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Sunday, 8 July 2007

St Ethelburga's Well, Lyminge, Kent

NGR: TR161408

Go to google maps for a good aerial view. Just type in Lyminge as the green arrow appears in the centre of the crossroads to the NNW of the site. Follow the road down through right of picture to the SSE and you will find a thin path leading to a square structure on the right side of the road. The church is clearly visible on the other side of the road, to the SSW of the well.

I have visited this site only once in passing and stopped there only for approximately twenty minutes. Without any background knowledge I am therefore only able to post observations unsupported as yet by research.

The village website, Lyminge online, (
/sep98.html) states that the well celebrated its centenary in September 1998, for which extensive restoration work was carried out. Presumably, as the village Church, dedicated to St Mary and St Ethelburga has fabric extant from the tenth century, and as St Ethelburga was the seventh century wife of King Edwin of Northumbria (
ethelburgalyming.html), this was the centenary of the construction of the Victorian drinking water pump on top of the holy well and perhaps an indicator of its lack of religious significance in the nineteenth century.

The Church is nearby, approximately three to five minute's walk, at the centre of the village, at the highest point, and is adjacent to once of the many Archbishop's palaces in Kent. The well lies on the spring line at the base of this higher ground. The church is located to the west-south-west of the well.

The well is located on a bend in the main road through the village and is on the right side if once approaches from Folkestone, that is approximately from the SSE. Unfortunately, the Victorian water pump, or 'wellhead' as the village website hopefully puts it in an attempt to find some redeeming feature in an excrescence of the industrial age, almost completely hides the well itself and the bars which prevent access to the water prevent the visitor from properly viewing or photographing the earlier structure. The glowering and oppressive pump house also prevents any light from reaching the well which is consequently foetid, stagnant, and malodorous. As this wholly secular structure is neither rare, being no more than a commonplace drinking water pump built in a workaday and functional style is both hideously ugly and has completely hidden the holy well beneath it is difficult to understand why the villagers wished to celebrate its centenary and why they did not instead tear it down and restore the holy well in order to make a far more agreeable and genuinely historical tourist attraction/sacred site.

It is also important to note that the well is the source of the Nailbourne River, which becomes the Little Stour at Littlebourne, and which eventually flows into the Great Stour, the river that flows through Canterbury . Between Elham and Bishopsbourne, this river flows underground for most of the year and can disappear for several years in dry conditions. The creation of the well is attributed to Augustine of Canterbury in local folklore who was said to struck his staff on drought stricken land in order to make water flow and deter the locals from the worship of Woden and Thor ( It seems most probable that the periodic disappearance of the river postdates its usage for drinking water, with over abstraction in times of drought bearing consequences further downstream.

This site may have been restored in 1997 but shows little evidence of attention since that date. The pump house is filled with litter and debris from the road, while the base, where the well can be seen through iron bars, is overgrown with nettles. The red-brick outer or rear wall of the structure, away from the road, facing ENE, has been tagged by a graffitist.

The open area to the ENE of the well is a recreation ground, called Tayne Field. At the far side of this there is an extremely clear and clean-looking stream with a gravelly/sandy bed across which stepping stones afford a crossing. It is impossible to date these by casual observation. The notion that they once provided pilgrims with access to the well is certainly not unfeasible especially when the proximity of the Saxon Church and Archbishop's palace are taken into account. There are numerous tracks in this area which are said to have been used by Pilgrims.

This site is certainly worth some serious research and I shall undertake this as soon as possible. I believe that documenting the history of this site thoroughly to increase usefulness of its value might lend weight to a campaign to have something done to have is maintained better and maybe to have the holy well somehow made plainly visible and distinct from the Victorian drinking water pump - even if this can be done by somehow leaving the latter standing, as it is a perverse source of local pride.

* Yes I know that I cited Wikipedia in an academic context. Deal with it.

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