Medieval well could ‘wash away your sins’ and ‘heal eye diseases’

A medieval well once believed to wash away sins and heal eye diseases was uncovered at a private farm in Merseyside.

St Anne’s Well was uncovered in Rainhill in St Helens after a series of excavation works by Historic England.

In 2016, the ECHO reported how the well was located using a a description on the National Heritage List and by looking at a photograph from 1983 which showed it was still visible.

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A local legend suggested St Anne’s Well was associated with a nearby priory, lost during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and that continued to be revered even after the Dissolution. By the 19th century, it was even thought to cure eye diseases.

Here, we take a look back at the history of the well, its legends and what was unearthed on the site.

In 2016, a Historic England spokesman said: "Part of our role at Historic England is to speak up for and champion heritage. ‘Archaeology is just a load of lumps and bumps in a field’ is an oft-defended accusation but in the case of St Anne’s Well, we had to concede the description was fairly apt!

"Situated in a large field, it had become completely filled with earth due to years of arable ploughing.

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"Just a patch of barren grass and a couple of stones marked its location. It had been on the Heritage at Risk Register since 2010, and was clearly in need of help."

Historic England’s Heritage at Risk team commissioned an archaeological investigation to discover what remained.

St Anne's Well in Rainhill was at risk of being lost before the excavation

After two days of careful excavation, Oxford Archaeology North uncovered the well and at almost 2m x 2m, it’s a substantial size.

Three steps lead down to a pool of water where medieval pilgrims submerged themselves, hoping to benefit from its healing properties.

Having uncovered the well, the next step for the team was to protect it for the future.

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Stones, which had fallen in to the well, were replaced and a management agreement was set up with the farmer to ensure weeds don’t encroach.

New wooden edging to the perimeter of the excavation was set up to prevent soil falling in, and to provide a buffer to protect the well from damage by farm machinery.

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The spokesman said: "It can now come off the Heritage at Risk Register.

"St Anne’s Well is on private land, but the farmer kindly allowed members of Rainhill Civic Society and Merseyside Archaeological Society to visit the newly repaired well with Historic England.

Do you have any historic facts about Rainhill? Let us know in the comments section.

"The Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Heritage at Risk Projects Officer led a lively group visit of about 20 members and one dog.

"One member had come to see the well as a boy in the 1950s and hadn’t seen it since.

"Everyone must have been feeling healthy and sin-free, as nobody tried to take a sneaky healing dip."

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