Ancient Monuments

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Chapel Well, Towan

A Scheduled Monument in Pentewan Valley, Cornwall

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Latitude: 50.3065 / 50°18'23"N

Longitude: -4.7896 / 4°47'22"W

OS Eastings: 201454.167

OS Northings: 48893.229

OS Grid: SX014488

Mapcode National: GBR ZX.CZ2P

Mapcode Global: FRA 08V7.3W0

Entry Name: Chapel Well, Towan

Scheduled Date: 13 December 1929

Last Amended: 16 November 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018693

English Heritage Legacy ID: 31837

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: Pentewan Valley

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: St Austell

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes a medieval holy well, known as Chapel Well, at Towan.
Chapel Well, which is Listed Grade II, survives as a small building of
Pentewan stone, placed over a well basin, and built back into the hillside.
Pentewan stone is an intrusive white elvan from the south coast of Cornwall,
which was used for intricate carvings during the medieval period in Cornwall.
The structure measures 2.14m east-west by 1.87m north-south. The gabled roof
slopes steeply above the walls and there is a pointed arched doorway decorated
with a simple moulding in the east face, giving access to the well basin. The
well basin measures 1.6m east-west by 0.86m north-south and is 0.7m deep. The
well basin is usually dry, but does on occasion fill up with clear water. The
marshy area of ground around the well has been drained and a nearby stream
diverted, so the original water supply to the well has been disrupted. On the
west wall of the well chamber is a decoratively moulded bracket or platform of
Pentewan stone originally designed to display a figure, probably of the saint
to whom the well was dedicated. In the south wall, just inside the entrance is
a small rectangular niche.
This holy well is known as Chapel Well, and the structure has been interpreted
as a baptistry chapel of 16th century date. In 1521 a parcel of land on the
Manor of Tewington was called chappel lond, and Towan was part of the manor.
The Tithe Apportionment Map of 1839 names a field `Chapel Park' and another
field `Chapel Close'. It has been suggested that the chapel and well
originated in the early medieval period and were maintained by the Manor of
Tewington. The well was restored in 1937 by the St Austell Old Cornwall
The iron gate and the wall immediately to the east of the well, and the post
and wire fence to the west where they fall within the well's protective margin
are 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

Chapel Well survives well despite some restoration in the early 20th century.
It is a good example of a holy well, having a basin inside a well chamber and
a well house over the top. It is built of Pentewan stone, with an unusual
decorative bracket for a figure.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Lane-Davies, A, Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1970)
Langdon, A, Stone Crosses in Mid Cornwall, (1994)
Quiller Couch, L, Quiller Couch, M, Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1894)
Preston-Jones, A, FMW report for CO 134, (1990)
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SX 05/15
Source Date: 1980

Source: Historic England

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