One of my favourite #LoveLocal Peak District events near Hoe Grange is Tissington Well Dressings. The dressing or decorating of water wells as a thanksgiving is an unusual Derbyshire tradition. The Well Dressings at Tissington are spectacular.
The gift of life through water is so often taken for granted, so it’s an amazing testament to the villagers that this ancient art is still thriving today.
When did Tissington Well Dressings begin?
No one really knows! The ancient art of well dressing goes so far back that it’s origins are a bit of a mystery. One plausible theory is that the tradition began in Tissington village just after the Black Death of 1348. The villagers were lucky to be spared the ravages of the plague, and their immunity was attributed to the purity of the water.Others believe the custom started later in 1615, after severe droughts throughout the area led to loss of cattle and crops, except at Tissington where water flowed freely from the 5 wells in the village.
What we do know is that this curious custom has been carried on for hundreds of years and the traditional techniques are passed on from one generation to the next.
How are the well dressings created?
Well dressing is a lengthy process, starting several weeks before Ascension Day when the backing boards are soaked in the village pond. The boards are then covered with a clay/salt mix and the design is traced onto them.
Designs are often have a biblical theme or pick up on national anniversaries. This year designs include 100 years of Votes for Women and the formation of the RAF. You can find last years well dressing designs on another blog.
Then comes the intricate process of creating the outlines with cones from the Alder trees and coffee beans, before pressing individual flower petals to complete the picture.
The delicate petals have to be carefully layered like roof tiles so that any rain flows off.
Other natural materials are used to add texture and contrast, such as twigs, wool, feathers, and small stones. Usually everything is natural, but this years design of Yew Tree Well makes reference to the world wide concern about plastic waste.
Dressing the wells can’t be done too far ahead as the flowers need to stay fresh for the full week. It’s wonderful how the whole village comes together to keep this special tradition very much alive. Everyone takes part in this annual celebration; young and old working together, digging clay, picking flowers, decorating the boards, or erecting the dressings at the various wells throughout the village.
Blessing the wells
The Tissington Well Dressings celebrations begin on Ascension Day (celebrated on the 40th day of Easter, which is always a Thursday) with a procession blessing each well and a Church service at St.Mary`s.
Things to do
There is plenty of activity in the village throughout the week, you can pop into Edward and Vintage Sweet Shop for some flavoursome fudge, pick up a plant from Tissington Nursery, which is housed in the estate’s walled kitchen gardens, treat yourself to a beautiful hurricane candle, or some unique Dovedale ceramics from On A Wick and A Prayer candle workshop, stop off for an ice cream at Herbert’s Tea Rooms, or a delicious cream tea with scones to die for at Bassettwood Farm.
If you’re not from around Derbyshire you have probably never heard of well dressings, but quirky events such as well dressing is what makes the Peak District a #uniquedistrict. The well dressings are on from today Thursday 10th May to Wednesday 16th May, so why not pop along this weekend to see for yourself?
We hope you like our photos, however seeing the wells in real life is so much better, but don’t get stuck in the stocks like I did!