PICTURED: Queen Elizabeth's Well, Bisham.
Wells, and especially so-called holy wells, have a special relevance to the paranormal research, not only because of the wealth of folklore and legend attached to them, but principally because of the strange phenomena so often associated with them. Many of them have the capacity to grant wishes, even, through the activity of their tutelary saints, to perform miracles. Other wells are said to impart the gift of prophecy, or contain water which never freezes, which gives off smoke and even fire, can induce religious experience or they are the location of apparitions, especially the ghosts of white ladies.
Symbolically, wells have been seen as a link with the underworld and are usually considered feminine. Bisham well (pictured) is, in many ways, typical of its kind. At present it lies almost forgotten in a private field at the bottom of Bisham Hill, near the busy A404. Its beautifully clear water bubbles up from under the chalk through a natural arch formed by tree roots. There is evidence of brickwork around the spring, but this is in a very bad state of repair, showing how this place of once great significance has become neglected.
An early mention of this well was in 1338 when cures took place there and cries of 'miracle' rang out across the county. The well was especially famous for curing people who had trouble with their eyes. Soon pilgrims began to flock to the well. A bird and a hermit were said to live in the tree next to it. The bird was apparently so tame that visitors could stroke it and it wouldn't fly away.
It was traditional to leave money or other offerings at holy wells either in the well or by it, or in the bark of a nearby tree. But at Bisham visitors left the coins in the bird's nest. One can only assume that the bird and the hermit prospered to the detriment of the church collection box because soon the local bishop proclaimed the healing to be the work of the devil. He said the pilgrims were victims of the "crocked serpent". How he equated being cured of pain and disease with being victimised, I do not know. But in an act of vandalism he cut down the tree and blocked up the spring, thus desecrating a holy place. Of course the local people simply unblocked the well and the sacred waters flowed once more. The bishop called these people "the sons of the Devil" and threatened them with ex-communication.
After this rude interruption, the well was in use regularly up until the early 1900s. According to Piers Compton's The Story of Bisham Abbey, in 1905 the water was analysed and found to have similar properties to the famous springs at Tunbridge Wells. The mineral content and suspended gasses are a better explanation for the cures than the superstitious one given by the bishop.
The well is now known as Queen Elizabeth's well as legend has it that she (Queen Elizabeth I) used the water when visiting her cousin Lady Hoby at Bisham. Some see the holy wells as representative of the reflective, lunar, feminine principle. Indeed, as Paul Devereux and Ian Thompson point out in their Ley Hunter's Companion, many are named after female saints, who in turn took their names form pre-Christian goddesses. It is therefore a nice coincidence that the well is named after the Virgin Queen who was seen by poets as representative of the Moon Goddess.
I had heard vague reference to a holy well in the Marlow area and on the afternoon of January 6th, 1985, set off with some friends to try and find it. We followed the stream running along the road to the Temple and eventually came to the source of one of its tributaries which was indeed the well. The water was quite warm when all around was covered in snow and ice and the spring was very lively. Next to the well was a magnificent oak tree with a huge girth. I have been told that this is at least 600 years old. Did those tenacious "sons of the Devil" simply plant another sacred tree all those years ago?
It seems that the bishop was fighting a losing battle. The holy well may be very much neglected today but it is not forgotten and there are rumours that even up until the beginning of the century people used the waters from the well to cure ailments. We decided to see if we could gain any information psychically. This is a method of tuning in to the area through a meditation technique and noting what images and pictures come to mind. They may only be subjective images but become significant if further and more orthodox methods of research show them to have possible evidential relevance to the site, as was the case here.
For example, one of us saw an image of the moon, then Saturn, then the Milky Way and the galaxies. Another saw monks coming from the abbey for water. There was a feeling of a robust male presence. We later realised there were some interesting synchronicities. The date was January 6th (12th night) important in the Christian calendar as Epiphany, when the Magi brought their gifts to the divine child, and in the Norse as they end of the old pagan festival of Yule. In The White Goddess, Robert Graves claims there is a link between Saturn and large black birds. Chronos (Old Father Time) was called Saturn and he was depicted with a pruning knife crooked like a crow's bill. Graves thinks the most likely root of the word is cron or corn that gives the Greek and Latin words for crow. Similar words from the same root also mean raven in both languages. Saturnalia is the old Roman period of winter celebrations and Saturn and ravens are connected with Bran, the Celtic God of the underworld. In the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, the last line goes "..and a partridge in a pear tree" - we are back to the bird living in the tree as recorded in the 14th Century.
We realised we had arrived at the well at 4.15pm when the moon was about to rise and there was a full moon that night. The moon is associated with wells for the reflective feminine qualities mentioned earlier but some researchers say that because the full moon affects underground waters, then it is possible for strange things to take place at this time. In relation to holy wells, as researcher Andrew Collins tells us, "Water is directly linked with the moon and its 28 days cycles due to the effects of the gravitational pull upon the water of the planet. Water ebbs and flows in sympathy with the lunar cycles, with the maximum pull being at the point of the full moon, at which time one might expect far more religious experiences and paranormal manifestations".
Some dowsers (water diviners) believe that underground streams, from which the wells spring, act as conductors of strong electromagnetic fields of the sort that they believe may produce paranormal phenomena. They say that underground domes of water or "blind springs" are situated under sacred sites such as stone circles, mounds and pre-Reformation churches and cathedrals. Some of the latter incorporate holy wells. These blind springs are where streams converge. According to Tara King in The Cauldron magazine (May, 1977) the full moon is a time when the "cosmic tides are at the apex of their power". It is also a period when the face of the moon equals the face of the sun, and the energy flow between them and the Earth is at its greatest strength".
I have mentioned the association of apparitions, particularly white lady ghosts near holy wells and it is interesting that a white lady ghost is seen at Bisham Abbey (now a sports complex where the England football team train) a short distance from the holy well. The white lady place names at nearby Cookham are intriguing and require further research. There is reputed to be a "black stream" or line of evil running through "cursed Cookham" and in recent years an unaccountable high pitched buzzing was reported along this line, as well as electrical interference.
There is also a legend that on midsummer night, at midnight, a blue mist passes over the Thames from Bisham to the meadows south west of Great Marlow in the direction of Glydernscroft.
The Queen Elizabeth Well is on private land.