27 July 2018

Dressings

Over the border in north Derbyshire, several villages still practise the ancient tradition of "well dressing". This tends to be a summertime activity.

Please don't think of a well as being a hole in the ground down which buckets are lowered on ropes. In Derbyshire a "well" is simply a water source like a spring and of course going way back in time it was very common for our ancestors to treat such sites with reverence and gratitude. Wells were holy locations. They are places where water magically "wells" up from the ground.

To dress a well you need clay, a large frame and an idea. The pictures are made up using natural ingredients such as petals, nutshells, grasses, pine cones and so forth. They are pressed into the damp clay - creating a kind of natural but temporary mosaic.

Yesterday, Shirley and I dropped into The Peak District village of Stoney Middleton where we visited two well dressings. The main one was in The Nook near to the village church and the second one was close to the Roman Bath House.

The first one depicted a local industrial strike that lasted for two years (1918-1920). It concerned boot and shoe makers from both Stoney Middleton and the neighbouring village of Eyam. Their brave battle against obstinate and scornful employers was a milestone in  trade union history.

The second well dressing marked a hundred years of women's suffrage. The central image is of the Irish suffragette Lillian Margaret Metge (1871-1954).

Long may the Derbyshire well-dressing tradition continue! To find out more please go here.

19 comments:

  1. Well! Well! Well! One learns something new every day!

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  2. Funnily enough, only yesterday I saw a documentary on TV about Tissington, a village in the Peak District, where they have a well dressing festival every year:
    http://www.tissingtonhall.co.uk/tissington-hall-village-well-dressing.html

    Here in Germany, some villages or small towns dress their wells at Easter time, such as the one I showed on my blog in 2012 in this post.

    I understand why wells were revered. No life without water, and folks understood that from the dawn of time.

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    1. Nowadays many people seem to take fresh water supplies for granted. There is little reverence or gratitude.

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  3. The lovely village of Ashford-on-the-Water has five... or maybe six wells and we were lucky to be staying nearby at Well Dressing time about ten years ago. ( but it was May I think ). They also create scarecrows at the same time so their festival is very colourful and interesting. We were invited into homes where the decorating boards were being created during the week then marched to the local band with the locals from well to well as each one was blessed, ending up at the church with more floral decorations on the weekend. Such a lovely old tradition in a lovely part of England.

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    1. What a wonderful experience for two Australian visitors! I think that must have been largely down to a) your open-mindedness b) your sense of adventure and c) the way that you and Tony have usually planned independent holidays - not going for the security of ready-made packages.

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  4. Fascinating write up at the link you provided. The amount of work involved is truly astonishing, but the results are amazing.

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    1. It's great that modern people keep this old tradition going.

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  5. Interesting tradition which is very attractive . It's a very different technique.

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    1. It can't be easy for well-dressers in our summer heatwave Red.

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  6. Interesting. I used to work in the city of Wells (Somerset), There were three wells, one of them filling the moat of the Bishop's Palace. I don't think any of them were dressed.

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    1. Perhaps it is just a peculiar Derbyshire tradition Sue.

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  7. What a wonderful, beautiful, interesting tradition. Stunning work! And, a beautiful way to keep tradition and history alive in the minds of the younger generations. Outstanding, Mr. Pudding. Happy that you have shared your knowledge with us this morning.

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    1. I am pleased you enjoyed this little diversion PT.

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  8. I've learned something new. What a beautiful tradition!

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    1. Perhaps you could design the state of Missouri's first ever well dressing for next year?

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  9. I used to do the clay collecting. We found a big ball of it locally. Dug it out and puddled it. It did Tideswell well dressings for years. In this weather we used to pack the back of the boards with wet sacking. Then it was down to the ladies, pricking out the design and popping petals on. Womens work and pagan to boot. Some were really good at it and others rubbish. The less skilled used pepper corns and areas of sand. I guess it is all dumbed down a bit now and they hope to win Best Well by being lefty pagans. The boot factories were closed by Wilson and his ilk. No miners no boot sales.

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    1. Thank you for this interesting "extra" Adrian. At Stoney Middleton I noticed that the clay was dry and cracking because of recent hot weather. Natural colours were disappearing rapidly from the designs.

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