St Helen’s Well – an ancient well commemorated

by Steve Williams

The official opening of the new Celtic Cross on May 18 2004 by Mayor of Chorley Cllr Eric Bell, Steve Williams and members of the Friends of St Helen's Well.

The official opening of the new Celtic Cross on May 18 2004 by Mayor of Chorley Cllr Eric Bell, Steve Williams and members of the Friends of St Helen’s Well

The ancient holy well of St. Helen’s, on the border of Brindle and Whittle-le-Woods, disappeared under the M61 Preston to Manchester motorway back in 1968 – when conservation and heritage projects were well down the list of priorities to many people.

The well was documented in Taylor’s 1906 “Ancient crosses and holy wells of Lancashire”, who indicated that in 1657 it was a place “to which place the vulgar neighbouring people of the Red Letter do much resort with pretended devotion on each year upon St. Ellen’s day”.

During the Second World War, samples of the water were taken from all the springs and wells in the district, with the water from St. Helen’s well being the “the most fresh and pure”. In 1959, Teresa Travis from Brindle (a local historian and writer), reported that the water gushed out from the well along a channel through a field and then into an adjacent farmyard (its course would now be blocked off by a lane and housing estate). She also stated that “The water was surprisingly clear and cold; when other springs ran dry, St. Helen’s well would continue to run”.

Back in 1990 many local residents of Brindle and Whittle-le-Woods, including the current (2003 – 2004) Mayor of Chorley, Cllr. Eric Bell, campaigned for a suitable plaque to be placed as close to the original site. At the same time they raised a petition to Lancashire County Council and Chorley Borough Council to mark the well, but without success. In 1998 it was proposed to erect some form of monument in woodland owned by The Woodland Trust. In March, 1999 a site meeting generated a proposal for a suitable marker stone costing £1,650 to be erected on the site; however, funding was not forthcoming and further proposals in 2000 came and went without any progress.

In the Spring of 2003, un-named members of the local community [we won’t name them for legal reasons!] decided to ‘help the situation along’ by erecting a suitable Celtic cross and inscription on the site (and on Woodland Trust property!). Polite but firm correspondence was duly exchanged between the parties in respect of its legality and future. When threats of removing the monument was muted in September, 2003 Brindle Historical Society were approached for assistance.

At a hastily arranged, but very amicable site meeting, The Woodland Trust agreed to allow the monument to stay on its land as long as the local Historical Society (a duly constituted body – and importantly, with Liability Insurance) adopted the cross. At the start of 2004, Brindle Historical Society signed a 10 year lease with The Woodland Trust at a ‘pepper-corn’ rent; their offer to waive any legal fees was gladly accepted by the Society. The work of Colin Riley and Peter Leeson from The Woodland Trust is duly acknowledged, with thanks for their understanding and co-operation.

For the record, the cross marking St. Helen’s well is located in Whittle Spinney, Birchin Lane, Whittle-le-Woods (adjacent to the M61 motorway).