Ffynnon Chwerthin – the Laughing Well – was described by Myrddin Fardd (John Jones) in his Llên Gwerin Sir Gaernarfon (Folklore of Caernarfonshire) in 1908. He described a well near Llanberis, noting that As the well was in the middle of a bog it was impossible to approach it without producing a bubbling at the surface, which seemed to make a gentle laughing sound – thus giving rise to the well’s name – Ffynnon Chwerthin, the Laughing Well.
He records that there were thousands of pins at the bottom of the well and more could be seen stuck into corks bobbing on the surface. These, he informs us, were the tools of three witches who lived close by and used the well for their nefarious practises. Local children were warned to stay well away from the spot for fear that they might encounter the witches.
For anyone who dared to go too close the laughing sound would make them go pale and their knees tremble and the boldest would not dip a finger in the well for fear of misfortune.
We can clearly interpret this as a legend developed to ensure that children don’t stray close to the boggy site, much as the legend of Jenny Greenteeth occurs elsewhere – a water dwelling witch who captures unwary children who get too close to dangerous streams, lakes or canals.
But Fardd does not provide any further information on the use of the well or significance of the pins. We will often see pins deposited in a well as part of a ritual deigned to cure warts; but when associated with the witches, and the presence of pins stuck into corks perhaps we have some hint of a well used for cursing.
From Fardd we learn no detail of the precise location of the well, other than that it is near Llanberis. To data I have found no other records of any attempt to place it until the 1990s. A set of fascinating notes, queries and responses appeared in the local monthly newspaper Eco’r Wyddfa under the heading Chwilota (to forage or rummage) by Dafydd Whiteside Thomas. In December 1992 he repeated Fardd’s description and asked whether any of his readers knew the location of the well. In the February 1993 issue he mentions having received a number of replies and the consensus seems to place the well in the vicinity of Deiniolen, a village some four miles to the north of Llanberis. The best guess was that it was behind Capel Eban there – Capel Eban being the local name for Capel Ebenezer.
The plot thickened with the following month’s responses. A Deiniolen resident noted that yes, there was a well behind the Chapel, but she had never heard it called Ffynnon Chwerthin, it was known locally as Ffynnon Abram – it had been a reliable local water source.
In April 1993 further comments drew the author’s attention to John Hughes 1868 book Hanes Gwaun Gynfi. This appears to definitively place Ffynnon Chwerthin in Deiniolen. He refers also to the corks stuck with pins bobbing in the well – referring to them also as witches tools. He also notes that people in the past had resorted to the well for information on items they had lost and also to fortell the future. Children he said were instructed not to drink the water. Perhaps this was Fardd’s source for the story.
Without any written evidence we may consider this to be a case of the customs and traditions surrounding an old well struggling to survive and being lost during some of the rapid population shifts and growth in the nineteenth century. The nature of both Deiniolen and adjacent Clwt-y-bont evolved rapidly on the back of growth of local slate mining, due to opportunistic landowners leasing land for development, from being essentially scattered rural settlements to being fully fledged communities with chapels, church and schools in a matter of a single generation. They grew up along the routes of a quarry road and railway. Capel Ebenezer was first established in 1823, though the present chapel dates from 1858, and Deiniolen grew around it in the 1830s and 1840s, indeed until 1923 the village Deiniolen was known as Ebenezer.
We might assume that the well was used and known by members of the local community in the period before the development of the village. The quarrymen and their families might be largely incomers to the immediate area and while they would bring their own traditions they might be wary of a local well with its traditions of fortune telling or cursing. Such traditions at other wells would possibly be known to them and the new well embraced, but others might be more cautious and children would be warned away. It is quite possible that the well had an other name and that Ffynnon Chwerthin, the Laughing Well was given to it at this time in reflection of its peculiar characteristic. That the residents of North Road knew it as Ffynnon Abram and considered it a fine spring to drink, when others avoided it remains a problem. Was there another well, or did the reputation and use of the well change again as the village grew and changed.
We travelled to Capel Ebenezer recently, the field behind certainly has the appearance of being boggy, but we were unable to find a way of accessing it and unable to locate the owner. So if there is a spring within the field and if it fits the description of Ffynnon Chwerthin remains for a little while longer a mystery. We really can’t consider this as a case closed and can only repeat Dafydd Whiteside Thomas’s request of 30 years ago of whether anyone can shed more light on the well.
J Jones (Myrddin Fardd) (1908) Llên Gwerin Sir Gaernarfon. Caernarfon
R Hayman (2017) Deiniolen – A Character Study. For Gwynedd CC.
D W Thomas (1993) Chwilota. Eco’r Wyddfa https://ecorwyddfa.co.uk/papur.html