In Elizabethan time, London was dotted with wells all over to provide (safe) drinking water. Some of the more notable such wells were the holy wells by St Bride and St Clement, and the Clerk’s well by St John of Jerusalem.
Mentioned by Fitzstephen as early as 1174, the Clerk’s Well was the scene of medieval miracle plays performed by the Parish Clerks of London, and gave its name to the district of Clerkenwell.
Until the reformation, the well was located in the boundary wall of St Mary’s Nunnery. After the dissolution of the nunnery and the destruction of its boundary wall, the well was located in the basement of a building in Ray Street (now Farringdon Lane).
In 1800 a pump was placed at pavement level to facilitate public use but by the middle of the 19th century the well had been closed. The exact location of this important site was uncertain but was rediscovered in 1924, during building work in Farringdon Lane.
Bagnigge Well, aka Reddewell or Reedwell, belonged to the Benedictine Nunnery of St Mary’s Clerkenwell. It got its name Bagnigge from the valley which followed the route of the Hloebourne between Clerkenwell and Battle Bridge – which was Bagnigge Vale. Battle Bridge was so named after a an ancient bridge over The Fleet where Boudica‘s army is said to have fought an important battle against the Romans. Battle Bridge is now Kings Cross Station. There is also a small brook called Bagnigge Wash. This area was frequently flooded as it was originally a swamp! The Holebourne and the Fleet were navigable up to this point well into the 1700s and Bagnigge House was thought to be the country residence of Nell Gwynne.
The wells at Bagnigge consisted of 2 different types of water – one of which was noted for being a purgative. And it is interesting how many holy wells and spa wells had this type of effect and that this made them very popular – presumably because of the lack of regular vegetables in the common diet.
As in my previous post, these spa or holy wells had many entertainments for the gentry and the masses developed alongside, much in the way you would develop a seaside, at Bagnigge there were skittles, bowls and tea house. If you can spot it, the wells are noted in a tablet between 61-63 Kings Cross road where Bagnigge House originally stood.
Further down from Battle Bridge on Gray’s Inn Road was a mineral spring dedicated to St Chad. This well also had gardens and recreational activities associated with it in the 1700s. This water was also claimed to be purgative, diuretic and a mild tonic – all at the same time! To find it you will need to look for St Chad’s Place and then the Met Line which has built over it.
The old parish church of St Pancras also had a spa and a well with extensive gardens and avenues of trees. Difficult to believe now as all you can see are pavements and buildings.. These waters were according to Mr Edward Martin, the proprietor in 1697:
“ a powerful antidote against rising of the vapous, also against stone and gravel and as a general and sovereign help to nature.”
Sadler’s Well was thought to be used by the monks of St John’s Priory.
From “The Political State of the British Empire” by John Adolphus, 1818
“As the water was found to be ferruginous [by Mr. SADLER], though not so much impregnated with iron as those of Tunbridge Wells in Kent, they were immediately recommended as useful in removing obstructions in the system, and purifying the blood.
Sadler’s Wells was inclosed within a wall of considerable extent, with several fine trees within”
From “The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction” by Reuben Percy, John Timbs, 1839
“ Henry VIII., in 1538, dissolved the priory and its revenues; when the well, to which superstitious uses were ascribed, was covered over: and as no water was in any way known to be derivable from it, time, which obliterates all things, annulled, even in the memory of man, all cognizance or remembrance of it for nearly a century and a half.
The dissolute manners prevalent in the reign of Charles II., gave encouragement to a variety of music-houses in and about the metropolis, but none of them attained the popularity or celebrity of that erected on the north side of the New River Head, on the site of the present theatre, by a person named SADLER; who, being made surveyor of the highways, and having good gravel in his own ground, the garden attached to the music-house, employed two men to dig there, and in digging, the pickaxe struck upon a broad flat stone, which being raised, was found to have been supported by four oaken posts, and under it a large well, encircled by stone, arched over, and curiously sculptured. SADLER, impelled by its singularity, conceived it had some medicinal quality, and as such, had been used in former times: his conjecture was confirmed on reference to a physician.
He at first sold the water in bottles, then in roundlets, till at last Dr. MORTON advised his patients to drink the water as a restorative; and its salubrity induced Sadler’s Well to be visited, in 1684, by from five to six hundred persons every morning.”
- Sunderland S. – Old London’ s Spas, Baths and Wells, (Bale and Danielsson) 1915
- Foord A. – Springs, Streams and Spas of London, (Fisher Unwin) 1910
- Stowe J. – London Survey 1598
- Strye J. – London survey update 1720