Roughtor holy well, 333m south-west of Showery Tor


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
St. Breward
National Grid Reference:
SX 14671 81107

Reasons for Designation

Bodmin Moor, the largest of the Cornish granite uplands, has long been recognised to have exceptional preservation of archaeological remains. The Moor has been the subject of detailed archaeological survey and is one of the best recorded upland landscapes in England. The extensive relict landscapes of prehistoric, medieval and post-medieval date provide direct evidence for human exploitation of the Moor from the earliest prehistoric period onwards. The well-preserved and often visible relationship between settlement sites, field systems, ceremonial and funerary monuments as well as later industrial remains provides significant insights into successive changes in the pattern of land use through time. 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. Although Christian wells have been identified from 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 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 which may have origins in pre-Christian customs, such as folklore beliefs in the healing powers of the water and its capacity generally to effect a desired outcome to 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 greatest elaboration, chapels, and sometimes churches, may have been built over the well or adjacent to the well-house. The number of holy wells is not known but estimates suggest at least 600 nationally. Of these, over 200 are recorded from Cornwall, providing one of the highest densities of surviving examples. The seven holy wells known on Bodmin Moor form a topographically distinct sub-group containing several of the major types of holy well. 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.

This holy well on the north-western slope of Roughtor has survived well. Despite some minor disturbance restricted to the upper courses of the chamber and the roof, this simple well-house is virtually intact and has not been excavated or subject to any other recorded or visible ground disturbance. Coupled with the presence of the spring still contained by the well chamber and still flowing out its original course down the peaty hillside, this will produce rare waterlogged deposits in and around the well contemporary with its construction and use. Its proximity to other medieval ecclesiastical monuments about Roughtor summit shows clearly one of the important relationships between religious activity and the topography in this period. The monument's proximity to extensive Bronze Age settlement, ritual and funerary sites illustrates changing land use in this upland area between the prehistoric and medieval periods.


The monument includes a medieval holy well situated around a spring-head on the upper north-western slope of Roughtor on north-west Bodmin Moor. The holy well is visible as a low rectangular building measuring 2.75m NW-SE by 2m NE-SW externally. Its walls, up to 0.75m wide, are of unmortared, coarse, dressed, granite blocks. Externally, the walls rise to only 0.2m above ground level and support two unworked granite roof slabs. One slab, 1.4m long by 1m wide, remains apparently in situ covering the south-east end of the building; the other, adjacent, slab, 1.2m long by 0.75m wide, has been dislodged and obliquely spans the north-west end of the building. The upper courses of rubble walling under this north-western roof slab have been partly dismantled. Internally, the walls define a well-chamber measuring 1.75m NW-SE by 0.8m NE-SW, enclosing the spring head and open to the north-west where the water issues forth into a gully through the thick peat on the hillside. At the open north-west end, the floor of the chamber is 0.6m below the level of the roof slab's underside. This floor level descends to 1.1m below the roof at the rear, south-east of the chamber by a flight of three steps, each up to 0.3m wide and 0.2m high. At the open end of the chamber, a squared block in the end-face of the north-east wall bears a corroded `L-shaped' iron hinge pin, the lower of two on which the missing wooden well door was hung. The block bearing the similar upper hinge pin has been displaced and now lies loose on the ground 1m to the north-east. Immediately beyond the chamber's open end, the initial channel through which the spring water flowed was defined by granite slabs: a single slab 1.5m long along the channel's south-west edge and two surviving edge-set slabs over a similar distance along its north-east edge. The well entrance, the channel and the natural gully beyond are now partly filled and blocked by numerous small slabs, some of which have dressed faces, including that with the hinge pin, and clearly derive from the partial dismantling of the holy well's upper courses by more recent stone-workers on this hillside. The distinctive hill of Roughtor forms a focus for a small group of medieval religious monuments. The medieval remains of St Michael's Chapel are situated on the summit of Roughtor, 330m SSW of this holy well, while a small cairn with a roughly-formed cross slab on its east side marks a medieval grave located 170m to the south-west, also on the upper north-western slope of Roughtor. The summit of Roughtor and its surrounding moors also contain numerous, extensive and prominent Neolithic and Bronze Age settlement, ritual and funerary monuments, clearly visible from this later holy well.

MAP EXTRACT 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.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Bond, C.J., Monument Class Description: Holy Wells, (1990)
consulted 1992, Carter, A./CAU/RCHME, 1:2500 AP plots for SX 1380-1 & SX 1480-1,
consulted 1992, CAU, 1:1000 Bodmin Moor Survey plan; SX 1481 SE,
consulted 1992, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 3308,
consulted 1992, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 3383,
pp.305-7. Holy Well, CAU/English Heritage, Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. An evaluation for the MPP, (1990)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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