St Cleer's Well and cross
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1018205
Date first listed: 22-Mar-1932
Date of most recent amendment: 29-Apr-1998
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
Parish: St. Cleer
National Grid Reference: SX 24949 68304
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
This holy well survives well and is the only example of a well house with an open porch-like design in Cornwall. The pillars, arches and capitals are carved with simple mouldings and patterns which are unusual in Cornwall at this date. It is a good example of a well house built over a well basin, with a contemporary wayside cross still in situ to the south. It maintains its function as a well; there is clear water in the well basin.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes a medieval holy well known as St Cleer's Well, and a
medieval wayside cross situated in a small walled enclosure to the north east
of the parish church at St Cleer in south east Cornwall.
St Cleer's Well survives as a small granite building over a well basin. The
structure measures 3.38m east-west by 3.08m north-south. The building is
constructed of large granite blocks and mortar, and forms a very open, porch
like structure. The north, south and west walls are each supported by two
rounded arches with pillars in between, giving access to the interior of the
well. The arches and pillars are mounded and the capitals at the top of the
pillars are decoratively carved. Above the arches in the west wall is a
rectangular niche with a statue of a robed figure in it. The east wall has two
small, low arches set within a pointed recess; above these arches is another
rectangular niche. Above this arched structure is a steeply sloping gabled
roof constructed of granite slabs and inside the roof is vaulted with a
massive central rib. At each corner of the roof is a rounded pinnacle, and at
the apex of the roof on the west side is another, larger and slightly more
ornate pinnacle. Inside this well house is a rectangular well basin containing
clear water. To east and west large granite slabs cover the edges of the well
basin, large granite blocks to either side also extend beyond the edge of the
well basin. A modern metal grill covers the exposed area of the well-basin,
which measures 1.3m north-south by 1.14m east-west and is 0.66m deep. On the
east wall is a niche with a slightly pointed top to it, and a granite plaque
inscribed `St Cleer holy well restored 1864'. The well is Listed Grade I.
The wayside cross is located 5.12m south of the well and survives as an
upright granite head and shaft. The head has unenclosed arms, a form called a
`Latin' cross, its principal faces orientated east-west. The overall height of
the monument is 2.2m. The cross measures 0.75m across its side arms each of
which are 0.18m thick. Both principal faces of the head are decorated with a
Latin cross in relief, the lower limb extending down the shaft is formed by
two incised lines. The shaft is 0.34m wide and 0.2m thick. The shaft is
cemented into a rectangular granite base, which measures 1.04m north-south by
0.89m east-west and is 0.23m high. The cross is Listed Grade II.
St Cleer's Well and cross are believed to date from the 15th century and
to be contemporary with each other. In 1850 when the antiquarian Quiller Couch
visited the site the well was in ruins, the back wall still standing covered
in ivy. In 1858 the well and its surrounding area was brought by Henry Rogers
of Penrose, Helston, who in 1864 had the well restored as a memorial to his
grandfather, John Jope once vicar of St Cleer.
The well is believed to have been a bowsening or immersion well, originally it
would have had a sunken cistern to the west of the well house, a reservoir
beneath the well house and a pool to the east. The well basin is believed to
have originally been semi-circular. After the restoration in 1864 the basin
was covered with granite slabs, one of which has since been removed so that
the water can now be seen. The well had the reputation for curing the lame,
the blind and the insane. It possibly belonged to a nunnery of Poor Clares in
Liskeard or in St Cleer parish.
The gravel surface around the well and cross, where it falls within the
monument's protective margin, is excluded from the scheduling, although the
ground beneath is included.
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: 30445
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Langdon, A G, Stone Crosses in East Cornwall, (1996)
Leggat, P O, D V, , The Healing Wells Cornish Cults and Customs, (1987)
Quiller Couch, L, Quiller Couch, M, Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1894)
Consulted 1997, FMW report on CO 192,
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SX 26/36; Pathfinder Series 1348 Source Date: 1983 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