Medieval holy well north east of Holywell Beach, and two prehistoric round barrows 660m and 700m south west of Porth Joke
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1020027
Date first listed: 07-Nov-2001
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference: SW 76688 60006, SW 76805 60035, SW 76846 59969
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
The survival of the holy well at Holywell Beach is good, its natural and artificial features remaining undisturbed. Its association in folklore with healing rituals may provide evidence of pagan elements incorporated into Christian practices. The location in a coastal cave with distinctive geology shows clearly the role of natural features in religious activity during the medieval period. Round barrows are funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age, with most examples belonging to the period 2400-1500 BC. They were constructed as earthen mounds, sometimes ditched, which covered single or mulotiple burials. They occur either in isolation or grouped as cemeteries and often acted as a focus of burials in later periods. Often superficially similar, although differing widely in size, they exhibit regional variations in form and a diversity of burial practices. There are over 10,000 surviving examples recorded nationally (many more have already been destroyed), occurring across most of Britain, including the Wessex area where it is often possible to classify them more closely, for example as bowl or bell barrows. Often occupying prominent locations, they are a major historic element in the modern landscape and their considerable variation in form and longevity as a monument type provide important information on the diversity of beliefas and social organisations amongst early prehistoric communties. They are particularly representative of their period and a substantial proportion of surviving examples are considered worthy of protection. The round barrows situated prominently on the headland above illustrate well the ritual significance of the headland both in prehistoric and medieval times.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes a medieval holy well situated in a west facing cave
north east of Holywell Beach, and two prehistoric round barrows on the level
top of the ridge above. These features are all at Middle Kelsey, the central
part of The Kelseys, a headland south west of Newquay. The scheduling is
divided into three separate areas of protection. The round barrows are closely
associated with others beyond this scheduling, together forming a small
coastal ridge-top barrow cemetery.
The location of the holy well is concealed from the landward approach by a
projecting cliff, and is accessible dryshod for no more than a few hours
around low tide. The holy well site measures approximately 12m east-west by 7m
north-south overall. It has a distinctive, visually striking combination of
geological and water features, artificially enhanced, and is associated in
folklore with St Cuthbert and with healing rituals.
The main elements of the site are a rock platform within a cavern, which opens
from the beach, with a smaller, inner cave accessible from it. There are
calcareous freshwater springs on the upper platform and inner cave, and
mineral deposits have formed where the spring water flows to the beach. The
platform runs along the north side of the main cavern, measuring approximately
10m east-west by 7m north-south. Its irregular, outward slanting surface is
generally around 2m above beach level, and the cavern roof is some 1.6m above
it. The cavern has green and red mineral staining, and there are several
hollows worn into its wall above the platform, notably one 1m across and 0.6m
high, extending 1.2m into the wall, containing a small shallow spring pool.
The inner cave, beyond the tidal limit, is 2.5m wide north-south, 1.6m deep
east-west, and up to 1.1m high. It is connected to the platform by an opening
against the cavern's north wall 1.6m wide, 0.9m high, and 0.4m deep, and by an
aperture south of this, only 0.5m wide by 0.25m high, and 1.8m deep, outside
which is a drop of up to 1.5m to the platform. These openings are separated by
a natural column of rock, around 0.4m wide. The inner cave contains several
shallow pools, the largest 0.4m across but only a few centimetres deep. The
springs seep from the floor and walls of this cave and to a lesser extent from
the wall of the outer cave above the platform, as in the hollow noted above.
Calcite from the spring water coats the inner cave, the outer hollows, and
much of the platform, with a white deposit, forming thick rims around standing
water, smooth wax-like flows, and small stalagtites. A continuous series of
six or seven encrustations retaining water, known as rimstone pools, run down
the upper platform from the inner cave to a larger rock-cut access step. They
are roughly crescentic in plan, measuring around 1m across by 0.5m front to
back and 0.25m high. The pools within are generally about 0.05m deep, but one
near the centre is 0.4m deep on its inner side where it forms a rounded basin
overhung by a thick rim.
Modification of the site to improve access to and enjoyment of the natural
features is visible in the form of steps cut into the rock platform on the
north side of the outer cave. Irregularly spaced, rough, slanting footholds in
the region of 0.1m-0.2m across run for approximately 6m from the cavern
entrance to a smooth flat step with a rounded front, measuring up to 0.9m
across by 0.6m deep, cut into red-stained rock with a rise of 0.1m-0.3m below
and 0.2m above.
The well was traditionally believed to have been touched by the relics of St
Cuthbert, and to have healing powers. An 18th century writer records its
popularity, particularly for healing children, the cure involving dipping the
sufferer in spring basins and passing them through the aperture between the
Two prehistoric round barrows provide evidence for the earlier use of this
headland. The north western round barrow in the scheduling has a mound of
earth and stone with a regular rounded profile, measuring 26m in diameter and
0.9m high. There is no evidence for an external ditch. The south eastern round
barrow also has an earth and stone mound, with no visible ditch. It has a low
but regular profile and measures 22m in diameter and 0.3m high.
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: 32943
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Hals, W, History of Cornwall, (1600)
Lane-Davies, A, Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1970), 82-83
Padel, O J, Cornish Place-Names, (1988), 98
Pearse Chope, R (ed), Early Tours in Devon and Cornwall, (1918), 200
Quiller Couch, L, Quiller Couch, M, Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1894), 54-57
Dyer, CA, Cornwall Mapping Project, (1998)
Dyer, CA, Cornwall Mapping Project, (1999)
NT SMR site no 90,115. Date uncertain, Archaeological Survey, Cubert and the Gannel, Cornwall, (1985)
NT SMR site no 90,140. Date uncertain, Archaeological Survey, Cubert and the Gannel, Cornwall, (1985)
Penna, LJ, Letter to OS, (1954)
SW 76 SE 11, Fletcher, MJ, Ordnance Survey Index Card, (1969)
SW 76 SE 6, Lovell, GS, Ordnance Survey Index Card, (1954)
SW 76 SE 6, Quinnell, NV, Ordnance Survey Index Card, (1969)
Title: Lanhydrock Atlas Source Date: 1696 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Kelsye in the Manor of Ellinglaze
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:2500 Map Source Date: 1880 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey 2" drawing Source Date: 1810 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Ward Lock guide. No date - after 1954, North Cornwall, (1950)
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