Holy well 380m north west of Trevornick
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
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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:
- SW 77336 58896
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 holy well 380m north west of Trevornic survives reasonably well. Despite restoration of the well house, the structure remains substantially intact, and below-ground deposits associated with the monument will survive.
The monument includes a medieval holy well situated at the base of a steep
south east facing slope south west of Newquay. The holy well has a well
house thought to be of 14th or 15th century date, but partly rebuilt in
1936; an outer wall on the south east side dates from the reconstruction
but incorporates a medieval archway and a culvert running between them.
Overall it measures up to 7.1m north west-south east by 6.7m north
east-south west. The holy well is Listed Grade II.
The well house, which is built into a slope, is rectangular in plan, its
external measurements being 2.25m north east-south west by 1.8m north
west-south east. Its walls, some 0.4m thick, are of rubble shillet (local
slate stone) with some larger rubble shillet quoins. The gabled roof,
which is 2.2m high at its apex, is slate with raised edges of cut granites
around 0.25m across and 0.08m thick, projecting some 0.05m beyond the
walls. The doorway is in the centre of the front (south east) wall of the
well house. It has a moulded granite surround, with a round arch formed of
two stones, and jambs of two stones on either side, those at the base
having chamfer stops. The doorway opening is 0.54m wide and 1.4m high.
Internally the well house measures 1.4m north east-south west by 1.5m
north west-south east and is 1.7m high in the centre, and 1.2m high at the
sides. It conforms to the porch type of holy well, having an inner chamber
over the water source, and an outer chamber large enough to admit several
people at once, with benches to seat them either side of a channel
carrying water from the source to the outside. The whole has a
reconstructed lime rendered barrel vault ceiling, with two modern
inscriptions in Cornish, one above each of the benches. The inner chamber
is a central round arched aperture in the base of a shelf of thin rubble
shillet running across the back of the well house. The flat upper surface
of the shelf is 0.7m high above the floor in front, and 0.5m (on the north
east side) to 0.6m (on the south west side) deep to the back wall of the
house. The chamber is approximately 0.5m wide and high, and extends under
the shelf to the back wall. Its opening appears to be formed of eroded cut
freestone. The bottom of the aperture is formed by a basin, obscured by
mosses but apparently cut from a single stone. It is roughly square,
measuring up to 0.4m across, and 0.2m deep, with rounded corners and
sloping sides 0.15m thick at the top. This collects spring water from the
back of the chamber, which has a slanting cover, possibly formed of
several stones. The basin stands just above the level of the floor outside
with its front slightly overhanging the channel set into this, and has an
incised line 0.03m wide and deep across the centre of its lip,
facilitating the outward flow of water. The back wall of the well house
has two niches, one in each corner, above the roof of the inner chamber.
These are around 0.25m across, 0.2m high, and 0.3m deep. They have
unworked local stone lintels,and sides of single roughly shaped freestone
blocks. The main, outer part of the well house has a channel set into the
floor, taking the water from the inner basin to the doorway. This channel
is 0.9m long, 0.35m wide, and 0.15m deep. Its sides are formed of shaped
and roughly finished granites 0.8m long and 0.3m wide, where people seated
on either side would have rested their feet. Its front is a granite of
similar dimensions set across the channel, so that it also forms the
threshold of the well house doorway.
This has a central drainage groove resembling that in the lip of the inner
basin, but slightly larger, being 0.05m wide and deep. The benches along
the sides of the porch are some 1m long, 0.25m deep, and 0.35m high. They
are of rubble stone,resembling the well house walling, topped with roughly
shaped slate slabs 0.02m thick, two on each side.
The area between the well house on the north west side and the wall on the
south east side is bounded on the remaining sides by slight scarps
0.3m-0.8m high. An old photograph of the well after restoration is thought
to show a stony path with a culvert beneath it, now buried and/or
collapsed, running straight across the centre of this area to the opening
in the outer wall. The outer wall is 6.7m long north east-south west and
0.3m wide. It is constructed of rubble shillet with thin slate coping.
The wall is 1.5m-2.3m high, rising in three steps over the central
entrance. The pointed entrance arch is formed of eight granites with
moulding, the base stone north east of the opening having a stop. This
stone also has a rectangular hollow in its present outer face, probably
the result of reuse as a trough. The door opening is around 0.8m wide and
1.8m high. A modern slate plaque is fixed above it on the inside (north
west side) of the wall. This has an inscription giving the date of
restoration and a religious motto.
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:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Lane-Davies, A, Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1970), 61, 82
Padel, O J, Cornish placename elements, (1985), 210-211
Henderson, C, 'Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall' in The Ecclesiastical History of the Four Western Hundreds, , Vol. V2 pt4, (1956), 135
Mattingly, J, 'Journal of the St Agnes Museum Trust' in A Well Without Water? The Holy Well at Chapel Porth, St Agnes, , Vol. 14, (1998), 4-14
SW 75 NE 9, Fletcher, MJ, Ordnance Survey Index Card, (1971)
Title: Cubert Tithe Apportionment Source Date: 1840 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Enclosure No. 84
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:2500 Map Source Date: 1880 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:2500 Map Source Date: 1908 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