St Eadburg’s Well – restoration of an identity

Readers of this blog will know the strange story of St Eadburg (also known as Eadburh), the “forgotten saint” of Lyminge and how she has become confused with St Ethelburga and largely erased from memory, at least within the village.  However she has not been totally forgotten and as I recounted in a recent post, her 10th Century Life and Miracles have recently been published, and her memory is still very much venerated by the nuns of Minster Abbey where she was the third abbess in the 8th Century.  The nuns were delighted to be able to visit our excavation of the Anglo-Saxon church last Autumn, before it was back-filled.

The source of the Nailbourne in Well Field is known to most people in the village as ‘St Ethelburga’s Well‘, but this is a very recent name that can be traced no earlier than 1898.  Prior to that it was known as ‘St Eadburg’s Well‘.

St Eadburg's Well

Post card of St Eadburg’s Well, post-dated 1907

In some places, the name has never been changed, probably because there was no mechanism to make this easy to do.  So the Ordnance Survey was still showing the site as St Eadburg’s Well on its 25 inch survey updated in 1939.

OS of Lyminge 1939

Extract from the Ordnance Survey 25 inch survey of Lyminge updated to 1939

Curiously, the gothic script used by the Ordnance Survey to describe an historical monument has defeated the Planning Department at Folkestone and Hythe District Council, since on their current interactive map, this has become ‘St Cadburg’s Well’!

FHDC interactive map

The Folkestone and Hythe District Council interactive map showing central Lyminge

We know for sure from a medieval will that the spring was known as St Eadburg’s Well in 1484.  We know too from the Life and Miracles of St Eadburg that the spring was associated with St Eadburg around the year 1000 when we believe this work was written, and we can guess that this association dates back to the late 8th or early 9th Century when we believe St Eadburg’s remains were brought to Lyminge and her shrine established close to the tomb of Queen Ethelburga.  An Anglo-Saxon charter dating to 804 records that St Eadburg’s remains lay at Lyminge then, so her cult was established by at least that date.

History is full of stories.  Some are true, some are partly true, and some are complete fantasy.  Sometimes people make guesses to explain something they do not understand and that guesswork later becomes accepted as fact.  This is really what happened to the name of the spring.  For almost a thousand years, we know for sure that the spring in Well Field was associated with St Eadburg, but then just 122 years ago, this was changed.  Eadburg was thought to be a version of the name Ethelburga, and the spring was thought to be named after Queen Ethelburga, the historical foundress of the church at Lyminge.  So to make that association with Queen Ethelburga clearer, the name of the spring was changed, and locally it has been known as St Ethelburga’s Well ever since, although as we have already seen, the name of the spring was not changed everywhere.

On Wednesday, the Parish Council, who own the site of the spring, considered this matter and the confused state of the name.  Councillors at the meeting unanimously agreed to restore the name of the spring to St Eadburg’s Well, restoring the historical name that it has held for most of the time since Lyminge was first settled by the Anglo-Saxons around 1,500 years ago.

St Eadburg’s Well is an important historical site in the village.  As part of the Pathways to the Past project, and with the help of the Parish Council, we are planning to install a new information panel close to the spring.  This will be like the one already installed on Tayne Field, and it will tell a little more about the important role it has had as a sacred spring and as the main water source for this part of the village over the centuries.

One thought on “St Eadburg’s Well – restoration of an identity

  1. Great News that the name has been restored. It would be great if we could locate a better image of the chain pump. See article on ‘The Village Pump’ Lyminge a History Part 8 (inside cover)


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