The origins of our well dressing

The first well dressing in Mayfield was held in 1896 and was reported by the Ashbourne News Telegraph on July 3rd of that year. Three wells were described at various locations in Middle Mayfield:“Hollow Croft” (now known as the Peace Well),another in Hollow Lane and the third in the garden of Bentley Cottage, then home of Mr John Harrison who was a stonemason. The event was attended by more than 400 people who took part in the processions, enjoyed teas in marquees and danced on the green in the evening.

The event was repeated in 1897 when the three wells  were dressed for a second year. Unfortunately, this was also to be the last for nearly 100 years. The Rev. Alfred Evill, vicar of Mayfield for 52 years from 1866 to 1918, took exception to the behaviour of the local revellers who, in his opinion, consumed too much of the beverages available at the Rose & Crown. He decided the event would not be repeated. However the Well Dressing Committee was still in existence in 1902 as there are records of a charitable donation from them.

The existence of well dressing was not rediscovered until the summer of 1973 when a postgraduate from the University of California visited Gilbert Prince of Old Hall Farm, asking to see the wells on his land at Middle Mayfield. She was researching for a thesis on well dressing in Derbyshire and told Gilbert about     Mayfield’s well dressing of 1896. This led to him suggesting to Mayfield Heritage Group, of which he is a founder member, that well dressing be reinstated here.

Throughout the spring of 1995 great effort was put into restoration work on the wells we intended to dress. Jack Wilshaw rebuilt much of the stonework around the wells and Gilbert Prince excavated mud which was concealing the stone horse trough opposite the Rose & Crown. The wrought iron gate on the Children’s  Well was replaced by Roy Cotton and Arthur Martin replaced the wooden gate on the Peace Well. The date was set for the middle weekend in June, exactly 100 years since the original 1896 well dressing. None of us were experienced in well dressing and so we started to climb a steep learning curve.

We were very fortunate to be given advice and guidance by Audrey and Roy Cotton who were stalwarts of Tissington’s well dressings. And we found local artists to design our first well dressings. The children of The Henry Prince First School took inspiration from a drawing of Mayfield Church by Philip Barritt. Philip also helped his wife Cathleen create the design for the Peace Well: Cathleen has since very sadly passed away but Philip continues the family tradition and is currently drawing the shape of this year’s “Mayfield Train Line” design for the Peace Well. And we are very fortunate that Fran Carlisle was a driving force back in 1995 and is now preparing her design for our 2014 commemoration of the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare.

2014 will be our twentieth well dressing. We hope many people will come and see it for themselves and perhaps stay for a cream tea in the beautiful gardens of Mayfield Hall, the home of the Lord of the Manor. The wells will be blessed at 2pm on Saturday 14th June and a garden fete will follow with music from the excellent, 40-strong  Osmaston Wind Band. The well dressings will then stay in place for just seven days.