Alegar Well, Brighouse

Today, Alegar Street is probably best known to residents of the town as a rat-run for motorists between Clifton Common and Wakefield Road. However, the name of the road is the only surviving indication that nearby was the site of the Alegar Well, a holy well of some local repute in days gone by. Doubtless many may have briefly wondered at the name “Alegar” which is unique to Brighouse and derives from the older name, Ellicker Well, believed to a corruption of the Old English “helly carr” meaning “holy slope”. Sadly, the well itself has long since been lost beneath the sprawl of the adjacent Armytage Road Industrial Estate.

In an article for the Brighouse Echo, dated 6th October 1994, local history correspondent “Rowan” describes how in the 19th Century, young men and women from across the area would gather at the well on the morning of Palm Sunday. They would have with them a corked bottle which they filled with waters from the well, then added Spanish liquorice and shook up to form a black concoction known locally as Popololli. It was renown as an occasion to meet the opposite sex and you wonder if couples who met there would “plight their troth” by drinking from the same bottle, as was the practice at certain other holy wells in the north of England.

It is probable that the Victorian custom was a remembrance of when in earlier centuries the holy well was a place of Christian pilgrimage owing to a belief in the healing properties of its waters and according to Edna Whelan in Source magazine, to perform baptisms. Certainly if the name does derive from “holy slope” that confirms the well as having a much older provenance than the 19th Century. Indeed, some folklorists have suggested that the very notion of healing waters is a folk memory of the pre-Christian veneration of wells, springs and other water sources, which were regarded as liminal zones close to the Otherworld.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The garage is over the well I believe–an elderly man told me. It is, according to the ley line theory, a blocked ley that crosses over via Robin Hood’s well and Hartshead Church.

    barbara

  2. Odd place for a well. There’s a free flowing stream adjacent to Alegar Street and the Garage in question which flows into the slow moving River Calder about 250 metres further down. Why dig a well when the stream, which carries run off from the hills above is so close?

    • If it was a holy well, then it would’ve been a natural spring rather than a bored well. Quite how it came to have a sacred reputation attached is a matter for much speculation. If the name “Alegar” is truly a corruption of “Ellicker” meaning “holy slope” then it was probably just once known as “holy well”.

      In his survey of such sites in England, Jeremy Harte notes that such baldly named examples primarily date from the early medieval period (i.e. late Anglo-Saxon/pre-Norman Conquest) and typically obtained their name as a result of being used as baptismal pools (or just plain water sources) attached to a nearby hermit’s cell.

      This could be one explanation as to the origin of the well, although it is extremely speculative and relies on a number of unverifiable assumptions. A more prosaic suggestion might be that the spring became important during the Industrial Revolution, when clean groundwater would be a preferable option to the mill-polluted waters of the nearby Calder or Clifton Beck!


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