The next record of a well dates from at least the 15th century (or possibly earlier) on Woodbury Hill, the site of an Iron Age fortification with possible Roman occupation, in connection with an Anchoret’s Chapel on the hill. It is referred to in Dean Chandler’s register of visitations recording a chaplain there in 1408 and again a reference in 1411. Little more was heard of it till 1770 when its foundations were reported to be still visible. The well was necessarily very deep and according to tradition a golden table or tablet had been hidden in it. The well was reported to have water with remarkable healing properties and people made annual pilgrimages to it on September 21st, the date of its dedication, to drink the water.
The date of 21st September is St Matthew’s Day and it was always in this week of the 21st that Woodbury Hill Fair was held.
Sir Frederick Treves, in his book ‘Highways and Byways in Dorset’ mentions that the fair has been held since the time of Henry III who died in 1272 ‘commencing on September 18th near about the festival of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ but the Nativity is celebrated on September 8th and depending on the year the start date would of course change.
However the question of ‘St Mary’s Well’ may be answered, as the land on which Woodbury Hill is part of what was owned by the Abbess of Tarrant up to the time of the reformation (1539) and Tarrant Abbey, their home at Tarrant Crawford, had the chapel dedicated to St Mary and this could have been also the dedication of the chapel here as well.
The efficacy of the water is mentioned in Reference 3 page 100, where the Rev O P Cambridge (Vicar of Bloxworth) recorded the tradition of the use of the deep well on Woodbury Hill ‘where people were supposed to drink the water on September 21st and pay money offerings to the Abbot of Tarrant’.
The hill consists of London Clay, so it is possible that the water may have contained some Epsom Salts!
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