Oswald's Well (Chapel Well) - Great Ayton
The site of this once famous well is
located just to the north of Great Ayton village, in a small fenced off
area at the edge of a grassy field. Today the well is a wet boggy area
at the foot of a Hawthorn bush (dead?). But a very different picture of
the well is painted by the Rev. George Young in his "History of
"At the north end of Cliffrigg Wood, a little to the east
of Langbargh quarry, is a copious spring, once the resort of
superstition. It was supposed that when a shirt or shift was taken from
a sick person and thrown into this well, the person would recover if it
floated, but would die if it sunk. A rag of the shirt was torn off and
hung on the bushes, as an offering to St Oswald, to whom the well was
dedicated; and so numerous were the devotees, that, as an ancient writer
states, the quantity of rags, suspended around the well, might have
furnished material for a ream of paper. It is called Chapel Well, having
once had a chapel, or cell, beside it, with a bath and other
conveniences*. As superstition is the handmaid of impiety, it is not
suprising to find that a sunday fair was held here for many ages: this
disgraceful nuisance is now happily removed.
* Brand's pop antiqu. II. p267, & Grave's Hist. p221."
The wells healing waters appear to have had chalybeate
properties, as orange-red deposits are still visible on the boggy
surface of the spring, unfortunately the spring head is now so choked
that the waters seep away instead of flowing along its former drainage
channel. However probing through the mud reveals what may be a paved or
cobbled area in front of the spring.
The well lies on the parish boundary between Great Ayton and Guisborough,
while to the west of the well a little used single track railway line
lies a little too close for comfort, but the view to the east is
dominated by the mountain-like peak of Roseberry Topping (anciently
called Odinsberg) where legend has it, Oswy, the young son of king
Oswald, drowned in the Odinsberg spring high
up on the hill top.
A footpath leading up to the summit passes near to the well and it is
possible the two places were connected in local tradition.
Francis Grose - 'The Antiquities of
and Wales' (1773).
"Between the towns of Alten and Newton near the foot of Roseberrye
Toppinge there is a well dedicated to St Oswald. The neighbours
have an opinion that a shirt or shift taken off a sick person and thrown
into that well, will show whether that person will recover or die; for
if it floated it denoted the recovery of the party; if it sunk, there
remained no hope of their life: and to reward the saint for his intelligence
, they tear off a rag off the shirt and leave it hanging on the
briars thereabouts: where i have seen such numbers as might have made a
fayre rheme in a paper mill."