Tag Archives: Bristol

Custom revived: St Ann’s Day Pilgrimage to St. Ann’s Well, Brislington

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In medieval England, St Anne, a slightly apocraphyl saint, said to be the mother of Mary, was widely celebrated. On the outskirts of modern Bristol is one relic from this day. St. Anne’s Well is perhaps all that is left of a wider site, which included a noted chapel – indeed it is the chapel which has an older more venerable history. Said to have been visited by Henry VIIth and his queen, it is now lost beneath the urbanisation which has spread through Bristol suburbs. The delightful oasis of Brislington Brook and St. Anne’s Park similarly could have been swallowed up…but the effort of local groups has preserved its memory.

When I lived in Bristol, I knew of St. Anne’s Well but although I knew that it was visited by the local church never could find any details. I remember ringing up once and finding now further information – O the days before the internet. Now the church appears have forgotten the well, but not the locals who each Saturday nearest to the old saint’s feast day go in procession to the well.  The current celebration of this noted holy well is perhaps more of a contrived custom than revived perhaps but although it is largely stripped of its religious emphasis is no less significant.

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If you go down to the woods today!

Meeting at the pub beforehand were a curious collection of costumed punters…if you didn’t know you would blame the drink! Adults of all ages and children readily got into the spirit and as the number of potential ‘processioners’ assembled, the group posed outside of the pub, formed a procession with three knights of honour, banners aloft following a specially made flag depicting the well. Medieval music guided us as we weaved and wandered first through streets, down back passages and along streets – much to the bewilderment of people as they peered out of the windows – quintessentially British! Then as we were about to descend into the delightfully named Nightingale Valley, we stopped to hear the first of our medieval monologues – which gave us a good rest whilst we listened.

Well-watered walkers

Formally and informally over the hundreds of years many people had walked here to access the waters for whatever reason. However, first ‘modern’ processions to the well begun in 1880s with the beginning of local Catholic attendance. In 1927 the Reverend C F. Harman lead the first twentieth century procession to the well and held a service there as a result it became an annual event only declining apparently in the 1970s as the site became vandalised and slowly derelict. However, in 1986, on the anniversary the 500th anniversary of the visit by Henry VII. Then the procession was led by rural Dean Father John Bradley who according to Ken Taylor’s 2016 work on the well and chapel, The Holy Wells and Chapel of St Anne in the Wood, Brislington, Bristol:

“snaked through St. Anne’s Wood to the holy well where a service was held jointly with the Rev. Mark Waters, vicar of the church of St. Anne’s who had revived the custom.”

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In Phil Quinn’s 1999 work Holy Wells of the Bath and Bristol Region there is a photos of a small group of pilgrims at the well. He notes:

“Some 40 people taking part in 1996 service of blessing of the well. In this the priest takes water from the well and sprinkles it over those gathered around.”

Accordingly, this custom continued until 2005 but why it ceased is unclear, the church survives and is still as its website states ‘High church’ leaning!

However, this was a relatively small interregnum as on 26th July 2009 members of the Brislington Community Archaeology Project revived the pilgrimage not as Taylor (2016) notes:

“The date was not chosen for its religious significance, but because of its historical significance – this was not a pilgrimage in honour of St. Anne, but a public, guided walk into the history and archaeology of the site.”

Taylor (2016) notes:

“Ten people met at the Kings Arms in Hollywood Road, which is opposite Kenneth Road, where the medieval pilgrims are reputed to have camped prior to walking to the Chapel of St Anne in the Wood. Leaving the pub at 2.15pm the group followed as closely as possible the course of Brislington Brook, which led to the so called Pilgrim’s Path through picturesque Nightingale Valley. They arrived at the holy well at St. Anne’s Wood around 3pm, where several other people waited the arrival of the party.”

A further walk occurred a year later or so on Sunday 25th for Festival of British Archaeology and so the numbers double and at the well they added:

“more ribbons, pendants and other mementoes already there.”

By the following year, the procession had grown to around a hundred and the procession having members dressed up especially in medieval costumes. They were led by ‘King Henry VIIth’ and his Queen, ‘Elizabeth of York’. These royal personages being greeted by the Lord of Mayor of Bristol, who was also the councillor for Brislington.

This year also introduced some of the more theatrical elements of the walk, about a dozen monologues written especially by local people for the event were read along the route and beside the well.

In 2013 Discover Brislington Brook raised funds to deliver the pageant as well as raise local interest in the site via workshops with local schools and making procession puppets used in that year’s procession. By 2014 the pageant appears to have become a regular fixture in the local calendar. The procession now including traditional musicians and over 200 attendees. At the site of the well was organised a fair and BBQ.

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Alls well that ends at a well

The group, now swelled by some casual attendees made its way through the woods, along the stream, the children being enraptured by tales of wise women of the woods and trolls. Indeed, despite urbanisation being a few steps away, it was not difficult to believe their existence.  Soon the rather weary party arrived triumphantly at the well. The children enthusiastically rushed to peer into it and then throw things into it…oh well. More respectful children felt the urge to adorn it with paper pendant and these added to the ribbons which hang from the trees – evidence of more informal pilgrimage. Sadly, there was no BBQ or fair this year, which perhaps meant a rather deflated end especially for adults. However, it is clear that the procession remains a popular event locally and hopefully it will grow and with it help support the area and allow this ancient well to survive and be celebrated. If you are local or in the area next last weekend in July consider joining and remembering this ancient site.

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Custom survived: Redcliffe Pipe Walk

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“For the health of the soul of Robert Berkeley, who gave to God and the church of St. Mary Redcliffe and its ministers the Rugewell and conduit. AD 1190 Erected.”

So reads the tap head beside that ‘most beautiful church in England’ (according to Elizabeth I and who’s to argue?) and when Robert Berkeley gave this gift, back in 1190, one wonders if he would have been amazed that some 800 years on, those same church ministers, several generations on of course, would ensure that the supply was still available by this annual custom. I wonder whether he would have been impressed that some 800 years, that his direct descendent would be joining the annual walk to reinforce the ownership of that water, as for the first time possibly ever a member of the Berkley family attended the walk, a Mr. Charles Berkeley from the impressive Berkeley Castle (although it was his father who lived there!). A point I was quickly aware would be a good bargaining point for any naughty children on the walk. Behave! This man has a castle and dungeon he could throw you in. It worked!

Well meaning!

I lived for many years in this crown of the South West, but surprisingly never joined the party which have continued this fine if perhaps defunct tradition. Bristol weather is not always the best and any custom taking place outside at the end of October looks like one which might be prone to the vagaries of the weather! However, I checked the weather it suggested overcast with sunshine, fine by me.

A lot of water under the bridge

The Redcliffe pipe walk is the oldest observed custom of its kind. It survived the Reformation, a time when many church related endowments would be lost or transferred. However, at some point the inspection appears to have fallen into abeyance and was revived in 1928s as a report in a newspaper records as ‘after a lapse of some time’. One assumes it died out at the First World War, a common time for such ceremonies to die out a result of the loss of men in that terrible conflict. A similar custom was established to check the more substantial Temple Conduit which died out in 1835. Why is unclear, but around this time the Corporation would be establishing their water works. If the Redcliffe custom died out then, it seems strange that it would be re-established almost 100 years later, unless there was some need to re-emphasise some other endowment or right associated with the original gift. We really don’t know. Even when a bomb hit through the pipe line, the custom never ceased. Even when the flow became a trickle or ceased filling the tap head the custom never ceased. So it seems likely that a big event, the War being most likely. Since the late 1920s it has continued unbroken and as I have accepted the World Wars as being acceptable gaps in an over 100 year tradition I shall with this one.

The pipe walkers

The pipe walkers are ready!

Well met

I arrived early and headed for St. Barnabus Church, Knowle where the walkers would traditionally in recent times gather for refreshments and soon was made very welcome. As soon as ten o’clock arrived we all congregated in an area behind the church. The group, 24 in, made up the surveyor, the vicar, churchwardens, and large number of curious bystanders. Here the leader of the group, the aforemention church’s surveyor introduced himself and gleefully asked who was new to the walk..I wasn’t the only ones there was quite a few! We would  find out why later. He also introduced the vicar of St. Mary Redcliffe who led us in a prayer for the provision of water and in memory of the vicar of St Barnabus’s church who was presently ill.

Well thought of

From the vantage point we made our way into the allotments where the spring, called the Huge Well, still arises. We were shown the possible actual site of the well and a part of a conduit which had recently collapsed and revealed the channel beneath. As we stood surveying this site: it began to rain!! Very typical Bristol. However, as soon as we walked a few places to the well head chamber: it stopped! This was especially opened by the surveyor and we all peered in to this considerable stone lined chamber. One wonders what went through the mind of Mr. Berkeley’s descendent as he peered 800 years of reflecting on the everflowing gift. It was a good photo opportunity I thought to mark the event.

Mr Charles Berkeley, the descendent f the original benefactor.

Mr Charles Berkeley, the descendent of the original benefactor.

Here though I was asked to say a few words myself. Why? I by virtue of my other main interest (and blog) I was the well expert! I said a few words. I hope they were okay, although I did rather put my foot in it with my discussion of St. Anne’s well nearby…but that’s for another blog.

Inspecting the huge well

Inspecting the huge well

Walking on water

From this well head, a pipe line was laid travelling about two miles to a tap conduit head near the church of St. Mary Redcliffe. And of course we were there to survey it, the check at regular points that the pipe was still there and that access was still present. A two mile walk over the pipe, which was fortunately it was all downhill! For the next few 100 yards we travelled without any indication of a pipe, indeed the talk was more like a mass trespass through gardens and allotments, pass chickens and chard, raspberries and radishes…it wasn’t until we reached a garden on Raymend Walk that we saw our first real pipe laying under a metal manhole cover and flows through a Victorian metal pipe, replacing the lead and probably even wooden one of old. The family who owned the garden were very accommodating and offered the group apples from the tree. I asked them if they knew they’d be a yearly congregation of pipe walkers each year when they bought it! Fortunately they did. From here we had a bit of a detour as the surveyor worried that a wall on the route might be too prone to collapse to allow 20 odd people to pass it…but did this detour invalidate the claim I wondered! We still checked the stone, labelled SMP, which obviously reasserted the claim!

Through the allotments we go!

Through the allotments we go!

A bumping journey

Soon we arrived at Victoria Park, here the water filled a maze based on a labyrinth in St. Marys. It looked fairly clean and small shrimps disported themselves within it…but not sure I would drink it. At this point it was revealed why it was important to know who the newcomers were. At a larger pipe boundary stone the surveyor called forward newcomers to be bumped on the stone. This is probably the most traditionally part of the walk, often done of course at beating of the bounds, when mainly children were done. At first he said there were too many of us and he’d only do the children…however, this caused a bit of a ripple of indignation and so he offered anyone that wanted to be bumped would be done. I of course offered myself up. Followers of this blog will know that I’ve had a vicar on my chest being shoed at Hungerford Hocktide and this was much gentler. So I was lifted one…two…three. The vicar carrying me this time didn’t inflict any bruises. Also bumped was Mr. Berkeley. I am not sure his predecessor would have approved of the commoners manhandling him but of course this Berkeley thoroughly enjoyed it..and no-one would be sent to that castle dungeon.

The pipe inspected.

The pipe inspected.

All ages bumped!

All ages bumped!

The descendent gets bus bumps!

The descendent gets the bumps!

Pipe down we’re nearly there!

after the bumping, we examined another pipe. This one being much deeper, being reached by a ladder, and apparently had a tap where previous surveyors would take a sip. I noticed no-one appeared to volunteer this time. Then we regrouped and went under the railway, in the early 20th century we would go over the railway and the group had the power to stop the trains! Fortunately, we didn’t risk it. We were close to the final tap head and deep into the buzzy thrall of Bristol a big change from these peaceful allotments. Crossing the Avon, and two major roads, one could be forgiven in forgetting we were following a pipe, but soon at the church we saw the tap head.   Charles Berkeley was impressed by this tap head with its fine Lion mouth. Another good photo opportunity, as this descendent peered into the source of water which was of great benefit to the people of Bristol.  Nothing flowed from this tap, but above it the final manhole cover revealed oily irony water. I jokingly offered Mr. Berkeley a sip. He politely refused.  The arrival at the church was very welcome as was the spread of sandwiches, cakes and very refreshing tea topped off by a nice choir, welcoming us in song!

A custom which involves a long walk might not be everyones cup of tea but the Redcliffe Pipe Walk is an enjoyable experience coupled with some friendly folk. And perhaps it’s this sense of camaraderie which despite there being a lack of water and purpose the walk continues.

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– images copyright Pixyled Publications

 
Mr Charles Berkeley inspects the tap.