St. Helen’s Well, Stainland

The eastern portion of the hilltop village of Stainland, above Elland, is known as Holywell Green, on account of St. Helen’s Well, a renown healing well the sad remnants of which can be seen beside Station Road. The well stood near a former Catholic chapel also dedicated to St. Helen, which by the 18th Century had been converted into a private dwelling, although a carved cross was still built into its walls.

In 1597, a charity inquiry recorded “St. Ellen Chapel, Stainland” as already “decayed”, suggesting it was probably abandoned during the Reformation earlier that century. The well itself was first recorded in print by Dr. John Watson in his 1775 work “The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax”, in which he also mentions record of a Henry de Sacro Fonte de Staynland (Henry of the Sacred Well of Stainland) living in the area in the 13th Century.

It is likely that the chapel was dedicated for the well, rather than the other way round as St. Helen was a popular patron of holy wells in Britain, and seems to have been imposed on those wells which already had a reputation for sanctity long before the coming of Christianity. The exact traditions of the well have been lost, although Watson records that Catholics were still making pilgrimages to it in the late 18th Century.

The Victorian fashion for spa-waters saw a resurgence in the popularity of the well, when crowds would gather at  such springs on the morning of Spaw Sunday (the first Sunday of May) to “take the waters” for therapeutic purposes. As a result of this revival, a spring beside Station Road was restored in 1843, although a late 19th Century woodcut shows that by that period it had once more been left to fall into ruin.

Today, this well is something of a pitiful prospect. Whilst it was again restored in 1977 and still stands today, the spring itself has long since dried up due to building work in the area lowering the water table. It is now little more than a trough used for flowers, whilst the views it once commanded across the valley have been disfigured by an ugly estate of modern bungalows. A hostelry named Holy Well Inn still stands nearby.

Curiously, however, there is no historical basis for the original holy well at the extant 1843 site, despite the name of this part of the village. Local antiquarian J.A. Heginbottom argues that the original site is more likely to have been just over half a mile away at Helen Hill Farm on Jagger Green Lane in the valley below. Here, there is a stone cistern with three compartments dating from approximately the late 18th Century, still fed by a spring rising nearby.

Advertisements

Curiosities of Coley Hall

The earliest references to settlement at Coley are found in the Wakefield Court Rolls in 1277 and 1286, pertaining to land owned there by Sir John de Coldelay, whose surname the word Coley was no doubt corrupted from. Later, in 1326, Brother Thomas Larchier, prior of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem recorded that Henry de Coldelay “held a certain tenement in Coldelay of their house,” which is to say that de Coldelay rented the land from the Knights, for the sum of five shillings per annum. For such a tenure, the de Coldelays would have enjoyed certain privileges including not having to submit their corn to be ground at the mill of the Lord of the Manor, or “do suit at his court”.

The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights of Malta or the Knights Hospitaller, were a Christian military order originally established in 1080 to care for sick pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land, their martial designation stemming from the frequent need to provide an armed guard during the Crusades. The Knights were granted an exemption from all but papal authority and from the payment of tithes, whilst they were gifted land across Christendom from which to draw an income. In England, however, all property of the Knights was confiscated during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540 whereupon their land at Coley passed to the Manor of Batley.

The 17th Century Nonconformist preacher and diarist Oliver Heywood, who was for a time incumbent at Coley Chapel wrote that Coley was “once a priory in popish times” but whilst the Hospitalalers certainly owned the land, there is no primary historical or archaeological evidence to suggest they actually maintained a community on the site (although neither has it been strenuously sought). However, certain clues do remain in the name of nearby Priestley Green and the preponderance of holy wells in the area, including Helliwell Syke, Lister Well and St. John’s Well which was believed to possess healing powers and can still be found in a field above the hamlet at Coley Hall.

Nonetheless, several remembrances of the Hospitallers’ ownership of Coley do still endure. The patron saint of the Order was John the Baptist and in addition to St. John’s Well, Coley Church (built in 1812 on the site of the earlier 16th Century chapel) is similarly dedicated, whilst preserved inside the church is the original cross from Coley denoting its tenure. It is also interesting to note that John the Baptist was often depicted as a severed head and the gateway to Coley Hall features a particularly fine example of the archaic stone head motif. Although the relief was carved in 1649 more than a century after the Hospitallers had lost the land, that fact does not preclude the persistence of the image in the local psyche.

The land at Coley passed into the hands of the Sunderland family (of High Sunderland) on 29th April 1572 and it is thought that the body of the current Hall was built by Samuel Sunderland around 1640, passing to his nephew Langdale in 1646. During the Civil Wars, Langdale fought for the Royalists as a Captain of a Troop of Horse under the Earl of Newcastle and whilst he was resident at the Hall, it suffered badly from bombardment by passing Parliamentary troops, necessitating the rebuilding of its south frontage. The victorious Commonwealth later imposed a decimation tax on Langdale forcing him to sell Coley along with the family estates at High Sunderland.

In 1657 the new owner William Horton leased the Hall for fifteen years to Captain John Hodgson, who’d fought for the Parliamentarian cause in the Civil Wars. For a period, Hodgson gave refuge there to Oliver Heywood whose uncompromising Nonconformity had seen him driven out as vicar at Coley Chapel, jailed under the Acts of Uniformity in 1659, prosecuted for riotous assembly and twice excommunicated in 1662 and 1685. Heywood’s controversial reputation was such that he was even accused of witchcraft, when John Hanson declared that following a visit to Heywood’s house the wife of one B. Jagger had “got power” over a maid of Anthony Waterhouse, who soon died.

Over the next few hundred years, Coley Hall passed through the hands of a succession of owners until 1961 when it was bought by Richard Pickles who found it in a near-derelict state and set about restoring it. In articles for the Brighouse Echo dated 24th February and 24th March 1962, Mr. Pickles describes experiencing a number of hauntings at the Hall. In one particular room the bed seemed vibrate for no reason and his dog would growl at some invisible presence moving around the room, whilst a motor mechanic working in a garage converted from old stables adjacent to the Hall was the victim of poltergeist activity which saw him showered with soil and stones.

However, it was Mrs. Pickles who witness the apparitions most associated with the Hall when she was confronted by the figure of a Cavalier leaning against the mantle. This experience was echoed by testimony from Mr. G.E. Gudgin, trustee of the estate of the late John Herbert Fletcher whose wife Anne Sunderland had been the last member of that family to reside at Coley. Gudgin recalled being told by Fletcher that on one occasion he had descended for breakfast to find the ghostly figures of two cavaliers in the morning room. A neighbour also recalled Anne Sunderland once showing him a priest-hole in the Hall, where there was a bloodstain reputed to belong to a murdered cavalier found hiding there.

Some have speculated that one of the Cavalier ghosts was that of Langdale Sunderland, expressing his displeasure at the Hall’s later occupancy by his Parliamentarian rivals John Hodgson and Oliver Heywood. However, this doesn’t entirely fit as Langdale dies in 1698, long after Hodgson’s tenancy had ended and ownership of the Hall returned to the Sunderland family in 1775. Nonetheless, the Cavaliers were the most frequently seen spectres, even though there were supposedly others; Anne Sunderland also used to speak of the ghost of a white lady known as Caroline Anne who would appear from the oak panelled bedroom at the top of the main staircase.

Horley Green Spa, Shibden

In a small copse on the flanks of the Shibden Valley, no great distance from the Godley Cutting, stands an incongruous building with a Classical facade and some forty yards above it, a three-storey Georgian-style edifice. These structures are the legacy of a spa resort popular in the 18th and 19th Century which exploited a natural mineral spring in the hillside, known as one of the strongest in the country. A variety of medicinal benefits were claimed for it and it’s recorded that people travelled from miles around to take the waters.

The spa house itself was built circa 1780 by landowner James Drake (although it is interesting to speculate whether its use for healing had an older provenance as a holy well). Local physicians such as Dr. Robert Alexander would recommend its use to treat a range of complaints including diabetes, poor circulation and digestive complaints. Such was draw of the resort, Upper Spa House had to be constructed around a decade later to accommodate the growing number of visitors coming from across the north of England.

Dr. Thomas Garnett of Harrogate visited the establishment in 1790 and subsequently published the pamphlet “Experiments and Observations on the Horley Green Spa, near Halifax” in which he observed, “The Horley Green water is quite pellucid – sparkles when poured out of one glass into another – and has a sharp, aluminous, styptic taste, not unlike ink. The taste is not unpleasant when the water is taken from the springhead and drank immediately; but if taken only a few yards from the source its taste is more disagreeable”.

The popularity of the spa in the late 18th Century was clearly short-lived and it had apparently fallen into dereliction by 1840. However, the Victorian craze for hydrotherapy led to its restoration in 1840 by Dr. William Alexander, grandson of its earlier champion Dr. Robert Alexander. The reopened spa also included a bath-house for full immersion in the waters, enclosing the spring in a trough 14 x 12 feet long and 3.5 feet deep. The floor of the trough was flagged, beneath which there was a course of cobbles to further aid filtration.

Alexander published his own pamphlet titled “The Horley Green mineral water: its new chemical analysis and medicinal uses”, in which he somewhat unsurprisingly declared “I unhesitatingly affirm that the Horley Green Spa possesses a very strong claim to be regarded as a powerful tonic and chalybeate”. Analysis of the water at the time found it held a constant temperate of 48.5°F and contained “carbonic acid gas, nitrogen, sulphate of iron, sulphate of lime, sulphate of magnesia, chloride of calcium and aluminium”.

It is not recorded how many years the site operated under William Alexander’s guidance but inevitably, the spa fell into dereliction again once modern medicine had largely discredited the efficacy of hydrotherapy treatments. The building was restored sometime in the late 20th Century as a domestic residence, despite containing a limited number of rooms. The spring itself was discovered choked with stones but owner Philip Reid stated his intention to maintain the spa, albeit for historical rather than commercial purposes.

Published in: on April 24, 2010 at 13:37  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,

St. Peter’s Church, Hartshead

 

Although this church lies on the very border of Calderdale with Kirklees, its status as an integral part of the ancient parish of Hartshead-cum-Clifton means that its associations with the region are strong enough to warrant its inclusion here. It is one of the oldest churches in the district and a place of worship is first recorded at the site in 1120 when the Earl of Warren granted it to the Priory of Lewes, although it was possibly the location of an earlier Saxon chapel. Although the church was extensively restored in 1881, the chancel arch, west tower and south door are believed to be remnants of the 12th Century Norman structure.

Arguably, the church’s greatest claim to fame is that Reverend Patrick Brontë, father of the famous literary sisters, was incumbent here between 1810 and 1815. The Luddite attack on Cartwright Mill at Rawfolds occurred during his tenure and his memoirs from that period provided his daughter Charlotte with material for her novel “Shirley”. Although Brontë was an opponent of the Luddite movement, it is said that one night he witnessed some of the men killed during the failed assault receive a surreptitious burial in the south-eastern corner of the churchyard and did not intervene. There is still a space where their unmarked graves lie.

It was a curious local superstition for Hartshead folk to hold a vigil in the porch of the church every year on St. Mark’s Eve (24th April) from 11pm to 1am. The vigil had to be carried out for three years in succession and on the third year, the watchers were supposed to witness the spirits of all those who would die in the year ahead process into the church. It is said that if anybody whose name was mentioned as amongst those seen on St. Mark’s Eve fell ill during the course of the following year, they often despaired of recovery and some are actually supposed to have died as a result of their anxiety arising from such gossip.

Given the proximity of Kirklees Park and the long association of the Armytage family with the church, it is unsurprising that a couple of Robin Hood legends have attached themselves to it. It is said locally that he cut his last arrows from a yew tree in the churchyard, the dead trunk of which can still be seen standing there today. Meanwhile, the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society has suggested that the original stone from his grave — recorded by Nathaniel Johnston and others in the 17th Century but which some believe vanished from the grave site long ago — may be the medieval slab inscribed with a simple Calvary cross lying next to the south-east door of the church. However, this has been disputed.

Just to the north of the church, now almost entirely concealed beneath a hawthorn tree, lies the Lady Well. The origin of the name is likely to be Our Lady’s Well, referring to the Virgin Mary, which suggests it was once an important holy well used for baptisms in the earliest period of Christianity in England. Local historian H.N. Pobjoy thinks it possible that the 7th Century missionary and first Archbishop of York Paulinus may have performed baptisms here and like many such wells, it was probably regarded as sacred long before the arrival of Christianity. It’s presence certainly attests to the antiquity of worship around the site of the church.

Curiosities of Priestley Green

Located in the pastoral tract of land between Lightcliffe and Norwood Green, just down the road from Coley, the community of Priestley Green is a remarkably serene locale, its sense of repose only ever disturbed by the thrum of the 4x4s which seem so popular in this disproportionately affluent district. There is a distinct sense of place here. Perhaps it is simply a reflection of the relative lack of population density compared to surrounding areas. Or perhaps it is an atmosphere which has always been felt here, an atmosphere of sanctity which led a community of monks to settle here in the early Middle Ages and provide it with its name. Perhaps it had been regarded as a holy place long before that even, a conclusion which might be drawn from the concentration of holy wells in the vicinity of the hamlet.

The first and most imposing of these is Helliwell Syke Well (which means “holy well by boggy land”) where a spring feeds a series of four troughs adjacent to Syke Lane as it approaches Priestley Green from Lightcliffe. It is set amidst a profusion of ash-trees, which are often associated with sacred waters. There has been evidence of a well at Helliwell Syke since Saxon times according to J. Horsfall Turner’s 1893 History of Brighouse, Rastrick & Hipperholme. By 1373 the Wakefield court rolls record that a nearby settlement of the same name had been abandoned following the enclosure of the site by Henry de Bentley. However, the well was clearly important enough to have remained in common use after that time. Indeed, it was clearly still utilised in the 19th Century when the trough complex seen today was constructed.

The second site is set into the pavement in the centre of the hamlet and is known as Lister’s Well or more simply just as the Holy Well. Less is known about this and some writers on the subject have speculated as to whether this well and Helliwell Syke have been conflated in the literature over the ages. However, a 1904 reference records that it was believed to “possess magic cures for all who drank its crystal waters, and pilgrimages were made to it”. Meanwhile, the fact that it has been retained as part of the structure of the pavement when so many others holy wells (such as Alegar Well or a holy well recorded at Woodhouse Lane in Rastrick which appears on Ordnance Survey maps until 1938) were simply tarmacked over suggests that some memory of its importance survived.

The third example – St. John’s Well – is technically at Coley but still lies within the same square mile, whilst the history of Priestley Green and its neighbour are possibly connected. The story of Coley will be explored more fully in a subsequent entry on Coley Hall but it is germane to mention here that between the 13th and 16th Century the tenure of the land was held by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem also known as the Knights Hospitaller. As their name suggests, John the Baptist was their patron and this is reflected in the dedication of the church at Coley today and of course, St. John’s Well. There are also suggestions that the Knights’ actually founded a priory at Coley and whilst there is no archaeological evidence for this, it would certainly tie in with the tradition of a monastic community at Priestley Green and its abundance of holy wells.

A more recent tradition concerning Priestley Green pertains to the Sisters’ House, which stands directly behind Lister’s Well. A dwelling on this site is recorded as far back as the 13th Century but the current cottage was built in 1630 by Samuel Sunderland of nearby Coley Hall. Local legend says that it was once home to the Appleyard sisters who for want of a place to worship nearby decided they would found a church themselves. However, they disagreed over precisely where it should be located so they built one each, Coley Chapel and Eastfield Chapel, with the house supposedly exactly half-way between the two. The story is doubtless intended to explain how two chapels came to be built so close together but it is demonstrably apocryphal as the chapels were built in 1529, a whole century before the Sisters’ House.

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.