St Leonard's Well


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


Ordnance survey map of St Leonard's Well
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

West Somerset (District Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
SS 98504 43867

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.

St Leonard's Well is a good example of this class of monument and is sited adjacent to a track which is believed to have medieval origins and remains popular with walkers and visitors. Its medieval foundation can be traced to the reign of Edward III. It is recorded in contemporary documents and provides a rare insight into water management during the medieval period.


The monument, known as St Leonard's Well, includes a medieval holy well and a 16th century well house, located on the south side of Conduit Lane about 600m north west of Dunster. The monument is situated on a north and east facing slope of Grabbist Hill which gradually slopes down towards Dunster, and it is set into the bank of Conduit Lane, a track which follows the course of a medieval road westwards in the direction of Alcombe. The well house is constructed from local irregular rubble stone, and is rectangular in plan with a stone gable roof. It is 2.45m wide, 2.6m in height, and 3.8m in length and is set into a field bank which forms the edge of the track. The doorway, which opens onto the track, is of chamfered freestone with a segmental head 1.1m in height and positioned 0.65m above the ground level. The wooden door is a modern addition, although the original 16th century iron door fittings are still in place. The interior of the building is lined with regularly coursed blocks which form an arch shape above the rectangular stone-lined well which occupies most of the floor space. The rear wall of the well house is of irregular course rubble stone. The well house is a Listed Building Grade II. The well is believed to have supplied water to a Benedictine priory which was located a few hundred metres downslope to the east. The priory, which is first mentioned in 1177 was dissolved in 1539 although the church survives as the parish church. It also supplied two public water troughs, one is still visible in St George's churchyard wall and the other was located at the south end of the High Street. The earliest documentary source for the well comes from a deed dating from the reign of Edward III (1327-1377) in which it is referred to as `fontern Sancti Leonardi'. It is again mentioned during the reign of Henry IV (1399-1413). All fencing and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features 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
Horne, E, Somerset Holy Wells, (1923), 51
SS 94 SE 12, National Monuments Record,


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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