Thursday, July 12, 2007
This week is the annual Well Dressing in my village, it is one of many that will take place over the summer months from May to around the end of August. It is an ancient custom that is restricted almost entirely to villages in the county of Derbyshire, though there is one place in Staffordshire and one on Gloucestershire also I believe. I would imagine that in the mists of history the dressing of springs and wells was probably much more widespread though. Our village dresses two wells, above is the main one. Many of the present day Dressings are modern revivals but there are a few villages, including Tissington, that have an unbroken tradition going back for centuries.
This is the spring below the picture. The dressing of wells and springs has pagan origins of course, as a thanksgiving to the various water spirits and goddesses for the gift of water and in the hope of continued supplies. As with so many other things it has become Christianized - I often wonder how many people actually realise that they are taking part in a pagan ceremony when the wells are blessed by the local vicar :) You can see the coins which have been thrown into the stone basin 'for luck'.
This is the whole picture, the spring is on the edge of the village green. The pictures are made in a wooden frame which is filled with clay between 1/2" and 1" thick. Salt is added to the clay to keep it moist and prevent it cracking when it is exposed to the elements. Each village chooses a different theme each year and the design is drawn on paper which is laid over the clay and the design is pricked through with an awl or other sharp tool. The paper is then removed and the outline of the design is defined by using alder cones or holly or rowan berries. Then the picture is filled in using only natural materials - mosses, lichens, bark, leaves and flower petals. They take several days to complete and are the combined effort of many people. The results sometimes are absolutely stunning.
This is the spring which is dressed each year by the local guides - as in scouts and guides not taking you on a tour guides :) I think they've done a great job. I'll try and get to some of the other local villages and take photographs during the summer. The one that is usually best has already gone by unfortunately, Ashford-in-the -Water dresses 5 wells and they are always really beautiful.
Clicking on the photos will hopefully enlarge them so that you can see more detail.