Well Dressed - Celebrating Hercule Poirot & St Leonard

Each year, wells across the county are dressed up for a few weeks over the bank holiday weekend. This year we had the well dressing teams from Holymoorside and Spital Cemetery get in touch to let us know what they'd been up to.


WIKI: Well dressing, also known as well flowering, is a tradition practised in some parts of rural England in which wells, springs and other water sources are decorated with designs created from flower petals. The custom is most closely associated with the Peak District of Derbyshire and Staffordshire. James Murray Mackinlay, writing in 1893, noted that the tradition was not observed in Scotland; W. S. Cordner, in 1946, similarly noted its absence in Ireland. Both Scotland and Ireland do have a long history of the veneration of wells, however, dating from at least the 6th century.


The custom of well dressing in its present form probably began in the late 18th century, and evolved from "the more widespread, but less picturesque" decoration of wells with ribbons and simple floral garlands.


Holymoorside: John Botham


John Botham has been in touch to let us know that this year they celebrated 100 years of Hercule Poirot! Agatha Christie's first novel, 'The Mysterious Affair at Styles', was first published in 1920.


The scene is Poirot and Hastings searching the bedroom - see if you can find all ten clues! (The snails are not clues, they're a Holymoorside tradition!)

In the frame, we illustrated four Hercule Poirot novels for visitors to identify.

This year we just completed one well dressing, in order to allow us to socially distance. Unfortunately, we decided we could not do the children's or teen's well. This smaller frame separates into five pieces, so we were able to spread out. It also helps that we always work outdoors anyway, which is safer. We put up gazebos, but the weather was not kind! It still took longer to complete because of the limited numbers.


The Holymoorside well dressing is always up for two weeks, starting the Friday before August Bank Holiday, so 2021 it will be 27 August to 12 September.


Spital Cemetery: Margaret Hersee

As many well dressings have been cancelled this year, we had wondered if we would be able to go ahead. We had planned to do St Leonard for a number of years as this year was the 125th anniversary of the opening of St Leonard's Mission and John Gascoyne had put in a request that we 'do' him at some point.


St Leonard was a Norman abbot in France and England who died in AD559. Always depicted holding a length of chain, he was known for his work with prisoners and for his healing. As in many areas, the local leper hospital from the 12th century was named after him. When the new mission chapel opened on Valley Road in Spital 125 years ago, that too was dedicated to him. The dressing was sited next to where the remains of a leper priest, discovered in a garden opposite in 2000, are buried.


Thanks to: Catherine, Helen, Kate, Lyn, Margaret and Sally for publicity and decorative work. Thanks also to Martyn,

Liz, Stuart and Alan for help with transport to and from the site in the Cemetery.


The additional image shows a salmon in mosaic format which was on display by Don Catchment Rivers Trust at Tapton Lock Visitors Centre.



Words: Paul Chapman

Images: John Botham & Margaret Hersee

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