Yorkshire Holy Wells



St Alkelda's Well (site of) - Middleham
(SE 1239 8795)

On a visit to this well back in 1988 we walked through the churchyard and across open fields to reach the site. A small wooden sign on the tree by the well read 'St Alkelda's Well', but this was the only real indication of the significance of this spot. Originally the water from a spring behind the wall flowed through a gap in the walling and into a trough below, but apparently the water stopped flowing after a school was built in the fields to the south of the well.
In 1999 the situation was, if anything, rather more disappointing. The wooden sign was still there, but a new housing estate had replaced the open fields, with houses built right alongside the well. 
The opportunity to restore a water supply to the well when the houses were being built had been missed and so 'St Alkelda's well' still remains a neglected aspect of Middleham's heritage. 
Ironically the road to the estate is called 'St Alkeldas Road' (see pic below).

The great shame is that this is the only holy well in Britain dedicated to this Saint, plus there are only two church dedications to St Alkelda, one here at Middleham, with the other at Giggleswick. So Alkelda was a very local saint.  

A build up of 'petrified' moss and vegetation can still be seen below the opening where the water used to flow out and this indicates that the spring water had a high mineral content. Such wells and spa's were often regarded as having healing properties, and this is confirmed for St Alkelda's Well by R.C. Hope (1) who noted that........
'There is a spring here, the waters of which are considered very beneficial for weak eyes.'

W.G. Barker's (2) account of Middleham church also adds......

'A spring which rises not far off, is named St Alkelda's well. The water of this fountain was accounted beneficial for weak eyes and the writer knew a Protestant lady, who died not long since at an advanced age, who in early youth was accustomed to repair to it every morning and who received much relief from its strengthening qualities.'

The connection with the nearby St Alkelda's church also makes it likely that the water from the well was used in church services and baptisms etc.

William Grainge (3), writing in the mid 1800's, described the well water as rising in the fields behind the church and piped to a trough by the road. This field road is the modern footpath that passes the well today and the few stones remaining on the site suggest a trough once stood by the wall to catch the water (perhaps the broken trough pictured below?). 
Grainge also suggested that the saints name may be derived from a local holy woman or hermit who was linked with a sacred spring in the area, eventually becoming known as St, Al-kelda, - 'the saint of the holy well'.

It seems possible that in the future more houses will be built in the field in front of the well, so is there a chance that the well site will be preserved and restored? Perhaps as a local heritage feature in the new development, and then Middleham will once again haves its St Alkelda's Well.

(1) Holy Wells of England, Robert Charles Hope 1893 (p199)
(2) Three Days of Wensleydale, W.G. Barker 1854 (p18)
(3)Nidderdale, William Grainge,1863



Access - The well (site of) is on a public footpath that runs from the west side of the church.
Condition - Neglected, - now just a hole in a dry stone wall.