Clitheroe has three old town wells and they are all worth a visit. Each of them is enclosed by walls and has a flagged floor that would have held a pool of water. They were the town’s only water supply until the mid 1850s. We’ll look at each of them in turn.
St Mary’s Well on Well Terrace
The name ‘St Mary’s’ suggests this was a Holy Well, and Historic England’s Pastscape website lists it as possibly dating from medieval times. Today, it stands by a bus shelter on a busy road. There are two stepped entrances opposite each other down into the well. A stone gangway splits the well into two unequal halves. In the central part of the larger pool area stands a very worn cube shaped stone. This looks like it was used for washing clothes. The top stones on the wall by the entrances are also very worn, presumably from generations of people steadying themselves on entering and exiting the well.
Heild Well on Wellgate
Heild Well is found on Wellgate by the Dog Inn, and is also called The Town’s Well. The unusual term Heild is thought to derive from the fact that it once had a roof on top. It is the largest of the three wells and was first recorded in 1634. Some of the big stone slabs that make up parts of the walls are held together with metal staples. As well as the steps going down into the pool area, at one entrance there are two sets of steps going ‘up’. These resemble horse mounting blocks, but whether they are or not is unclear – perhaps they are connected with the pub which dates from the 1700s and which used to be called The Dog and Partridge.
Both St Mary’s and Heild Wells bear a metal plaque on them which states “This well was one of the three public wells which formed the water supply of the borough until the establishment of the waterworks on Grindleton Fell under the Water Works act of 1854. Soroptimist International 1992″. The Soroptimists are a world wide charity that campaign for the rights of girls and women, and you can see their website by clicking here.
Stock Well off Parsons Lane
Stock Well is just off Parsons Lane, but the easiest way to find it is to approach it through Clitheroe Castle grounds. It gets its name from the town stocks, which are built into it. These were probably put here after their removal from the market square. The nearby plaque states “The smallest of the three borough wells used until water was supplied in 1856. It is first recorded in 1645. The well was sealed in 1880 after two children narrowly escaped drowning. The adjoining field was Stock Well Meadow”. This well only has one entrance (where the stocks are located) and does not have the the big tall and thick retaining walls of the two other wells, nor does it have steps down to a flagged area.
There was a cholera outbreak in 1849 in Clitheroe, which led the Local Board of Health to become increasingly worried about providing a clean and plentiful water supply to the town. Following a report of a Mr. B.H. Babbage, the Clitheroe Water Works company was set up. This created a reservoir in West Bradford to bring water to newly installed town pumps. After this, the three wells were largely abandoned. This kind of pioneering work by the Victorians was replicated in town after town as the populations boomed – have a look at the work done in Darwen on our page about Holker House here.
Today no water flows into the wells, but they are in good condition, if looking a little neglected. Clitheroe Civic Society has approached Ribble Valley Borough Council with a view to further conserving them. In these days of clean piped water into every home, it’s easy to take water supply for granted. Next time you are in Clitheroe, why not go and have a look at these once essential resources.
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018
All open access. St Mary’s Well is on Well Terrace in between bus stops, Heild Well is on Wellgate in front of the Dog Inn and Stock Well is off Parson Lane, but best approached through the Castle Grounds. Take an A-Z with you to find the streets, or just download a town map on your phone.
Nearby just a short walk away Clitheroe Castle
Just a short drive away Edisford Bridge
Henry Taylor : The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire: A Revised Version: Volume III: Blackburn Hundred, Volume editor A.J.Noble General Editor J.A.Hilton, North West Catholic History Soceity, Wigan 2004