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HER Number:MDV9058
Name:The Leechwell, Totnes

Summary

A medieval holy well which was used as a water supply until the 1930s.

Location

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

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • National Monuments Record: 445995
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX86SW/15
  • Old Listed Building Ref (II): 427464
  • Old SAM Ref: 34875
  • Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division: SX86SW37

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • HOLY WELL (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD (Between))

Full description

Historic England, 09/04/2015, Leechwell Holy Well, Totnes (Correspondence). SDV358099.

Works permitted under SMC S95696 will commence on 5 May.

Windeatt, E., 1880, An Historical Sketch of Totnes, 168 (Article in Serial). SDV168929.

Leechwell. This well is situated in a lane leading from near The Shambles or South Gate towards The Maudlyn. The water flows into three large stone troughs, and each stream was believed to possess peculiar medicinal qualities, particularly good for the eyes.

Ordnance Survey, 1880-1899, First Edition Ordnance 25 inch map (Cartographic). SDV336179.

'Leech Well' shown on the 19th century map on the south side of the road.

Windeatt, E., 1894, Twelfth Report of the Committee on Devonshire Folklore, 81-2 (Article in Serial). SDV346809.

The troughs were situated in an irregular recess open to the east. Two of the troughs lay parallel aligned east to west, the third at right angles to the others, north to south. A spout of stone serves each with running water which drains off to the east. The well is of high antiquity, and is still part of the water supply of the town. Northerly trough appears to be of later date or better made with thicker sides. A small, ragstone-walled enclosure open on the north side with stone steps leading down from the roadway. The water is delivered out of three small pipes into three granite troughs set in a cobbled floor. The overflow from the troughs is carried away by a drain. Troughs also thought to be good for lameness and skin disease, no doubt associated with a leper hospital.

Watkin, H. R., 1918 - 1919, Totnes Priory and Medieval Town (Article in Serial). SDV169720.

Rea, C. F., 1923, Totnes in Bygone Days, 11 (Un-published). SDV337093.

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, 1951, SX86SW37 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV346811.

Leechwell a medieval holy well in a small walled enclosure open on the north side with stone steps leading down from the road.

Brown, T., 1957, Holy and Notable Wells of Devon, 215 (Article in Serial). SDV304810.

Pye, A. R. + Stead, A. J. + Juddery, J. Z., 1991, An Archaeological Assessment and Evaluation of the Totnes Southern Area Access Road (Report - Assessment). SDV340797.

Two wardens of the 'Lychewylle' employed by the Borough in the 15th century. This was probably a source of drinking water in the medieval period.

Gent, T. H., 2001, Archaeological Assessment of land at St Katherine’s Way, Totnes, Devon (Report - Assessment). SDV336261.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2002, Leechwell Holy Well, 350 metres south-west of St Mary's Church (Schedule Document). SDV346810.

This monument includes a medieval holy well known as Leechwell, which lies on the south side of a narrow valley, just south of Totnes town centre. The town is visible from the well, which is located at the junction of two narrow lanes, now used as footpaths. The monument survives as a rectangular sunken reservoir, its south-east corner cut by the southern branch of the lane. It measures 3.8 metres wide, 4.28 metres long and is 0.55 metres deep on its east side. Massive stone walls on its west and north sides retain a garden and measure from 4 metres to 6 metres high, while an enclosing wall on the south side is 0.47 metres wide and 2.2 metres high. The water flows from a narrow culvert leading back into the hillside to the west. This feeds a semi-circular corbelled chamber 2 metres wide and 1.45 metres deep, which is retained by a stone bench running along the west side of the reservoir. Three stone spouts convey water through the front of this bench into three granite troughs set in the floor of the reservoir, which is cobbled, with narrow gutters around its edges. Two stone-lined chutes in the south-west corner convey storm water from the southern arm of the lane and from the garden above, into the reservoir. The water leaves the reservoir via a culvert 0.8 metres wide and 0.5 metres high at its south-east corner. Leechwell is recorded from at least the mid 15th century, when wardens of the well were appointed annually by the Borough. It was thought to heal eye ailments, lameness and skin disease, and was associated with the medieval leper hospital of St Mary Magdalene 120 metrers to the south-east. The well was used as a public water supply until the 1930s. The well is a Listed Building, Grade II. Modern path surfaces are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included. Holy wells are water sources with specifically Christian associations. The custom of venerating springs and wells as sacred sites is also known to have characterised pre-Christian religions in Britain and, although Christian wells have been identified from as early as the 6th century AD, it is clear that some holy wells originated as earlier sacred sites. The cult of holy wells continued throughout the medieval period. Its condemnation at the time of the Reformation (circa 1540) ended new foundations but local reverence and folklore customs at existing holy wells often continued, in some cases to the present day. The structure of Leechwell medieval holy well survives well and is unusual in having its chamber buried in the hillside to the rear. Its location close to a medieval leper hospital is likely to have influenced its reputation as having healing powers for skin diseases and lameness, and the name supports this, leeches being an important form of treatment for skin ailments in the medieval period. The well's known history is unusually complete, with official recognition going back to the 15th century. Buried remains relating to its construction and past use may include waterlogged material and deposits of votive offerings associated with the veneration of the well.

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

The Leechwell is a spring. The water issues from three stone spouts into three granite troughs. It is housed in a stone-built recess. The spring was regarded as a healing well, the central of the three streams of water was said to be good for the eyes (Windeatt 1894, 82). Th well may have supplied drinking water to the town (Pye et al 1991, 3). Wardens of the well are recorded from 1405 to 1475 (Watkin 1917, 946). In a Totnes Priory deed of the late 12th century the well is referred to as Lydelychewille (Watkin 1914, 100), which is the earliest mention of the well.

Collings, A. G., 2007, Archaeological Assessment of the Alleged Immersion Bath in Leechwell Gardens, Totnes, 2 (Report - Assessment). SDV340796.

Medieval holy well, seemingly documented to the late 12th century. Believed to cure skin disease, and hence has been claimed to be associated with the leper hospital of St. Mary Magdalene, although given the isolation of the lepers, this might be called into question.

National Monuments Record, 2011, 445995 (National Monuments Record Database). SDV346815.

A medieval holy well, known as Leechwell, located in a narrow valley, south of Totnes town centre. The well survives as a rectangular sunken reservoir, enclosed by stone walls. The water enters through a culvert on the west side and is fed into three troughs set in the floor of the reservoir via three stone spouts. Leechwell is recorded from at least the mid 15th century and was thought to heal eye ailments, lameness and skin diseases. It was associated with the nearby leper hospital of St Mary Magdalene. The well was used as a public water supply until the 1930s.

English Heritage, 2011, Historic Houses Register (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV346128.

Leechwell in Totnes was Listed on 7th January 1952. Ancient spring in cobbled recess below street level. Three springs discharge into three, shallow old stone troughs. Water is carried off by paired runnels below the road.

Ordnance Survey, 2012, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV348725.

'Leech Well' shown on modern mapping.

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

The well is said to be one of the most important holy wells in Devon.

English Heritage, 2014, Leechwell Holy Well, 350 metres South West of St Mary's Church, Totnes, S00095696 (Correspondence). SDV358104.

Scheduled Monument Consent given, subject to conditions, for conservation works comprising clearance and re-puddling of inner chamber of the well, clearing foliage and repointing outer area walls, and erecting a replacement information board on an outer wall.

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

Prendergast gives a summary of the information available on the Leechwell and the Leechwell area, which evidence suggests are at least 13th century in origin. In their Magna Britannia, published in 1822, Lysons' refer to a well in Totnes which in 1605 was discovered to have curative properties. The well is not named but it is considered likely that it was Leechwell.

Watts, M., 2020, The Leechwell, Totnes (Ground Photograph). SDV363513.

Photos of The Leechwell showing the three troughs. According to the information panel these are known locally as Snake, Long Crippler and Toad, named from the belief that the water had healing properties for snake-bite, joints, eyes and skin diseases.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV168929Article in Serial: Windeatt, E.. 1880. An Historical Sketch of Totnes. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 12. Hardback Volume. 168.
SDV169720Article in Serial: Watkin, H. R.. 1918 - 1919. Totnes Priory and Medieval Town. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 10. Unknown.
SDV304810Article in Serial: Brown, T.. 1957. Holy and Notable Wells of Devon. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 89. A5 Hardback. 215.
SDV336179Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1880-1899. First Edition Ordnance 25 inch map. First Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Map (Digital).
SDV336261Report - Assessment: Gent, T. H.. 2001. Archaeological Assessment of land at St Katherine’s Way, Totnes, Devon. Exeter Archaeology Report. 01.10. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV337093Un-published: Rea, C. F.. 1923. Totnes in Bygone Days. Unknown. 11.
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. 2.
SDV340797Report - Assessment: Pye, A. R. + Stead, A. J. + Juddery, J. Z.. 1991. An Archaeological Assessment and Evaluation of the Totnes Southern Area Access Road. Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit Report. 91.23. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV346128List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: English Heritage. 2011. Historic Houses Register. Historic Houses Register. Website.
SDV346809Article in Serial: Windeatt, E.. 1894. Twelfth Report of the Committee on Devonshire Folklore. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 26. A5 Hardback. 81-2.
SDV346810Schedule Document: Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 2002. Leechwell Holy Well, 350 metres south-west of St Mary's Church. The Schedule of Monuments. A4 Stapled.
SDV346811Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. 1951. SX86SW37. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card. Card Index.
SDV346815National Monuments Record Database: National Monuments Record. 2011. 445995. National Monuments Record Database. Website.
SDV348725Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2012. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey. Map (Digital). [Mapped feature: #109260 ]
SDV358099Correspondence: Historic England. 09/04/2015. Leechwell Holy Well, Totnes. Scheduled Monument Consent Granted. Digital.
SDV358104Correspondence: English Heritage. 2014. Leechwell Holy Well, 350 metres South West of St Mary's Church, Totnes. Scheduled Monument Consent Letter. Digital. S00095696.
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.
SDV363513Ground Photograph: Watts, M.. 2020. The Leechwell, Totnes. Digital.
Linked images:2

Associated Monuments

MDV71623Related to: Leechwell Immersion Pool, Totnes (Monument)
MDV9084Related to: St Mary Magdalene Leper Hospital, Maudlin Road, Totnes (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV8220 - Archaeological Assessment: The Southern Development Area, Totnes (Ref: 050712)

Date Last Edited:Jan 29 2020 12:28PM