(photograph by F. Welch).

St Walstan was an Anglo-Saxon saint from my corner of East Anglia. He worked as a farm labourer in Taverham and had his shrine in Bawburgh. There are a number of holy wells called St Walstan’s well of which the most famous is at Bawburgh. I believe all the wells except the one at Bawburgh have been allowed to dry up, but no doubt there is still water not far beneath the surface.

Although the veneration of the saint ceased with the Reformation, the memory of the well lived on, aided no doubt by the Catholic Jerningham family at Costessey Hall. In the eighteenth century they commissioned a report on the medicinal qualities of the water from “a well in Bawburgh”. There is no hint of the holy nature of the well in the official title, although this fact would have been foremost in the minds of the Jerninghams.

PILGRIMS at St Walstan’s Well about a hundred years ago.

The memory of St Walstan and his well lived on because of the Catholic communty that survived in nearby Costessey from the time of the Reformation. The veneration of the Virgin at Walsingham died out, to be revived in the nineteenth century, but St Walstan has never been entirely forgotten. The Catholic church in Costessey is dedicated to St Mary and St Walstan, and when it was completed in 1841 the Holy Water used in its dedication was brought from St Walstan’s well in Bawburgh.

In the early nineteenth century the Jerninghams managed to revive the title of the Earl of Stafford. They had earlier been known as the Jernigans. Under their patronage the well at Bawburgh became a popular place of pilgrimage for Catholics from all over the country, especially those in London, after the opening of the railway made this possible. With the ending of the First World War, when Costessey Park had been used by the army, the Stafford family abandoned Costessey and these large scale events ceased. But in their time they were as popular as the pilgrimages to Walsingham, perhaps even more so. There are certainly a great many people in the second picture. Today there is an annual pilgrimage from Costessey to Bawburgh in May, the month of St Walstan’s Saint’s day.




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