Brayton Barff

Find us on Facebook

Fairy Pin Well or Our Lady’s Well

The story about the Fairy Pin Well is told here by Graeme Chappell of Tadcaster who has studied Yorkshire Holy Wells at some length. His web site on this and other Holy wells can be found HERE. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Graeme for his kind permission to use his text here at The Brayton Barff web site.

Our Lady's Well (Fairy Pin Well) - Brayton Barff

By Graeme Chappell

(SE 5856 3041- site of/covered?)

The first edition OS map marks a Lady's Well on top of Brayton Barff - a large isolated hill in the otherwise flat landscape to the south of Selby. In the local history and folklore of the area this Holy well also went by the name of the Fairy Pin Well, and the traditions and folk practices connected with it were noted by R.C. Hope, Rev Smith, and other local historians. A detailed account of the well and its folklore also appeared in the Literary Supplement of  the Leeds Mercury in July 1884.

The holy well was also marked on later OS maps and apparently took the form of a small spring fed pool on the very top of the hill. Unfortunately anyone climbing the wooded slopes of Brayton Barff today will find that most of the hilltop is now covered by a water storage and pumping facility. Perhaps just another case of their being no room for local sites and traditions when it comes to modern planning?

Overlaying the old and modern OS maps indicates that the site of the Holy Well does indeed lay within the fenced off enclosures, but the actual location appears to coincide with a grassed area and access track within the complex, so the possibility exists that the Holy Well or its water source may still survive, perhaps piped into the drainage system on the site? Did the original plan for the complex make allowance for this old holy Well?

It is maybe a little ironic that Yorkshire Water own this site, so i wonder if they are up for a little challenge? - can they find the site of the Holy Well on their property? and possibly uncover this piece of local Folk heritage? (watch this space!).

The tale of the Fairy Pin Well

In the folklore of this district Brayton Barff was regarded as a home to the 'Faerie folk', with the area around the hill top being a favourite spot for them. The tradition relates that one day a local lass was out walking on the hill and decided to rest a while beside the well. Whilst she sat there her thoughts turned to the subject of her sweetheart and at that moment she happened to look into the watery depths of the well. The faeries took this opportunity to weave an enchantment over her and while her body lay in a dream-like sleep beside the well, they transported her to the hidden world of Faerie which exists alongside the world of people. 

The faeries explained to the lass, that although they could achieve most things with their magical powers they had a problem that required help from their human neighbours to solve. It seemed that the fairies were fond of hunting with bows and arrows, but unfortunately their arrows were not very effective (being made from the pointed spikes of the hawthorn) and often broke or missed their target completely. However, with their keen elven eyes the faeries had already noticed an ideal replacement for their thorn arrows in the form of the sharp metal pins used by the women of the district, but as the faeries had no power over iron, the only way to obtain the pins would be through some form of trade. So they proposed that any women of good character, young or old, who visited the well could drop in a pin and in return the faeries would reveal the identity of their true love or future husband, with his face reflected in the waters of the fairy well. 

When the lass awoke from the enchantment she wondered if it had all been a dream, so she cautiously threw a pin into the well and as the surface of the water became calm she saw the face of her sweetheart reflected there. Gradually the news of the well's ability spread and the path to the well became a little more worn, providing the faeries with a steady supply of pin-arrows and the visitor with an enquiring heart gained an insight of their true love.

The fame of the well spread to such an extent that the Abbot of Selby Abbey came under pressure to put a stop to its popularity. To this end the abbot  performed a hilltop service at the well, dedicating it to the Blessed Virgin, Our lady. However, this dedication perhaps suggests the Abbot was also a man of compassion and wisdom. And it is said that for long afterwards the well continued to provide answers in matters of the heart. 

©Graeme Chappell 

Postscript By Graeme:

For a while i thought there was a chance the Pin well might still be up there,  but the 'old maps' website has maps showing the well up until the 1960's then the reservoir was extended and covered the site of the well.

Its a bit of a shame and it would have been nice to have a photograph of the old well. Someone probably has one somewhere, so it might be worth asking around. Graeme.

If anyone does have any artwork or photographs please let us know as both this site and Graeme's would be very interested to use them.

Click on map for larger version

Click on map for larger version

Click on map for larger version

Maps used are from Old Maps and we thank them for the permission to use them.