St Rumbold's Well
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1017204
Date first listed: 11-Feb-2000
The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1017204 .pdf
The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.
This copy shows the entry on 17-Nov-2018 at 03:22:25.
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Aylesbury Vale (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: SP 69004 33548
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
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
St Rumbold's Well is one of the principal features of the historic town of Buckingham, being the last visible feature of the cult of the saint which was instrumental in the development of the town's economy and position in the medieval period.
The structural remains of the early 17th century conduit house are of considerable interest in their own right, although the evidence of Speed's map and the longevity of the well as a place of pilgrimage, strongly suggests the presence of an earlier well house, the remains of which may well be buried beneath the later structure. The survival of a substantial length of the outflow leat (mapped in 1610) is particularly significant given its orientation towards the site of the earlier church and shrine, and the possibility that it also determined the pilgrim's route to the springhead. Ridge and furrow cultivation earthworks were created to facilitate drainage and the apportionment of land and are a characteristic feature of agricultural practice in the medieval period. The spatial relationship between the cultivation pattern and the site of St Rumbold's Well is of considerable importance, providing information regarding the medieval setting of the holy well and its longevity as a significant feature of the landscape.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
St Rumbold's Well is located to the south west of Buckingham, on the south
side of the dismantled railway line which borders the town. In addition to the
medieval well, the monument includes the remains of an early 17th century
conduit house, the outflow leat which formerly led to the bow of the River
Great Ouse which surrounds the southern part of the historic town and a sample
of the medieval cultivation earthworks (ridge and furrow) which flank the well
to the south.
The well, which is now dry for much of the year, was positioned to exploit the spring line below the crest of a north facing slope overlooking the town. It takes its name from St Rumbold, grandson of Penda, the seventh century pagan Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia. According to legend, Rumbold was baptised as a Christian in 626 and, in the three days leading to his death, preached, worked miracles and made preparations for his burial. The most mythological aspect of his legend is that all this took place in a single year, resulting in his occasional depiction as an infant in later canons. Although Rumbold's legend may well have been elaborated to support the spread of Christianity amongst the pagan kingdoms it took particular root in Buckingham, where he was eventually buried. The north aisle of the old parish church was dedicated to the saint and became a focus of pilgrimage in the 12th and 13th centuries. The sanctity of the well was not authorised by the Church, but provided a further attraction to pilgrims. This activity was censured in the late 13th century when Bishop Sutton of Lincoln, believing the saint's fabulous tale to be less than orthodox, issued an edict against the cult. All such cults and holy wells were condemned following the Reformation, and the former shrine was not transferred when Buckingham's parish church was relocated and rebuilt in 1777-8.
A small circular structure is depicted over the well head on John Speed's Map of the County of Buckingham (dated 1610), although the foundation courses surrounding the spring are those of a square masonry building. This single storey building stood until the early years of the 20th century and, according to the Royal Commission Inventory of 1912, displayed a date stone within a small arch flanked with pilasters on the east wall and was entered through a doorway beneath a four-centred arch to the north. A tile roof can be surmised from fragments present in the demolition debris piled around the well head. The building is known to have been a conduit house, built in 1623 by the Lambert family, who ran lead piping (examples stamped with the date `1619' have been found) from the well to Castle House, some 600m to the north east. The original overflow channel, which is marked on Speed's map, can still be seen as a slight declivity following the field margin to the north east flanked by lines of trees and hedgerow shrubs. It may be significant that this outflow follows an alignment directed towards the former medieval church on the far side of the river. The upper section of this channel is included in the scheduling. The lower part has been truncated by the railway embankment and overlain by housing and is not included in the scheduling.
The field to the south of the well is covered by low cultivation earthworks, the pattern of ridge and furrow running north to south and terminating in a headland (a cross-ploughed ridge) set parallel to the springhead and the outflow channel. The position of the headland indicates that the medieval field pattern developed after the well had become established. The headland is included in the scheduling together with a 5m wide sample of the cultivation earthworks to the south in order to protect this archaeological relationship.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 29442
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Clarke, J, The Book of Buckingham, (1984)
Elliot, D J, Buckingham, (1975)
Hunt, J, Buckingham. A Pictorial History, (1997)
Lipscomb, G, The History and Antiquties of Buckinghamshire, (1847), 579-80
Page, W (ed), The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire: Volume III, (1925), 487
Page, W , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire, (1925), 487
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , An Inventory of Historic Monuments in Buckinghamshire, (1912), 74
Vernon, M T, Bonner, D C, Buckingham. A History of a County Town, (1984), 14
Information from local historian, Shirley, R, St Rumbold's Well, (1999)
Title: Map of Buckingham Source Date: 1610 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Reproduced in Hunt's History of Bucks
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