Ancient Monuments

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St John's Holy Well

A Scheduled Monument in Hatherleigh, Devon

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Latitude: 50.8207 / 50°49'14"N

Longitude: -4.0565 / 4°3'23"W

OS Eastings: 255237.539661

OS Northings: 104367.168276

OS Grid: SS552043

Mapcode National: GBR KR.XL5N

Mapcode Global: FRA 26DX.MHB

Entry Name: St John's Holy Well

Scheduled Date: 24 October 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016211

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30314

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Hatherleigh

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Hatherleigh St John the Baptist

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


The monument includes a holy well, which is situated on Hatherleigh Moor, at
the head of a small valley which cuts across the moor to the east of the
village of Hatherleigh.
The monument survives as a circular stone lined well with a diameter of
0.7m. It is full of water, and is at least 0.6m deep. Enclosing the well is a
D-shaped stone and brick well house which has a domed roof. This measures 1.2m
long and 1m wide and is 1.4m high. There is a wooden door across the front of
the well which measures 0.7m wide and 1.18m high. The door faces south west.
This well was used during medieval times as a baptismal well. Although its
original name is not known, it is now called St John's Well.

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

St John's Holy Well survives comparatively well and contains both
architectural and archaeological information about the monument's construction
and use.

Source: Historic England


Devon County Sites and Monuments Register, SS50SE1, (1982)

Source: Historic England

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