Ancient Monuments

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Tawstock holy well

A Scheduled Monument in Tawstock, Devon

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Latitude: 51.0496 / 51°2'58"N

Longitude: -4.0664 / 4°3'59"W

OS Eastings: 255254.536457

OS Northings: 129835.088547

OS Grid: SS552298

Mapcode National: GBR KQ.G3PR

Mapcode Global: FRA 26CB.X6P

Entry Name: Tawstock holy well

Scheduled Date: 24 October 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016207

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30310

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Tawstock

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Tawstock St Peter

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


The monument includes a medieval holy well housed within a 20th century well
building. It lies in a small valley to the east of Tawstock and survives as a
sub-rectangular well recess which measures 1.7m long by 1.4m wide and 1.2m
high. The well is full of clear water which issues into a ditch at the front.
Evidence of mortar, corbelling and rough walling is also visible, with a
possible lintel. Around this grotto-like structure a 20th century building has
been constructed. This is revetted into the hillside and has two retaining
walls of 1.5m high abutting the building and running parallel to the hillside.
The building has a pitched roof, is stone built and has the inscription `Holy
Well, Tawstock. Restored 1938 A.B.S.W.'. There is an iron gate across the
entrance to prevent access. A holy well was recorded at Tawstock in 1390.
The 20th century well building, which is Listed Grade II, is excluded from the
scheduling, although the ground beneath is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Holy wells are water sources with specifically Christian associations. The
custom of venerating springs and wells as sacred sites is also known to have
characterised pre-Christian religions in Britain and, although Christian wells
have been identified from as early as the 6th century AD, it is clear that
some holy wells originated as earlier sacred sites. The cult of holy wells
continued throughout the medieval period. Its condemnation at the time of the
Reformation (c.1540) ended new foundations but local reverence and folklore
customs at existing holy wells often continued, in some cases to the present
The holy wells sometimes functioned as sites for baptism but they were also
revered for less tangible reasons, some of which may have had origins in pre-
Christian customs, such as folklore beliefs in the healing powers of the water
and its capacity to effect a desired outcome for future events. Associated
rituals often evolved, usually requiring the donation of an object or coin to
retain the 'sympathy' of the well for the person seeking its benefits.
At their simplest, holy wells may be unelaborated natural springs with
associated religious traditions. Structural additions may include lined well
shafts or conduit heads on springs, often with a tank to gather the water at
the surface. The roofing of walled enclosures to protect the water source and
define the sacred area created well houses which may be simple, unadorned
small structures closely encompassing the water source, or larger buildings,
decorated in the prevailing architectural style and facilitating access with
features such as steps to the water source and open areas with stone benching
where visitors might shelter. At their most elaborate, chapels, and sometimes
churches, may have been built over the well or adjacent well house. The number
of holy wells is not known but estimates suggest at least 600 nationally. They
provide important information on the nature of religious beliefs and practices
and on the relationship between religion and the landscape during the medieval

Tawstock holy well survives comparatively well and contains both architectural
and archaeological information about its construction and use.

Source: Historic England


Devon County Sites and Monuments Register, SS52NE2, (1991)

Source: Historic England

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