Thursday 16 July 2015

Well Dressings

Derbyshire well dressing Dronfield Woodhouse
After last week's love for the civic pride on the Isle of Wight I thought I'd go in search of something similar this week. It then came to me that we are bang in the middle of the Well Dressing season so a trip into Derbyshire was required. From May until September all around Derbyshire and parts of the bordering counties of Cheshire, South Yorkshire and Staffordshire you'll will find displays of intricately designed mosaics made up of petals, leaves, seeds and other natural materials. Although normally associated with the Peak District you'll find well dressings in all parts of Derbyshire including former pit villages, residential suburbs plus town and city centres.
It is thought that the ancient tradition of well dressing was part of a pagan festival that was later adopted by the Christian church. During the Black Death in the middle of the 14th century displays around wells started to be set up in order to give thanks for the clean water they provided. Over the years the tradition died out with only a couple still organising an annual display. In Victorian times some more well dressings were reintroduced in places such as Buxton and Youlgreave. This was in gratitude to the local landowners who had arranged new water pipes to be laid to supply the villages.
Over the subsequent years the popularity of the well dressings didn't really grow until the 1930s. Since then more and more communities have taken up this old folk craft and produced a display on view to the public. Most of the well dressings are officially opened with a dedication service from the local parish vicar. Some locations also combine the event with flower festivals, garden openings, scarecrow trails, galas and fêtes.
Each well dressing team will start with a large, strong board which will be filled with clay. Before the clay is added the boards will be soaked for up to a week otherwise the boards will expand and the clay will crack. Once the clay is properly prepared it added into the boards and then the design can be put together. Obviously the mural will need to be constructed with whatever natural materials that are on offer at that time. The petals will last for only about a week and the clay will need to be kept moist for this time. After that it will be taken down until the next year.
With its religious background many well dressings will depict the local church or a scene from the Bible. Others will support and collect donations for a charity or local group. Last year many choose the Tour de France as inspiration as the first two stages came into the area. There were also many that commemorated the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. The well dressing above from last year's display at Longstone managed to combine both themes. For some more photographs of well dressings from last year have a peek at my Pinterest board.
I checked on Derbyshire Well Dressings and found that this week it was the turn of Dronfield Woodhouse to host their event. This year celebrates 25th years of well dressings in Dronfield Woodhouse. Their two well dressings are actually situated on the site of the old stone-built town well that supplied water via a bucket to the surrounding farms and cottages until piped water was introduced in the 1920s. One of the well dressings is for Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY). Rather helpfully by the well dressing was a list of the materials used: white stones, assorted small stones, hair, chrysanthemum petals, hydrangea petals, lavender, carnation petals, alder cones, conifers, rhubarb seeds, lichen, bark, leaves, fir cones plus black and red cones.
The other has been made by the Dronfield Girl Guiding group. For their 13th display they are giving thanks to the Duke of Devonshire for allowing them to camp in the grounds of Chatsworth House. Over 7,000 Scouts and Guides from around the world including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Malta and Norway will be joining together for this year's Peak Camp.

If you have never seen a well dressing there's still plenty to see in the coming weeks up to 19th September. Don't forget to take some photographs as these works of art will only be on show for a week!


  1. I have never seen or heard of anything like this before - how fascinating and ever so quaintly English. The list of materials used is vast!
    I love that someone has the vision to create art from nature like this - really inspiring isn't it?
    Thanks for sharing JibJabs (shortening Jibbery Jabbery for a bit of funky variety) , I always come away having learnt something!

  2. We go to see these as well (ha ha) as we don't live too far away in Cheshire. We went to one where they had a brass band playing, cakes were bring served and pots of tea. Bliss!

  3. Love learning about these well dressings as I've never seen one. Stunning way to use nature as art - even if temporary.

  4. wow! how interesting. have never seen anything like this before. how creative and educational!

  5. How completely English :) Living in Nottingham we've happened across well dressings during days out in Derbyshire, but never been able to stop and properly admire them. I had no idea so many natural materials were used - or hair for that matter!

  6. I've seen more and more well dressings the past few weeks which have confused me as I thought the well dressings were to thank the goddess Flora for fertility for the land in spring. They have traditionally been done on May 1st. nice to see and if they help to raise money and awareness even better

  7. Whoa, these are amazing!
    I've never heard of these, such a shame that something so wonderful isn't more popular


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