Yorkshire Holy Wells



St Robert's Well - Knaresborough
(SE 3630 5647)

According to some local history books the location of St Roberts Well has been lost, but Calvert's History of Knaresborough (1844) describes St Robert's Well as being near the York Road, about 1 mile from the town. Calvert also relates how prior to 1791 it had been an open well about two feet deep but at that date bathing facilities were built at the well, because of its value as a cold bath.
Checking the 1850's OS map revealed a place marked as "Cold Bath" near the York Road, just as described by Calvert, and this site was connected by a track to St Robert's cave and chapel 400m to the south west. The 1980's OS map showed a stream still running across an open field, but on a visit to the area in March 2000 it was rather a shock to find the whole site had become a business park with an interesting sign post at its entrance.

Checking the map showed the Monkswell business park was indeed right on the site of St Robert's well/Cold Bath and so that seemed to be the end of it, the spring having been swept away or buried under the development. However i could not leave without a quick look at the sign post 'well feature' and was very suprised to hear the sound of running water from within it. A strong flow of clear water enters the well shaft through a pipe at about six feet below ground level, and as this well serves no practical purpose so it appears to have been built to preserve the site of the spring which fed St Robert's Well and the Cold Bath.
Apart from the litter that has been dropped into the well there were quite a number of coins below the metal grid which covers the well shaft, so this holy well lives on in a strange continuity from the medieval St Robert's well to the 18th century Cold Bath and into the era of modern business ..........another of St Robert's miracles perhaps?

There is also a St Robert's Well at Levisham between Pickering and Whitby, which may be linked with the activities of this saint.


St Robert of Knaresborough

Robert Floure was originally a monk at Whitby during the 12th century, but seeking a life of solitude and being inspired by god, he visited a hermit who lived by the river at Knaresborough. Soon after this the hermit returned to his secular life and Robert took the hermits place, living in a small cave cut into rocky bank of the river Nidd, the cave entrance having a simple chapel (of st Gyles?) built around it.
(See picture on right)
Although living as a recluse, his piety soon attracted followers and gifts from local benefactors which included land alongside the river. Tradition relate that he performed healing miracles and tamed wild animals, using forest deer to pull his plough.
Before his death St Robert established an order of Trinitarian Friars at Knasborough, but he warned them that when his time came the monks of Fountains abbey would try to carry his body away to their own establishment, he urged his followers to resist them, which they did and so St Robert was buried in his chapel cut from the steep rocky crags by the river, where it was said that a medicinal oil flowed from his tomb and pilgrims came from near and far to be healed by this.
It tempting to see some sort of tradition of strange/holy people living in caves by the river at Knaresborough with the original hermit, then St Robert and his cave/chapel (into which the river could flood) and later Mother Shipton in her cave by the Dropping well.

Access - the modern well structure is on the grass verge by the roadside.
Condition - Good, but shame about the litter - polystyrene sandwich boxes!