Road

West End Road

Above Foxholes

In Calverley Woods

At the bottom of Thornhill Street (often referred to as Well Head or Draw Well)

Of the ones mentioned in the list, I think only Tomblin Well (or Tombling Well) in Calverley Woods now still survives. There is however a large trough at the point where Towngate divides into Calverley and Rodley Lanes (SE 211 367). A little further from the centre of the village on Woodhall Road (at SE 201 354, south of Woodhall itself) there is a recess which once held a pump, but all traces of the pump itself has gone.

Perhaps there are other traces of these old sources of water still to be found in the Calverley district…