Ancient Monuments

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Holy well and butterwell 120m west of Holiwell

A Scheduled Monument in Clovelly, Devon

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Latitude: 50.9864 / 50°59'11"N

Longitude: -4.3991 / 4°23'56"W

OS Eastings: 231706.311055

OS Northings: 123522.316903

OS Grid: SS317235

Mapcode National: GBR K8.L3DX

Mapcode Global: FRA 16PH.L12

Entry Name: Holy well and butterwell 120m west of Holiwell

Scheduled Date: 15 February 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018521

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32192

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Clovelly

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Clovelly All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


This monument includes a well and its associated building which is situated to
the west of Holiwell. The monument survives as a circular stone built well
with a maximum diameter of 1.3m, which is housed within a small stone
building. The building measures 1.7m square externally and is 1.4m high, the
doorway has a stone lintel. Inside the building, the springers for a shelf
which would have spanned the well are built into the two side walls. This
shelf would have been used for storing butter.
The placename evidence strongly suggests that this well was originally a holy
well, but the surviving evidence and oral tradition confirm that during the
post-medieval period it was converted into a butterwell.

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

The holy well 120m west of Holiwell represents a good example of a sacred
well being converted in later years into a butterwell. Butterwells are
considered to be rare nationally and in Devon, where they are known to have
once been relatively common, there are very few recorded examples. The
building at Holiwell survives well and contains information relating to this
important agricultural tradition.

Source: Historic England


Devon County Sites and Monuments Register, SS32SW28, (1972)
MPP fieldwork by H. Gerrard, Gerrard, H., (1997)

Source: Historic England

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