Holy well and butterwell 120m west of Holiwell


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1018521

Date first listed: 15-Feb-1999


Ordnance survey map of Holy well and butterwell 120m west of Holiwell
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Devon

District: Torridge (District Authority)

Parish: Clovelly

National Grid Reference: SS 31706 23522


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.

The holy well 120m west of Holiwell represents a good example of a sacred well being converted in later years into a butterwell. Butterwells are considered to be rare nationally and in Devon, where they are known to have once been relatively common, there are very few recorded examples. The building at Holiwell survives well and contains information relating to this important agricultural tradition.


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


This monument includes a well and its associated building which is situated to the west of Holiwell. The monument survives as a circular stone built well with a maximum diameter of 1.3m, which is housed within a small stone building. The building measures 1.7m square externally and is 1.4m high, the doorway has a stone lintel. Inside the building, the springers for a shelf which would have spanned the well are built into the two side walls. This shelf would have been used for storing butter. The placename evidence strongly suggests that this well was originally a holy well, but the surviving evidence and oral tradition confirm that during the post-medieval period it was converted into a butterwell.

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: 32192

Legacy System: RSM


Devon County Sites and Monuments Register, SS32SW28, (1972)
MPP fieldwork by H. Gerrard, Gerrard, H., (1997)

End of official listing