More fun and Games at Spas in London: 2 of many

As we move through London we also find Clerkenwell.

Clerkenwell was donated to the public in 1673 by the 3rd Earl of Northampton who owned the land on which the well was situated. He intended it for the use of the poor of the parish.

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 this 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) which is now  the Islington Local History Centre..

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.

In 1897 the remains of the well was found under the floor of 18 Faringdon Road which was formerly the Parish Watch House. But this site was lost to records again until rediscovered in 1924, during building work in Farringdon Lane. After renovation in 1984, the Clerk’s Well now has an accompanying exhibition outlining the history of the well and its environment in the basement of Well Court. Note that Clerkenwell Close was part of the old nunnery.

St Agnes a Clere’s well

At the entrance to Hoxton is the spa well known as Saint or Dame Agnes a Clere, apparently named after a rich widow, who having been made bankrupt by a lover, drowned herself in it in the 13th or 14yth century – it has been claimed by some sources. Another explanation for the name is that the a Clere stands for La Clair then corrupted to Anisseed Clear!, as being very clear water.

Whilst  Chassereau’s Map of 1745 shows the well on the south side of Old Street at the junction of that thoroughfare with Willow Walk, there was a chequered legal history of exactly where it was situated and who owned the land on which it was situated during the  16th and 17th century. By 1650 the situation was more settled and the Crown claimed the land. They leased it out as it was claimed to help rheumatic or nervous cases.

Of the well Stowe writes in 1603

“Somewhat north from Holy-Well is one other well, curbed square with stone and is called Dame Annis the Clear and not far from it, but somewhat west is also another clear water called Perilous Pond.”

By the time of Rocques Map in 1746 the name Dame Annis the Clear had changed to St Agnes Le Clare as evidenced by the name that later became associated with the Old Street roundabout. The indication from Stowe’s description suggests that the well was located towards the eastern end of Old Street and the name St Agnes Le Clare (on Rocques Map) indicates the approximate position of the well.

In 1731 baths opened based n the well water and by 1834 there were more than 12 rooms operating with some 10,000 gallons of water passing through every 24 hours. As the water was a constant temperature all year round it was very popular.

Unfortunately, in 1845 a fire destroyed much of the building and the spa was not rebuilt.

Holy Well Aldwych

This ‘holy well’ is at present located in the basement of Australia House in the Aldwych, Strand, and can only be accessed via a manhole cover.

The first known mention of the well was by William FitzStephen (ca 1174/1183) a medieval monk who wrote:

“There are also in the northern suburbs of London springs of high quality, with water that is sweet, wholesome, clear, and “whose runnels ripple amid pebbles bright”. Among which Holywell, Clerkenwell and St. Clement’s Well have a particular reputation; they receive throngs of visitors and are especially frequented by students and young men of the city, who head out on summer evenings to take the [country?] air. Truly, a good city – if it has a good lord.”

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