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 Post subject: St Martin's Well, Canterbury (probably)
PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2008 2:03 am 
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Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2007 11:39 am
Posts: 148
Location: Harbledown nr Canterbury
TR 1591 5806 marked as 'Conduit House.'

Recently, I visited and photographed this site, probably that of a holy well dedicated to St Martin (like the nearby medieval Church), which was incorporated into the early thirteenth century Conduit House which supplied water to St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury through a 75mm (3 inch) lead pipe. Various other 'tunnels and ducts', to quote the on-site signage, chanelled water from a number of springs to this site. In fact, there is a long spring line at the base of this chalk scarp overlooking Canterbury, and a number of conduit houses were once located here, including those that supplied the cathedral.

'Source' incorrectly states that this was 'an archbishop's conduit to the cathedral' but this was not the case.' See: ... fs2vm1.htm

There is a more scholarly account in Canterbury Archaeological Trust's Annual Report for 1981-1982, which is out of print but which you can view in Canterbury Cathedral Library.

This fascinating and substantial structure, which still contains a considerable body of water, gathers the outflow of several springs into a stone reservoir, before conveying it down to the Abbey, the remains of which are now incorporated into the site of Canterbury Christchurch University.

I will investigate the relationship between this site and nearby 'Spring Lane' which is alluded to by 'Source', and also by a close friend in Canterbury whose local knowledge is usually flawless.

So, accepting that this was once St Martin's Well, do we still count this conduit house as a 'holy well' despite the change in usage to to supplier of general purpose water to an abbey?

It seems likely that the monks carried out this development largely for practical reasons, as a means to harness the outflow of the nearest springs in the most convenient and technically suitable place. However, with proximity to the ancient St Martin's Church (TR 1587 5776) certainly in their minds, they must surely have felt that this was a divinely ordained and protected water source, providentially located for their benefit, and perhaps they transferred the name St Martin's Well from once of the springs harnessed by the conduit.

After St Augustine's Abbey was dissolved in 1538, the conduit continued to function and was last used in the nineteenth century to supply water to a brewery.

This is a very interesting site to visit as it provides an excellent chance to see a fine piece of advanced medieval water supply technology in the round. St Martin's Church is also a must-see, if you are in the area, as it is a fine medieval structure with a VERY considerable amount of Roman brick ingeniously incorporated into its walls. There has been a church on this site since the C6th AD (c.580), which was the private chapel of Queen Bertha, and it claims to be the oldest parish church in England in continuous usage. I'll post some more scholarly sources later, but for now, see this decent site by a local historian ... .htm#intro

Of course, there is little firm evidence that the conduit house was the site of St Martin's well, and this might be a name given to the site after the abbey was dissolved, or after the structure was built, by those who did not understand how it worked (like the 'Source' contributor, it seems). As the conduit house was roofless and ruined for centuries it seems likely that St. Martin's Well was the back-projection of a name, onto an open water source that looked like a well and was clearly associated with the Church, with the holy. Was one of the many springs that fed the conduit house's reservoir the true St Martin's Well, of very considerable antiquity, like the Church? That is something that probably can never be known for certain, but is an investigation I shall begin with a hope to posting some kind of result in the future.

I have posted some images of this site on the NWI Archive site: ... m=3&pos=17 ... m=3&pos=18 ... m=3&pos=19 ... m=3&pos=20 ... m=3&pos=21 ... m=3&pos=22 ... m=3&pos=23

Please go an view them, join the archive site and explore the numerous other Holy Well images that you will find there. And don't forget to upload your own pictures :D

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2008 1:27 pm 
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Joined: Fri May 11, 2007 9:17 pm
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As the conduit house was roofless and ruined for centuries it seems likely that St. Martin's Well was the back-projection of a name, onto an open water source that looked like a well and was clearly associated with the Church, with the holy.

This is a very interesting assertion. There remain a lot of questions, to my mind, about whether a Well in a ritual or holy complex is sacred by association. Convesely, can a Well that is sacred have a functional use. One possible reading of the site may be that after the dissolution, the Well became a discreet focus for catholic pilgrimage. Indeed, perhaps no real distinction had been made between St Martin's Well as holy, and functional. We see this time and again. At Bath there is Catholic visitation of the wells/springs to be miracliously cured, the practical and the ritual being one and the same process. St Martins Well being a pipe well that infers a secular water source, also retains a miraclious componant in the middle pipe [and only the middle pipe] which is still said to contain water capable of doing miraclious cures. I think, we need to really rethink what we understand by terms such as water source and holy in relation to 'Holy' Wells as a result, and we should perhaps start to ask if indeed there is a difference at many sites.


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