Tissington Well Dressing, an ancient custom, today

Well Dressings, though often thought of as a Peak District custom, are not unique to the Peak District. There are other parts of the country where water wells of an age gone by, are still blessed today.

The actual origin of dressing the water wells, known as Well Dressing, has probably been lost in history. It could easily be there are many reasons for the origins of Well Dressings, depending on what travesty each village or community experienced at the time.

There is a possibility that it could be a pagan custom, which later became a Christian custom, or more thought to be the reason, was the Black Death of 1348 – 1349.

Some villages, Tissington being one, escaped the plague and the community ascribed there immunity was down to the water supply. Therefore, it became customary to decorate the wells in thanksgiving.

One tradition recalls the severe drought of 1615:
"There was no rayne fell upon the earth from the 25th of March until the end of Maye, and then there was but one shower.
Two more showers fell between then and the 4th of August, so that the greater part of the land was burnt up, both corn and haye."

Despite the drought of 1615 being so severe, where huge numbers of livestock would have perished, the five wells of Tissington flowed, giving the surrounding area an unending supply of fresh water.

With this in mind, a service of thanksgiving was held and the wells were decorated each year in memory of the constant fresh water flow.

Although various dates have been mentioned in my write up, there is a chance that the tradition of dressing and blessing the wells goes a lot further back, certainly for some villages and communities, if not all.

Many villages will have their Well Dressings at a set time in the year. In the case of Tissington, it is Ascension Day.

The well dressings start life as a wooden frame. In this wooden frame, is clay, into which petals, leaves, twigs and many other items are placed, to form a picture telling a story.

These stories may be historical events, biblical, local traditions or many other themes.

The art work that goes in to creating these fabulous works of art, is phenomenal, along with the care and dedication. In most villages, the whole community will get involved.

It’s not just the adults that dress the wells, often the local children will have their own well, which they too will have worked hard in creating, with or without adult help.

Once the well dressing has been completed, it is then taken to a well and erected. Once all the well dressings are in place, then the local church will hold a service of thanksgiving and each well will be blessed.

The service of thanksgiving is held on Ascension Day, every year.

Unfortunately, I’ve not had the fortune to witness this ceremony, but hopefully, one day I will.

However, I have had the good fortune to visit many well dressings in the Peak District over the years.

One of my favourites has to be Tissington.

Tissington is a very interesting and very pretty village, very well kept and is still somewhat very traditional.

I think it only fair at this stage to point out; the Peak District has many villages which are very tidy and very well kept. All have their own history and stories to tell.

I’ve waffled on…. Sorry.

However, I thought a little potted history on Well Dressings first may help you to understand the tradition and history behind all this hard work.

After driving from our home in the West Midlands, we (that is my wife and I) arrived in Tissington, from the A515, where the car was parked up in a field belonging to Town Head Farm, used for a car park during the Well Dressing period.

We strolled in to the village, where we were adorned with some ornate little stalls set up by the locals.

I will point out at his stage, all the wells in Tissington, still flow with water. Many of the wells still flow in to the streets.
Water running alongside the man road through Tissington.

As we walked down Rakes Lane in to the village, on your right, there is Acanthus Gift Shop, with lots of interesting items for sale.

Acanthus Gift Shop

Looking inside Acanthus Gift Shop

Continuing down Rakes Lane and The Green, turn left in to Chapel Lane. That is where you see the first well; Hands Well.
Hands Well, at the junction of Rakes Lane and Chapel Lane

Hands Well; this year shows a biblical scene; Samuel anointing Saul.

A close up of Samuael anointing Saul
The detail is created using petal, leaves and many other natural objects.

Before you continue further in to the village, may I suggest a little wander up Chapel Lane?

As the lane starts to bend to the right, on the corner, there is what initially looks like a house, where I suggest you stop and wander down the garden path.
Looking up Chapel Lane

The garden path, leading to Edward & Vintage

Here is a very ornate sweet shop, called Edward and Vintage, decorated in Edwardian style with a superb collection of sweets suitable for all ages, young and old alike.
A couple of views inside Edward & Vintage

Psst, I really like the liquorice from there…..

You can continue up Chapel Lane, where you will come across a quaint little Methodist Church, which is nearing the end of some refurbishment. From there, you can continue along Chapel Lane back in to Tissington Village.

However, we walked back down Chapel Lane to Rakes Lane, where just a little way in to Tissington, on your right, is the Children’s Well.
Children's Well, 'The Lord's My Shepherd'

The Children’s Well is decorated by the local children and just as with the other wells, will depict either a topical, historical or biblical scene. This year, the Children’s Well was depicting Psalm 23, ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’.

Continuing further down the lane, we come to Hall Well on your left, which is opposite Tissington Hall, on your right, a very majestic manor house in my opinion, and also close to St Mary’s Church.
Tissington Hall, home to the FitzHerbert family for eight generations.

Tissington Hall, has been the home for eight generations of the FitzHerbert family.

Hall Well depicts yet another biblical scene, ‘Peril On The Sea’, where I will have to humbly apologise, though I can think of a few biblical scenes Hall Well may represent, I’m not quite sure which one of those biblical scenes is represented.
Hall Well ‘Peril On The Sea
With yet more superb detail
It’s worth noting, that on the green to your right, there are a few marquees and stalls, selling various items all for charity.

There’s also the freshly refurbished Old Coach House Tearooms here. It can get quite busy, even though they do accommodate the many with a marquee just outside.
Old Coach House Tearooms

Opposite the Old Coach House Tearooms is St Mary’s Church. I must confess, I didn’t actually get to look in the church, though I’m sure it will have been suitably decorated inside.

As you come to the end of Rakes Lane, there is a little grassed island, where if you turn right heading out of the village a very short distance, you see Yew Tree Well.
Yew Tree Well

Yew Tree Well, Jesus The Good Shepherd

Yew Tree well depicts another biblical scene, Jesus the Shepherd; John Chapter 10 verse 1 – 16, along with a mention of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

At this point, do not wander back in to the village, for there is ‘On a Wick and a Prayer’ Candle Shop set well back from the road. I can assure you, it is well worth a visit.
The drive leading to On A Wick and a Prayer candle shop

Making the candles, well, having a well earned cuppa
On A Wick and a Prayer candle shop

Now you can return to the village, head past the grassed island towards the village pond. Stopping just past the bus stop, there was a delightful small Well Dressing from the children of the Tissington Kindergarten, for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Tissington Kindergarten's contribution, for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Continuing along The Green, we came to the village pond, which is fed by water from some of the wells, though I’m not totally sure which ones.

Tissington Village Pond

Looking across Tissington Village Pond to the village hall

If you turn right just before the village pond and walk along the drive, you will come to Tissington Nursery.

I find all water fascinating, village ponds, rivers, lakes and even the sea. Ok, back to Tissington.

This white duck was being very teritorial.

Providing some very opportune photgraphic moments with the chase.

Almost opposite the village pond, is Tissington Village Hall. During the Well Dressings, the hall is used as a tea room, run by Bassett Wood Farm B & B.

Continue along the lane and almost straight in front of you is Town Well.
Town Well featured a scene from The Gruffalo

Town Well this year featured a scene from The Gruffalo; a children's book by writer and playwright Julia Donaldson.
Coffin Well!          A well in a coffin!

Follow the lane round, then turn left into Chapel Lane. Walk a very short distance, carefully, or you may miss the entrance to the next well, possible the most novel in my eyes, that’s Coffin Well.

We turned left in to Chapel Lane

and headed along the lane to Coffin Well

You may be thinking…. Water wells are a source of life giving and this one’s in a coffin!

Here it is, Coffin Well!

Well, (sorry, no pun intended) no, it’s not a coffin as in the wooden form we all know of. It’s actually the well where the water collects is coffin shaped. I’m not sure if this was an accidental design, or not. But I do find it intriguing and novel.

The coffin shaped well

Coffin Well commemorates the history of the RAF with a mention of the Royal Flying Corp, the early RAF days.

Coffin Well, commemorating the Royal Flying Corp and the RAF
I can well recommend walking the full length of Chapel Lane, for there are more shops and White Peak Farm Butchery, is probably the most traditional you are likely to see. BTW, I enjoyed the apple pie from there.

White Peak Farm Butchery

Inside White Peak Farm Butchery

Sadly, that brought to an end my day in Tissington for the Well Dressing for yet another enjoyable year.

From here, we drove off to Bakewell, yes; I just had to get some Bakewell Pudding.

As I’m typing this blog, I’m enjoying a piece of Bakewell Pudding…..

Finally, happy rambling and thank you for reading,

Peak Rambler

The Wells
Hands Well at the north end of the village, near the Post Office
Children’s Well on Rakes Lane, nearly opposite Hands Well
Hall Well opposite Tissington Hall
Yew Tree Well at the south end of the village, near the start of The Avenue leading to Tissington Gates
Town Well at the eastern end of the Village Green, near the duck pond
Coffin Well in the garden of a house on Chapel Lane (follow the signs via a footpath from the Town Well)

Shops and attractions in Tissington

The newly refurbished and award-winning Old Coach House Tearooms

White Peak Farm Butchery

Acanthus Craft Shop

On a Wick and a Prayer Candle Shop

Glass at the Barn

The Bluebell Inn & Restaurant

Bassett Wood Farm B & B serving teas at the Village Hall

Well Dressings Dates 2012
If you are inspired to visit one of the many Well Dressings in the Peak District, the link below will give you the dates and locations for the various well dressings and blessing dates for the year 2012.


  1. How interesting! I'm slightly sheepish to admit but I didn't know anything about well dressings before! They are so pretty and eye catching. I love traditions like that, especially when all generations get involved. Now - where's my liquorice and Bakewell Pudding...?

    1. Ooops!

      Soooorry, but it was so delicious......

      Thank you for your comment Karen.

  2. What a great blog and how kind of you to mention our shop and links, to answer your question to road names, rake lane goes as far as the hall, then the triangle of grass is known as "the green" from that point your are on the "street" before coming to the "foot" where coffin well is and finally onto chapel lane which takes you on a circle past the chapel and down to our shop....confused? Most people are!!! Thank you again and best wishes


    1. Thank you Dave for your kind words and also the info regarding Tissington's lane names.

      Confusing or not with the lane names, Tissington is easy to navigate around. It was more trying to keep the content as accurate as possible.

  3. Really interesting. I think I'd like to keep this up my sleeve for a visit on the right occasion. Thank you.

  4. I knew nothing about this subject until reading your blog. Fascinating. Tissington looks beautiful.
    Great blog :)

  5. A great tour of Tissington! My first thought on starting to read was 'I wonder if he photographed the sweet shop' and you did! I didn't get any good photos last time I was there - it was too busy.

  6. Oh I couldn't miss the sweet shop, not on my life. LOL

  7. I may have witnessed a Well Dressing ceremony in Hartington but I never realised that Tissington had so many wells. It needs a visit from me by the looks of things since it's a very pretty spot.

    A school project once upon a time revealed to me how widespread well worship was among Celtic folk before Christianity came along and took in those customs. Maybe that's how we have the extensive custom of well dressing in rude health in Derbyshire. Wells mean a lot to Irish Christians too even today so there must be some commonality around.

    1. Well Dressings are not just in the Peak District, there are many other places where the blessing of wells take place.

      However, the Peak District is probably the most well known for Well Dressing.

      There are a great many Pagan customs, some of which are still practiced today.

      I would bet the school project revealed some interesting facts.

      Thank you for reading and sharing the info, not just with me, but for others who will read your comment later on.

      Peak Rambler