WELL DRESSING: LOCAL CUSTOMS

Posted: July 12, 2014 in Chat
Tags: , , ,

2014-07-05 07.23.44

There are many and conflicting theories about the origin of Well Dressing.

The most touching I heard was that it was a kind of blessing and thanks for God’s mercy for sparing villages from the plague. Once villagers’ showed symptoms, it was said, the whole village took it upon themselves to isolate themselves from surrounding villages to not to spread the contagion further. Any food or necessities were left at the village boundary and no contact whatsoever was to take place. It is recorded that every member of some families died; even the village the priest died. No one was there to bury the dead. Terrible times. The few who remained afterwards blessed the well – maybe thought to be the one fount of clean water.

Was it a blessing to the local naiad; then Christianised and dedicated to a Saint connected with the local parish church? Or was it indeed a later attempt to introduce local colour and custom? It is  also claimed the Tissington well in Derbyshire was the first to bless its well, after a 14th Century plague.

Wikipedia has it the ceremony was started in the Nineteenth Century, at the instigation of local wealthy landowners

The ceremony takes place now throughout Derbyshire as well places in Staffordshire, Cheshire, South Yorkshire, Shropshire. There has even been a ceremony in Kent.

The practice is the same in each location:

a large wooden frame is constructed and plastered with wet clay. This has to be kept very wet, and dunking in a local river or stream becomes part of the ceremony. The design for the year is then traced onto the clay and filled out with flower petals. Originally these must have been the plentiful local field flowers. Modern farming methods have all-but eradicated those, so presumably garden flowers are used, supplemented no doubt by Garden Centre hybrids and exotics.

The design of the board shape need not be standard, either. There have been boards with staggered recesses giving a sense of moving into or through a local scene. There have been triptychs, and boards shaped like Romanesque church vaults. Most Dressings now commemorate some local view, activity, religious date, or event.

Not all Dressings commemorate such serious events. In 2012 the town of Bollington in Cheshire produced this board:

Bollington Well Dressing 2011 054

It shows media personality and astronomer Professor Brian Cox, before the Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope.

The Dressing is then installed, usually covering the local water source. This installation ceremony may be accompanied with Morris Dancing, or ceilidh music, religious readings, to the theme of the Dressing.

The ceremonies take place between May and September in various places; sometimes more than one in a village. The Dressing is kept in place for a week or two, depending on the atmospheric humidity and the dry-out rate of the clay.

2014 Bollington, Cheshire, Well Dressing commemorates the local brass band. The two half side panels show a player performing, the central board a variety of brass instruments in lovely gold petals; and the bottom board the commemorative plaque in petals.

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There are two smaller off side panels in white. Those are local doctors John and Jean Coope. They helped set up many cultural events for the local community. John Coope received the MBE medal for his activities; Dr Jean Coope did wonderful work, and also deserved much recognition for her work in the areas of women’s health.

2014-07-05 07.20.10

http://www.bollingtonwelldressing.co.uk/

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Comments
  1. Fascinating! – thanks for this, Michael!

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