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St Rumbold's Well

A Scheduled Monument in Buckingham, Buckinghamshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.9961 / 51°59'45"N

Longitude: -0.9964 / 0°59'47"W

OS Eastings: 468997.900055

OS Northings: 233547.424799

OS Grid: SP689335

Mapcode National: GBR 9XQ.T1J

Mapcode Global: VHDT8.P323

Entry Name: St Rumbold's Well

Scheduled Date: 11 February 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017204

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29442

County: Buckinghamshire

Civil Parish: Buckingham

Built-Up Area: Buckingham

Traditional County: Buckinghamshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Buckinghamshire

Church of England Parish: Radclive cum Chackmore

Church of England Diocese: Oxford

Details

St Rumbold's Well is located to the south west of Buckingham, on the south
side of the dismantled railway line which borders the town. In addition to the
medieval well, the monument includes the remains of an early 17th century
conduit house, the outflow leat which formerly led to the bow of the River
Great Ouse which surrounds the southern part of the historic town and a sample
of the medieval cultivation earthworks (ridge and furrow) which flank the well
to the south.

The well, which is now dry for much of the year, was positioned to exploit the
spring line below the crest of a north facing slope overlooking the town. It
takes its name from St Rumbold, grandson of Penda, the seventh century pagan
Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia. According to legend, Rumbold was baptised as a
Christian in 626 and, in the three days leading to his death, preached,
worked miracles and made preparations for his burial. The most mythological
aspect of his legend is that all this took place in a single year, resulting
in his occasional depiction as an infant in later canons. Although Rumbold's
legend may well have been elaborated to support the spread of Christianity
amongst the pagan kingdoms it took particular root in Buckingham, where he was
eventually buried. The north aisle of the old parish church was dedicated to
the saint and became a focus of pilgrimage in the 12th and 13th centuries. The
sanctity of the well was not authorised by the Church, but provided a further
attraction to pilgrims. This activity was censured in the late 13th century
when Bishop Sutton of Lincoln, believing the saint's fabulous tale to be less
than orthodox, issued an edict against the cult. All such cults and holy
wells were condemned following the Reformation, and the former shrine was not
transferred when Buckingham's parish church was relocated and rebuilt in
1777-8.

A small circular structure is depicted over the well head on John Speed's Map
of the County of Buckingham (dated 1610), although the foundation courses
surrounding the spring are those of a square masonry building. This single
storey building stood until the early years of the 20th century and, according
to the Royal Commission Inventory of 1912, displayed a date stone within a
small arch flanked with pilasters on the east wall and was entered through a
doorway beneath a four-centred arch to the north. A tile roof can be surmised
from fragments present in the demolition debris piled around the well head.
The building is known to have been a conduit house, built in 1623 by the
Lambert family, who ran lead piping (examples stamped with the date `1619'
have been found) from the well to Castle House, some 600m to the north east.
The original overflow channel, which is marked on Speed's map, can still be
seen as a slight declivity following the field margin to the north east
flanked by lines of trees and hedgerow shrubs. It may be significant that this
outflow follows an alignment directed towards the former medieval church on
the far side of the river. The upper section of this channel is included in
the scheduling. The lower part has been truncated by the railway embankment
and overlain by housing and is not included in the scheduling.

The field to the south of the well is covered by low cultivation earthworks,
the pattern of ridge and furrow running north to south and terminating in a
headland (a cross-ploughed ridge) set parallel to the springhead and the
outflow channel. The position of the headland indicates that the medieval
field pattern developed after the well had become established. The headland is
included in the scheduling together with a 5m wide sample of the cultivation
earthworks to the south in order to protect this archaeological relationship.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

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
day.
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
period.

St Rumbold's Well is one of the principal features of the historic town of
Buckingham, being the last visible feature of the cult of the saint which was
instrumental in the development of the town's economy and position in the
medieval period.

The structural remains of the early 17th century conduit house are of
considerable interest in their own right, although the evidence of Speed's map
and the longevity of the well as a place of pilgrimage, strongly suggests the
presence of an earlier well house, the remains of which may well be buried
beneath the later structure. The survival of a substantial length of the
outflow leat (mapped in 1610) is particularly significant given its
orientation towards the site of the earlier church and shrine, and the
possibility that it also determined the pilgrim's route to the springhead.
Ridge and furrow cultivation earthworks were created to facilitate drainage
and the apportionment of land and are a characteristic feature of agricultural
practice in the medieval period. The spatial relationship between the
cultivation pattern and the site of St Rumbold's Well is of considerable
importance, providing information regarding the medieval setting of the holy
well and its longevity as a significant feature of the landscape.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Clarke, J, The Book of Buckingham, (1984)
Elliot, D J, Buckingham, (1975)
Hunt, J, Buckingham. A Pictorial History, (1997)
Lipscomb, G, The History and Antiquties of Buckinghamshire, (1847), 579-80
Page, W (ed), The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire: Volume III, (1925), 487
Page, W , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire, (1925), 487
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , An Inventory of Historic Monuments in Buckinghamshire, (1912), 74
Vernon, M T, Bonner, D C, Buckingham. A History of a County Town, (1984), 14
Other
Information from local historian, Shirley, R, St Rumbold's Well, (1999)
Title: Map of Buckingham
Source Date: 1610
Author:
Publisher:
Surveyor:
Reproduced in Hunt's History of Bucks

Source: Historic England

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