A lot of attention has been given in recent years to the study of holy wells though some more intrepid writers like Val Shepherd (Historic Wells in and around Bradford) have attempted to extend the scope of their enquires from the legendary to the utilitarian. What does not, as yet, seem to have received much, if any, notice is the connection between wells and pinfolds. It’s not surprising really when you begin to think about it. The Parish and Town Councils which ran many small communities in the 1700s and 1800s were responsible for several things including the impounding of stray animals and, increasingly as the 1800s passed, for public health. It’s not therefore unusual for the two structural elements that form the basis of this regime to be found together. Here are some examples that can be found in West Yorkshire.
At South Crosland there is a long trough divided into 5 sections. Each divider has a notch in the top to allow water to pass over while sediment collects to the bottom of the individual sections. Presumably one of the Parish duties was to clean out the sediment periodically. Adjacent to the wells is the village pinfold – in this case a structure with high walls entered through the door which can be seen on the left of the photograph. A similar arrangement can also be found at Honley, though in this case the pinfold is a small distance away from the Town Wells.
Not all these features are as basic as those illustrated above. The mysteriously named Whittling Well at Heath near Wakefield has an elaborate canopy. A couple of hundred yards away is the village pinfold, a massive structure in which you could probably impound a rhinoceros, let alone a stray cow. Here we have an element of civic pride involved in the creation of these structures.
A similar thing could be said of the pinfold and pump at Tong near Bradford. Here the pump has been adorned with a lion’s head spout, a motif that dates all the way back to Roman times. The small building on the right of the photograph is that other indispensible feature of rural life, the village smithy.
In other places, only one element of the two survives. At Ossett, for example we have a surviving pinfold on West Wells Road, but no wells. At Sandal Magna on the other hand we have a set of wells on Barnsley Road. A hundred yards away is Pinfold Lane but no surviving Pinfold. There are probably other examples where the elements are only represented by street names and these important symbols of the public pride of a bygone era have disappeared altogether.
These are only a few examples of what can be found in West Yorkshire alone. Perhaps readers of this article can help me to identify more. It’s not just a matter of antiquarian research that induces me to make the suggestion. With the exception of such giants as the Heath example, pinfolds are a very vulnerable type of structure – just a small walled enclosed and one which a developer perhaps might view as having no particular significance. If pairings of wells and pinfolds can be identified they might be considered to have ‘group value’. If so, here’s a potential that they will be given more recognition by planners and developers. In the end it comes down to the same old story: if they don’t hang together, they’ll all hang separately.
I owe a deep debt of gratitude to the many people who have helped me identify local wells and pinfolds over the years. In particular I would like to thank David Scriven (Ossett Historical Society) and Steve Jones (Wakefield Pagan Moot), Edward Vickermann, and Frances Hobart (both of the Huddersfield and District Archaeological Society), who first drew my attention to some of the wells and pinfolds mentioned in this article.