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HER Number:MDV71623
Name:Leechwell Immersion Pool, Totnes

Summary

A triangular pond in Leechwell Gardens which has been identified as a medieval immersion bath associated with the Leechwell holy well and the medieval leper hospital which was founded in the 12th century and located on Maudlin Road. However, no evidence or features have been found to substantiate a medieval date for the pool and it is now thought that it is industrial in origin. In the 1840s the plot was owned by a dyer living at Leechwell Cottage. The earliest documentary evidence for the pool itself is a sketch on deeds dated 1873 which depicts it as a circular feature. However, subsequent maps show it as triangular in shape.

Location

Grid Reference:SX 800 601
Map Sheet:SX86SW
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishTotnes
DistrictSouth Hams
Ecclesiastical ParishTOTNES

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old SAM Ref: 36031

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • POND (XII to XIX - 1101 AD? to 1900 AD (Between))

Full description

Ordnance Survey, 1855-1895, First Edition 1:500 Town Map (Cartographic). SDV338879.

Waterhouse, R., 2004, The Pond in the Bungalow Garden, Adjoining Leechwell Lane, Totnes, Devon: Site Inspection and Report (Report - non-specific). SDV355315.

Historically the Leechwells seem to have been connected with the medieval Hospital dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, which was located on Maudlin Road, approximately 120 metres south of the well. It seems highly likely that the triangular pond was a medieval immersion bath associated with this hospital, where leprosy and other skin diseases were treated.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2005, Immersion Bath associated with Leechwell Holy Well, 40m north east of Leechwell Cottage (Schedule Document). SDV322674.

The monument includes an immersion bath associated with the Leechwell holy well in Totnes. The bath lies adjacent to a walled historic lane known locally as Lepers Walk. The immersion bath survives as a triangular pond denoted by coursed stone rubble walls and a slate slab-lined bottom. The western corner of the pond has a flat face which may represent blocking of the original culvert serving the bath. The immersion bath is now fed by a terracotta pipe with water from the nearby Leechwell holy well. The interior of the bath measures 4.5 metres long by up to 3.5m metres wide and it varies in depth between 0.15 metres and 0.6 metres. Two small stone steps lead into the bath at its southern corner.
The earliest known reference to the Leechwell dates from the early 12th century, but the immersion bath may belong to the 13th century when the nearby leper hospital dedicated to St Mary Magdalene was established. The bath would have been used to treat leprosy and other skin diseases, as well as forming the focus for religious activities.
The modern safety fence surrounding the bath is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included.
Despite consolidation work, the immersion bath associated with Leechwell holy well, 40 metres north east of Leechwell Cottage survives well and forms part of the leper hospital and holy well. Considerable documentation survives to augment our understanding and appreciation of this rare survival. The nearby holy well forms a focus for visitor and religious activities and, if it was accessible there is no doubt that the bath would also attract considerable attention.

Humphreys, C., 2005, The Southern Development Area, Totnes, Devon: Results of an Archaeological Assessment (Report - Assessment). SDV363462.

The pond to the east of Leechwell Cottage is a triangular construction of coursed stone rubble. At present it received water through a terracotta pipe but was apparently formally fed by a stone-lined culvert. It has been suggested (Waterhouse 2004) that the pond may have originated as an immersion bath of healing water connected with the Maudlyn Hospital. However, the plan of 1873 shows a circular pond at this location.
To the north-east of the pond there is probably a buried culvert (possibly disturbed by the footings of the bungalow that was constructed before 1933. The culvert could be of medieval date.

Collings, A. G., 2007, Archaeological Assessment of the Alleged Immersion Bath in Leechwell Gardens, Totnes, 3 (Report - Assessment). SDV340796.

Immersion baths for lepers are an extremely rare feature, indeed it is difficult to find a single totally authenticated example. This feature derives water from the Leechwell, which is well documented during the 15th century, as one of several sources of water for the townspeople. The two earliest maps to have been located which show the pond differ in their depictions. The 1873 map shows it as a round structure, and the 1887 map shows it as triangular. Evidently it underwent substantial change in the later Victorian period. Both plans agree in not showing the source of the water, culverted from the Leechwell. The water then continued north-east to the northern exdge of the orchard rather than flowing down the principal slope, before entering the field to the east, and descending to a pond.
However, the 'bath' lies within a property that has been identified back to 1433, when Henry Cheesewell bequeathed a garden called Lechewellhay, bounded on the east by the garden of the lepers and on the west by the pathway from Bastewalls towards Lechewell (today's Leechwell Lane). Therefore the garden was not part of the leper hospital's grounds, but was in private ownership. The view that Leechwell Lane was regularly used by the lepers has been rejected in view of the presumed exclusion enforced on the lepers, and the narrowness of the lane which could allow accidental contact. Furthermore, given the belief that the disease could be water-borne, it seems highly unlikely that lepers would have shared the use of a bath beyond the hospital's confines.
An alternative function for the feature should therefore be sought, and there must be a high probability that it is an industrial feature. The 1842 Tithe survey identifies the plot as owned and occupied by William Sloggett, who appears in the 1841 census as a dyer, living at Leechwell Cottage, 40 metres west of the 'bath'.
The initial identification of the pool as a medieval lepers' immersion pond is not based on any stated evidence, and seems somewhat fanciful. Not only is there a lack of evidence for this interpretation, there is clear documentary evidence to contradict it. The present triangular form appears to be the result of reconstruction of a previous circular pool between 1873 and 1887. In its new form, the pool fed a watercourse which diverted water around the orchard - either because the water was contaiminated by industrial activity or to improved drainage in the orchard. The watercourse was clearly a new feature; it cut through one corner of a small enclosure which had stood beside Leechwell Lane in 1842.

Steinmetzer, M.F.R. + Young, G., 2010, Archaeological Evaluation and Watching Brief at Leechwell Gardens, Totnes, Devon (Report - Evaluation). SDV347720.

An archaeological evaluation and watching brief was undertaken prior to, and during, groundworks associated with landscaping works at Leechwell Gardens. No medieval features, finds or deposits were recorded. Figures 2, 4.

Clipson, J., 2012, An Archaeological Survey of the Leechwell Immersion Pool, Totnes, Devon (Report - Survey). SDV363458.

Archaeological assessment undertaken on the impact of proposed landscaping works. The pool is broadly triangular in shape, circa 4.5 metres long by 3.5 metres maximum width. It is 0.5 metres deep at the western end, sloping to 0.75 metres deep at the eastern end. It is largely of stone construction, the sides rendered with lime mortar. The bottom is mostly compacted clay with small stones but two large slates form a shelf at the western end. There are two stone steps down into the pool in the south-west corner. Water enters the pool at the north-east corner (diverted at the time of the assessment) and drains through a stone-lined hole in the south-eastern corner. No evidence or features were identified to suggest the age or function of the pool. An aluminium rail in the south-east corner indicates some modern alterations. It is considered unlikely that the proposed works will have an adverse impact on the structure.

Prendergast, S., 2013, A Guided Walk of the Leechwell Area (Leaflet). SDV363461.

Historic maps show that the water once flowed from the Leechwell to the pool via an open leat.

Prendergast, S., 2019, An Overview of Information about the Leechwell and the Leechwell Area of Totnes (Un-published). SDV363459.

The earliest documentary evidence for the immersion pool are the 1873 deeds for Leechwell Cottage which include a sketch showing the pool as a circular feature. However, the leat feeding it is mentioned on a sale poster of 1864. There is speculation about possible links between the Leechwell, the pool and the nearby Mauldin Leper Hospital.

Watts, M., 2020, Pool in Leechwell Garden, Totnes (Ground Photograph). SDV363515.

Photo of triangular pool, now fenced off, in Leechwell Garden.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV322674Schedule Document: Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 2005. Immersion Bath associated with Leechwell Holy Well, 40m north east of Leechwell Cottage. The Schedule of Monuments. A4 Stapled.
SDV338879Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1855-1895. First Edition 1:500 Town Map. First Edition 1:500 Town Map. Map (Digital). [Mapped feature: #99704 ]
SDV340796Report - Assessment: Collings, A. G.. 2007. Archaeological Assessment of the Alleged Immersion Bath in Leechwell Gardens, Totnes. Exeter Archaeology Report. 07.61. A4 Stapled + Digital. 3.
SDV347720Report - Evaluation: Steinmetzer, M.F.R. + Young, G.. 2010. Archaeological Evaluation and Watching Brief at Leechwell Gardens, Totnes, Devon. Exeter Archaeology Historic Environment Record Entry. EA7164. A4 stapled + Digital.
SDV355315Report - non-specific: Waterhouse, R.. 2004. The Pond in the Bungalow Garden, Adjoining Leechwell Lane, Totnes, Devon: Site Inspection and Report. Robert Waterhouse Report. Digital.
SDV363458Report - Survey: Clipson, J.. 2012. An Archaeological Survey of the Leechwell Immersion Pool, Totnes, Devon. John Clipson. A3 Comb Bound + Digital.
SDV363459Un-published: Prendergast, S.. 2019. An Overview of Information about the Leechwell and the Leechwell Area of Totnes. An Overview of Information about the Leechwell and the Leechwell Area of Totnes. A4 Comb Bound.
SDV363461Leaflet: Prendergast, S.. 2013. A Guided Walk of the Leechwell Area. Leaflet + Digital.
SDV363515Ground Photograph: Watts, M.. 2020. Pool in Leechwell Garden, Totnes. Digital.

Associated Monuments

MDV9084Related to: St Mary Magdalene Leper Hospital, Maudlin Road, Totnes (Monument)
MDV9058Related to: The Leechwell, Totnes (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV4399 - Assessment of Immersion Bath in Leechwell Gardens, Totnes
  • EDV5245 - Archaeological Evaluation and Watching Brief at Leechwell Gardens, Totnes
  • EDV8216 - Archaeological survey of the Leechwell Immersion Pool, Totnes
  • EDV8220 - Archaeological Assessment: The Southern Development Area, Totnes (Ref: 050712)

Date Last Edited:Jan 29 2020 12:49PM