Dressing and Blessing the Well

I was up in Manchester for the weekend recently, attending the UK GLBT Fiction Meet, and chatting about a variety of topics, including A Series of Ordinary Adventures, although I actually stayed over at Mum and Dad’s in Derbyshire rather than at the Meet hotel. This gave me a wonderful opportunity to photograph a piece of local folk tradition for you all.

Well Dressing is a custom that’s pretty much exclusive to the Peak District. Opinions vary as to when and how it originated, but these days most villages in the peaks have a well dressing celebration at some point in the summer, often coinciding with the local village carnival or fete.

Bamford Well Dressing 2013

Bamford Well Dressing 2013

The well dressing is prepared over the course of a week by volunteers from the whole community, starting with the preparation of the clay base within its wooden frame, followed by the application of the dry materials (wool, twigs, etc) and then the fresh materials (flowers, leaves, etc), before the finished design is taken to its traditional site on the Saturday.

Walking back up from the village station after the Meet on Sunday, I arrived at the Village Green to find people assembling for the blessing of the Well Dressing (woe betide any clergyman who dares suggest the church not involve itself in such traditions). The ceremony was attended by past and present carnival ‘royalty’, Brownies, Cubs, a band from a neighbouring village, the Methodist Minister, and assorted ordinary villagers and was conducted by a retired vicar (the village’s own rector was down at the church preparing for the crowning of the year’s Carnival Queen).

This year’s Well Dressing, in contrast to the previous two (see below) had a biblical theme. Unlike some villages, however, there really is a water source where this one is sited. The well was blessed with water and rosemary, as were the onlookers (the retired vicar taking his blessing duties very seriously ;-) ).

Then there was a general wandering down to the church to crown the carnival queen, while I wandered back up to the house for a good sit-down.

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  • Stevie Carroll

    I’m running a Well Dressing and A Series of Ordinary Adventures related give-away this week. On my LJ, here