St Catherine's Well at Newark

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'St Catherine's Well at Newark' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'St Catherine's Well at Newark' page

Is it a real holy well?

By R B Parish

Newark’s famed St. Catherine’s Well is perhaps the second most noted in the county due to a legend attached to it is given at length by Dickinson (1816). He notes that a fair damsel of Newark, Isabel de Caldwell, had two lovers, Sir Everard Bevercotes and Sir Guy Saucimer. The rivals, fought over her hand and Sir Guy slew Sir Everard by the Devon bank, on St. Catharine's eve. Where the body of Sir Everard fell this spring gushed out, and has never since failed. Sir Guy fled to foreign lands and Isabel died of grief. Years later when he was stricken with leprosy, Sir Guy decided to return home and on his way the St. Catherine appears to him in a vision, she tells him that where his crime was committed was a spring and this was only water that can cure his leprosy.

Returning home he decided to build himself a hermitage on this spot and a chapel to St. Catharine. However, another version states that this site was regularly flooded by the nearby river Devon. This caused him to move site to another spring to the north-east and here he placed the chapel. Whichever is the exact story, he is said to ‘lived a sad and godly life’ to eighty-three, much venerated by all hereabouts, by whom he was known by the name of St. Guthred.

Despite being the most detailed origin explaining the foundation of a Nottinghamshire holy well, the story if difficult to provenance and I have been unable to find an earlier source. The document claims to be 15th century but appears to be no evidence of this and Harte (2008) claims it was written in 1810 possibly as joke at the expense of Dickinson. Certainly the language of the manuscript is written in a Romantic style with a scattering of older words and contradictions and mistakes the best being a reference to the 17th year of Henry IV, a King who only reigned 14 years! This is supported by the site’s alternative name of Sutton springs, the house which encloses it is simply called the springs. However, Scales (1896) gives evidence of either a fragment of the chapel or the well in the Reliquary. This being a carved stone head, apparently a dripstone terminal, was found near the well. Blagg (1910) notes that the evidence for the truth of this story being that the names can be found locally: Caldwell and Saucimer occurring among the Chantries founded in St Mary Magdalen’s Church in Newark. However, again I have been unable to corroborate these and these names do not necessarily make the well genuine.

Notwithstanding the origins of the well, the site proporting St Catherine’s Well is still in existence.  However, it is rather unromantically enclosed in a rectangular chamber with a water authority cover, although Mrs Elliott, a local informant, informed me when she lived here as a girl in the 1950s, it was an open structure bricked around with old bricks and constantly running.It is c lose to the ‘Queen's Sconce’ a Civil War earthwork and stands in a private cottage garden who uses the water.  Also still associated with the well, or was in 1996 when I visited was the semicircular stone which apparently once covered the well was there beside it. On it an inscription reads: ‘St. Catherine’s Well Sutton springs 1882’. It is notable that the spring was used medicinally.

Of the second well, Brown (1896) notes that there is a spring beneath a house in Millgate which had curious brickwork and clear water. He does not appear to note the exact location.

Clay (1909) notes that the Newark Leper Hospital, presumably St Leonard’s, was associated with a healing spring (giving comparison with other sites in England) which she cites was a common custom as the water was thought to heal the sufferer. This would appear to be a difference site to the above two presuming it was located in Kirk gate, however if it was that at Stoke juxta Newark (Elston?) it may refer to the extant site and thus possibly the Willow Rundle spring, but that’s another story.

The above is taken and amended from Holy wells and healing springs of Nottinghamshire.


Blagg, T. M., (1910). A guide to the antiquities of Newark and the churches of Holme and Hawton. Nottingham

Brown, C., (1874) Notes about Notts. Nottingham                            

Clay. R.M (1909) Hermits and Anchorities                        

Dickinson, W., (1816), The History and Antiquities of the Town of Newark,

Scales, W. J., (1896), ‘St Catherine’s Well, Newark-on-Trent’, Reliquary 2nd ser 2 pp52–3.

This page was added by R B Parish on 14/03/2013.

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