St John's Holy Well


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016211

Date first listed: 24-Oct-1997


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

County: Devon

District: West Devon (District Authority)

Parish: Hatherleigh

National Grid Reference: SS 55238 04367


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

Reasons for Designation

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 John's Holy Well survives comparatively well and contains both architectural and archaeological information about the monument's construction and use.


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


The monument includes a holy well, which is situated on Hatherleigh Moor, at the head of a small valley which cuts across the moor to the east of the village of Hatherleigh. The monument survives as a circular stone lined well with a diameter of 0.7m. It is full of water, and is at least 0.6m deep. Enclosing the well is a D-shaped stone and brick well house which has a domed roof. This measures 1.2m long and 1m wide and is 1.4m high. There is a wooden door across the front of the well which measures 0.7m wide and 1.18m high. The door faces south west. This well was used during medieval times as a baptismal well. Although its original name is not known, it is now called St John's 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: 30314

Legacy System: RSM


Devon County Sites and Monuments Register, SS50SE1, (1982)

End of official listing