Skip to content

The Holy Well

Finding the site of The Holy Well

Holy Well CrossThe first clue to the site of the Holy Well was a spring shown to have been present in the Glen on an 1884 OS map.

This led the Friends to a location close to the east bank of the stream that traverses the Glen. This location also happened to be the only place in the whole of the woodlands where the background on the north closely matches the background on he photograph taken of the Holy Well in 1914 by Sabine’s grandson, also named Sabine.

Finally Rob and Beverley Stemson identified a pile of broken concrete and, close by, a section of glazed piping jutting out from the bank of a small watercourse. Jane Marchand, archaeologist to the Dartmoor National Park, suggested excavating along the course of the pipe to see where it led. So it was that in the autumn of 2007, Brian Wilkinson followed the glazed pipe for approximately 5’ at a depth of about 2’. At this point the pipe abruptly turned upwards and opened in the centre of what appeared to be the brick foundation of an overflow basin.

Excavating back from the overflow uncovered a 4’3” by 5’ concrete plinth with marks indicating where the stonework of the well had once been embedded. In the centre of the plinth Brian found a slate lined basin the dimensions of which are 2’6 by 2’9 and 2’5 deep. Sadly the only artefact recovered from the well was a 1920s penny. It can be assumed that whatever offerings might at one time have been placed in the well were removed in 1928 along with the stone superstructure.

The start of World War I in 1914, just a year after the garden was created, and the subsequent disappearance to France of young men from the parish must have placed a heavy strain on Sabine’s ability to maintain all the gardens at Lew Trenchard. The garden in the Glen would have been an early casualty. Grace’s health continued to deteriorate and she died in 1916. Sabine was heart-broken and never fully recovered from her death. His own health declined, his own ability to walk any distance was also lost and he died in January 1924 just a few days short of his 90th birthday.

Four years later, in 1928, Sabine’s daughter-in-law, Marion, moved the “wishing well” housing from the neglected wood to form a feature in her new terrace rose garden in front of Lew House.  The woodland garden and the Holy Well were effectively lost… and forgotten for nearly a century.

The original Holy Well in 1914
1884 Ordnance Survey Map

“The Friends” discoveries, restoration and hard work…

From an original account by Ron Wawman.