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Saxon Well

Saxon Well

Probably the unsung hero of Widecombe-in-the-Moor is the tiny well located at the edge of the main square. Visitors tend to flock to the church and the shops in search of ‘Uncle Tom’ and can quite easily miss what has been described as the, “most picturesque well in Devon” – see ill. 1 here. It is a feature that is hard to date and probably the name, “Saxon Well”, is a bit misleading. The well has also been known as a holy well but there is no connection with any saint. The waters however are reputed to have healing qualities, especially for eye complaints. There is also a tradition that the well has never been known to run dry although in times of drought the doors are securely locked. The actual well is fed from a spring in the garden behind and then piped into the small building. Another legend is connected with the great storm of 1638 when the Devil wreaked havoc on the church. The normal version is that Satan stopped off at the Poundsgate Inn for a drink but the Widecombe story has it that he stopped at the Saxon Well for a cup of water. As he gulped the water down his throat a tremendous sizzling noise came from his mouth as if the cool moorland water was turning to steam in his sulphurous gullet.

Since the invention of the motor vehicle the well has taken on the legendary status of a ‘wishing well’, which has probably more to do with attracting tourists than any mythical properties. This can clearly be seen by the two examples of postcards. The oldest one simply portrays the well in all its splendour – see ill. 2 here. Whereas the second postcard depicts a young woman reverently sipping from a cup of the well water and is titled the ‘Widecombe Wishing Well’, – see ill. 3 here and ill 4. here . It is interesting to see the faggots bundled up beside the well which is a real ‘blast from the past’. I have heard stories about how some of the local children would sometimes go and ‘clean’ the well of any obstructions like leaves, paper, oh, and the odd coin or two but that was in the days before the door was fitted.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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