Ffynhonnau Asa – Llannefydd and Eglwysbach

St Asaph. Photo (c) Llywelyn2000 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Two wells for St Asaph in Conwy

This will have to be my lock down post, we are still staying alert and travel within Wales is still limited to a five mile radius, so no immediate opportunity for adding photographs to the post. To some degree there is very little that photographs can add for these wells, though I’m sure, in the fullness of time, I will add some appropriate pictures.

These two wells both carry the dedication to Asa. His name has been rendered in various forms over time – Asa, Assa, Asaf and Assaf – we generally recognise him as Asaph today in the way it is used in the English name for the city also known as Llanelwy where we are told he established the first church. He is also credited with the foundation of Llanasa in Flintshire.

I have found reference to three wells dedicated to Asa across the St Asaph diocese. The first and probably most important was near Cwm, more or less half way between St Asaph and Llanasa,and has already been covered in a previous post. This was a major well, its output in water volume was second only to St Winefride’s well at Holywell and it was a landmark on pilgrimage routes across the area. Here I deal with the remaining two at Llannefydd to the west of Denbigh and Eglwysbach in the Conwy valley.

In the late 1690s academic and antiquarian Edward Lhuyd sent out questionnaires to parishes across Wales to obtain geographic and demographic data, among which he included main wells, this forms the gazetteer he published under the name Parochial Queries [3]. Both these Asa wells are listed in this collection implying that they had some local significance at that time.

For Eglwysbach he records “Ffynnon Asa in Gweirglodd Asa”, which identifies also the name of the field (gweirglodd = meadow) in which it rises. For Llannefydd he just records the name “Ffynnon Assa” alongside other named wells.

While this demonstrates that the wells were so named and deemed sufficiently important to record at the end of the 17th century, there are further extant written records that make reference in Eglwysbach to Gweirglodd Asa and to Gweirglodd Ffynnon Asaph earlier in the 17th century, while in Llannefydd there are similar written records of Cae Ffynnon Asaph (Ffynnon Asaph field) in the late 16th and throughout the 17th centuries. So clearly both Asa wells were local landmarks and have a history stretching back into the medieval period.

Another similarity is that both represent sources of local streams called Afon Asa, the stream fed by Ffynnon Asa at Llannefydd retains the name Afon Asa, while at Eglwysbach Lhuyd refers to Avon Ffynnon Asa which may have fed into Afon Hiraethlyn, also known as Erethlyn, the main river flowing through the village.

In neither village is the local church dedicated to Asa. The Eglwysbach church is dedicated to St Martin, while at Llannefydd the church carries a dedication to St Nefydd and St Mary. There are wells dedicated to both Nefydd and Mary closer to the village centre which we will cover at some time in the future.

No further description of either well is available until the inspectors for the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales visited both sites in 1912. [4] They provide a description of what they found.

At Eglwysbach they note that
Asa’s well was situated at the spot indicated, within a small meadow which impinges on the village street. A little over half a century ago it was closed and a pump installed, which is still in active use. In the adjoining meadow, however, is a swampy area where the overflow from the well reaches the surface and flows into the Erethlyn brook.

At Llannefydd they report
A spring rising at the foot of a bank; the water falls into no cavity, but trickles down to the little river Asa

No account has survived of any tradition or usage associated with either well.

The Llannefydd well is to the south east of the village, some three quarters of a mile from the village centre. It lies close to an existing small woodland called Afon Asa Wood. I do remember searching for it several years ago without success. I’m sure there is value in a second visit.

Afon Asa, Llannefydd

At Eglwysbach the chance of something remaining is much less certain. The RCAHMW noted that it had been converted into a pump in the mid nineteenth century. The pump was located on the main street at some distance from the original well. Prior to its installation villagers had carried water from the well by pail walking across the fields to do so. [1] By this time, although the well remained an important water source,  the original name of the well seems to have been either forgotten or confused. The field in which it lay appears to have been recorded on the tithe maps of the 1840s as Cae Ffynnon Isa (lower well), unless this is just a mis-transcription, although this name is repeated in a news report in 1900 which identifies the pump referred to in the RCAHMW Report as being “the only source of [water] supply to the Canol Llan for fifty years since the old well ‘Ffynnon Isaf’ had been closed”. [2]

Eglwysbach – modern satellite image with 1840 tithe allocation

In recent years the fields between the main street through Eglwysbach and the Hiraethlyn have been used for housing development but the original name has been rediscovered since roughly in the area where the well lay there is now a road of new dormer bungalows called Heol Ffynnon Asa.

So in some ways both wells can be considered to just about live on.

[1] Eglwysbach Heritage Trail.  (the pump was rediscovered in 2015 and now stands in the village cemetery)
[2] The Welsh Coast Pioneer and Review for North Cambria (August 3rd 1900) retrieved from National Library of Wales.
[3] Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales. Denbighshire 1914
[4] Lhuyd, Edward Parochialia  edited Rupert H Morris,  Cambrian Archaeological Society 1909

OS Maps reproduced with permission. National Library of Scotland.

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