Medieval holy well known as St Ann's Well, 120m south of Holwell Farm


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


Ordnance survey map of Medieval holy well known as St Ann's Well, 120m south of Holwell Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

South Hams (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SX 66462 47368

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.

This well, dedicated to St Ann, is an unusual survival. Its design, with a sunken reservoir, spilling out via a conduit in the side, is typical of wells whose waters were believed to have healing powers. This is supported by the presence of the 15th century chapel of St Ann, 200m to the south west. The area covered by the scheduling has the potential for undisturbed or waterlogged remains associated with the veneration of the well. A few examples of holy wells lie close to prehistoric ritual monuments. A Neolithic long barrow and two Bronze Age round barrows lie 400m to the south east of the well; they are the subject of a separate scheduling. The proximity of these barrows to the holy well, its chapel and Bigbury parish church which is 800m to the south east, suggests continuity of a more ancient tradition of veneration in the area.


The monument includes the remains of a medieval holy well which is a Listed Building Grade II, located in a field SSE of Holwell Farm. The site of the well appears as a marshy depression in the corner of the field. It measures 43m from east to west and 58m from north to south. A scarp into the hillslope on the west side is up to 2m high. The depression now contains two concrete tanks which catch the water for farm purposes; the southern tank is constructed within a sunken stone-walled enclosure, built around a natural spring. Brick steps originally led down into the water on its west side, but these have now been covered. Water from this sunken reservoir still flows to a well head on the north west side of the farm track. The well head consists of a recess 0.38m deep in a stone rubble wall, at the foot of which a stone spout discharges water from a hole in the wall into a small 19th century Welsh slate trough 0.95m by 0.5m and at least 0.15m deep. The wall continues to the north, curving round to form a gatepost beside the northern concrete tank. The two concrete tanks are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them 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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Brown, T, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in Holy and notable wells of Devon, , Vol. 89, (1957)
Hooke, D, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in Studies on Devon charter boundaries, , Vol. 122, (1990)


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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