Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

REVIEW: Well Dressing

Roly Smith, Well Dressing Guide & Souvenir, Ashbourne, 2011.
This 24-page booklet follows a long tradition of similar booklets providing colourful souvenirs for people who have visited Derbyshire welldressings. The introduction repeats the idea that the custom of decorating wells with boards decorated with plant materials ‘originated in Pagan times as a thanksgiving for the gift of water’. Needless to say there is no evidence to support this; the first record of welldressing as we recognise it today dates only from 1818. Interesting photographs of dressings at Mayfield in 1896 and Tissington early in the twentienth century are provided, but as is usual in these publications the main attraction is the provision of more recent colour photographs. However, Smith rather unusually provides an eight page account of how the dressings are prepared, as well as the more usual illustrations of erected finished boards. Finally he provides a ‘Gazetteer of the best-known Dressings’. This is an alphabetical list of approximately 20 villages which dress wells, with brief histories of their dressings and some indication of when these take place, advising people to check with tourist information offices for precise dates.
Most of the photographs date from 2008 to 2010. Thus the booklet provides an inexpensive collection of images showing how wells were dressed during this period.

Image: Tansley, Derbyshire, 8 July 2002, Andie Gilmour; Wiki Commons.

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