Ascension Day…… and a Pagan Custom


Today the 21st of May is Ascension Day, a key date in the Christian calendar.  Prior to it being adopted by the Church it was an important date and event in the Pagan year.   Today would also  mark the start of the Derbyshire Well Dressing Season. 

The Pagan belief was in the  need to ‘Bless’ the life giving purity of the waters from these natural springs and wells in the villages.   A need for purity that may ring rather true today.

 Tissington village would in a normal year be packed with people, both for the Blessing of the Village Wells by Church Leaders.  Then a Procession round to each Well.

It is quite a spectacular. Sadly in these trouble times this cannot happen.  So I have cheated and adding two links to todays page.  They recap  visits  in earlier happy times.  Take a look at this rather unique event.

I hope you find the tradition interesting 🙂

Please Remember ….

Stay Safe …. Be Kind…. Look After Each Other


21sy May

(C) David Oakes 2020

Petal Power……


Tissington Well Dressings

It is that time of the year when some very talented folk create some great works of art with which to ‘Dress’ the village Wells.


Hands Well

It has long been the tradition in the Derbyshire village of Tissington, that for Ascension Day the village Wells are ‘Dressed’ with floral decorations and on Ascension day itself a Church service is held in St. Mary’s Church. Following the Service the Congregation then proceed to visit each Well in turn and Bless them to ensure both purity and continuity of the water.

It is a tradition, rooted in a Pagan custom, later adopted by the Christian Church.  It was given added importance following the Black Death 0f 1348. It should also be mentioned that Tissington like so many of the Derbyshire villages is built upon Limestone. Limestone being porous allows water to ‘vanish’ below the surface…. so any location that had a natural spring soon became a well and its waters protected.

Well Dressing has become a skilled and creative artform.  Each well has its own display boards, boards that have been used for many many years.  The boards are covered in local clay onto which the design is etched in outline.  Then petals, leaves and other natural materials are ‘pricked’ into the clay, each overlapping the other like tiles on a roof. As for the Design, well obviously there is a religious story but also a different theme is chosen each year.  This year it is Nursery Rhymes and Children’s stories.

 Hall Well and the Children’s Well

Yew Tree Well

(celebrating 50 years since Woodstock)


Town Well

Coffin Well

So named not for its shape, but a place on the ‘Coffin route’ when folk had to carry their dead to Church for burial, a journey over fields, dales and some times long distances. It is here that the Coffin was laid on a flat stone whilst the mourners rested prior to entering the Church.


Saint Mary’s Church, Tissington

Standing on a hill in the centre of the village, the Norman church of St. Marys still casts a watchful eye over its village. Tissington remains a small village and is part of the wider Tissington Estate that has been in the ownership of the FitzHerbert family since the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1.  Little has changed, cottage and farms, gardens and meadows,  a couple of shops and of course a Tea Room…. all overlooked both by St. Marys and Tissington Hall.

 For 7 days the village is packed with visitors, then the boards are stripped, cleaned and safely stored till next year….but the thinking of what designs to use will start at once.

4th June

(C) David Oakes 2019

Lens-Artists Challenge #23: CELEBRATIONS


And the Band Played on….

The location is Youlgrave, a Derbyshire village high in the Limestone district known as the White Peak.  The Celebrations, which indeed they are, form part of the villages Well Dressing ceremony. Water here was always a precious commodity and the Wells were seen as a blessing from God.  So each year the Wells within the village are ‘Blessed’ thanks given. Each of the village Wells is ‘Dressed’ for the celebrations and the procession pauses at each in turn.



The Youlgrave Village Band is an essential to the villages celebrations and a key event in there musical calendar


One little quirk about Youlgrave is that the name is spelt in two ways ….the alternative is Youlgreave.  Even within the village signs at various buildings differ and even on maps there has been some uncertainty. The one thing the villagers all agree on is that the Well Dressing Custom must be maintained.

This Derbyshire tradition of Well Dressing also occurs in other Derbyshire villages across the summer months…each with there own themes.

Just an idea for this weeks Lens-Artist Challenge #23

9th December

(C) David Oakes 2018

Pagan Traditions and a Quintessential English Village…


Hands Well, Tissington, Derbyshire

In the Derbyshire village of Tissington the custom of Well Dressing continues with much vigour, its a village effort that continues a tradition that is reckoned to have its roots in Pagan times, its importance brought into close focus at the time of the Black Death and the need for ‘pure water’, it was a custom adopted by the Christian Faiths and continued each year since on Assentation Day.

Well Dressing put simply is the Blessing of the sources of pure water in the village at its six Wells.

Each year a different theme is chosen for the illustrations on the various decorated displays at each Well.  This year twin themes to mark the End of World War 1 in 1918 and also 100 years of the Votes for Women. The displays are created by pricking petals and mosses in to a clay board…the clay has been soaked in the village pond for over a week and watered regularly so this creative display will last at least a week. So here is just a flavour of the various creations produced this year….


Tucked away behind the Church in a cottage garden is one Well always sought after by visitors…..Perhaps it is the fact that it is known as the Coffin Well.  It is suggested that it is here those that carried the coffins to the Church for burial, often after tramping across miles countryside, paused refreshed and composed themselves for the last short distance to the Church…


The Coffin Well, Tissington

As to the Village of Tissington itself… I did describe it as a Quintessential English Village and it is just that…a village that has remained much the same for centuries as new building (apart from farm out buildings) is not permitted and as I understand it the cottages are passed from Local Family to Family.

Like all old English Villages it is centred round both the Church (Saint Mary’s) and the Manor House, Tissington Hall the home of the Fitzherbert Family since the reign of Elizabeth I.  Surrounding those two key village elements are a mix of Farms, Fields and Cottages and even more recently a Methodist Chapel. Perhaps the only logic for the location of these buildings round the village are the locations of the Wells. Its does illustrate the  inter-mix of all that was essential for a village community… the spirit of which continues today….

_DO85485aaTissington Hall and The Village



Well Dressing Services and Events will occur across the summer and autumn in various Derbyshire Villages.

15th May

(C) David Oakes 2018