Ancient Monuments

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Medieval holy well known as St Ann's Well, 120m south of Holwell Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Bigbury, Devon

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Latitude: 50.3111 / 50°18'39"N

Longitude: -3.8768 / 3°52'36"W

OS Eastings: 266460.98522

OS Northings: 47368.705199

OS Grid: SX664473

Mapcode National: GBR Q9.9ZVH

Mapcode Global: FRA 28R6.RH8

Entry Name: Medieval holy well known as St Ann's Well, 120m south of Holwell Farm

Scheduled Date: 9 February 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019315

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33752

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Bigbury

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Bigbury St Lawrence

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


The monument includes the remains of a medieval holy well which is a Listed
Building Grade II, located in a field SSE of Holwell Farm. The site of the
well appears as a marshy depression in the corner of the field. It measures
43m from east to west and 58m from north to south. A scarp into the hillslope
on the west side is up to 2m high.
The depression now contains two concrete tanks which catch the water for farm
purposes; the southern tank is constructed within a sunken stone-walled
enclosure, built around a natural spring. Brick steps originally led down into
the water on its west side, but these have now been covered. Water from this
sunken reservoir still flows to a well head on the north west side of the farm
track. The well head consists of a recess 0.38m deep in a stone rubble wall,
at the foot of which a stone spout discharges water from a hole in the wall
into a small 19th century Welsh slate trough 0.95m by 0.5m and at least 0.15m
deep. The wall continues to the north, curving round to form a gatepost beside
the northern concrete tank.
The two concrete tanks are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground
beneath them is included.

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
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

This well, dedicated to St Ann, is an unusual survival. Its design, with a
sunken reservoir, spilling out via a conduit in the side, is typical of wells
whose waters were believed to have healing powers. This is supported by the
presence of the 15th century chapel of St Ann, 200m to the south west. The
area covered by the scheduling has the potential for undisturbed or
waterlogged remains associated with the veneration of the well.
A few examples of holy wells lie close to prehistoric ritual monuments. A
Neolithic long barrow and two Bronze Age round barrows lie 400m to the south
east of the well; they are the subject of a separate scheduling. The proximity
of these barrows to the holy well, its chapel and Bigbury parish church which
is 800m to the south east, suggests continuity of a more ancient tradition of
veneration in the area.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Brown, T, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in Holy and notable wells of Devon, , Vol. 89, (1957)
Hooke, D, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in Studies on Devon charter boundaries, , Vol. 122, (1990)

Source: Historic England

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