Well dressing was originally a pagan custom of celebrating the gods of wells and springs to ensure a continued supply of fresh water, but it took on a particular significance in Derbyshire in the 17th century as a way of giving thanks for being spared from the Great Plague of 1665.
2014 well dressing in the village of Tideswell
(The village of Eyam became known for the self-sacrifice of its inhabitants: after becoming infected after a tailor received a flea-infested parcel of cloth from London, they decided to quarantine themselves rather than spread the plague to surrounding villages. 260 out of 350 villagers died.)
Derbyshire well dressings take the form of elaborate pictures made from individual flower petals pressed onto clay-covered boards. These pictures may feature local landmarks, Biblical scenes, or historical events. The Tideswell well dressing shown here features landmarks from the nearby spa town of Buxton (Aqua Arnemetiae is its Roman name), including the frontage of its Victorian railway station.
Well dressings are usually displayed as part of a week-long festival in the village, and houses and the streets may also be decorated.
Newark, a market town in Nottinghamshire, grew up during the early 10th century as a strategic gateway to Northern England, sitting as it did on the intersection of the Great North Road and the Fosse Way, a Roman road built in the 1st century AD. Its castle has featured in some of the most tumultous times in English history and was besieged five times during the Baronial Wars and English Civil War. It is mostly ruined, but its prominent position as you enter the town means that it’s still very much a tourist attraction and despite the drizzle definitely worth a look around!
Entering the Castle gardens
Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, had a stone castle constructed on the site of an earlier motte and bailey castle next to the river Trent in the early 12th century. King John died in the castle in October 1216 and after his death it was kept by one of his men against the orders of the new king, Henry III. That defiance resulted in the first siege of the castle – for eight days – until the castle was surrendered to the king.
The castle was rebuilt towards the end of the 13th century with a new curtain wall. In the 15th and 16th centuries fireplaces were added and windows enlarged and glazed as it became more of a place of residence than a defensive stronghold. It had been owned by the Church but in 1547 it passed into private ownership under Henry VIII’s Reformation.
Newark was a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, and the castle was besieged three times, finally surrendering in 1646 on the orders of Charles I. Parliamentarian forces had been ordered to destroy the castle, but the plague had broken out in Newark and the order was not fully carried out.
The public gardens within the walls were laid out for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, opening in 1889.
Filed under History, Places