Holy well at Laneast
- 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)
- National Grid Reference:
- SX 22915 83885
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
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
The holy well at Laneast survives well, though the roof which was collapsing inwards has been carefully rebuilt. The flat arched entrance doorway suggests a 15th or 16th century date for the well house which is built in a natural hollow at the head of a stream, and contains a constant supply of clear running water. Water from the well is still used for baptisms in the nearby church at Laneast.
The monument includes a medieval holy well situated in a hollow at the head of
a stream at Laneast in north Cornwall. The well is situated in a natural
hollow, which has possibly been enhanced, as there is an abrupt change of
slope to the north, east and west of the well.
The holy well, which is Listed Grade II, survives as a small stone building
constructed over a well basin. The structure measures 2.57m high, by 2.1m wide
and 2.2m long, while the well chamber inside it measures 1.14m long by 0.9m
wide and is 2.26m high.
The well house is constructed of coursed greenstone walls, with a flat arched
granite entrance suggesting a 15th to 16th century date for the structure. The
entrance is recessed in the south face, the sides of the doorway are
chamfered, and there are two iron hinges on the west side on which is hung a
modern wooden door. The greenstone roof is capped with three large overlapping
slate slabs. It is probable that the roof was originally pointed, but
illustrations of 1854 and 1891 show it in its present form. The well is
orientated north-south with the entrance in the south. The well basin within
the chamber contains a 0.36m depth of clear water, which flows out through the
well entrance over a lipped stone and under a slate slab to form a stream to
the south. This slab is immediately in front of the entrance and gives access
to the well. The ceiling of the well chamber is of slate.
The historian Quiller Couch recorded that this well was known as the `wishing
well' or the `Jordan well'and that it was consulted for `intimations of the
future'. M and L Quiller Couch in 1891 recorded that the well itself was used
for butter making and that water from the well was used for baptisms at
Laneast church 160m to the north west. By 1996 the roof was slumping inwards
and the pointing in poor repair. In 1997 the roof was rebuilt and the walls
repointed. A new, stout, wooden door was made for the entrance. When this work
was carried out evidence was found that the well was constructed of reused
stone, stones with their worked faces hidden were built into the roof, and
other worked stones were visible in the walls. It is considered probable that
the well was built of surplus, rejected or old masonry when alterations were
taking place at the church. The fabric and construction of the well is very
similar to the church at Laneast.
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:
Books and journals
Preston-Jones, A, Attwell, D, Laneast Holy Well, (1997)
Quiller Couch, L, Quiller Couch, M, Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1894)
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SX 28/38; Pathfinder Series 1326 Source Date: 1989 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
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