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town (1991 pop. 9,252), Somerset, SW England. Primarily a cathedral town, it has changed little since medieval times, although shopping and tourism have become important. The first church was erected by King Ine of Wessex in the early 8th cent. The earliest part of the present cathedral dates from 1176. The towers were built in the 14th cent., much of the woodwork dates from the 15th cent., and there are more than 300 13th-century sculptured figures. The grounds of the bishop's palace include ruins of the original 13th-century structure and the complete 14th-century moat and wall. A theological college is in Wells.
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Bathing pool at St. Mary's Well, Ffynnon Fair, Denbighshire, North Wales. Courtesy Janet and Colin Bord/Fortean Picture Library.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In pre-Roman times vital sources of water were believed to be the dwelling places of powerful gods and goddesses. Especially revered were those sources where the water was mineral-rich, possessing curative powers, an example of which could be found at Bath, Somerset, England, where even today people still go to "take the waters." The baths there were dedicated to the Romano-British goddess Sulis. Similar curative waters at Buxton, in Derbyshire, were dedicated to Arnemetia. Even the coming of Christianity could not stamp out the faith the people had in these waters and their deities. References to the goddess patron at Bath changed from "Lady of the Well" to simply "Our Lady." At Buxton, St. Anne replaced the goddess Arnemetia, but otherwise the popularity of the magical springs continued.

Many other wells and springs flourished and still flourish around Britain and continental Europe. St. Winifred's Well, in Flintshire, continues to attract people, and the partly abandoned well (reputedly haunted by a stag-headed deity) at Pilleth, in Radnorshire, is still visited on occasion. Because of the depth of the water in many wells, many believed that they acted as a conduit to the underworld and to the spirits who dwelled there.

Not all wells were known for the curative powers of their waters. Some were credited with the power to foretell the future, some for granting wishes, some for placing curses, and some simply as a sacred place to honor the gods. The innumerable coins and other objects that archaeologists have found when excavating such wells (some objects dating from prehistoric times) attest to the belief that it was necessary to placate the gods, or pay for sought-after favors. Even today the desire to toss a coin into any well and make a wish is ingrained in many people.

One method of honoring the gods was to "dress" the well. This was done by tying a rag (usually red) known as a clout to any tree or trees close to the well. Green boughs, branches, and flowers were also lain about the well. This practice often coincided with a particular day of the year, perhaps a day special to the individual well or else one of the old Pagan holidays, or Wiccan Sabbats. Well dressing in England today is most common from May through to August. In May wells are dressed at Etwall, Tissington, and Wirksworth; at Ashford-in-the-Water, Hope, Monyash, Tidewell, Buxton, Litton, Breaston, Rowsley, Youlgreave, Bakewell, and Edlaston in June; at Ault Hucknall, Dore, Stoney Middelton, Whitwell, Pilsley, Heath, and Holmewood in July; and at Barlow and Bradwell in August.

John Arbrey, in Three Prose Works (1688-1697), related how the civil war in England forced the people of Droitwich, in Worcestershire, to desert their well. Apparently as a result of this abandonment, the well dried up. The villagers immediately tried to revive it, by again dressing it and honoring the deities. Aubrey said, "notwithstanding the power of the Parliament. . . the Minister there and also the Soldiers, they did and will dress it, and the water returned again."

Even today well dressing continues in many parts of the British Isles. The Church even sponsors some of the dressings, saying that they are "symbols of Thanksgiving to the Almighty for the precious gift of drinking water." The longest established well dressing is at Tissington, in Derbyshire, where the local church in 1899 erected a highly Christian decoration around the ancient site.

The beginning of the nineteenth century saw a revival of interest in well dressing. This practice has evolved from a motley collection of rags tied to branches and boughs laid about the site to a community project to construct an elaborate decoration—sometimes as much as twelve feet high—that stands around the well. This decoration has a clay base into which innumerable flower petals, leaves, pine cones, bark, and pebbles are set to construct a large and colorful picture.



a city in England, located in the county of Somerset, near Bristol. Population, approximately 6,000. Architectural works include a cathedral with elements of the Romanesque and Gothic styles, built between the 12th and 14th centuries, and a 13th-century Gothic episcopal palace with fortifications. To the south of Wells are the ruins of the 12th-century Early Gothic monastery of Glastonbury.


1. Henry. 1805--78, US businessman, who founded (1852) with William Fargo the express mail service Wells, Fargo and Company
2. H(erbert) G(eorge). 1866--1946, British writer. His science-fiction stories include The Time Machine (1895), War of the Worlds (1898), and The Shape of Things to Come (1933). His novels on contemporary social questions, such as Kipps (1905), Tono-Bungay (1909), and Ann Veronica (1909), affected the opinions of his day. His nonfiction works include The Outline of History (1920)


a city in SW England, in Somerset: 12th-century cathedral. Pop.: 10 406 (2001)
References in classic literature ?
The old gentleman knew that perfectly well, and particularly desired to prevent it, for the mood in which he found his grandson assured him that it would not be wise to leave him to his own devices.
Mowgli was sore and angry as well as hungry, and he roamed through the empty city giving the Strangers' Hunting Call from time to time, but no one answered him, and Mowgli felt that he had reached a very bad place indeed.
Biaggini, pointed to it once as it was just standing on the top of Levanzo, and said to me "Come cavalca bene" ("How well it rides"), and this immediately suggested my emendation to me.
I have taken notice, monsieur, that people who are only in each other's company for amusement, never really like each other so well, or esteem each other so highly, as those who work together, and perhaps suffer together.
I might as well have attempted to arrest an avalanche!
It was of her you meant to speak, I know very well, monsieur," said Raoul, with inexpressible sweetness.
Is the father of my son a well of charity to give to all who ask?
Well, my dear Miss Elliot, I hope and trust you will be very happy.
This suburb of ours used to be a village, and because some of the people slurred the name and pronounced it Holliwell, many a minor poet indulged in fancies about a Holy Well, with spells and fairies and all the rest of it, filling the suburban drawing-rooms with the Celtic twilight.
He asked the girl whether she knew Florence well, and was informed at some length that she had never been there before.
Ah, well, Boston is more conservative than New York; but I always think it's a safe rule for a lady to lay aside her French dresses for one season," Mrs.
The last line of vegetation was speedily lost in the dim southern horizon, not far from the principal oasis in this part of Africa, whose fifty wells are shaded by magnificent trees; but it was impossible to stop.