Ffynnon Bedr. Llanbedr-y-cennin

IMG_3992Llanbedr-y-Cennin lies to the west side of the river Conwy, close to the site of the old Roman fort of Caerhun and under the shadow of the impressive Iron Age hill fort of Pen y Gaer. The settlement lies on the slope of a steep hill, with the church of St Peter at the higher end of the village. St Peter’s Church contains elements of construction from various times from the 13th to the 16th centuries although it was extensively restored in 1842. [4] I read one local account that it was established on the site of an earlier “cell” built near two curative wells though I haven’t been able to trace a reference for this detail. It is said to have been on the route of pilgrims heading towards Bardsey Island.

Indeed, Francis Jones in his book The Holy Wells of Wales [1] does record two wells, one he calls Ffynnon Bedr the other Llanbedrycellin well. Beyond this there appears to be a confusion on his part since he then gives the same description for each well. He is clearly identifying Ffynnon Bedr and really has no information on Llanbedrycellin well.

He draws on Herbert L North and Henry Hughes’s book Old Churches of Snowdonia [2] for his description, 

Ffynnon Bedr (St Peter’s Well) is about a quarter of a mile south of Llanbedrycennin. It is overshadowed by a yew. It was once covered by a building10 feet 9 inches by 6 feet. Up to about 1844 children were bathed there and afterwards taken to a little chapel outside the cottage garden.

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The buildings around the well began to decay towards the end of the 18th century although usage seems to have continued up until the 1850s. At the turn of the twentieth century the well was uncovered after having been filled in with stones and rubbish; walls could still be seen, and water flowed through the well, joining a small stream that runs along the nearby field boundary.

Ffynnon Bedr cottage, near which reputedly stood the well chapel, remains today. The oldest parts date from the sixteenth century or earlier. At the start of the twentieth century this was the holiday home and for a while the family home of Angela Brazil, whose prodigious output of girl’s school stories producing some 50 novels between 1905 and 1945 made her one of the most popular children’s authors of her time, these days she is largely forgotten. The family appear to have taken a great interest in the well and other local antiquities and were involved in the local community and with activities at the museum in Llandudno. A good description of the well at this time is provided by the summary of a tour made by the Llandudno and District Field Club in 1910 which was lead by Angela and her sister Amy.

At the invitation of Mrs Brazil of Ffynnon Bedr, the members of the club spent a most instructive afternoon in the Llanbedr part of the Conwy valley on Saturday August 13th. Assembling at the old Welsh cottage called Ffynnon Bedr the leaders for the day, the Misses Brazil, took charge of the party and proceeded across a field to the Sacred Well from which the cottage obtained its name. Cut into sloping ground in a walled well 6ft long, 4ft wide and 3ft deep with a fine spring of clear water. Surrounding the water area is a narrow pathway and like other wells in this part of the principality, it was originally covered by a building. This measured 10ft by 9ft 6in inside, part of the walls still remaining on three sides. Evidently the door faced east. Immediately on the west of the building is a very fine yew tree which must be many centuries old.

The leaders told us that old people of the neighbourhood remember sick children being bathed in the well some sixty years ago, as a remedy for certain ailments. [3]

Miss Brazil also noted that the waters were noted for cures for warts and other ailments and that people used to throw articles such as pins into the well as they made a wish. Ffynnon Bedr cottage still bears a blue plaque noting its association with Angela Brazil.

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It is believed the well was largely destroyed around the end of the First World War, when the farmer seeking to stop the flow of water, filled up the well with earth and large stones. The interruption of the well affected the health of the yew tree and there were fears that it was dying at some periods.

By the time a surveyor for the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments came out to investigate for their volumes on Caernarfonshire in the 1950s this was the only local well they identified, all vestiges of any building were removed, the well presenting itself as

A rectangular hollow 10feet by at least 14 feet, axis NE – SW, surrounded by a masonry revetment destroyed on the NE. Water enters through an opening on the SE side. The cottage of this name lies 150 yards to the S. [4]

In around 2003 members of Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru carried out work on the well to try to unblock the spring and restore water to the tree. A number of large boulders were removed from around the tree at that time, and it was noticed that the ground at the base of the tree was wet despite the lack of rain. The tree now appears to be thriving once again, although the outside appears dead, there are new shoots growing on the inside.

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A public footpath starting close to the old shop leads across the fields to the well. It wasn’t the best time of year to go visiting the well. Nettles grew waist high all across the site, and it was difficult to make out anything more than the jumble of large stones in the area. With a little stretch of the imagination it was possible to interpret them as a rectangular enclosure, though clearly nothing remains of the well itself, and I wasn’t able to identify any signs of the spring.

The contrast between winter and summer pictures below shows the extent to which any features are hidden for much of the year, but even when the weeds die down there is little other than heaps of stone to mark the site</span.

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Thus, whilst the decline and decay of Ffynnon Bedr has been relatively well documented, Llanbedr well proves more elusive. There remains one drawing, a preliminary sketch for a painting entitled The Village Well exhibited in the 1870s by artist Henry Harris Lines, one of a number of artists from Manchester and Liverpool who moved in to form a small artists’ colony in Tal-y-Bont and Llanbedr-y-Cennin in the 1870s. The title of the sketch is Llanbedr Well.

Lines_family_sketchbook_-_Disc1_039_-_Llanbedr_Well

Returning in the winter of 2014 I walked up the hill from the church and found the water source shown below. Examining the lie of the land, the route the footpath takes on the lane rising up the hill to the north of the church I presume this to be the well painted by Lines

So, clearly there are two wells at Llanbedr-y-Cennin, (and doubtless more), but whether both have been holy wells we cannot conclusively determine. There is no evidence that Llanbedr well has ever been more than the village water supply as it is depicted by Lines and whether it should be included in Jones’s Holy Wells of Wales must remain doubtful.

Well Llanbederycennin

[1] Francis Jones (1954) Holy Wells of Wales. Cardiff University Press.
[2] Herbert L North and Henry Hughes(1924) The Old Churches of Snowdonia.
[3] G A Humphreys. letter to the Editor. The Welsh Coastal Pioneer. 8th September 1910.
[4] Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales. Caernarfonshire East, 1956

I am unaware of any reference to this or any other wells in any of Angela brazil’s novels but a scene referring toa visit to Ffynnon Bedr occurs in the historical romance “Nectar From A Stone” by Jane Guill. Simon and Schuster (2005)

Ffynnon Bedr SH 7630 6914

5 Comments

  1. You have a very interesting site here! I used to live in North Wales and know many of these places. The old churches are lovely, but I am ashamed to say I haven’t visited many of the wells! We used to drive past Ffynnon Eidda, high on the moors above Ffestiniog – it was used as a drovers’ well for cattle but I am sure it has much older origins.

    1. Hello – thank you. Ffynnon Eidda has been on my to do list for a while now – it’s in a great location. I too know little of the history beyond its having been a drovers well, hopefully I shall find out a little more soon.

  2. I visited the site of Ffynnon Bedr on the 4th July 2015.
    I could find no trace of water.The stones lie around the old Yew tree but are covered by nettles.
    The Yew tree has suffered large die back, but young shoots are growing up within the tree.

    The second well at Llanbedr identified in the photo was used by The Church Cottages as their water supply before mains was put on.
    A local man who was brought up in the cottages has kept the well entrance clear so it can be still seen from the road.

  3. Yes, I think it has definitely dried up. I first visited in the summer, and as you say, the nettles take over – the best time is in the winter, but even then there really isn’t a lot to see.

    Thank you for confirming that the other well was once used as a local water supply. I’m even more inclined to think that it is the one from the sketch in that case.

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