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The Forest of Dean's St. Anthony's Well


Near Gunn's Mill at Flaxley is the enigmatic St Anthony's Well, an ancient spring whose name dates from the medieval period. However, prehistoric flint implements have been found in the springs vicinity as well as Iron Age and Roman artefacts and it seems likely that the well was a ritual site for a long period of time. Saint Anthony's Well water is always extremely cold and for generations local people have bathed in it for the treatment of rhumatism and arthritis.
The Vale of Castiard has its beginning in St. Anthony's Well, a spring that bursts on the outside of the forest bowl into a shallow basin, before cascading into a plunge-bath the size and depth of a good-sized room. <IMG SRC="imgC.jpg" ALT="St. Anthony's Well near Flaxley, Forest of Dean">This pool was carefully made by the monks of Flaxley, but unfortunately some careless timber fellers of the Royal Engineers during the war broke some of the heavy stones of the coping, fouling the twelve steps descending through the water to the floor of the pool.The last time I came here I found that both well and pool were dry, owing to water from this source being pumped to Cinderford on top of the hill, and one can only hope that this parched condition will not be permanent.Though this water is salubrious without being efficacious, there is a local tradition (founded no doubt by the monks) that the bath is a cure for rheumatism to any one visiting the pool on twelve successive days, descending one step the first day, two the second, until on the twelfth day the floor of the pool is reached. This would be something of an ordeal, since after the ninth or tenth day the sufferer would be out of his depth, while even on the hottest day in summer the pool is deliciously icy. The well is also held to be good for skin diseases if visited in the month of May at the rising of the sun on nine successive days. "The Forest of Dean" by Brian Waters (1951)

St. Anthony's Well 1794  Here we remained the greater part of the day, and viewed some part of the forest.. On the hill above the mills, is a well called St. Anthony's the water of which has some mineral qualities, and is of exquisite coolness. The bottom of a square basin into which the water flows was covered with crooked pins, a mark of that superstition which must be expected to haunt the minds of the peasantry, in one shape or other, for many years, notwithstanding the boasted illumination of the eighteenth century. If you lose your horse, or your child, or anything else of value, it is but throwing a crooked pin into this well, and wishing to recover what you have lost, and the business is done. While we were tasting the delicious water of this well, a servant came to inform me that my horse had walked out of the stable, and could not be found. Here was time to try the virtues of the crooked pin, which we deposited with due formality; but I regret that the experiment was in one respect imperfect. On our descending to the stables, we found that it was not my horse, but another, which had walked off - consequently, I lost this opportunity of adding my testimony to the amazing recoveries effected by St. Anthony's well.    June 1794 from an unsigned letter in the Universal Magazine.

During medieval times monks sent sufferers from skin diseases to the well with the instructions to bathe in its water on the first nine mornings in May.

In the 18th century people would wash their dog thereif it had mange or distemper.

In later times locals would save a bottle of the water believing it would cure eye infections.

St Anthony's Fire was the medieval name for Erysipelas a rampant itching skin disease.

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Christian Baptisms

In 1862 a Strict or Particular Baptist church also met in Cinderford and its minister Richard Snaith conducted baptisms in St. Anthony's well near Gunn's Mills in 1864. The meeting had a chapel in Flaxley Meend and is not recorded after 1879.

World War Two

During World War Two the increased demand for water due to a large military presence affected Cinderford's water supply. In May and June 1943 the average consumption had risen to 369,000 gallons per day and so it became necessary to only turn on supplies for 10 hours per day. Several meetings took place with the Army Commanders to try and prevent waste of water and reduce consumption but with little success.

So a decision was made to exploit the source at St Anthony's Well. A six feet diameter well, thirty feet deep was sunk at Gunns Mill  and a trailer pump loaned from the National Fire Service.

A six inch steel main was laid overland to Greenbottom to discharge into the impounding reservoir and this temporary installation commenced pumping on 20th October 1943. In June 1944 a permanent pump was installed at a cost of £200 and a standby pump was acquired in late 1945. A restriction of 72,000 gallons per day was imposed on the abstraction from the Gunns Mill source. Although now abandoned the brick pump house can still be seen alongside the track to St Anthony's Well.  D.A Pearce 1997.


 


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