A Garden is a grand teacher

Excerpt from

The Beauties of a Cottage Garden



Gertrude Jekyll.

A Garden is a grand teacher. it teaches patiences and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all, it teaches entire trust. ‘Paul planneth and Apollo watereth, but God giveth the increase’. The good gardener knows with absolute certainty that if he does his part, if he give his labour, the love, and every aid that his knowledge of his craft, experience of the conditions of his place, and exercise of his personal with can work together to suggest, that so surely as he does this diligently and faithfully, so surly will God give the increase.

Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) was a garden designer who collaborated with Edwin Lutyens the architect and was involved in the design of Hampstead Garden Village.

Her Cottage Garden style encouraged the use of plants with scents and that were native (or nearly) and good for wildlife, and some of these can be seen here in pictures taken by Jim Coakes of the garden at 58a Teignmouth Road.

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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.”

Holy Wells – Fun and Games in London Post 1:

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.

Holy Well Clerkenwell as seen today at museum

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.bagniggewells

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:St Pancras Holywell

“ 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.”

Spas and Wells in London and around

It is not very well known that within the boundaries of what is now Greater London, lay a number of spas where the water was indicated to be of healing quality and thus frequented by many people in the past.

I live close by one in Kilburn – more of which later in this post – so I decided to investigate just what I could find out about other such spas within London and what they were renowned for, and when.

There is a fabulous text written in 1910 by Alfred Stanley Ford which attempts to cover all the spas in London that he could discover and this book I am going to abridge and quote from as appropriate. Other references are to be found at the bottom of the text.

Springs, Streams and Spas of London

Alfred Stanley Foord


[Extracted from:}

Outside the City of London, in the western suburbs there are 3 good sized brooks: the Hole-Bourne; the Ty-Bourne; and the West-Bourne. All arise in the higher lands of Highgate and Hampstead.

The Hole-Bourne – means the burn on the hollow or ravine – and these hollows are to be found in Hockley-in-the-Hole (an area of Clerkenwell in central London, roughly where Ray Street Bridge stands near Farringdon Road) and Black Mary’s Hole (aka Bagnigge Wells), also in Clerkenwell.

Black Mary’s Hole or Well, was a small hamlet on the bank of the Fleet River and Black Mary’s Field was nearby. The iron impregnated water of the well was supposedly good for sore eyes.

This area was noted not only for the well and the waters but also for highway robbery in the 1730s and perhaps more unusually, as a gay cruising ground in the early 1700s.

Although well known also as Bagnigge Wells because the River Bagnigg passed through it, the land was leased at one point to a Mary, who kept a black cow in the field, and who mixed her milk with the water to enhance the drink. But there are other stories according to the Dabbler about the origin of the name and it may actually have belonged to a free black woman, possibly one Mary Woolaston who looked after the well at one point. The well is of course, no longer visible from the street level.

It is also worth noting that many of these streams were altered or covered when the railways were built, and indeed the Hole-Bourne’s stream bed is used near Farringdon by the Met Line.

Further down the Hole-Bourne (see Holborn) runs into the Fleet River which was navigable up to this point as was evident by the street names such as  (Old)Seacole/Seacoal Lane. Fleet is the Anglo-Saxon word meaning tidal inlet and probably held the oldest tidal mill in the world (Roman in origin it is thought). So many wells were built along the Fleet that in the 13th century it was known as the River of Wells.

The main source of the Fleet comes from Hampstead Heath, down Flask Walk, by Willow Road (once a steep ditch) to South End Green and Kentish Town Fields. From the East a small stream near the current railway line joined it, and still further east was the Ken (Caen) Wood Springs.

The Ty-Bourne which was originally named the Teo-burna, which most likely means the two arms forming a delta around Thorney Island (Thorney Street) on which Westminster Abbey was built.

Like the other 2 burns it rises in Southern Hampstead in the Shepherds (Conduit) Fields. These fields separated Hampstead from Belsize Park and Kilburn and contained the Shepherd’s Well which later became neglected and thus a swamp of brackish water and then drained by railway construction. The fields could be exited by College Lane. Apparently the water never froze and was thus in great demand even though there was a well nearby at Kilburn.

The Tyburn went down Fitzjohn’s Ave to Belsize and thence to Regent’s Park. It crossed Marylebone Lane twice and then Oxford Street.

Some ancient maps identify the Tyburn as the Aye or Eye brook taken from the name of the ancient estate of Eia. It has also been known as the Mariburne brook. So we see that it is often difficult to trace the route of a river or stream from maps and texts as at different times not only did they flow in different places/directions but were also called by different names according to local estates and so on.

The West-Bourne was a larger stream and rose close by the Tyburn and was the source of a small pond on the South Western Heath and thence to the Frognall Estate where there was an arch over it. As it flowed towards the Great North Road the Kilburn joined it.

The Kilburn came from a small nunnery and crossed Edgware Road under a 13th century into a low lying meadow and was then joined by another small brook coming from Willesden Lane.

Kilburn may take its name from the Saxon for ‘cattle stream’ or someone called Cylla (a C was pronounced then as a K). The stream has been called Cuneburna, Kelebourne, or Cyebourne.

As Watling Street crossed the brook, a small community of nuns – Augustinian – was founded in 1134 – when Belsize Road meets the High Road. It was dissolved by Henry 8th and nothing is now left but the Red Lion pub may have been the convent’s guest house originally. In 1714 a chalybeate (iron impregnated) spring was enclosed and was considered a cure for stomach ailments. However, it is suggested that Belsize House may have also been of as much importance as the spring it stood alongside, as this was where bare knuckle and dog fighting took place – common entertainments of the time at ale houses. This area was also well known for highway robbery it seems.

Kilburn Wells, near Paddington.—The waters are now in the utmost perfection; the gardens enlarged and greatly improved; the house and offices re-painted and beautified in the most elegant manner. The whole is now open for the reception of the public, the great room being particularly adapted to the use and amusement of the politest companies. Fit either for music, dancing, or entertainments. This happy spot is equally celebrated for its rural situation, extensive prospects, and the acknowledged efficacy of its waters; is most delightfully situated on the site of the once famous Abbey of Kilburn, on the Edgware Road, at an easy distance, being but a morning’s walk, from the metropolis, two miles from Oxford Street; the footway from the Mary-bone across the fields still nearer. A plentiful larder is always provided, together with the best of wines and other liquors. Breakfasting and hot loaves. A printed account of the waters, as drawn up by an eminent physician, is given gratis at the Wells. [The Public Advertiser, July 17, 1773.]kilburn-wells-hampstead-london-c1820

Although the well declined in the 19th century there was still water sold in 1841. The Bell pub was known then as the Kilburn Wells and was regarded as a nice tea garden now rather than a place of rough entertainment. The pub was rebuilt in 1863.

I will write more of other wells and spas in later posts. Most well known wells were also spas and had grand gardens and entertainment to ensure visitors spent their money on the site and were there quite some time. They were also almost the only places where such entertainments could be found.