Madron Wishing Well & Celtic Chapel - (SW 446 328)
Probably the most famous of all the wells in west Cornwall, is Madron Wishing Well, situated on the Lands End peninsula, a few miles north of Penzance.
Madron Well and Celtic Chapel are situated on land owned by the Bolitho Estate, and has been voluntarily managed by the Madron Community Forum and CASPN (Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network) since 2005, in which time several grants have been made available from organizations such as the Heritage Lottery Trust and English Heritage, to help in the upkeep of the site.
History and Folklore.
The earliest recorded mention of the well at Madron was in 1640,
“The earliest reference to this site was in 1640, when it was recorded that the "cripple John Trelill" came here and bathed once a week for three weeks in May. He then slept on a mound nearby called St.Maddern's Bed (the location of which is now not known) and was cured. “
“In the 19th Century, an old dame, An Kitty, (An Katty) used to attend the Baptistry (or well) in the Springtime to instruct 'the gentry' (who were then beginning to visit sites such as these) on the correct rituals to perform at the well.”
“Robert Hunt in 1871 recorded that maidens went there in May (the first three Thursdays being the most propitious time) and made a cross to float on the water, the number of bubbles indicating the years before matrimony. This custom continued right up until the 1st World War in the early 20th Century.”
In 1985 Laurence Hunt wrote;
“Signposted off the Madron to Lanyon road, ½ mile west of Madron village. Reached down a delightful winding path through a copse after passing over a couple of traditional Cornish stiles. This is probably the most famous well in the area and is still much visited. Rags are still hung from the surrounding trees and bushes. Water runs from the simple circular stone-lined well to the nearby ruined chapel where it fills a simple baptistry before being piped by a leat to the causeway head Reservoir which feeds the Morrab Garden fountain in Penzance.
The chapel measures about 24 feet by 16 feet, is roofless and has an altar at the opposite end to the baptistry. There are simple granite seats down the sides. Wild roses grow on the chapel walls making it a beautiful sight in summer. There are many stories of cures that have taken place here, the most quoted being that of John Trelill, a cripple for 16 years, who washed in the water and was cured, early in the 17th century.”
In 1986, Chesca Potter wrote;
“The path leads to a fork, the well on the left, the baptistry on the right. We walked through the old gnarled wood to the well, along very muddy ground. The well is circular and stone lined, with rags and tissues hung from the trees around it. The wood seemed alive, yet silent except for a wren.”
In 1990, Ian Cooke wrote;
“An Katty reckoned that the connection of the parish saint with the well had been relatively recent and she complained that the ‘new gentry’ had given new names to places they thought they knew more about than ‘the people who have lived here since the world was created’.
“Children were stripped naked and plunged three times through the water ‘against the sun’ to kill disease and then passed quickly clock-wise, nine times around the spring to restore good health, no words being spoken to break the spell. A piece of cloth had to be torn from the persons using the well and left nearby for ‘good luck’.”
"The chapel and the baptistry is about 200 yards from the well and although parts of the lower courses of masonry are thought to be pre-Norman the building has been dated to about the 12th century, unfortunately the building was considerably damaged by Cromwell's supporters during the period of the Civil War."
(source; Antiquities of West Cornwall)
Today Madron Well and Baptistry stand on land owned by the Bolitho Estate, and are maintained on a voluntary basis by CASPN and the Madron Community Forum, under the guidance of the County Archaeological and Heritage departments. They have restored much of this beautiful site to it’s former glory, and continue to care for the site with regular ‘clean-up’ operations, making this a very special and tranquil site for locals and visitors alike.
Madron Wishing well is also known as a ‘Cloughtie’ Well.
Cloughtie (or Clootie) wells are wells or springs, almost always with a tree growing beside them, where strips of cloth or rag (“cloots”) have been left hung on the nearby trees as votive offerings by petitioners in need of healing. The rags are dipped in the well, often in conjunction with prayers, incantations, and ritual circumambulation. Sometimes, they are touched to an afflicted body part or made from clothing worn by the afflicted. They are then hung from the tree in hopes that as the rag disintegrates, so will the illness.
This is most often done by those seeking healing, though some may do it simply to honour the spirit of the well. In either case, many see this as a probable continuation of the ancient Celtic practice of leaving votive offerings in wells or pits.
Public access to the Madron Wishing Well & Celtic Chapel, is free. Follow the path from the car parking area to the 'Cloutie Trees'. Here there is a small stone marker sign set into the ground, pointing right to the Baptistry and left to the Well.
There is no proper path to the Well, so if you wish to visit it, it will be a case of wading through a very wet and boggy area. In particularly wet conditions the access to the Well is really impassable. (as seen in the pictures to the right, taken on April 4th this year by goodisplanetearth.)
The well lies about ¼ mile into the boggy area (Note - the area below the Cloutie Tree is not the well, though many believe it to be so), and is identifiable by a stone enclosure of granite slabs, which could be submerged below the water in particularly wet conditions.
This stone surround was rebuilt in the early 1980s from stones found in the area, and was again re-built in 2007 following a sad spate of vandalism (see http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=21076 for photographs of the restored well)
In 1991, Marina Boyd conducted a water analysis survey of the wells in West Penwith, including Madron Well, and published her findings in the Meyn Mamvro magazine.
“As Madron well was reputed to cure lamesness, I thought the most useful elements might be copper (sufferers from rheumatism find bracelets made of copper beneficial) and calcium (which promotes strong bones). Copper was present in a concentration of 0.003mg/litre, a sufficiently low quantity for some homeopathic benefit; the calcium was found in a concentration of 20.20mg/litre which may help to promote healthy bones.”
(source; Meyn Mamvro, - with grateful thanks to Cheryl Straffon)
Myself and Malcolm of Goodisplanetearth.org, went to visit Madron Wishing Well & Celtic Chapel, on April 4th this year. Despite there being very little rain prior to our visit, we were disappointed to find the path to the well was flooded and boggy, noting that the flood water was stagnant.
On our return we contacted the County Council, raising our concerns about the sites condition.
The following is an e-mail response we had back from the Council;
From: Rahn Konstanze
Subject: Madron Well
Date: Monday, April 18, 2011, 7.45 AM
Here is the report Tony Shipton sent me regarding the condition of Madron Well:
"I have had a look at the actual Holy Well and find it is covered in stagnant water. This is due to the fact that drainage channels are blocked throughout the woodland. The resultant swamping of the area has loosened the roots of the trees and caused many trees to collapse further, blocking the drainage. Generally the water levels are low at the moment; the Baptistry is dry. But it is very difficult to get to the well. I think that a letter to the Bolitho Estates to see if they could clear the ditches or allow us to do so would be useful."
As the Bolitho Estates are the owner of the site, CASPN or the Madron Community Forum cannot take any clearance action without their consent but we hope that this issue can be resolved in the near future to enable visitors to enjoy the site again.
Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.
HE Information Officer
If you have any further information, history, photographs or memories about this site, please do write to me!