Yorkshire Holy Wells



St Helen's Well - Eshton
(SE 9310 5700)

St Helen's well is located in a small enclosure alongside the road from Gargrave to Winterburn. A low stone wall surrounds part of the well pool and several strong springs can be seen bubbling up through the silt at the bottom. These springs supply a large quantity of water, which flows out past the enclosure wall and away to join the nearby Eshton Beck.
The stones forming the enclosure wall are thought to have come from Gargrave Church, and these include three rounded stone blocks which are said to be carved heads with their faces submerged below the water line.  The holes in the top of the blocks suggest they might also have supported railings similar to those around the enclosure. 
The symbolism of the stone heads, three in number, with faces below the surface 'guarding' the source of the water, provides an archaic image straight out of Celtic mythology. However the church stones are likely to have been a relatively recent addition to the well.
R.C. Hope (1), writing in 1893, reports that .....
"It was customary for the younger folk to assemble and drink the water of this well mixed with sugar on Sunday evenings. The ceremony appears now to have died out. It was in vogue late in the last century."

Elsewhere in his book, Hope also mentions a St Helen's well at Gargrave, which is likely to be this same well, as Gargrave is less than two miles away. "The water of this well was a certain cure for sore and weak eyes. Whitaker states that in his time votive offerings, such as ribbons and other decorative articles were commonly to be seen tied to the bushes near these wells."

On a visit to the well in Feb 1999 there were several strips of cloth tied to branches near the well and the site appeared to be visited regularly and looked after. 
Regrettably in early 2004 the walling across the pool was pulled apart by thieves who stole the 'head' stones. Such vandalism and theft is truly shameful and it is to be wondered who would go to such lengths. Leaving aside the possibility of  some misguided followers of the old or new religions, it seems most likely the stones were stolen by the dubious characters who trade in antique stonework, selling them on at inflated prices as garden 'features'. Theft of stone troughs, statues and other carved stonework has apparently increased alarmingly in recent years and it can only be to supply this trade, so it's worth considering where those 'reclamation' yards get their stock.
The numerous strips of cloth and knotted threads hung on the branches around this holy well indicate that it is still regarded as a potent site, and it certainly has a noticeable 'atmosphere' in the late evening. So lets hope the thieves and
desecrators get what they deserve!

(1)  R.C. Hope, - The Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, 1893.

Access -The spring is located by the roadside.
Condition - Very good, no real change since 1988 (some bushes and trees removed?)