St Anne's Well, in Whitstone churchyard


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


Ordnance survey map of St Anne's Well, in Whitstone churchyard
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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 26316 98596

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 Anne's Well has survived well despite having been restored in the late 19th century. The well house is considered to be of 15th century date. It is a good example of a holy well built into the side of a hill, having a basin inside a well chamber and an elaborate entrance facade. It is also a good example of a well which is close to the church and from which water was taken to be used in baptisms. The well continues to be venerated.


The monument includes a medieval holy well, known as St Anne's Well, situated in the churchyard at Whitstone. St Anne's Well survives as a small building over a well basin, extending into the hillside, with a granite faced facade. The structure measures 1.56m high, the apex at the front surmounted by an ornate gable cross, 0.79m in height, giving an overall height of 2.32m, and is 1.62m wide. The well chamber measures 1.26m high by 1.12m long and is 0.77m wide. It is constructed largely of unmortared stone walls, though the north east wall is mortared, as is the arched ceiling. In the centre of the north east wall is an arched niche of greenstone, 0.42m high by 0.22m wide, probably designed to hold a statue or figure. Above this niche is a crudely carved face of greenstone. The well basin within the chamber is 0.66m deep and contains a 0.45m depth of water. The basin has a stone base, and there are mosses, ferns and ivy growing around the water line, suggesting that the water level remains fairly constant. The well chamber is constructed within the hillside, so the exterior of the well chamber is covered with turf where it extends out from the hillside. The entrance facade is constructed of courses of granite blocks alternating with courses of greenstone. There is a granite ached doorway giving access to the well chamber; around the top of the entrance has been carved in relief `Saint Anna'. The inner edge of the doorway is chamfered, stopping at the base of the entrance on either side with a moulded foot. Immediately above the entrance is another niche: this one has an ogee arch and is of greenstone with a granite ledge at its base, again probably meant for a small statue. Above this niche is the granite `roof'; the edge facing south west is decorated with relief flowers. At the apex of this `roof' is a block of granite shaped like the top of four gables, one facing in each direction. This forms the top of the facade roof. On top of this is the gable cross probably of greenstone. Immediately in front of the well is a large rectangular slate slab. This holy well, which is Listed Grade II, is believed to date from 1309, though the building probably dates from the 15th century, and was substantially restored around 1883. The granite and greenstone facade probably dates from this restoration, as `Saint Anna' was carved around the arched doorway at this time. The gable cross and several other parts of the structure are said to have come from elsewhere, the cross from a neighbouring church. The water in the well is reputed never to have failed, and was used for baptisms in the church.

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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Henderson, C, The Cornish Church Guide, (1928)
Quiller Couch, L, Quiller Couch, M, Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1894)
Consulted July 1996, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN No. 893.6,
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SX29/39; Pathfinder Series 1311 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

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