Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Well-dressing in Frome, Somerset

Posted on by royvickery |

035The custom of well-dressing is traditional to the Peak District of Derbyshire, where it was first recorded in 1748, although it was then described as an annual event, suggesting that it had been taking place for some years earlier.  Shallow wooden trays, up to 3.7m in length, are filled with moist clay into which natural, mostly plant, materials are pressed to produce mosaic-like pictures which usually depict religious themes, or relate to an anniversary.

Occasionally well-dressing are found outside the Peak District, and since 1985 St Aldhelm’s Well in Frome, Somerset, has been dressed for the saint’s feast day (25 May).  According to a member of the adjacent St John the Baptist Church, writing in December 1998:

036The well is dressed by petals, seeds, etc., pressed into a clay foundation to create an appropriate design – different every year.  The flowers used are a mixture of wild and garden flowers, some provided by a local florist, depending upon the colours needed to produce the design.  The work is  placed in position early in the morning of the chosen day, and the clergy and town mayor, accompanied by the wardens, servers and choir, process from the church to the well or spring …  where a short service of blessing – of the spring and of the town – is held.’

Since that time the custom has evolved and the Frome dressers have moved away from the Peak District tradition.  At present the well-dressing does not involve moist clay or natural materials, these being replaced by a drawn and coloured in picture with materials such as shredded polythene bags being used to produce vivid areas of colour.  The 2015 dressing commemorated the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.  Four local primary schools were involved in the decorating of the Well in 2015, with the children of St John’s School each providing a flower for the ‘fresh flower decoration’ placed at the base of the dressing.

Photographs taken 24 May 2015; thanks to Margaret Gale for permission to use the 1998 report from her collection of plant-lore relating to the Christian year.

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