Anglesey’s wells seem to have a deep seated problem with transport planners. We have seen previously how, in the mid nineteenth century, Cybi’s well at Clorach was seen as surplus to requirements and filled in to accommodate the redirection of the road when building a bridge over a tributary stream to the Afon Goch.
Similarly St Beuno’s well at Aberffraw was buried much more recently during the creation of a new bridge where the A4080 crosses the River Ffraw. The once important St Eleath’s well at Amlwch is now a car park and St Cybi’s well in Holyhead has suffered a similar fate.
Holyhead, Caergybi – Cybi’s fort in Welsh, was, according to the early written lives of this Cornish born saint, where he made his final home. Here he founded a monastery on land lying within the old Roman fort given to him by Maelgwn King of Gwynedd; his final stopping place after wandering across Cornwall, Ireland and Wales. He left a number of wells and vast array of other dedications in his wake, but his foundation at Holyhead developed into a locally important clas and church, the head of which played an important role in Anglesey’s religious life well into the middle ages. Cybi’s shrine at Holyhead was removed and taken to Christ Church Cathedral Dublin by raiders from Ireland in 1405 during Glyndŵr rebellion..
Chasing after this well lying effectively in Cybi’s own backyard is very much like chasing after shadows. We know it was there but few seem ever to have recorded the fact. Following the 1806 Act of Union Holyhead expanded rapidly with its role as the primary port linking Britain and Ireland. The harbour was expanded in the early part of the nineteenth century and as the Menai Bridge and the railways brought people flooding into the town; the need for accommodation and water supplies was greater than any immediate need for holy wells. Housing spread rapidly in the area around the well during the middle of the century.
The well remains in mapping. The tithe map of 1840 shows a field named Cae Ffynnon Cybi and in the same location larger scale OS maps continued to mark the site of St Cybi’s well at the end of that century. But the water was fed into a pump to supply the local population; the pump apparently stood in the road at the junction of St Cybi Street and St Cybi Place. Even the street names retained a hint of the site, nearby were Water Street and Well Street just in case you were in any doubt. A health report for the Holyhead urban District of 1878 said:
I have analysed the water from the pump at Cybi Street and have no hesitation in condemning the same as unfit for drinking purposes. (1)
The pump attached to the well must have been removed shortly after. The Reverend. Elias Owen visited the spot around 1900 and noted the pump was gone, being told that it was an obstruction in the highway. He was informed that the well was once surrounded by stonework and approached by a number of steps. A 1:500 scale map of 1888 shows an enigmatic feature amongst the formal, tree lined, gardens of Rosemount, the home at the time of the one-time High Sherriff of Anglesey, Mr Hugh Edwards JP, it was later sold to become the site of the Post Office. An unlabelled square shape appears with what seems to be three or four steps on two sides. We might assume this possible garden water feature was St Cybi’s well. It is this once attractive garden that now forms the Boston Centre Stage building and adjoining car park off Boston Street and the well lies beneath the two.
A business in a building backing on to the car park tried briefly to return the name to public notice. Caffi Ffynnon Cybi opened there in the recent past; while it is no longer operating the windows retain the name and another shadow of the former well.
Given that the well was dedicated to the town’s saint and that it lay so close to the Roman fort, Cybi’s original settlement and later churches then we have to assume that it has played a significant role in the past. Traditions and history are best retained within a stable population, the rapid development and large number of incomers throughout the nineteenth century and their probable transient nature appears to have erased any earlier local memory of the well. The need to provide water to the growing town has overridden any previous usage.
Anyone possessing a copy of Francis Jones book on Holy Wells and looking at his reference to this well might be expecting me to add stories of healing; of the numbers of abandoned crutches and wheelbarrows to be seen beside the well in days gone by and of the eels that lived within the well to help divine the futures of those so inclined. Sad to report all of this is not part of the record of Cybi’s Holyhead well. Jones badly confused his Cybi’s wells and repeats the stories associated with the well at Llangybi near Pwllheli in his account of the Holyhead well. The closest we come is an extract from Trebor Mon’s local history 1877 which seems to suggest that the well had been known as a place to gain revenge on one’s enemies and that both cursing and divination practices had taken place in the past at the well. (3)
So we are dealing here with just the shadows of Cybi’s well. That it must have been there is evinced by the 1840 field name, it possibly featured in the High Sherriff’s garden, but what is still there under the Boston Centre Stage? The only written description we have is a second hand account recorded by someone who never saw it. Its traditional usage is lost over time, on my last visit even Well Street had been demolished and now the only remaining evidence is in the windows of a closed down café.
In passing I would like to acknowledge the information that was posted in the Holyhead internet forum a couple of years ago by a contributor going by the name of That Guy. He posted some useful notes concerning the six holy wells on Holy Island (Ynys Cybi) to which I have referred for this and other posts that will appear on these wells. I did try to join the forum at the time to discuss these but wasn’t given access. Thanks also are due to Janet Bord for helpful discussions regarding the well.
(1) North Wales Chronicle 30 March 1878
(2) Carr, A D (2011) Medieval Anglesey. Anglesey Antiquarian Society.
(3) Williams R T (1877) (Trebor Mon) Nodion o Gaergybi – quoted in Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru’s newsletter Llygad y Ffynnon 2009
Reblogged this on Blue Dragon Journal.
An excellent account yet again Ian, I would love to get to the bottom of this one considering its importance..
Thanks Nick. This is one for which you feel there is more information out there. Something must have been written in the 19th century but whether that will ever turn up remains to be seen. As with all the wells I look at, I always hope that someone who knows something will see this and share what they know
Hi Ian, I think we can easily get a dowser in to identify the spring and well location. I will have a word with my colleagues. I live but a Mile from this location! I have a few more to tell you about in the vicinity also.. will email you later on. The information regarding all these locations will soon unfold..
I’m sure that the spring is still flowing down there. Probably been in pipes to a drain. Interesting to see what a dowser might find. I’ll look forward to the others you know of – i have a few more to visit in the area
I’ll drop you the king awaited email reply later~ been working away. There is a geological aquifer on the mountain that the water board tap into. Also very old stories about a fresh water well at Capel Y Gloch Clwydd on the mountain ~ at sea level beyond the cliffs..
yes – the Gloch Clwydd well (Lochwyd) is one I visited – or tried to – didn’t go far down the ravine as it was pretty slippy that day. Would love to hear how far down it is possible to get
Tracing holy well in Holyhead is really hell! You have done amazing thorough research and I admire your thorough passion. Maybe a geologist or hydrologist on Anglesey could help. Or the title documents to the former cafe building might give owners name or Council tax records for tracing people who might know.
Thank you. For some reason the wells around Holyhead seem to have been unlucky in their attempts at survival. I went to visit another one last Saturday which, although it was there, it was impossible to see it through the brambles. I’m sure that the water is still there down below – and we certainly know where it was, but I don’t think there is the demand to have it restored. It is fascinating to investigate and keep the stories alive – so at least even when the wells don’t their memories live on.