St Warna's Well, St Agnes


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1015001

Date first listed: 04-Oct-1996


Ordnance survey map of St Warna's Well, St Agnes
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)

Parish: St. Agnes

National Grid Reference: SV 88037 07792


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

The Isles of Scilly, the westernmost of the granite masses of south west England, contain a remarkable abundance and variety of archaeological remains from over 4000 years of human activity. The remote physical setting of the islands, over 40km beyond the mainland in the approaches to the English Channel, has lent a distinctive character to those remains, producing many unusual features important for our broader understanding of the social development of early communities. Throughout the human occupation there has been a gradual submergence of the islands' land area, providing a stimulus to change in the environment and its exploitation. This process has produced evidence for responses to such change against an independent time-scale, promoting integrated studies of archaeological, environmental and linguistic aspects of the islands' settlement. The islands' archaeological remains demonstrate clearly the gradually expanding size and range of contacts of their communities. By the post- medieval period (from AD 1540), the islands occupied a nationally strategic location, resulting in an important concentration of defensive works reflecting the development of fortification methods and technology from the mid 16th to the 20th centuries. An important and unusual range of post- medieval monuments also reflects the islands' position as a formidable hazard for the nation's shipping in the western approaches. The exceptional preservation of the archaeological remains on the islands has long been recognised, producing an unusually full and detailed body of documentation, including several recent surveys.

Ritual wells are water sources with specifically spiritual or religious associations. The custom of venerating springs and wells as sacred sites is known to have characterised pre-Christian religions in Britain: examples are known dating back to at least the Bronze Age (c.2000 - 700 BC). By the Iron Age (c.700 BC - AD 43), the use of wells as sacred sites by Celtic tribes is attested by Classical Roman authors, and further examples have been excavated in Britain from the Roman period (AD 43 - 400). Both excavated evidence and the historical sources confirm that the use of ritual wells commonly involved the deposition of votive offerings to invoke the sympathetic actions of the spirit to whom the well was dedicated. Although Christian holy wells have been identified from the sixth century AD, it is clear that some of those holy wells originated as earlier sacred sites and were transposed, with an appropriate re-dedication, into Christian usage. Sometimes this transfer appears to have occurred complete with a `sainthood' bestowed on the former spirit, and a continuation of the accompanying votive rituals. The cult of Christian 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 inspiring modern revivals of such traditions.

This monument survives in good condition and, as distinct from the numerous secular wells for domestic water supply, it is the only surviving ritual well, Christian or otherwise, on the Isles of Scilly. The stone setting around the well is an unusual feature, but the monument as a whole is a very rare survival of an intact ritual well with surface remains and historically attested observances yet lacking any known formal Christian dedication. The record of the ritual observances at this monument is also sufficiently detailed to illustrate the manner in which ritual wells served their communities' spiritual needs.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes a ritual well known as St Warna's Well on the south west coastal margin of St Agnes, the south western inhabited island in the Isles of Scilly. The ritual well is situated in a large natural coastal hollow, which rises to the south and east of the monument, focussing the ground water that supplies the well. The well itself survives with a small sub-circular bedrock chamber, approximately 0.9m in diameter and 1m high, opening on the west at a narrow entrance gap, 0.6m wide. The chamber floor has relatively recent rubble deposits in the water. The chamber extends down from the ground surface and is roofed by a large flat slab, 0.2m thick, covered by turf and embedded into the surrounding soil on all sides except over the entrance. From the chamber entrance, three stone steps, each 0.25m high, rise north westward along a narrow channel from the chamber floor to the ground surface; this stepped channel is 0.65m wide, revetted on each side by vertical drystone walling of roughly coursed granite slabs and rubble, largely masked by vegetation on the south west side. The chamber and its stepped approach channel are enclosed within a sub-circular setting of small spaced slabs, up to 0.3m high and set on edge in several cases. This setting, 2.75m in diameter, is visible on the surface around the north and east sides of the well, with the largest slabs projecting from the turf over the eastern part of the chamber. The well's dedication to `Saint Warna', for which an earlier form `Awana' is recorded, is mentioned by Heath in 1750 who describes this individual as a beneficiary in times of distress, most notoriously by attracting wrecks to the island's shores. Heath records this well and its dedication, noting that it formed a focus for ritual activities among some islanders, including regular cleaning of the well chamber; a later account records a tradition that another ritual involved throwing crooked pins into the well to invoke the `saint's' actions on their behalf. Certainly by the 1890s, when the well was again described and also photographed, such activities had long ceased and had passed into folklore.

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: 15454

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Arlott, J, Island Camera, (1983)
Heath, R, A Natural and Historical Account of the Isles of Scilly, (1750)
Quiller Couch, L, Quiller Couch, M, Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1894)
Thomas, C, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape, (1985)
Clayton, J, 'Arch Aeliana (2nd Ser)' in The Temple Of Coventina At Carrawburgh, , Vol. 8, (1880), 1-49
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 8807 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Waters, A/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7012, (1988)

End of official listing