Watnall’s wonderful curative well

by Ross Parish

A stone throw away from Giltbrook Retail Park, with the bustle of Ikea, is a little known and poorly recorded sacred spring called simply the Holy Well (SK 499 456). Found in wooded area beside Trough Lane. Approached by a path walled along both sides, the well itself, although often dry, is an interesting example. It is enclosed in a stone recess with a rusty iron gate with a dove affixed on it bearing the legend Holy Well. Beside the wall is a plaque which tells the story of the well.

The story relates that a local boy who lived opposite was very ill, bedridden and close to death. A local priest called for water to be drawn for the boy from the well. This was done and the boy became well. The well was considered holy after this.

That is it. Interestingly, it’s the only legend of its nature, one which records a cure, in all the Nottinghamshire holy wells. It is a shame one cannot find a date or check its provenance, a fact supported by local history author Mr. John Lee. The use of priest is significant does the story may indicate the Catholic revival in holy wells in the 19th century? However, the only Catholic associations locally are that of Hilltop at Greasley for there was, and is, only a Methodist chapel in Watnall.

I am of the opinion that it is a romanticism of the 1800s, but there is a possible record in the ‘The Manor of Bevall in the County of Nottingham’ document, commissioned by the Honourable Dame Elizabeth Capell in 1653Amongst the records it appears a number of times as:

 ‘Holy Well Furlong 2 lands bounded with John Richards west and William Hickton east’.

A 1724 Capps Survey of Watnall Cantelupe notes that Joseph Richards had some lands lying in a close called the Flatts or Holliwell understandably took its name from Holy Well.  There is also note of a holwell croft field name in the 1500s at Greasley which again may describe this site or another and such suggests that it derives from O.E hol meaning ‘hollow’ a common misconception when identifying prospective holy wells. Jeremy Harte (2008) in his English Holy Wells suggests that those holy wells called Holy Well are pre-Medieval in origin so perhaps this site is one of the most ancient in the county.

I was told on my first visit there by an elderly man that he was baptised there (or water used from it used for his baptism) before attempting to inexplicably trying to discourage me from finding it (due to his wariness of me I failed to discover the nature of his baptism or of what denomination). According to locals in the lane the plaque and present state of the well dates from the 1980s and was done in partnership with the local council.

The house opposite is called ‘The Springs’ was this name of the well before the ‘present’ name and so it is ‘modern’ holy well per se, does the statement ‘the well was considered holy after this’ support this later date, although I think the 18thcentury survey is significant.

Watnall Holy Well (26)

The plaque telling the legend with a strange collection of garden ornaments…a wise owl looks- Photo Credit: RB Parish

Watnall Holy Well (5)

Closer view of the plaque- Photo Credit: RB Parish

Watnall Holy Well (23)

A venerable old gnome looks on, there are about twenty such ornaments…I don’t remember these on my first visit but there wear and tear says otherwise- Photo Credit: RB Parish

It is, despite its odd pedigree, one of the more delightful of the counties sacred water sites. If any read knows more about it please leave a comment.


Extracted from R.B Parish Holy Wells and healing springs of Nottinghamshire.

Interested in holy wells and healing springs? Visit Ross’s website at:



About nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam

Originally formed in 1965 to try to save or at least record before destruction the cave sites continually discovered during the major redevelopment of the City that took place in Nottingham in the 1960′s. Almost every day new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was notified; last thing they wanted was someone telling them to stop what they were doing; TIME is MONEY. The word HIDDEN in the Team’s title is because a lot of what was being invisibly lost in the redevelopment was our early history in the caves, they are under most, if now all, of Nottingham. In the 80’s and 90’s the Team conducted with the help of Dr Robert Morrell and Syd Henley, research and work on Nottingham’s history, folklore and local archaeology. The Team published quarterly magazines on their findings. The Team lapsed for a few years after the death of Paul Nix who was the team leader for thirty plus years. The Team has reformed and is now back working on Nottingham local history. On this blog you will find a series of history, folklore and archaeological related articles and information. Most of the material published will be specifically related to Nottingham/shire local history.
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