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St Leonard's Well

A Scheduled Monument in Dunster, Somerset

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.185 / 51°11'5"N

Longitude: -3.4536 / 3°27'12"W

OS Eastings: 298504.398298

OS Northings: 143866.932204

OS Grid: SS985438

Mapcode National: GBR LK.5NWM

Mapcode Global: VH6GM.3G2Y

Entry Name: St Leonard's Well

Scheduled Date: 12 November 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021154

English Heritage Legacy ID: 35600

County: Somerset

Civil Parish: Dunster

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset

Details

The monument, known as St Leonard's Well, includes a medieval holy well
and a 16th century well house, located on the south side of Conduit Lane
about 600m north west of Dunster. The monument is situated on a north and
east facing slope of Grabbist Hill which gradually slopes down towards
Dunster, and it is set into the bank of Conduit Lane, a track which
follows the course of a medieval road westwards in the direction of
Alcombe.
The well house is constructed from local irregular rubble stone, and is
rectangular in plan with a stone gable roof. It is 2.45m wide, 2.6m in
height, and 3.8m in length and is set into a field bank which forms the
edge of the track. The doorway, which opens onto the track, is of
chamfered freestone with a segmental head 1.1m in height and positioned
0.65m above the ground level. The wooden door is a modern addition,
although the original 16th century iron door fittings are still in place.
The interior of the building is lined with regularly coursed blocks which
form an arch shape above the rectangular stone-lined well which occupies
most of the floor space. The rear wall of the well house is of irregular
course rubble stone. The well house is a Listed Building Grade II.
The well is believed to have supplied water to a Benedictine priory which
was located a few hundred metres downslope to the east. The priory, which
is first mentioned in 1177 was dissolved in 1539 although the church
survives as the parish church. It also supplied two public water troughs,
one is still visible in St George's churchyard wall and the other was
located at the south end of the High Street. The earliest documentary
source for the well comes from a deed dating from the reign of Edward III
(1327-1377) in which it is referred to as `fontern Sancti Leonardi'. It is
again mentioned during the reign of Henry IV (1399-1413).
All fencing and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, although the
ground beneath these features is included.

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 Leonard's Well is a good example of this class of monument and is sited
adjacent to a track which is believed to have medieval origins and remains
popular with walkers and visitors. Its medieval foundation can be traced
to the reign of Edward III. It is recorded in contemporary documents and
provides a rare insight into water management during the medieval period.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Horne, E, Somerset Holy Wells, (1923), 51
Other
SS 94 SE 12, National Monuments Record,

Source: Historic England

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