Peak District Wells and Springs, In folklore and legend water sources in the Peak District were believed to have guardian spirits and it’s thought that well dressings may have origins in pagan times.
It’s originally thought that Tissington started the custom of the dressing of the wells after the Black Death of 1348/9, when the locals thought that their pure water kept the disease from entering their village. Others, including historians, link the disease with a severe 17th century drought when none of Tissington’s wells dried up. The protection of the wells came under local bye laws.
One of the seven wonders of the Peak District is based around a spring and a well at Tideswell. Ebbing and Flowing Well is no longer visible unfortunately, but it is a thermal well that is thought to surge with the Atlantic tides. A well is most often thought of as a shaft sunk into the ground but in the Peak, it is more likely to be a spring flowing into an open trough, and some of the springs are of warm water. The thermal springs of Buxton are the warmest in the Peak at 82°F and the Romans treat them as shrines. Artefacts can be found to support this in Buxton Museum.
Peak District wells and springs have been used throughout the centuries, particularly for medicinal reasons. The naturally heated waters of the thermal waters were particularly beneficial to sufferers from rheumatic and arthritic complaints. Water from mineral springs rich in iron was used to bathe sore eyes and Matlock people fetched water from Allen Hill Spa on Bakewell Rd for that purpose. Bakewell residents bathed their eyes in water from Peat Well on the recreation ground and a bathing house was built over a spring at Bakewell in 1697. A mediaeval legend tells of a Crusader who returned to his home in Stoney Middleton with leprosy and was cured by bathing in a local thermal spring. The warm Springs of Matlock Bath we used for medicinal purposes from at least the 17th century.
There were two warm salty springs near Salt Sitch brook at Bradwell, which was sipped to ease digestive upsets, or bathed in by people with circulation or heart complaints. Local people in Wirksworth and nearby Biggin believed to cleanse impure blood from the sulphur springs there, relieving gout, rheumatism and skin disorders.
Most of all wells and springs were sources of clean, fresh drinking water and in the 1940s, a survey of over 100 Derbyshire villages showed that almost 60 still relied wholly or partly on wells, rainwater and springs their domestic needs.
Today well dressings still continue with most Peak District villagers celebrating their wells, decorating them with flowers and having a day of celebration with parades of people having fun, visiting churches and generally enjoying the community spirit.