Well Dressing – it’s not slang for getting your glad rags on!
Don’t you just love old English traditions? In an age of speed and electronics, it’s so good to know that centuries old customs survive.
No one can be exactly sure of the origins of Well Dressing (but it’s not a modern phrase for looking good!). The most accepted explanation is that it began as a Pagan ‘thank you’ for water continuing to flow from local wells. As in many such events and customs, this was later overlaid with Christian meaning – but for much the same reason.
It’s great to know that in the Peak District almost every summer weekend you can enjoy this tradition thrive. Each village/town has it’s own weekend for well dressing thanksgiving – often accompanied by the village fete.
The local well is ‘dressed’ with something akin to a giant picture made out of flower petals and other natural materials – each painstakingly assembled by hand.
Months before the Well Dressing takes place, the designs are discussed and finally agreed. Then a large wooden board (many feet high and wide) is cut to size and soaked, often in a local pond. The next part of the process involves digging local clay and mixing it with salt. In a large receptacle locals then tread the clay with their feet to get the exact consistency required (too hard and it dries too quickly to insert all the flower petals – too soft and it would slide off the board once upright). The clay is then spread across the board and the design is traced onto the clay with a toothed wheel or stick.
Once the outline has been marked, this is filled in with natural materials such as coffee beans or the tiny cones from Alder trees. Finally, over many, many hours the flower petals are individually placed into the design – overlapping like roof tiles. A sociable experience as many locals get together for this work.
Then, the celebrations can commence! The board is now moved to it’s upright position behind the well and a Blessing Service takes place. Often the village holds a fete with yummy local food and beverages on offer. Generally, the Well Dressing remains in place for up to a week.
If you are planning to be in the Peak District over the summer, check out the dates and venues this year on www.visitpeakdistrict.com, it is wonderful way to enjoy a little bit of Old England!