The Devils of Audley, Barthomley and Betley
The Devils of Audley, Barthomley and Betley
Charles E S Fairey
September 2016 (Revised 2017)
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“The devil is hear, the devil is dare, the devil is every ware,
Hobgoblins valley stream and Hob’s Dale,
Superstitions spring forth with secrets to share,
And pagan history permeates through without fail.”
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The Devil by Michael C. (Jarl) Oakes, 2011
The Devil’s Well, Audley
We first find reference to ‘The Devil’s Well’ in the Foreword to ‘Betley Parish Registers [1538-1812], Edited by Percy W. L. Adams, 1916, pages 7-8’, where we are told:-
“About the Ottiwells, however, a word must be said. This family name comes, the writer believes, from a place between Betley and Audley, now called the Devil's Well. This was a sacred Well, still believed locally to be “good for the eyes,” dedicated to St. Ottilia, whose French name Odille has since the Reformation been corrupted into Old de'il; and so the Devil's Well. Ottilia was the daughter of a German King and an ancestress of King Alfred. She was a beautiful girl, but blind and a heathen. She received her sight when baptised by the English Missionary St. Wilfrid. There is another Well in the German Black Forest near her convent which is still believed to be “good for the eyes.” The Ottiwells were probably guardians of the well. They were hereditary “Masters of the Games,” “Ludi Magistri,” at Audley. When pilgrimages ceased they transferred their industry to the public house, now closed, opposite Betley Church, which was kept by the Ottiwell Jollys and Ottiwell Timisis, to within the memory of persons now living. The local story that the Devil was flying from Beeston Castle to Alsager Bank and dropped a big stone out of his leather apron by mistake, and that there the well sprung up is either a later invention or an older story, perhaps pre-Christian. Anyone can go and see the stone, and all are agreed that the water is good for the eyes.”
According to these details above, The Devil’s Well was situated between Betley and Audley, and that it was a sacred or holy well, which was dedicated to St Ottilia. And, also that St Ottilia was known as St Odille, which unfortunately became corrupted to Old de’il, and hence the Old Devil!
There is in fact a Saint Odile, and she is also known as St Odille or Ottilia, and was from Alsace, a boundary town in eastern France, next to the Upper Rhine, bordering Germany and Switzerland today. She is believed to have lived between the years of 660 and 720AD, with her feast day being celebrated on the 13th December.
As the reference above, she is associated with blindness, and partial sight, and hence the curing of such. This came about via a miraculous event which cured her blindness when a child. According to legend, she was born blind, and therefore shunned by her father, but her mother, took her from Alsace to be brought up by a peasant family, living at Palma. When she was 12 years old, she was taken to a local monastery, where a bishop, assisted by an angel, baptised her Odile, and immediately she recovered her eye sight.
If we view her entry on Wikipedia @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odile_of_Alsace, we are also immediately aware that she is associated in her legend with another well, as the above description states:- “there is another Well in the German Black Forest near her convent which is still believed to be “good for the eyes””, and her legend is also associated with falling rocks which protected her later in her story, from her enraged father, much like the reference above, which states that:- “the local story that the Devil was flying from Beeston Castle to Alsager Bank and dropped a big stone out of his leather apron by mistake, and that there the well sprung up is either a later invention or an older story, perhaps pre-Christian. Anyone can go and see the stone, and all are agreed that the water is good for the eyes.”
The inclusion that the well is next to a stone, and that it could still be seen at the time of this story, may also infer a pre-Christian origin, and that a prehistoric standing stone of some sort stood nearby, which really would mark it out as a holy and spiritual site, not only to us Christians, but also to our Pagan forebears. Water is often held as sacred by our prehistoric ancestors, never mind springs, so it would have been natural for them to mark such a site in the landscape, honour the spirits of such a place, and venerate such a spring.
And being linked with the Devil, who often is linked with prehistoric sites which our ancestors misunderstood as being the works of him, giants, or other otherworldly creatures, it marks this holy well as something extraordinary indeed.
So, from the above, we can see that this story presented to us in the Foreword of the ‘Betley Parish Registers’, is not so far-fetched as some believe, but based upon a Saint whose story also includes a holy well which was good for the eyesight.
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The Ottiwells and The Robin Hood
We are told in the details from the ‘Betley Parish Registers’ that:- “the Ottiwells were probably guardians of the well. They were hereditary “Masters of the Games,” “Ludi Magistri,” at Audley. When pilgrimages ceased they transferred their industry to the public house, now closed, opposite Betley Church, which was kept by the Ottiwell Jollys and Ottiwell Timisis, to within the memory of persons now living.”
Using the details above regarding the publicans known as the ‘Ottiwell Jolly’s’ or ‘Ottiwell Timmis’’ with regard to the parish registers, we find many Betley folk with these names spanning the early 17th Century to the mid 18th Century. So we know that these folk did in fact exist. ‘Ottiwell’ is a name which the history researcher does come across amongst North Staffordshire and South Cheshire families, especially in these centuries.
There is also a distinct possibility, but largely improvable, that the first local folk of this name, which later 16th Century parish registers onwards, record, albeit in time immemorial, may have been baptised at this holy well, and hence gained the name ‘Ottiwell’, ‘of Otti’s Well’, and that is the root of the tradition revealed above, followed through time. I.e. once a person(s) is baptised at the well, through later generations, they are named after their ancestor, even though they may not have been baptised at the well, themselves. Thus as the writer states, they are ‘guardians’ of the well.
Also, it seems very likely that there was a public house opposite the church in Betley, as is often the case in many English towns and villages, often banking on the trade of the folk of the settlement around, after worship, and throughout the week, as well as during religious festivals, markets and village fairs.
From Roy P. Rushton’s ‘The Public Houses of Betley, 2015 (unpublished)’, we find that there was indeed a public house next to St Margaret’s Church in Betley, and it was called ‘The Robin Hood’.
Here is an extract from Roy P. Rushton’s ‘The Public Houses of Betley, 2015’:-
“The ROBIN HOOD: [This information was given to me by the Late Reginald Ikin]. He said that the ROBIN HOOD was the house, which stood opposite to the church steps, on the corner. I assume, that it had not been used in many decades or even in a century. A Malt Kiln was situated at or near this house which was indeed included in the descriptions contained in the 1846 Betley Tithe Map and Apportionment. It is believed it was pulled down in circa 1968.”
It may be a nice coincidence that Betley had a church-side town pub called ‘The Robin Hood’, or the reason such a pub with that name existed, because one of Betley’s most famous historic artefacts, a stained glass window originally housed at Betley Old Hall, and later at the demolished Betley New Hall, but now at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, which is thought to date from either the 16th or 17th Century, features some of the characters from the Legend of Robin Hood.
The Betley Window
The Betley Window features characters from the Medieval Morris May Dance and festival, all dancing around a Maypole, and features amongst others, Little John, Friar Tuck and Maid Marian, in different states of the May Dance. Robin Hood himself is not pictured, but one lucky local lad who won the many games played at each year’s May Day, would be given the title of ‘Robin Hood’ and given the hand of Maid Marion, that year’s Queen of the May.
It would have been very prudent of the landlords of the local hostelry, next to the Church, to name their public house after the King of the May, and the associated games to select each Robin, and I bet there was much revelment and enjoyment, never mind refreshment, at Betley’s ‘Robin Hood!’
Which takes us back to the description again of the source of the name ‘Ottiwell’, coming from their baptism at the well, because the details include that they were ‘hereditary Masters of the Games’, obviously linking them with the games associated with May Day. It also suggests that before they moved the site of pilgrimage from the holy well to The Robin Hood pub, they were ‘guardians’, or for want of a better word ‘children baptised’ or ‘descendants of one baptised’ at of the well. As before stated, this may indicate that folk named ‘Ottiwell’ and baptised at the well, carried on a tradition to baptise their children at this same well throughout the ages.
This also presents us with another Summer Festival, usually associated with the end of May, and Whitsuntide, and that is ‘Well Dressing’, the decoration of wells with flowers, boughs and garlands, much like the ancient tradition of bawming (dressing) the thorn on May Day. In north Cheshire, near Warrington, a thorn tree known as the ‘Appleton Thorn’ is still dressed to this day as part of the May Day celebrations. So as part of the games, of either festival, or the same festival, if they both took place on May Day, or a month long festivity of games associated with the coming of Summer, did the Ottiwells’ of the locality, preside over the dressing of St Ottilia’s Well, and were members of their family baptised at this time of pilgrimage and worship (dressing) at the well?
And, again, the ‘Ottiwells’ are said to be ‘hereditary Masters of the Games’ at Audley, but transferred their industry to ‘The Robin Hood’ pub next to the church at Betley, so we can see that the well must be located between Betley and Audley.
The ‘Betley Window’ may be explored at the following link http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O8054/window-unknown/, courtesy of the V&A.
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Locating St Ottilia’s Well
Now, all we need to do is find this holy well.
We are told that this Well was originally dedicated to St Ottilia of Alsace, France, and that it is located between Betley and Audley, but also that the Devil was flying from Beeston en route to Alsagers Bank, and that he dropped a big stone, which hit the ground, from which a well sprung up, and also that anyone can go and see the stone, and that the water is in fact good for the eyes.
This then presented me and my good friend Roy Rushton, with an area to investigate and search upon the ground.
So we both decided, me enticing Roy on, as he was not convinced of the details included in the ‘Betley Parish Registers [1538-1812], Edited by Percy W. L. Adams, 1916, pages 7-8’, and thought that it was too much of a fable to be true, to look at old maps of the areas between Betley and Audley for inclusions of wells.
We firstly investigated a well which is marked on old maps as existing to the west of Heighley Lane, between Cooksgate and Adderley Green, to the immediate north-west of Hillside Farm. This well was shown on the maps close to the boundary of Audley and Betley parishes, with its own path leading to it from the road, and near to some parish boundary trees, recorded both on Ordnance Survey Mapping and the Betley and Audley Tithe Maps, consisting of oak and ash trees.
On the ground we looked across to where it should be located, but sadly only a large depression in the ground revealed to us where it had once existed. Its site is at map reference SJ 772 479.
We felt that this was the strongest possibility as it was so clear on the historic mapping, and had a path leading from the road, travelling just to the well itself. Sadly there was no stone located there either.
So we looked south, to Adderley Green, again on Heighley Lane, where a well was marked on historic mapping as existing right on the western edge of the road as it bends round the foot of a hill, opposite the cottage on the other side of the road.
Again, this well now only survived as a small hollow on the side of the road, with a road gulley next to it. And again, it proved that this well was another sad loss to history due to tapped water, which is only of recent 20th Century ingenuity. Again, no stone existed here either. The well was located at map reference SJ 775 476.
So feeling rather fed up, we went back to the drawing board and tried again. This time we travelled closer to Betley, where on historic and even modern maps a well is marked just to the immediate south-west of Yewtree Cottage on Church Lane, but again sadly just a hollow in the ground. Sited at SJ 765 483.
Now, we were coming to the conclusion, to Roy’s usual cheeky delight, that the well must be a figment of the writer of the Foreword to the ‘Betley Parish Registers’’, imagination; but luckily I’m not one to give up so easily, and spurred Roy on.
Our next venture was to inspect the site at Milldale (albeit hardly in between Betley and Audley), the valley located on Dean Brook, between Barthomley and Balterley, where Spring Farm is located. Historic Ordnance Survey maps showed that there was a well here, accessed by a path in the past, at map reference SJ 773 507.
Sadly upon inspection, a 20th Century fishing lake had been created right above the location of the spring, but we did enjoy our walk along Milldale and Dean Brook, spotting wildflowers indicative of the ancient woodland growing here, even a red dragonfly, and the idyllic and picturesque nature of the setting, of which part of this article discusses below, in ‘Hobdane and Hobdale; Milldale, Barthomley’.
So now, we had investigated on the maps and on the ground, four wells, of which none seemed to fit the description perfectly, as all these wells were on low lying ground, and you couldn’t even see Beeston Castle at any of them, as they were all shaded by high ground to the west.
So we gave up for a while, and got on with other historical research, but I pondered when I would return to my local quest!
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Identifying St Ottilia’s Well
So, now, only a month ago, I decided I’d pick up the quest for ‘The Devil’s Well’ once more, and felt my best course of action was to check the Audley Tithe Maps of the area, of which I only had some details, but all in the wrong area.
I also felt that there must be somebody out there with memories of such a well, and whilst pondering on the next course of action, I remembered reading in either the Barthomley or Audley local history books, a section on local wells, as I was sure I’d seen reference to a ‘Devil’s Well’ years ago, that sort of name does rather stand out in one’s mind!
So, that evening, I steadily read through both ‘Barthomley, The story of an estate village, Edited by Robert Speake, Barthomley Local History Group, 1995’ and ‘Audley: An out of the way quiet place, Edited by Robert Speake, 1972’, and low and behold, there it was on page 115 of ‘Audley: An out of the way quiet place’!
“The Audley waterworks was opened in 1891, almost at the end of the century, but until then water was obtained from wells. The larger houses and farms in the district had their own pumps and several can be seen to this day. For the dwellers in the cottages, water was available at a communal well or pump. Among the wells which served the community were .... [A List of Wells]”
".... Other wells were at Hayes Wood, Devils Well, and Craddocks Moss."
So, there it was, another reference to ‘The Devil’s Well! So now we have two books which detail its existence, so it must have existed! And in the area I was first to explore with my good friend Roy Rushton.
This spurred me on, so I decided to contact the ‘Audley and District Family History Society’ who have all the Tithe Maps and Apportionment details for the Parish of Audley, in their library, and whom I had encountered at two recent Border History Fairs, as well as buying some of their ‘Audley Historian’ publications, and are involved not just with Family History but Local History as well.
After contacting the Secretary, I was kindly passed on to Clive Millington, who was well placed to answer my request for any fieldnames relating to wells in the area which straddled the boundaries between Betley and Audley, and in the vicinity of the other wells mentioned in the book alongside ‘The Devil’s Well’, namely, Hayes Wood and Craddocks Moss.
Clive had kindly searched through the Audley Tithe Apportionment for any mention of a well in fieldnames and had found two possible locations, one in the Knowl End area and one in the Knowl Bank area, and stated that the latter was the only entry which lied between Audley and Betley.
The first possibility at Knowl End, which was located opposite the main road from Gorsty Hill to Audley, directly opposite the derelict ‘Waggon & Horses’ public house, I quickly dismissed, because this was just too far north, and again on low lying ground, to be able to view Beeston Castle Crag.
But the second, that sounded interesting, at Knowl Bank, and between Betley and Audley, and again, near Cooksgate (where Church Lane from Betley, meets Heighley Lane and Knowlbank Road), which in the past was the route between Betley and Audley, and Heighley Castle to Audley. Clive had found that the fields marked by plots 2296 and 2548, were described in the Tithe Apportionment as both being ‘Well Field’. Clive had kindly also sent me a map to show me where they were located too. This map showed that both these fields were eitherside of Knowlbank Road, not far from the ‘T’ road junction at Cooksgate.
So, I checked the earliest 25 inch to 1 mile Ordnance Survey Maps, and found the site of the well, which I had missed in earlier analysis, and exactly where these fieldnames were located, a very small circle at the end (and hidden in detail), of a row of trees on a bank with a ‘W’ meaning a ‘well’ detailed!
So I contacted Roy, and we ventured up to Cooksgate, then turned left toward Audley, and only after a few tens of yards, we reached a holloway through a bank, as detailed on the old OS Map, and there at the beginning of the bank, exactly where the ‘W’ and small circle were drawn on the map, there was as we had come to find most wells have become, a definite hollow upon the bank, below the field fence above.
So we safely parked the car up bank, and then ventured down through the road Holloway, which is testament to many of the lanes in this area of being of exceptional age, and investigated the site of the well further.
The hollow was well-like, and was midway up the bank on the western side of the road, and it could easily be seen that there was a definite run off channel which had carved out a shallow channel running down to the road edge, but of distant history, when water had still been present. Sadly, no remains of the well pit or any walls remained on the ground, other than the hollow depression, and there was no stone to be seen within its vicinity, although the road had stones lining its eastern edge through the bank, but they were in no way anything like relocated standing stones.
We also noticed from its location within the landscape, that you could see Beeston Castle Crag to the east, and also Alsagers Bank to the west, so it fitted the description of the well in the ‘Betley Parish Registers’, because it was high up enough in the landscape to view these topographical landmarks, unlike the other four wells we had previously investigated. And also because the details in the ‘Betley Parish Registers’ had said it was located between Betley and Audley, and that the Devil had dropped a stone from whence a spring sprung forth, whilst flying from Beeston to Alsagers Bank.
Clive Millington, also kindly shared that the book ‘Betley: A Village of Contrasts, Edited by Robert Speake, 1980, page 13’, spoke about this well, and therein the text includes:-
“.... Copius drinkable water supplies often determine the position, shape and growth of settlements. In the parish of Betley, rains falling on the high ground soak quickly into the sandstones of Heighley and Knowl Bank, and more slowly into the wet clays which contain thin interbedded sands between Bowsey Wood and Balterley. The water is acted upon by gravity and percolates underground to the west, particularly through the 20% or so pore spaces lying between the sand grains. It seeps out as springs along the stream beds, in the former sand pits alongside the main road (e.g. at Cloverdale), and occasionally on higher ground (e.g. on Wellfield immediately east of Bowhill Farm).”
The hollow where this well was located is situated to the Betley side near to the south-west entrance to a steep road Holloway on Knowlbank Road, towards Cooksgate, and half-way up the steep bank, at map reference SJ 772 485.
At this point I felt that with these three written references, the topographical location and gut feeling, that I had reached the end of my quest, and found ‘The Devil’s Well’, proving that this rather folkloric legend, of which there was little reference anywhere else in the historic or modern records, was in fact based upon a real place. And, that the well had actually existed in times past, and yet again, due to modern 20th Century ingenuity, like many other wells, tapped water had spelt doom for this once Holy Well of St Ottilia, or as she became known ‘Old de’il’, hence ‘Old Devil’, therefore ‘The Devil’s Well’!
However I was wrong!
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The Devil’s Well Revealed
I had published the original version of this article, online, which identified the above well as ‘The Devil’s Well’, last month, in September 2016, but this was incorrect. However, if I hadn’t actually published my earlier findings, I would not have been able to complete my quest.
And guess what, the ‘devil is in the detail’ as many researchers and folk who write often quip, it really was.
By publishing my earlier findings online and sharing to friends via email, it enabled me to finish the story of ‘The Devil’s Well’, because a friend from ‘Betley Local History Society’ who I was meeting with my good friend Roy Rushton, at ‘The Border History Fair’ in Congleton, to have a look at the displays and books, maps, CDs, etc, and also to lend her my copy of ‘Barthomley, The story of an estate village, Edited by Robert Speake, Barthomley Local History Group, 1995’, revealed another written record existed, relating to this legendary well!
Whilst handing over the Barthomley book and chatting about the article, my friend asked me if I had seen the Halmer End book, which had only recently been published by ‘Audley and District Family History Society’, because she had had a look, and it included reference to ‘The Devil’s Well’, and it being ‘The Border History Fair’, where many of the Cheshire and Staffordshire (Borders) Family History, Local History, Museums and Organisations have exhibitions with displays, and books, etc, available for purchase, this book was available from the Audley Society!
So I and my friend headed on over to their display table and had a look at the book which is titled ‘Halmer End: A Brief Account of Village Life in the 1920s and 1930s, Nofara, 2015.’ And, sure enough the index pointed us to page 108-9, where we are told that:-
“The road we take is to the right, a cart track with the Harrison Woodburn Cottages on your left, down a cart track to the Sinkings, under a railway bridge (1. On Map below), where the cart track left us and swung away to the left. To our right a gate. If we had continued down this track now overgrown at the bottom it divided (2. On Map below). The left hand path would take us past the Nanny Goat farm [Woodland Cottage?] (3. On Map below), through the ‘Gladdings’ , (4. On Map below), a small wood, to the dog kennels which stood by the side of the road from Madeley to Betley. If we had followed the path that bore slightly to the right we would walk on a carpet of golden marigolds which flourished in the marshy ground, over a small wooden bridge (5. On Map below). The path then turned sharp right to skirt a large field, and a few yards along it was a well known land mark “Devil’s Well”. The WELL was a misnomer, it was the end pipe of a land drain. The DEVILS part, well the stories go that the devil having nicked a pretty large boulder, put it down here while he had a drink of water and a rest. After being refreshed he found that he could not pick up the stone again, so saying whatever Devils say he left it. Many a tired traveller used the stone as a seat as he drank the cool refreshing water and probably like we did, removed his shoes and socks and washed his feet. This path continued to the bottom of Wilmer Hills (6. On Map below).
But remember we stopped at the gate under the bridge from the Sinkings. We return and go through this gate to the right. Here we enter a field. In this field (7. On Map below), we in the scouts would spend many a happy weekend under canvas, carrying our cooking and drinking water from the Devils Well. Keeping to the right of this field we came to RED HALL farm (8. On Map below), then a short climb to the bridge at the top, leaving the farm on our left (9. On Map below)”.
The book even had a map with ‘The Devil’s Well’ included, on page 95, titled ‘Figure 10: Features seen on a walk towards Leycett.’
So, now we had a third source for this ‘up to now’ shy well, and not only that an actual guide and map to where it was located!
The book had only recently been published and had been transcribed faithfully from a transcript of an original manuscript, and the associated maps reproduced, dating to the 1980s, to form this informative account of a gentleman, who wished whilst still living, to remain anonymous, writing about his memories of village life in the 1920s and 1930s, from early childhood to his older teenage years, whilst being brought up at Halmer End, in Audley parish. (‘Halmer End: A Brief Account of Village Life in the 1920s and 1930s, Nofara, 2015, Editorial Note, Robert Mayer, August 2015, Page 3.’)
So, the above account informs us about the well and its exact location, “if we had followed the path that bore slightly to the right, [from] a cart track [running from] Harrison Cottages, ..., to the Sinkings, under a railway bridge, where the cart track left us, ..., over a small wooden bridge. The path then turned sharp right to skirt a large field, and a few yards along, [there] was a well known land mark “Devil’s Well”, [and that] this path continues to the bottom of Wilmer Hills”. It also tells us that in the 1920s and 1930s the well was actually “the end pipe of a land drain”, and that “many a tired traveller used [a] stone as a seat as [they] drank the cool refreshing water and probably like we did, removed his shoes and socks and washed his feet".
Therefore we now know that in the 1920s or 1930s the well was flowing with water, but that it was a land drain? We can now locate the exact spot of the well by using this descriptive account and the associated map, by consulting the historic mapping of the area, and we find on many of the historic Ordnance Survey Maps ranging from 1899 to the 1960s (exactly where detailed in the book), a ‘spring’ depicted on the south side of a stream, by a footpath, between Adderley Green and Leycett, close to Audley parish’s boundary with that of Madeley, to the west of where the M6 Motorway now exists.
We are also informed that it is in fact a spring and not a well, and from the book, that the spring’s outlet must have been formed to flow into a land drain pipe. This was most likely to keep the water clear to aid it to be used for drinking and washing, rather than just letting the spring’s water flow out of the ground into waterlogged mud.
The gentleman also includes that “The DEVILS part, well the stories go that the devil having nicked a pretty large boulder, put it down here while he had a drink of water and a rest. After being refreshed he found that he could not pick up the stone again, so saying whatever Devils say he left it", which means that the legend included in the ‘Betley Parish Registers’, is based on true local folklore, which also suggests that the whole account in those registers, is in fact a true reflection of the people associated with, the dedication to St Ottilia, the evolution of its name, and the superstitions surrounding this spring.
So along with the description on page 115 of ‘Audley: An out of the way quiet place, Edited by Robert Speake, 1972’, as detailed above, “Other wells were at Hayes Wood, Devils Well, and Craddocks Moss”, we now know that this statement is in order of locations, with the Devils Well being between Craddocks Moss and Hayes Wood, but a little further south.
So I had, with help, found the actual location of ‘The Devil’s Well’ albeit originally ‘St Ottilia’s Well’, so now there was only one last thing to do, go and find it on the ground, but today in 2016!
I had noted, whilst chatting to the members of ‘Audley and District Family History Society’, at the ‘The Border History Fair’, in Congleton, and purchasing the above book, that it still existed and was easy to find, and quite a few folk knew of its existence. So it should be easy to find. I was also very pleased to be kindly offered photos of the well from one of the Audley Society’s member’s, Robert Mayer, who would email them to me soon, (however when they came, they were photos of another spring, which was incorrectly believed locally, to be ‘The Devil’s Well’).
So the evening after ‘The Border History Fair’, when I researched its exact location on historic maps, as above, and printed all the information, I arranged with my friend Stephen Simpson, that before we went metal detecting the next day, that I would take him along with me on my quest (and report back to my friend Roy, who had really enjoyed the Fair, as well as me, but was not able to accompany me the next day), and go and find the actual ‘Devil’s Well’!
In the morning, we parked at Adderley Green on Heighley Lane (where above us the hill or hills in the book are referred to as “Wilmer Hills”, but with reference to the ‘Audley Tithe Map and Apportionment’ it is apparent that, that name, is a local dialect evolution of ‘Wildmoor Hill’), and then ventured on foot, down the lane which leads to ‘Craddocks Moss Farm’, crossing into a field, over a stile, onto a footpath which led towards Leycett and the M6 Motorway, and without fail we came to the exact spot where the spring was depicted on historic maps.
On arriving at the location of the well, me and Stephen came across two trees, a very old crab apple tree, which had shed dozens of its fruit onto the ground, and a younger oak tree, which stood on the top of a bank, which ran down to a stream, with a lower ground field on the other side, and a stile through a field fence in front of us. Straight away we could see that the bank where the spring was detailed on the maps, was covered with masses of overgrowth, but carefully descending the bank and fighting our way through the tall plants, we immediately noticed a plastic pipe, which came out of the bank, crossed the stream, and flowed into a large galvanised water tank or cistern, standing right on the edge of the stream’s bank. We were excited now, as we knew we had found ‘The Devil’s Well’, and that like in the 1920s and 1930s memoir, it did in fact flow from a pipe!
So we squashed some of the undergrowth to see as much as was possible, and to take photos, and immediately heard and saw that the tank was overflowing to its south-east corner, onto a round stone, which was supported by more modern bricks / blocks, and down into the stream. The tank where the water was flowing from was covered in moss which had grown over the years or decades since this construction had been installed, presumably as a water trough for the watering of cattle. We were excited and happy to have found the well, but in the back of our minds, it was sad to see such a modern alteration to the spring, but we were also glad that at least it still existed, and by the flow of the water, and the amount of dry weather we had been having, it must have a plentiful underground source, and hey, it’s sacred too!
We took quite a few photos of the spring and its modern apparatus; its surroundings; the crab apple tree; we even took some ‘selfies’ of each other in front of the spring! We did have a look around, and saw that reeds and waterlogged ground did exist towards the source of the pipe in the bank, so there was a plentiful supply of water, some of which was not traversing the pipe into the cistern, and we did wonder if under the undergrowth, that steps may be hidden?
The bank was quite high, but the field under which the spring must ascend, grew in height to the south. Later investigation into the fieldnames of the area, revealed that this field was known as the ‘Moor’, and that the high ground to the south was known as ‘Fox Bank’. On the other side of the stream and where the busy M6 Motorway exists (where millions of passersby over the decades, must have travelled past, completely unaware and oblivious to this sacred site), the fields are known as ‘Quaker’s Meadow’.
The Stile on The Bank above The Devil's Well, with the M6 Motorway in the background
The Devil’s Well (Run off Pipe and Water Cistern)
It was also apparent from its topographical location, that you couldn’t view Beeston Castle or Alsagers Bank, and that the Devil must not have been flying in a straight line, and must have taken a detour via the well, he must have been very thirsty carrying the boulder all this way from Beeston. Also, the site of the spring / well is much more between Betley and Scot Hay, rather than between Betley and Audley.
So we had found ‘The Devil’s Well’: a place once dedicated to Saint Ottilia; a place where folk named ‘Ottiwell’ may have been baptised with the waters of the well, and possibly in the stream below; a place where folk with eye sight problems came as pilgrims, took the waters, left a prayer on a tree, etc; a place where weary travellers rested and quenched their thirst; a place where miners walked past but also utilised, on the way to and from work; a place where local folk congregated at the May Games; possibly a place where the spring and trees were decorated with clooties (Cloth) and flowers, as part of a well dressing ceremony; a place of local admiration, legend and folklore; a place where the Devil is even supposed to have rested, on his way from Beeston Castle to Alsagers Bank, and left a boulder behind; a place which according to ‘Yates’ Map of the County of Stafford, 1775’ stood by an old routeway, which survives as a public footpath; maybe a place where a prehistoric boulder / marker or similar had or still does stand, hiding under the undergrowth, where weary travellers sat; and ultimately, a place well worthy of continued admiration and respect, and not to be forgotten!
Overflowing Cistern at The Devil's Well
Stephen suggested that we should visit again, when the undergrowth has died off in the winter months, to investigate the site further, and to see if any boulder exists within the vicinity, and at that point of the year we would get better photographs of the whole of the site, so watch this space.
The spring known as ‘The Devil’s Well’ is located at map reference SJ 785 475.
* * * * * * *
In times gone by, this well / spring certainly would have been in the wilds of the countryside, between the small hamlet of Adderley Green and the wooded area below the hamlet of Scot Hay, on the high ground to the east, as the village of Leycett and the collieries were established in the Victorian era. Existing on a routeway, near a large expanse of woodland, it certainly would, in fog, or mist, at dusk, or during the night, have been a desolate place, so no wonder local folk envisaged it was a site frequented by the Devil!
Who would have thought that this quiet, out of the way place, possibly once a place of religious ceremony and a place of pilgrimage, would later serve local people as a watering hole on their way to or back from work in the coal mines which developed in and around these woods, never mind the millions of travellers throughout the recent decades hurtling past on the M6 Motorway!
The site is in low lying ground, but at the north end of a hill which stands above a flattish valley, surrounded by high ground to the east and west. There has always been an expanse of woodland surrounding the stream which runs south-west to the Betley – Keele Road, and then west into Checkley Brook. Directly above Adderley Green to the west, and standing at 150 metres above sea level, is a hill named according to the ‘Audley Tithe Maps and Apportionment’ as ‘Wild Moor Hill’, along with other hills, named ‘Wind Mill Hill’, ‘Little Hill’, ‘Middle Hill’ and ‘The Hill’. As well as the medieval Heighley Castle and its remains standing on a sandstone edge of high ground, to the south-west. To the north, is an area of low boggy ground, now covered in trees, known as ‘Craddocks Moss’ and another part was known as ‘Heifers Moss’, and to the east, the hills of Alsagers Bank, High Lane, Scot Hay, Black Bank, Bank Top and Agger Hill.
The Geological Maps of the area certainly show a high number of faults immediately to the east, so it is very likely the source of the water from the spring percolates into the soils on the high ground, either to the west or east, and then flows out of the ground at this spring. Springs are often located alongside streams, like here, where the north bank of ‘Fox Bank’ rises above the stream and most likely water percolates out at a junction between clay and sand belts.
This whole area would have been quite desolate in the ancient and medieval past, although unknown Prehistoric and Roman sites of occupation may be hidden away, nearby. For example, a straight boundary traverses the fields to the south of Plum Tree Farm, to the west, as well as being south of a field located there, known as ‘Windy Arbour’, continuing south of Adderley Green, and heads for Agger Hill at Finney Green, to the south-east, possibly indicative of a Roman Road. A hoard of three Socketed Bronze Age Axes were found to the west near Betley, as well as four other separate finds of prehistoric axes around Betley.
Something which may indicate that this well was actually sacred before the advance of Christianity, and its dedication to St Ottilia (as well as the link to the Devil of this site in folklore legend, due to ancient sites being often attributed to the Devil or other malevolent creatures, often signifying archaeological remains, via handed down local folklore tales of the past knowledge of our forebears), is that the ‘Staffordshire Historic Environment Record’, records a site to the immediate north of the well, under ‘HER Number: 04736’, which was surveyed as part of an archaeological field survey of the M6 corridor during the proposed M6 widening between the years of 1992 and 1994, which may mean a prehistoric settlement existed here, detailed as:
“An earthwork enclosure and ditches were identified on aerial photography and during a walkover survey. The walkover survey suggested that at least some of the linear earthworks forming sub-rectangular enclosures in the pasture field were the result of the excavation of a marl pit in the northern part of the field. Shallow ditches were also visible in the southern part of the field. Further features were observed on aerial photographs including an enclosure of approximately 50m x 40m. The date of the features is unclear, but their size may indicate former animal pens or possibly settlement evidence.”
Two small ring ditches have also been identified from aerial photography, recorded in the Staffordshire Historic Environment Record, ‘HER Number: 04739’, existing to the immediate south of Hayes Wood, again just to the north of the well, and possibly indicate prehistoric archaeology, as well as to the north-west, near Craddocks Moss, ‘HER Number: 20032’, a large earthwork mound has been identified.
A Roman ‘Polden Hill’ type bow brooch and a Roman denarius silver coin have also been recovered according to the Staffordshire HER, to the east of Craddocks Moss and the M6 Motorway, also north of the well.
* * * * * * *
The Crab Apple Tree
As I outlined above, nearby the spring known as ‘The Devil’s Well’ stands an old crab apple tree, which must have stood here for centuries going by the size of its gnarled trunk. What makes this tree standing next to the spring relevant (like I outlined to Stephen whilst investigating the site and remarked that many holy springs / wells, had or have, hawthorn or other sacred trees standing nearby which were often dressed in the past or still are, with clooties, either at well dressing ceremonies, by pagan folk or by pilgrims seeking healing), is that the humble crab is associated with St Ottilia.
This was brought to my attention whilst chatting about my findings with a friend on Facebook, Wayne Easton, an archaeologist from Buchan near Aberdeen, Scotland. Whilst chatting online, he had found a reference on the internet to a German Article which discusses a (Gothic mercy-seat type) altar-piece in the hospital church of Bad Aussee (a town in the Austrian state of Styria), dating to 1449, which is dedicated to St Ottilia, where she is depicted with a crab’s pincer, which the author of the article outlines, that this attribute is unknown, but adds that in the Middle Ages, people who had foreign bodies in their eyes, were treated, it is said, with crab-eyes, a calcium formation in the stomach of the crab, and hence the symbol of a crab’s pincer is depicted with St Ottilia, due to her being the patron saint of eye sufferers, and the use of a pincer rather than a crab-eye has been utilised in the altar piece, because a depiction of an actual crab-eye, would be too small to be seen at any distance.
(‘St. Ottilia, Patron saint of suffers from eye diseases. an unusual representation with a crab's pincer at the Mercy-Seat Altar in Bad Aussee [Article in German], T. Grossman, 2008)
(Abstract @ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7021979)
So, it is quite possible that local folk planted a crab apple tree by the well, keeping this link of the seaside creature, the crab, with that of the well’s dedication to St Ottilia of Alsace, alive, utilising a tree of the same name, and using it as a sacred marker in the landscape, attributed to the saint, the well, and its curative properties for eyesight problems.
* * * * * * *
After identifying the exact location of St Ottilia’s Well / ‘The Devil’s Well’, I decided to consult the ‘Audley Tithe Maps and Apportionment’ myself, at Cheshire Family History Society’s Crewe Resource Centre (as I had done after identifying the ‘Knowlbank Road Well’), because all of the Staffordshire Tithe Maps have been digitised and uploaded to The Genealogist Family History Website, to add to my understanding of the history of the area. Although, I only found one nearby fieldname which may allude to a creature associated with the Devil, and that fieldname was ‘Hobberty Hill’, which may record a hill haunted by hobgoblins, which is dealt with below, in ‘Hobgoblin Hills, Audley and Betley’.
* * * * * * *
“I once healed with my sacred holy waters, folk’s eye-sight
Forgotten, misplaced, but now my Legend revealed to the light,
For I was hidden, overgrown, much altered, but am now reborn
Still flowing through the day, through the night, and into the Dawn.
No marker stone found of Celtic Briton
Even with the Devil my legend is smitten,
But at least now we know where am I
If only now seen by enquiring questful eye.
An ancient tree of the crab
The guardian apple of my eye,
Watches over my flowing pipe
Whilst thousands zoom on by.”
* * * * * * *
Revisiting The Devil’s Well in Winter 2016/2017
As my friend Stephen suggested, we revisited The Devil’s Well together, in winter time (February 2017), when the undergrowth had died back, to enable us to investigate the site further, and to see if any boulder existed within the vicinity, as well as getting better photographs of the whole of the site.
As we thought, the vegetation surrounding the site had died back, which enabled us to investigate the site further. We could now see the plastic rainwater pipe which carried the spring water from the earthen bank into the galvanised tank or cistern, much more clearly.
The Devil’s Well in Winter
A Winter View of the Pipe and Cistern
A Winter View of the Stream, Pipe and Cistern
There were stones holding the plastic pipe level, as well as an old cast iron gutter pipe hiding beneath these stones, which must be the pipe which the anonymous local gentleman, wrote about in his memories of village life in Halmer End in the 1920s and 1930s, recently published in the book: ‘Halmer End: A Brief Account of Village Life in the 1920s and 1930s, Nofara, 2015, Editorial Note, Robert Mayer, August 2015, Page 3.’ In the account, he tells us that the well was actually “the end pipe of a land drain”.
The Stones Propping Up the Pipe, and the Cast Iron Gutter Below
However, exploring the site did not reveal the great boulder or standing stone that was mentioned in the historic accounts. Possibly this boulder is lying under the muddy undergrowth and soil surrounding the immediate area, where the pipe exits the earthen bank, or it has been removed in antiquity. There are quite a few stones which have been used to prop up the rainwater pipe, as well as the galvanised cistern, but these are too small to be mistaken for a standing stone or boulder. Also, there are many modern concrete blocks, bricks, etc, also used in the same way, to prop up the cistern, and rainwater pipe.
It is possible, like other holy wells, that it originally had a stone basin, or similar, but again, this could easily be hidden under the earthen bank, which would have eroded over the centuries and decades of neglect, covering any ancient and historic archaeology.
In the first revisit photograph, above, you can see the many vehicles which pass the site on the M6 Motorway, oblivious to this holy site, dedicated to St Ottilia, and possibly also now, a haunt of the Devil. Stephen, when travelling on the M6, is now very aware of the site’s location, as it can easily be seen whilst travelling past!
It would be a great idea for the local community, if the landowner gives permission, to carry out an archaeological site investigation, to record the site, and find out if any ancient stone basin, or other associated structures exist by the well, as well as the wider archaeological context in the immediate vicinity, as revealed from the above research.
One positive as a result of this history, is that this site is no longer lost and forgotten, and pilgrims from the locality and wider world, now have a guide and location to where St Ottilia’s Holy Well exists, albeit in a more modern state than the many romantically and visually pleasing historic holy wells up and down the country.
The Winter Sky Above The Devil’s Well
* * * * * * *
A Misnomer, Further Proof, and The Devil’s Stone does Exist!
Another reference to the Devil’s Well was found in ‘The Book of the Village’, produced by members of Betley and Wrinehill with Balterley Women’s Institute in 1948:-
“About halfway up [from the Audley side] the [Mill] Dale is a sacred spring of very clear water, originally dedicated to St. Ottilia and still reputed to be good for the eyes. It is believed that the unusual Christian name of OTTIWELL, which occurs several times in the Betley Parish Register, is derived from St. Ottilia’s Well and that the persons so christened were descended from its guardians.”
This reference incorrectly indentifies the spring (which was to the immediate south of, and gave its name to, Spring Farm, which is situated in the valley of Dean’s Brook, to the east of Mill Dale Farm), as the Devil’s Well associated with St Ottilia. The location of this spring now exists below a fish pond which is situated below the farm.
Again, the Betley Parish Register reference has been used, but has been linked by the members of the WI, incorrectly with the spring at Milldale. Milldale is hardly between Betley and Audley either, but rather between Betley and Barthomley. As we saw from the above evidence the true Devil’s Well, or St Ottilia’s Well, and its location, has been clearly identified, and further proof has come to light since.
According to ‘Madeley in living Memory, compiled by Vicky Moss, 2000’, under Chapter Three and page 55:-
“A custom which everyone who was a child in the village seems to remember was the walk to Heighley Castle on Good Friday with a hot cross bun and a bottle of pop. Adults too went in droves, according to Derek Stevenson, including people from all over the Potteries, not only from Madeley. It was just something one did, apparently. Joyce Capewell, coming from Silverdale by way of Leycett and cutting through Walton’s wood, thought it was a long walk at the time. For Mary Blaise the ritual included drinking very cold, clear water from ‘the Devil’s well’ in a field beyond the castle ruins and round the top of the hill.”
Again, here we find another reference to the Devil’s Well, and that it was not far from Heighley Castle, and in a field. We know from the details we have already seen from above that it is not far from the ruins of this castle, and on a public footpath from Heighley Lane and Adderley Green, to Leycett and Walton’s Wood.
This reference also records that the drinking water was cold but clear, further reinforcing that it was drinkable and good for you. Even today the water gushes out of the pipe from the bank of the hill to the south, and into the galvanised tank, overflowing into the stream.
We are even told that it was part of a Good Friday ritual and custom for some!
Surprisingly Milldale was also another site where folk went for picnics with hot cross buns on Good Friday, so that might be why the WI got the Devil’s Well’s location mixed up, because according to ‘Audley in Old Picture Postcards, Robert Speake, 1983’:-
“[Photograph of Mill Dale Farm] 23. A short distance from the village, off the Barthomley Road, is the valley known as Mill Dale, which was a traditional place for family picnics, with hot cross buns, on Good Friday. Mill Dale Farm, in this photograph, is at the entrance to the dale and the mill was further along the valley. Knight’s Mill was one of the three waterdriven mills in Audley and featured prominently in the rural scene until the amount of silt which was continually filling up the pool became too big a problem and the mill closed and became derelict. Today, none of the features of the old mill can be seen.”
I’ve also spoken to a member of the farming family who work the fields and farms where the Devil’s Well is located, and they knew all about it, and its history, and surprisingly, said that the large boulder which you could sit on is by the well (pipe and tank), but now obscured by the vegetation and waterlogged bank!
So the ‘Devil’s Stone’ does exist, which he dropped whilst flying from Beeston Castle to Alsagers Bank, so another visit to the Devil’s Well is a must to try and find the large boulder that gave rise to the legend!
Another source, passed on to me by Dr Ian K Bloor, which mentions the Devil's Well may be found in ‘A Centenary Compendium of the Jabez Stories: Stories in North Staffordshire Dialect, Wilfred Alan Bloor, Keele University, 2015’, where under the story ‘Goin' Yelly Castle, Pages 178-179’ we are told that, on Good Fridays, locals often visited Yelly (Heighley) Castle, with a picnic of hot cross buns. Those from the Scot Hay area, often stopped at the Devil's Well en route, to refresh themselves, with the cold but crystal clear water. They often wondered why it was called a well, because they'd always known it as a spring. The story also records that there was a “greet big lump o' rock with a flat top” where they could sit whilst they drank the spring's water, and that the Devil had left it behind, after refreshing himself. The story about the Devil often frightened the local young folk, in case he came back for his rock!
* * * * * * *
Map of The Devil’s Well
* * * * * * *
St Bertoline and the Devil, Barthomley
The ancient church at Barthomley in south Cheshire is dedicated to an obscure Anglo Saxon saint known here as St Bertoline.
The early history of this saint is part of a mixed up history, potted together, cult and narrative with that of a disciple of St Guthlac of Croyland, known as St Bettelin, and that of St Bettelin (also known as Beorhthelm, Bertelin, and Bertram) of Ilam and Stafford, as well as stories borrowed from elsewhere.
A very informative account and investigation of this Saint, appears on the following website:-
‘Clas Merdin: Legendary History, Celtic Mythology & Matters Arthurian’ @ http://clasmerdin.blogspot.co.uk/2013_11_01_archive.html;
and as such there is no need to repeat an investigation into who St Bertoline was, and the evolution of his story, as well as the cult which followed him, popularised by Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians, who ruled Mercia from 911 until her death in 918AD, and who had been instrumental in building Saxon Forts known as ‘burhs’ across Mercia, to protect it from the Danish invasions.
However what we are concerned with here is a miracle by Saint Bertoline, which is said to have taken place at Barthomley, which included reference to the Devil.
The evidence for a miracle performed by St Bertoline at Barthomley, comes from ‘The Vita of a Bertellinus or Beccelinus’ drawn up based mostly on ‘Felix’ Life of St Guthlac (B.h.L. 1263 a)’ by an anonymous author sometime in the fourteenth century. Felix was a monk of Croyland (Crowland, Lincolnshire) in the 8th Century. This was expanded upon, and then added to Wynkyn de Worde’s 1516 edition of the ‘Nova Legenda Angliae’.
The fourteenth century medieval Latin account included in the ‘Nova Legenda Angliae’, by an anonymous author, but also attributed to [John] Capgrave, and also Prior Alexander Essebiensis, tells us that:-
“.... Dilexit Deum, dilectus est a Deo; magnificavit Christum bonis operibus; magnificatur a Christo multis miraculis. Tentavit Virum sanctum spiritus malignus, dicens: Dic, ut lapides isti panis fiant. Confudit Bertellinus diabolum per oppositum tentationis; quia non panem petram, sed e controverso panem in petram, ad diabolicæ tentationis opprobrium, mutavit: quæ petra loco, qui nunc Bertelmesley nuncupatur, miraculi scitur testimonium e: quo percepto provinciales Bertellinum Christi charum, quasi prophetam, venerabantur. ....”
(From: VITA auctore anonymo, Ex Ms. Rubræ vallis, collato cum editione Capgravii. (Bertellinus seu Beccelinus eremita in Anglia (S.) BHL Number: 1263 a) A. Anonymo. ; CAPUT I. Acta in seculo, pœnitentia de lapsu carnis, vita in eremo sub disciplina S. Guthlaci. )
“.... He loved God; he was loved of God; he magnified Christ with good works; he was magnified by Christ with many miracles. The spirit of malice tempted the holy man, saying, 'Say that these stones may become bread! Bertellinus confounded the Devil by the opposite of his temptations, for he did not change stones into bread, but, on the contrary, bread into stones, and so flouted the devilish temptation. These stones may still be seen as a testimony to the miracle at a place called Bertelmesley."
This account certainly tells us that St Bertoline flouted the Devil’s temptation of him to miraculously turn stones into bread, by performing the opposite, to spite him that smites all.
It also tells us that these stones could still be seen at a place called ‘Bertelmsley’ in the fourteenth century.
Firstly we have to look at the included placename ‘Bertelmesley’, which translates as ‘Bertelme’s Ley’, which means the ‘clearing of Bertelme’. This directly links to the early spellings of Barthomley as recorded by J McN Dodgson in ‘The Place-names of Cheshire, 1971’, as ‘Bertemeleu’ [Domesday Book 1086AD]; ‘Bertamelegh’; ‘Bertumeley’; and ‘Berthumlegh’. These placenames are strongly indicative of recording this settlement as being linked to the Saint, when we remember his name includes the forms of: Beorhthelm; Bertelin; Bertram; and Bettelin. So we have no doubt that the fourteenth century biographer records this miracle as happening at Barthomley.
Now, we have to look at the other part of this legend, which says that the stones miraculously converted from bread, were still to be seen around the place called ‘Bertelmsley’ in the fourteenth century.
Something that adds to this possibility of stones existing around the church of St Bertoline at Barthomley is that it is well known and recorded in historic records that the church is built upon ‘Barrow Hill’, which is now thought to have been a Neolithic Barrow upon a glacial drumlin. Any visitor to the church certainly can see the elevated site on which the church sits.
St Bertoline’s Church, Barthomley
This then, might infer, that the stones referred to in the legend and existing in the fourteenth century were remains of the Neolithic barrow, or as well as those remains, there may have also been a stone circle upon or surrounding the mound, like that around one of the barrows at the important Church Lawton Burial Complex, just on the eastern side of Alsager; or like the Neolithic stone burial chamber at the ‘Bridestones’ Barrow near Congleton, which also included a stone circle around it; rather than relating to the very small single pebble reliquary now housed in the Church’s Lady Chapel, of unknown date and source, which would have hardly been visible on the ground around the church as stated by the fourteenth century source.
And the most revealing detail in the legend of the miracle, is the inclusion of the Devil, as many pre-Christian prehistoric sites, across the whole of the country, attract to their legends and stories, figures such as the Devil, or giants, fairies, hobgoblins, etc; usually because these sites have been misunderstood by the folk of the past, and have attracted superstitions and supernatural origins, rather than their true history and archaeology.
This further reinforces that the church was built upon a barrow, and that the stones which have been included in the legend of the ‘bread into stone’ miracle, like much else of St Bertoline’s Legend (see ‘Clas Merdin’ Website), was borrowed from other origins; whether it be other saints, and their stories, both English and French; and actually relates to actual stones of antiquity, actually standing where the miracle was said to have been performed.
We know that many Anglo-Saxon churches are built on previous pagan sites, where the new religion’s, i.e. Christianity convertors would have preached from, building upon the memories of the sanctity of these pagan sites, but Christianising them, to form and give foundation to the new belief, and thereby creating a spiritual continuity with the past. This had already been the case when the Romans came to Britain, who often amalgamated local Celtic deities with their own mythological deities, giving the indigenous population a new belief structure or religion built upon these old local foundations. Like the conquering Romans, the new Christian preachers in the Anglo-Saxon Period, used these old foundations to build and modify and convert the peoples pagan beliefs to this new religion, and therefore giving it the heritage of the pagan deities and holy places already in existence, and hence strengthening that it was both new and ancient.
* * * * * * *
The Devil did seem to have it in for Cheshire Churches, as well as Over near Winsford, where he is attributed as stealing St Chad’s Church, to only then drop it later, safely in a field, after Vale Royal Abbey’s bells rang out; which was obviously made up to account for the historic village moving away from the church overtime; he is also present in a legend at Acton Church, near Nantwich. This time, standing on a rocky outcrop somewhere in the Peckforton Hills, possibly Beeston, he is said to have hurled stones to destroy Acton Church, but had missed, and the stones were strewn in the fields around. This legend is based either upon ‘the Bluestone’ Glacial erratic or upon the boundary stones placed around the area of land which was donated to Combermere Abbey; or both.
* * * * * * *
Barthomley and Wolves
It’s also a weird coincidence that local tradition records that the last wolf in England was supposedly killed at Barthomley Wood, and that is why the stream which runs through the village is known as ‘Wulvern Brook’; and we are told by the same anonymous 14th Century author, that St Bertoline’s wife was pregnant and ready to give birth to a child, and whilst she was in immense birthing pain, he searched for a midwife, only to return to the dense forest where she was in the pains of childbirth, to find that his wife and child had been devoured by wolves.
A further possibility is that ‘Wulvern Brook’ is associated with Wulfric Spot, who had inherited an estate at Balterley, which was part of Barthomley Parish, as recorded in his Will dated 1002-4. It was also recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book, that another Wulfric held Balterley, as well as holding Alsager and Audley.
* * * * * * *
Barthomley’s Black Dog
A large Black Dog is also reputed to haunt the lanes and old driveway around the Rectory as well as the Churchyard itself.
More about him can be read in ‘The Ankou, Churchyard Guardians, Black Dogs and Memento Mori, Charles E. S. Fairey, 2014’ which can be found @ http://www.mysticmasque.com/history-mystery/the-ankou-churchyard-guardians-black-dogs-and-memento-mori, where we discuss ‘The Black Dog of Barthomley’ as one of Cheshire’s Church Grims, or Churchyard Guardian, or more specifically an ‘Ankou’.
(A modern stone carving above St Bertoline’s Church Tower Entrance)
* * * * * * *
“Berthelm of Berthelmsley,
Welcomes all and thee,
Into the house of Him Most High,
Where devil once tempted I,
An ancient burial site under God's blessing,
Where His love and inspiration is everlasting.”
* * * * * * *
Hobdane and Hobdale; Milldale, Barthomley
Hobgoblin by Michael C. (Jarl) Oakes
To the south-west of Barthomley, on the eastern side of Dean’s Lane, before you travel downhill toward the bridge over Dean Brook and into the township of Balterley, and the county of Staffordshire, there were three fields here that include interesting names, just before the Limes Farm’s driveway.
Using the Barthomley 1838 Tithe Map (Cheshire Record Office Ref: EDT 38/2) and Apportionment, we find that the fields marked as plots 122, 123, and 125; are known as ‘Near Hob Dane’, ‘Far Hob Dane’, and ‘Hob Dale’, respectively.
What makes these interesting, firstly, is that they are near to fields including the placename element ‘Dane’ and ‘Dean’ on both sides of Dean Brook. The placenames Dane and Dean come from the Old English word ‘denu’, which means a ‘deep wooded valley’. Even today, Dean Brook and Dean Rough, to the east and west, respectively, is situated in a deep wooded valley, which is also the boundary between the counties of Cheshire and Staffordshire, and has been the boundary since late Anglo-Saxon times. However, the ancient parish of Barthomley straddles this topographical boundary, because it contained Balterley in Staffordshire under its ecclesiastical rule.
Secondly, these three fields contain the word ‘Hob’, which is an unusual placename element, and equates to the description of a ‘hob[goblin]’. Hobgoblins were thought as helpful and friendly creatures compared to their cousins, the Goblin. Goblins were the most sinister and malevolent of the creatures known as ‘Fairies’. They were small in stature and extremely ugly in appearance. However, during the era of the Puritans, and hence forth, the name ‘hobgoblin’ was given to places to signify that evil entities were present.
However, sometimes these places which have superstitiously, been named as homes to ‘hobgoblins’ or ‘fairies’, like discussed above with places attracting the description of the ‘Devil’, they sometimes reveal sites of historic and archaeological value, often misunderstood by our superstitious forebears.
One such place in Cheshire, which I’ve researched, near Dunham Massey in the north of Cheshire, where on the 1839 Tithe Map of Bollington, in Bowden Parish (CRO Ref: EDT 54/2), a field named ‘Hobb Field’, which today is known as ‘Fairy Brow’ (Fairy Hill), and in folklore was known to be a haunted place of the dead, hence haunted by ‘hobgoblins’ or ‘fairies’, exists, where a Bronze Age Round Barrow, including a cremated body, flint tools, and a flint dagger or razor, were excavated, revealing that these creatures often signify something connected with prehistory or where the historic dead were buried.
So, these fields may suggest that these fields relate to this area being haunted by hobgoblins, or that there may be some lost archaeology in that area. However, due to the fieldnames being ‘Hob Dane’ and ‘Hob Dale’, they more likely infer that the Dean Brook and its valley was thought to be haunted by malevolent spirits. The valley certainly is home to ancient woodland, and is dark under the trees, albeit picturesque for a walk, but in times gone by, folk travelling on Dean’s Lane, and over the brook, to Barthomley of Balterley Green, or further afield; or along the valley, to one of the two mills which existed there, namely ‘Milldale’ and ‘Knights Mill’, they may have felt the remoteness of the area, and if near Dusk, that creatures lingered in the dark shadows of the trees, or the nooks, and crossing places of the valley.
Dean Brook Bridge and Dean’s Lane looking toward Barthomley
The fieldname ‘Hob Dale’ might also infer that the nearby ‘Mill Dale’ was previously known as ‘Hob Dale’, and was also haunted by these malevolent spirits. The fieldname ‘Dale’ means ‘valley’ as well as ‘Dean / Dane’, and comes from the Old English ‘Dæl’.
So, for the modern walker, maybe travelling upon the modern ‘Two Saints Way’, between Barthomley and Audley, may be best aware that in the past, and maybe still, ‘hobgoblins’ were known to frequent this valley and the place now known as ‘Milldale’!
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The Devil with Book by Michael C. (Jarl) Oakes, 2010
Hobgoblin Hills, Audley and Betley
Two hills exist in Betley and Audley parishes, which may be named after the same creature as we looked at above, the ‘Hobgoblin’.
The first hill is known as ‘Hobberty Hill’ and exists to the north of Church Lane, to the east of the village of Betley, and immediately to the east of Yewtree Cottage.
The second hill is also known as ‘Hobberty Hill’ and exists to the east of Adderley Green, and to the west of ‘The Devil’s Well, please see above.
The placename element ‘Hob’, ‘Hobb’, or ‘Hobbe’ may be indicative of the supernatural creatures known as ‘hobgoblins’ in Middle English, or indicative of a ‘knoll, tussock, hummock’ in Old English. It is difficult to separate each meaning.
Likewise, as above, places which attract the notion of the hobgoblin being associated with them, often stem from folklore that those places are haunted by malevolent creatures, and can sometimes indicate places of archaeological remains, such as places where the dead have been buried in the past, such as tumuli, which can help identify which placename meaning is relevant.
The form of the name of these hills as ‘Hobberty’, is not a very common form, and may use a local dialect form of ‘Hobgoblin’ which may equate to the word we all know as ‘Hobbit’, which was first thought to have been a word invented by J. R. R. Tolkien. However, further study has revealed that the word ‘Hobbit’ did in fact exist earlier than Tolkien’s works, and appeared in ‘Denham Tracts, edited by James Hardy, 1895, Vol. 2’, which was compiled originally from Michael Aislabie Denham’s publications between 1846 and 1859. “The text contains a long list of sprites and bogies, based on an older list, the Discovery of Witchcraft, dated 1584, with many additions and a few repetitions. The term ‘hobbit’ is listed in the context of “boggleboes, bogies, redmen, portunes, grants, hobbits, hobgoblins, brown-men, cowies, dunnies”.” (Wikipedia Entry @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobbit_(word))
The name of the hill may also be related to the word ‘Hobberdy’ as in ‘Hobberdy Dick’ a fictional character in children’s stories who is actually a goblin.
So we may have two more places local to Audley, Barthomley and Betley, which are haunted by hobgoblins, but this time rather than a valley haunted by ‘hobs’, two hills haunted by ‘hobs’!
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The Devil Went Through, Betley
Betley from ‘Pilgrimages to Old Homes, Fletcher Moss, 1908, Page 60’
There is an old local saying amongst the folks of Betley and Wrinehill, in North Staffordshire, which includes reference to the Devil. The date the verse was created is not known, but considering that a lot of the local roads were turnpiked in the mid to late 18th Century, it must pre-date their investment into maintenance of the roads via tolls.
The verse talks about the condition of the roads throughout the area, and especially the road through Betley, which must have been more than rugged and rough, to suggest that the actual ‘Devil’ had travelled through!
Here’s the original verse as spoken by locals, and provided to me by my good friend Roy P. Rushton:-
“Aidley, Maidley, Kail and Cassle
Uxson, Muxson, Ower and Assan,
Ranshall rugged and Raine Hill rough,
But Betley’s where the Devil went thruff.”
And the translation:-
“Audley, Madeley, Keele and Newcastle
Hawkstone, Mucklestone, Woore and Aston,
Ravenshall’s rugged and Wrinehill’s rough,
But Betley’s where the Devil went through*.”
* through is said the same way as rough, i.e. thruff.
“Thruff” is olde dialect for “Through”
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Map of the Devils of Audley, Barthomley and Betley
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With Special Thanks to:-
Roy P. Rushton (Friend, Historian & Betley Local History Society)
Michael C. (Jarl) Oakes (Friend, Artist & Illustrator)
Please also see 'Jarl of the Oak', Michael's dedicated Artwork Website @ https://sites.google.com/site/jarloftheoak/.
Stephen Simpson (Friend, Historical Re-enactor & Crewe & Nantwich Metal Detecting Society)
A Friend (Betley Local History Society)
Christine Huxley, Clive Millington & Robert Mayer (Audley and District Family History Society)
Wayne Easton (Facebook Friend & Archaeologist)
Margaret Spate (Cheshire Family History Society – Crewe Resource Centre)
Dr Ian K Bloor (Son of Wilfred Alan Bloor, the writer of the 'Jabez Stories', see Source and Links below)
Cheshire Record Office Tithe Maps Website @ http://maps.cheshire.gov.uk/tithemaps
Geological Maps @ http://www.bgs.ac.uk/data/maps/home.html
Audley Tithe Maps & Apportionment (Source: Clive Millington of ‘Audley and District Family History Society’ & The Genealogist Website @ https://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/)
Yates’ Map of the County of Stafford, 1775
Audley: An out of the way quiet place, Edited by Robert Speake, 1972
Halmer End: A Brief Account of Village Life in the 1920s and 1930s, Nofara, 2015
The Book of the Village, produced by members of Betley and Wrinehill with Balterley Women’s Institute in 1948
Madeley in living Memory, compiled by Vicky Moss, 2000
Audley in Old Picture Postcards, Robert Speake, 1983
Betley: A Village of Contrasts, Edited by Robert Speake, 1980
Betley: A Coal Mining Village?, David B. Thompson, 2001
Odile of Alsace (Wikipedia Entry @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odile_of_Alsace)
The Public Houses of Betley, Roy P. Rushton, 2015 (unpublished)
Staffordshire HER (Historic Environment Record) @ http://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/
St. Ottilia, Patron saint of suffers from eye diseases. an unusual representation with a crab's pincer at the Mercy-Seat Altar in Bad Aussee [Article in German], T. Grossman, 2008 (Abstract @ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7021979)
A Centenary Compendium of the Jabez Stories: Stories in North Staffordshire Dialect, Wilfred Alan Bloor, Keele University, 2015
(Please see the Book Link @ http://jabezbook.co.uk/, and the Wilfred Bloor Archive @ https://www.keele.ac.uk/library/specarc/collections/wilfredbloor/)
Barthomley, The story of an estate village, Edited by Robert Speake, Barthomley Local History Group, 1995
Nova legenda Anglie (as collected by John of Tynemouth, John Capgrave, and others, and first printed, with new lives, by Wynkyn de Worde a.d. 1516; now re-edited with fresh material from ms. and printed sources), Carl Horstman, 1901
Clas Merdin: Legendary History, Celtic Mythology & Matters Arthurian @ http://clasmerdin.blogspot.co.uk/2013_11_01_archive.html
Studies in Church Dedications or England’s Patron Saints, Frances Egerton Arnold-Forster, 1857
Historical Studies relating chiefly to Staffordshire, J. L. Cherry & Karl Cherry, 1908
Beorhthelm of Stafford (Wikipedia Entry @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beorhthelm_of_Stafford)
English Field Names, A Dictionary, John Field, David & Charles, 1972
The Place-names of Cheshire, J. McN. Dodgson, 1971
The Sutton Companion to British Folklore, Myths & Legends, Marc Alexander, 2005-6
The Two Saints Way: A pilgrimage route between the cathedral cities of Chester and Lichfield, David Pott, 2015
Hobbit (word) (Wikipedia Entry @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobbit_(word))
Pilgrimages to Old Homes, Fletcher Moss, 1908