History of the Chapel and Well
The site of the well and chapel has a long history, going back to pre-Christian times. It is the largest holy well chapel in Cornwall and the most beautifully preserved. It has doors to the west and north with the large window behind the altar facing east and a smaller window to the south. Ley lines run through the chapel in both directions, through the holy wells and crossing on the altar.
The Parish of St Clether is set on the edge of the wild and beautiful Bodmin Moor in North Cornwall and is home to this unique building, hidden deep within its enchanting Inney Valley, in a field which has been known as Chapel Park for hundreds of years.
It is generally thought that Cleder, or Clederus, believed to be one of the twenty-four children of Brechan of Wales, came to Cornwall during the 6th century and chose the site of a spring in the Inney Valley to build his hermitage. It is unusual to find a parish named after a Saint in which the Saint actually lived and the legacy left by him continues into the twenty-first century, where today his holy well and chapel still survive.
In days long past, the elements of earth, air, fire and water played a important part in the lives of the people. They were reliant upon these for life itself, and none was more important than water. Therefore, the place where a spring surged from the ground was always looked upon with reverence and awe, and it is at just such a spot as this, isolated and close to nature, that the Saints of old chose to build their hermitages.
After St Patrick began his mission to Ireland in 432, many Celtic men and women came to Cornwall from the late 5th to the early 7th centuries from Ireland, Wales and Brittany. St Clederus is said to be one of the twenty-four children of Brechan of Wales, who came to Cornwall in the 6th century. Other offspring of Brechan and therefore siblings of Clederus, who settled in Cornwall were Endellion, Minver, Teath, Mabyn, Winnow, Duloe, Merryn, Wenn, Issey, Juliana, Morwenna, Enoder and Keyne. All of these are names of nearby churches or parishes.
St Clederus chose the Inney Valley to build his hermitage, with its rushing river, towering rocks and wild yet beautiful scenery, and it is here that the story began. The chapel was originally the parish church until the present church was erected in Norman times and subsequently fell into disrepair, being rebuilt in the 15th century. Although many such chapels were destroyed during the reformation, this one luckily survived, perhaps due to its remote location.
By the late 19th century it had fallen into disrepair once again. The chapel walls had fallen in and, although the altar was intact, everything was overgrown by weeds and brambles. The holy spring had become a swamp in all directions. It was suspected that a passage for water ran from the well through the chapel and the original channel was subsequently reopened, allowing the water to run. Everything was restored as far as possible to the original plan.
The restoration was arranged in 1895 by the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould of Lewtrenchard, a local novelist and antiquary and the work was completed and chapel re-dedicated in September 1899. The foundations of the chapel are known to be Celtic and the masonry has been dated to approximately 1450. It is now a Grade II listed building.
At the beginning of the year 2000, the chapel was passed down to me through my family and I found myself to be the Guardian of the Well. Throughout my life the chapel had always been a special place to me and I was delighted to be in a position care for it. Little did I know then of the journey which lay ahead. At the time the chapel was quite run down and the condition of the roof of particular concern. Much of the pathway leading to it was slippery and particularly dangerous in winter. The church held it's annual Holy Well Festival there, but as no regular services were held it was deconsecrated. Feeling it was in great need of some TLC, I made a wish list which seemed an impossibility at the time, but now I think we have actually achieved all we set out to do.
During 2006 Heritage Lottery Funding was procured by the Cornwall Council Historic Environmental Service to provide new gates, pathway, stiles, pathway, guidebooks and cards and in 2009, following a period of fundraising, we were able to begin work on the roof. Darrock & Brown, Listed Building Specialists, undertook the reslating of the roof and repointing of the walls, securing the building in good repair for another hundred years! Take a step to the Restoration page where you will find pictures of the project.