Reprinted from Newsletter 114, dated 2005 February

Chalice Well’s written history goes back to 1210

Adrian Pearse

Tracy Cutting has been on the Chalice Well staff since 2003, on the archive committee and personal assistant to the guardian; on October 22 she gave members of the Conservation Society an outline of the well’s history.

Excavations in 1961 revealed that the natural spring was originally four metres below the current surface. Flints and potsherds showed that the area had been in use since the mesolithic period, when freshwater springs were revered as a source of life. A watching brief in 1999 during construction of a meeting room also produced evidence of Bronze Age activity.

The first written reference is in the Great Chartulary of 1210, when the spring is referred to as the “chalkwell” — hence the modern Chilkwell Street — and was enclosed by a wellhouse to protect it from landslides and silt buildup, and used as a supply for the Abbey.

A sepia photograph of a large stone building. It is partially obscured by hedges and trees in the foreground. The building has three storeys. Near the left of the main visible face, one column of windows does not have the same spacing as the columns either side of it, but are rather more closely spaced. Tall hills are visible in the distance behind the building. Two people stand wearing hats on the right of the photograph, behind the hedges and in front of a tree. A child stands at the corner of the building, somewhat dwarfed.

Built as an inn in the 16th century, Torr House stood at the foot of Wellhouse Lane, next to Chalice Well. It was a Catholic seminary from 1867 until Alice Buckton bought it in 1913. The building was finally demolished in the 1970s. This old postcard view is from Coursing Batch, coming down the hill.

A 16th-century inn, The Anchor, later called Torr House, stood on part of the site, where in 1751 the taking of the waters by one Matthew Chancellor of North Wootton with claims of healing powers resulted in the construction of a spa house, of which some remains survive, as an adjunct to the inn. Water was piped to the Pump House in Magdalene Street, but Glastonbury’s fame as a spa was but short lived.

In 1867 a French and Belgian Roman Catholic order, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, purchased the inn and established a seminary, which lasted until 1913.

It was purchased at auction by Alice Buckton, a schoolteacher from Haslemere who established a hostel and college for women, with a growing emphasis on sacred drama. She raised the profile of the spring, naming it the Chalice Well. The community acquired additional properties and became known for its work in the Arts and Crafts tradition and especially for the plays and pageants she produced, notably the silent movie in 1922 featuring 400 townspeople.

A black-and-white photo showing a middle-aged white man with very little hair standing in bright light in a garden and looking at the camera. He wears a light-coloured suit, a white shirt, and a dark tie. His hands are in his jacket pockets.

Wellesley Tudor Pole at the wellhead about 1960.

On her death in 1944 a trust was formed to continue her work, but financial difficulties forced the sale of many of the properties and in 1959 the nucleus of the site to Wellesley Tudor Pole, whose own Chalice Well Trust was merged with Alice Buckton’s and continues to this day.

The Chalice Well is a chalybeate spring, rich in iron oxide, which colours the water red. This connects with the legend of Joseph of Aramathea bringing the chalice from the Last Supper to Glastonbury and with Arthurian legends. A vision manifested to Tudor Pole in 1906 resulted in his sister discovering an ancient glass bowl at Beckery, now kept at the Chalice Well and considered by some to be sacred.

An ornate circular metal frame with wooden inlays lies horizontally on a stone floor. The metal is intricately designed, with intersecting circles and lines, and flower-like decorations. A hinge is visible at the far side, and a hook on the close side.

Wood on the well cover has been renewed, but ironwork is Bond’s original from 1919.

The well lid was given by Frederick Bligh Bond in 1919 and incorporates his interpretation of sacred geometry — the vesica piscis, two intersecting circles, each passing through the centre of the other.

Today the Chalice Well is visited by tourists and pilgrims from all over the world for its healing properties, mystic significance and as a sacred space.