Despite some rather heavy showers, Friday, May 5, saw the return of the popular Well Dressing ceremony in St Cleer village.
Witnessed by many parents and residents, children from the nearby school processioned to the Well, each one carrying a posy of spring flowers, led by Cornish Piper and Drummer Merv and Alison Davey. After the Well was dressed with the children’s posies, the assembled throng was welcomed by Cathy Woolcock, representing the new owners of the Well, Cornwall Heritage Trust. A short history of the Well was given by Brian Oldham, President of Liskeard Old Cornwall Society, followed by the ceremony itself, with a translation into the Cornish language by Bard of the Kernow Gorsedh, Rod Sheaff. It was local Curate, Rev. Li Selman, who presented the Prayer, Bible Reading and Blessing chosen specifically for the occasion. After the Lord’s Prayer and a rousing rendition of Trelawny, it was back to St Cleer School for a display of traditional Cornish dancing by the children.
The origins of Well Dressing, or Well Flowering, are thought to date back to the pagan times of over 1500 years ago, but the first written record was the ceremony held in Tissington, Derbyshire, in 1348. It’s believed that the pagan ceremony was to give thanks to their gods for a reliable source of clean water, but it’s suggested that the purpose of the celebration in 1348, was by the survivors of the Black Death, their survival being due mainly to the Well providing a constant supply of clean, uninfected water.
St Cleer Well had certainly existed for many centuries before Richard Carew, in 1602, gave a graphic account of how a poor soul considered to be ‘mad’, was ‘tossed up and down in the water’ of the Well until the patient had ‘forgotten their fury’.
The Well was in a ruinous state when Lt. Henry Rogers purchased the site from a local miner and restored it, in 1864, to the memory of his grandfather John Jope, who had been Vicar of St Cleer for 68 years. The architect employed for the project was Liskeard man Henry Rice, the local builder being Mr T. Firks. A partnership which also undertook repairs to the Church two years later.
Well Dressing in St Cleer was revived by Liskeard Old Cornwall Society in conjunction with local schools, the Church and ladies groups in the village. The format for the ceremony involved an Opening Prayer, a Bible Reading, a Homily, the Lord’s Prayer and a Blessing, all given in both Cornish and English. On June 10 2011 the Cornish Times reported that ‘more than 250 children took part in this year’s St Cleer Well Dressing Ceremony. Pupils from St Cleer Primary School and Pre-School, and Darite Primary School danced The Furry Dance to the village Holy Well, led by the Little Village Orchestra. St Cleer WI members received a posy from each child, mounting them on a frame’.
Cornwall Heritage Trust must be commended for the clearing of vegetation and the repointing of the stonework in preparation for this year’s event.