Wednesday, 24 December 2014

St. Lawrence Well

St. Lawrence Well is another poem from the illustrated anthology The Vecta Garland, and Isle of Wight souvenir, by Newport tinsmith, ironmonger and poet Albert Midlane. This concerns a stranger who came to the well for a drink, and left scurrilous lines - mild ones, anyway - on finding it locked up.

"Hail, lovely grotto ! Hail Elysian soil! Thou fairest spot of fair Britannia's isle."— Tickell.
Turn aside, poor weary traveller,
Drink, and be refresh' d;
On these rustic shaded benches,
Sit thee down and rest;
All around conspires to assure thee
Thou'rt a welcome guest

 Sit thee down and I will tell thee,
What of late befel,
One who came to drink the waters
Of this crystal well,—
Streaming from the rocks above us,
Where the sea-gulls dwell.

What his name, or birth I wot not,
What he did I know;
This bright rill of cooling water,
Thou to him dost owe;
Had he lacked the free-man's spirit
Hidden it would flow.

Wearied by a lengthened journey,
And by thirst oppressed,
Here he came in quest of water,
And of needful rest;
But the door was barred before him—
He was sore distressed.

Disappointed of his errand,
Indignation grew;
From his wallet, pen and paper
Quickly forth he drew,—
Penned some racy lines,
and put them
Up to public view. *

In consequence of various depredations having been committed at the well, the late Earl of Yarborough caused it to be locked up. During the summer of 1843, the following lines were written by a person unknown, and placed over the door, which, on being taken down by a gentleman in that neighbourhood, were handed to his Lordship, who was so much pleased with the jeu d'esprit, as to give directions for the Well to be unlocked, and it has ever since been open to the public: —
"This Well, we must own, is most splendidly placed,
And very romantic we think it;
The water, no doubt, too, would pleasantly taste
If we could but get at it, to drink it!"

We wish that the per§on who owneth this Well,
May walk a long way, and get ' knocked up;'
And then, if its pleasant or not, he can tell,
When he comes to some water that's lock'd up !"

Seen they were and quickly handed To the Noble Lord,
Who admired the open candour
Of the simple bard;
And he said, "The Well from henceforth
Shall remain unbarred."

Such his words, nor changing purpose
Altered this command;
And the doors which guard the grotto
Still wide open stand—
Still the traveller finds with pleasure
Cooling streams at hand.

But, alas! the Earl has ended
This life's transient day;
Death has reft his well-known features
From our gaze away:
Loved, revered, and long remembered,
Be his kindly sway!
Like him, may his honoured offspring
Guard this resting spot,—
Mindful of the public welfare,
Keep unbarred this grot,—
Then their names, by weary travellers,
Shall not be forgot !

- Albert Midlane (The Vecta Garland, and Isle of Wight Souvenir, London: Griffin, 1860, page 58, Internet Archive vectagarlandisle00midl).

St Lawrence Well, from Midlane's The Vecta Garland, and Isle of Wight Souvenir.
If I recall rightly, St Lawrence Well is on Sheet 80 of the Isle of Wight Rights of Way Maps. Leave the west-bound bus where the Whitwell Road diverges from the escarpment, then take the short rights-of-way routes below the crags 76 ... 75 ... 73 ... 117 through Pelham Wood to Undercliff Drive beween St Lawrence and Ventnor Botanical Gardens. The Well is on the short loop - right of way 188 - south of Undercliff Drive. There's a well-signposted gate at the eastern end (here).

There are various accounts and images of of the Well (it's not wildly ancient):
ST. LAWRENCE—The WELL near the Marine Villa of the Right Honourable Lord Yarborough—Isle of Wight.
Brannon's Picture of the Isle of Wight
(George Brannon, Wootton: Isle of Wight, 1855, Internet Archive brannonspictureo00bran).
St. Lawrence's Well: A Fragmentary Legend of the Isle of Wight (Sheridan, Henry Brinsley, London: Madden and Malcolm, 1845, full version via Hathitrust 100142402).
Two miles from town is St. Lawrence Spring; a gate opens and shows a basin of water which is supplied from a rock; the stream runs through an aperture, and the basin is excavated from the rock, elevated so high that the precious draught is offered without stooping; here upon stone benches, under the shade of trees, the traveller may sit, read, take his lunch, and drink his water at pleasure.
- Loose Papers; Or, Facts Gathered During Eight Years' Residence in Ireland, Scotland, England, France, and Germany (Asenath Nicholson, New-York: Sold at the Anti-slavery Office, 48 Beekman Street, 1853, page 167).
St Lawrence Well (watermarked image c. 1850-1870 via Carisbrooke Castle Museum HistoricImages collection).
On the road, to the right, in a recess under a Gothic arch, and overshadowed by some fine trees, bubbles and gushes most refreshingly an abundant spring, long celebrated as St. Lawrence's Well. The quaint little edifice which encloses it was built by the late Earl of Yarborough.
- Nelsons' Hand-Book to the Isle of Wight (William Henry Davenport Adams, London: T. Nelson & Sons, 1864, page 137).
Near the entrance to Marine Villa is ST LAWRENCE WELL, an Early Victorian grotto-like structure with finely moulded, heavily hooded Gothic entrance to a rib-vaulted interior.
- The Isle of Wight (David Wharton Lloyd, Nikolaus Pevsner, Yale University Press, 2006).
In recent years,  a tradition of well-dressing has been instigated, as in Well dressing's steam theme (Martin Neville, IWCP, Thursday Aug. 4, 2011), which commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway.

- Ray

No comments:

Post a Comment