History by Fiona McIntosh
THE MYSTERY OF LINGFIELD CHALYBEATE SPRING
To Redhill Library, Lingfield Library and the Surrey
History Centre for their resources.
To Alison Findlay and Garry Steer for their encouragement.
To the incomparable Ordnance Survey for always getting it right!
The Mystery of Lingfield Chalybeate Spring
Look up any work on Holy and Healing Wells in Surrey
and you will probably find a reference to the
chalybeate spring at Coldharbour on Lingfield Common, which is sometimes
referred to as St Margaret's Well. Yet none of the writers say that they
have seen it, and they don't even seem to be very sure where it is. In my
experience, the famous (or infamous) springs and wells don't just disappear.
It is still possible to visit St Anne's Well at Chertsey, St John the
Baptist's Well at Bisley, St Mary's Well at Waverley and Mag's Well at
Dorking, so what happened to the spring at Lingfield? It is my contention
that the spring is not, in fact, at Coldharbour but is a lot further south
in the valley between Dormans Park and Felcourt, and was known as the Golden
How did I arrive at this conclusion? This is my journey,
tracking the story back in time and then forward again.
My kicking-off point was, as always in any water research,
WHITAKER'S "The Water Supply of Surrey" 1912. In the chapter on mineral springs
it has the following entry under Lingfield, (p56) - "Aubrey says 'In the
Common is a fine spring .... issuing out of a Freestone basin'; it has the same
Virtue with that at Tunbridge (Tunbridge Wells?); the mud of it is like yellow
oker.' This chalybeate water is also referred to in MANNING and BRAY's work (Vol
II, p 340)."
Before following up with AUBREY and MANNING & BRAY, I
looked at the current Ordnance Survey map for Lingfield - Explorer 146. A
chalybeate spring is marked well south of Lingfield at TQ 391414. The two other
springs near Lingfield are just marked as "Spr". In my experience, the OS maps
are extremely reliable as the researchers actually walk the walk and do not just
rely on second hand information, so that was where I decided to start my
The spring is not easy to find as the words "chalybeate
spring" take up quite a lot of space on the map, but I found it within half an
hour or so. If you stand on the west side of the footbridge over the stream and
face north, then push through the nettles and brambles (mind the broken strands
of barbed wire) you will come to a patch of swampy ground with a patch of alder
trees in the middle. This swamp has several strongly flowing outlets that run
straight into the stream. This whole area is covered with the mineral salts from
the spring, so there are large areas of yellow ochre, and where the water is
standing there is an iridescence on the water, like oil on a puddle. The running
water when collected in a bottle has a yellow tinge to it and it quickly settles
out leaving yellow ochre in the bottom of the bottle. It is very similar to the
water in St John the Baptist's well at Bisley. The water also has a strongly
metallic taste. (Yes, I tasted it and I wasn't ill!)
After visiting this spring, I went back to the historical
& BRAY, 1809, say (Vol II p 340) "On Lingfield Common is a chalybeate
spring, reputed to possess the same virtue as Tunbridge water, and used in
disorders for which that is recommended." Not much there except that the
spring is supposed to be on Lingfield Common. Going back to AUBREY, who
started all this, he thinks the spring is so important that he mentions it
right at the beginning of his entry on Lingfield. The section opens with
this ... "The Village lies in the Weald of Surrey which, like the Wealds
of Sussex and Kent, is a rich, deep, enclos'd Country, abounding with loam
and clay, and what is more observable, not nitrous. In the Common is
a fine Spring (empal'd about) issuing out of a Free-stone Basin: This I made
an Experiment of with Powder of Galls, and it turn'd of a deep Violet Colour
near black, and has the same Virtue with that at Tunbridge; the Mud of it is
like yellow Oker; which probably gave a Hint to the Discovery of its
Salutary Use (as it did at Qover in Gloucestershire, as Sir John
Hoskyns told me). The water thus stagnated hath the Peacock's Tail on it,
like that at Send in Wiltshire, but is much longer than Send or Tunbridge,
before it turns its colour. We are indebted for the first Discovery
of this signal Benefit to an old Man, who by its Medicinal Properties cur'd
himself of an Ague about ten Years since but has been commonly used but for
a very few years past." All this before he even gets on to Lingfield
Church! It is clear from this that Aubrey spent some time at the spring and
knew what he was seeing. Compare his description of "yellow oker" and the
"peacock's tail" with my observations of yellow ochre and iridescence on the
water. It is important to note that Aubrey was writing before the majority
of common land at Lingfield was enclosed, so there was still extensive
common land at Felcourt Heath and Dormans Heath. Aubrey just places the
spring "in the common" and the spring I visited is in the bottom of the
valley between Felcourt Heath and Dormans Heath.
Shortly after Aubrey's account, John Evelyn from Wotton
wrote to Samuel Pepys in 1694 (Quoted in HAYWARD and HAZELL 1933 p77) "Receive
you my wife's, who is at present become a water bibber here, though we fetch it
from Lingfield, about 20 miles distant on the edge of Sussex, and is stronger
than the Spaw of Tunbridge." The Evelyns lived a few miles from Mags Well
west of Dorking and could easily have got their water from there. Mags Well
enjoyed a short period as a mineral spa and the name is thought to be a
corruption of St Margaret's Well. It is easy to conjecture that the Evelyns
wouldn't be satisfied with the local mineral water but sent all the way to
Lingfield for water that was much stronger. Aubrey knew about Mags Well and its
connection with St Margaret who is often associated with wells. He or the
Evelyns could well have made the comparison between Lingfield and Mags Well.
Could it be that this is where the name St Margaret's Well enters into the
Lingfield Story? Coldharbour is not near Margaret Hill or Margaret Wood and the
water flow from Coldharbour is north, away from Lingfield and from the supposed
site of St Margaret's Chapel on Margaret Hill. (There could be another
explanation for St Margaret's presence, but I will come to that later.)
The written history after Aubrey constantly places the
spring at Coldharbour. The first reference to a mineral spring at Coldharbour is
on the 1768 map of SE Surrey, which marks the spring as a mineral spring rising
above Coldharbour next to the old road (now a footpath) and flowing NE towards
Coldharbour House. There is still a stream in that area (just about!) but it
shows no evident signs of mineral content. This map is significantly later than
Aubrey's original account (written before 1692). It is not called St Margaret's
Well at this stage. This map was made after the Enclosure of Felcourt Heath in
COBHAM, 1899, refers to a poem about Lingfield written in
about 1790 that contains the verse:
"Thy common, Lingfield, worth contains
Beyond a bank of wealth -
A spring to purify the veins
And dress the cheek with health."
In 1809, MANNING and BRAY refer to the spring on Lingfield
Common, as already described, but now the basin on St Peter's Cross enters the
story. In Vol II, p339, they refer to the obelisk and state, "There is a
tradition that it had a cross at the top, and on that a basin."
Then BRAYLEY, in approx 1845, states "On Lingfield
Common, was an open chalybeate spring, reputed to possess the same properties as
the waters of Tunbridge Wells, but within the last 40 years it has been covered
over by the person to whom this part of the common was allotted." Of St
Peter's Cross he says "It is understood to have been surmounted by a cross,
on the top of which was a basin, as a recipient of holy water for the use of the
church. Formerly the basin, which was of iron, was employed at the
chalybeate spring just mentioned. It was afterwards seen on the common."
Just Lingfield Common, note. No mention of Coldharbour. He refers to the basin
as being made of iron, but this could be a mistake and I think it will become
clear how it came about. It is interesting that he refers to the land around the
spring as being "allotted", which would have happened after the Commons were
enclosed. The land owner appears to have covered the spring, but the water has a
tendency to break through. (When I first visited the Bisley spring it had been
capped with a slab of concrete. The spring had broken through in one corner,
leaving a strong mineral trail as it ran down the concrete.) There is an area of
level ground above the Felcourt/Dormans spring where there are 4 mature alder
trees in a straight line. On this terrace is an old manhole cover. The spring
rises in the swampy ground downhill from the manhole cover and below that again
can be seen the open ends of 2 pipes as they emerge into the stream below water
level. I have checked, and manhole covers were used as early as 1800 so even if
the existing cover is not as old as that, the original project could have been
undertaken at that time. So if this is indeed evidence that the spring was
covered and piped directly into the stream some time after 1800, it would also
help to explain how the spring got "lost". In the intervening years the water
has rusted the pipes and broken through to emerge above the stream again.
The basin on St Peter's Cross, as mentioned by BRAYLEY et
al, is an important part of the spring's story and it triggers the next part of
the tale involving the Surrey Archaeological Society, but this is not clarified
until 1914 so be patient.
In the meantime, COBHAM, 1899, writes (p19) about the
interesting old obelisk next to the Gunpit - "On the top of it a basin was
placed a few years ago, which was found at an old chalybeate spring on Lingfield
Common close to Cold Harbour Lane."
Before I outline the 1914 revelation, let me jump forward
to HAYWARD and HAZELL in 1933 and their thoughts on the basin on St Peter's
Cross - "The stone stoup now on the top came from the ancient St Margaret's
Well, a chalybeate spring at Coldharbour on Lingfield Common and was put in its
present position within the memory of a late inhabitant in the 19th Century."
The 1937 Ordnance Survey map of Coldharbour shows 3 wells
in the Coldharbour corner of the Common, 1 for each of the 3 buildings. None of
them are marked as chalybeate or called St Margaret's Well. The Coldharbour
spring is not marked.
Most of these written accounts say that the basin came from
the Coldharbour spring, sometimes described as St Margaret's Well, so why am I
so sure that the basin also came from the Felcourt/Dormans spring?
Now we come to OGILVY in 1914. On page 75, he refers to St
Peter's Cross. "The history of the Cross has been twice investigated by the
Surrey Archaeological Society - in 1862 and in 1891; the first of these
inquiries made confusion worse confounded. Aubrey had commended the quality of
the local ale, and visited a mineral spring, which still exists at the north end
of the village, where he noted a stone basin. The original tradition said
that the cross was surmounted by a cross of stone, on the top of which was a
basin to catch the rain, and so provide a purer basis for holy water than any
obtainable from the earth. The cross had long vanished. Manning and Bray
quote the tradition, and Brayley followed, describing the basin as of iron, and
adding that it had been used at this spring and was probably still in existence,
as it had been seen on the common not long since. The Society relied on
these accounts and urged the parishioners to obtain the basin and replace it in
position; they did so; the basin was found, deeply stained by the mineral water
which obtained for the spring the title of Guldens or golden well, and placed on
the top of the Cross, everybody being thus satisfied.
The accounts of these visits in the SURREY ARCHAEOLOGICAL
COLLECTIONS (Vol II p xli and Vol IX p xxiii) do not refer to St Peter's Cross
or the basin so the location of Golden Well cannot be confirmed. OGILVY'S
reference to Golden Well is the only place that this name occurs in the written
record. I believe it is the key to the mystery as it ties in well with the
golden colour of the water and mineral salts at the Felcourt/Dormans spring.
(There is a well in Scotland called "fuaran buidh", which translates as
golden well, so called "because the iron gives the water a rich yellow tinge"
www.electricscotland.com) It would also explain why, although, everybody quotes
Aubrey's spring, nobody seems to be very impressed with the spring at
It is my contention that Aubrey's spring was the chalybeate
spring marked on the current OS map on the old common land between Felcourt
Heath and Dormans Heath. The mineral content of the spring closely matches
Aubrey's description. Because of it's yellow ochre, it was known as "Golden
Well". The water fell into a free standing stone basin before continuing into
the nearby stream. This is the same spring that was used by the Evelyns. The
spring went out of fashion because of its remoteness and difficulty of access.
The rise in popularity of sea bathing and town based spas (Tunbridge Wells and
Epsom) made the Lingfield spring redundant and it was no longer visited by the
great and good, who needed to see and be seen while "taking the waters". The
land around Aubrey's spring was enclosed and the new owner later covered the
spring, piping it directly into the stream, possibly to deter local people from
trespassing on his newly-acquired land. The area known as "Lingfield Common" had
now shrunk to the area north of Lingfield. Subsequent writers knew about
Aubrey's spring in the common at Lingfield and mistakenly placed it at
Coldharbour, the only spring on the much reduced common land. It is interesting
that none of them confirm the exceptional mineralisation of the water or
describe it in any way. It is also interesting that during the saga of the basin
on St Peter's Cross, it is the local parishioners who know where to find the
basin and they fetch it from the area of the Golden Well, the basin still
covered with a crust of yellow ochre. I believe Aubrey's spring was
misidentified about 250 years ago, and that this mistake was perpetuated in the
written record, although local people still knew its whereabouts. St Margaret's
Well could have entered the story because of the nearby Margarets Hill and the
recognised association of St Margaret with wells. I will come back to St
Margaret later as she may have a much bigger role in this story.
Lingfield is the only famous medicinal spring in Surrey
that has totally disappeared, and I am excited to say that I don't think it
disappeared at all, it just got temporarily misplaced.
Aubrey says that his spring had only been in use for a few
years. It is not unreasonable to think that the spring may, in fact, have a long
history. The chalybeate spring I visited is markedly different from other
springs in the area and is most similar to the Bisley spring which was important
in the Iron Age. The only reference to Lingfield in BIRD'S "Roman Surrey"
concerns the ring found in the area of Dry Hill, but we know the Romans were
working iron in the Sussex Weald so it is possible that they could have known
about this strongly chalybeate spring. There are three additional bits of
information that may or may not indicate an ancient history to this spring. Just
over the ridge to the south west is an old yew tree in the grounds of Yew Lodge.
To the south east, worked flints were found in the area of Dormans Park. Flint
finds are rare in the Lingfield area. To the east, opposite the end of the
footpath in Swissland Hill, is a large chunk of stone which is possibly an old
Is there anything in the local place names that might give
a clue to the history of the spring? The first thing I could find that was even
faintly hopeful was in HAYWARD and HAZELL's section on Dormans Land (p45). They
refer to a judgement in Elizabethan times that referred to " ... the woods
and underwoods on certain commons called Dormans Land, Baldyes Hill Common,
Hilde Heath and Pakins (Pacons or Beacons Heath) within Her Majesty's Gyldable
of Lyngefield." The Gyldable is also mentioned in other sources and the
"Victoria History of Surrey" (Vol 4, p 304) describes a series of attempts to
claim the Gyldable as part of Felcourt Manor. These attempts all failed as "every
witness called declared that the common was Crown land". Checking in GRAY'S
"Lingfield Heritage" I found that the mysterious "Gyldable" covers the right
general area and I would love to think that it had some link with the word
"golden" but I think it is a red herring as there is another area known as "The
Gyldable" in Hampshire. It was one of the tithings of Kingsclere, and the name
is believed to relate to land occupied by a Guild. There is also a cluster of "Guildable"
names south of Limpsfield Chart. The OS Explorer map 147 shows a Guildable Lane,
a Guildables Wood, and a Guildables Park Farm so, unfortunately, this does not
look like a link with "golden" at all.
Are there any other clues in the place names? Perhaps not
specifically with "golden" but is there anything more generally linked with well
or spring? I feel pretty confident about tracing the history of the spring back
to Aubrey, and it didn't require any special skills - just the ability to read
an OS map and the patience to trawl through the written records. I would like to
take the story back further but I admit to being a bit out of my depth and from
now on I am speculating. However, there are some very interesting grounds for
For this part of my exploration, I am starting from the
point that there IS a chalybeate spring in the valley between Felcourt and
Dormans. It was covered in for a while after 1800 but, before that, it would
have been flowing quite happily throughout Surrey's history. So, although, we
haven't known about it while the recent histories of Surrey were being written,
IT WAS THERE. So are there any clues to its previous history in local place
names that got lost as the spring got lost?
At this point, I drew a blank until I discovered SMITH'S
"Surrey place-names" which takes us off into some very interesting territory
indeed. At first sight, it was not very promising as Lingfield names are not
discussed in detail but there are several clues. Of Holy Wells, he says (p61) "Roman
Britain was hot on sacred springs and pools. Apart from the temple at Titsey
beside a source of the River Eden, those at Wanborough are not far from a
spring-fed pool by the tiny parish church." Taking it further back than that
he says of our pagan heritage (p57) "But not everything is economics; there
is also landscape's religious significance. To the ancients of this
country (or of any other), hills, pools, rivers, cliffs, springs, groves and
marshes were not simply there, they meant something. They were visible
manifestations of the gods. If a spring was worthy of a name, it was because it
was sacred." He proposes a 3-part model for pagan shrines.
*Regionally important pagan centres occur at one or more
per modern county;
*lesser pagan centres are expected at a rate of one per hundred;
*least-important pagan centres are to be expected in nearly every subsequent
medieval Christian parish.
So what is there in the parish of Lingfield or in the
Tandridge Hundred? SMITH suggests that Tillingdown (now the name of a farm in
the Tandridge Hundred) may have been the original name of the hilltop church in
Tandridge as Tillingdown contains the important -inga element in its place name.
I will come back to -inga again. But what of Lingfield?
SMITH is not as definite on the derivation of Lingfield as
he is on other place names. The first possibility is a combination of leah
and feld which would make it "field of the people of the leah" ie
referring to an ancient British folk-group. The second possibility is a
combination of inga and feld . He postulates that the Surrey
ingas places are royal Wessex-sponsored monasteries, closely associated with
the strategic royal holdings controlling each hundred. What is the link with
pagan sites? SMITH says "At a later date the remoter ex-pagan ingas
sites , often on uncomfortable hill-tops, were dispensed with in favour of
choicer marketable riverside sites. .... As the Church gives, so doth it take
away. What it gives away as fast as it can in the late seventh century are any
embarrassing hints of residual paganism."
So, if Lingfield is an inga name, it would probably have
had a pagan site that was the main site in the Tandridge Hundred. If not, it
would still have had a pagan site within the parish.
How does this help? There is a chalybeate spring at Dorton
in Buckinghamshire. Dorton is thought to be a combination of dor and
tun and, depending which web site you read it translates as "farmstead or
village at the narrow pass" or "the place of the waters". Is it possible that
dor is an early place name element relating to water? Coming back to Surrey,
SMITH has a great deal to say about Dorking. Dorking is the inga focus of
the Wotton Hundred. The inga place names usually start with the name of
a person or of a place. Dorking may contain the Celtic district name "Dorce"
perhaps referring to the Vale of the Pipp Brook. The Oxford English Dictionary
gives the word "door" as coming from the Old English (pre 1150) word duru
or dor. One meaning of "door" is of an entrance or exit, and it is
conjectured that Iron Age Communities made votive offerings to water sites
because they were thought to be entrances to the Otherworld. There is a Golden
Well in Herefordshire in a place called "Dorstone" although in this case the
Golden name seems to come from Golden Valley, the valley of the River Dore.
What have we got so far? Lingfield MAY be named for the
pagan site associated with the Tandridge Hundred. If so, it is unusual in that
it does not have a site or person's name associated with it. If it is not the
site for the Hundred, there would be a pagan site associated with it at the
parish level. The element "dor" MAY relate to sacred waters.
Lingfield has a missing pagan site, it also has a missing
medieval chapel dedicated to St Margaret (patron saint of women and commonly
linked with healing wells). It also had, until recently, a missing chalybeate
spring. Do you see a pattern emerging here?
This is where it gets really interesting. It is tempting to
speculate that Dormans, being so close to the spring, may contain the "dor"
element, but it was named after the Dereman family who held land in the area. Or
was it? The Dereman family owned land in the manor of Limpsfield in 1310.
Richard Derman acquired land just north east of the area of Dormansland Common
in 1435. The name of Dormansland first appears in 1489 when it is called "Dermannylond".
But there is a much earlier reference quoted in MANNING & BRAY (Vol II p 352)
which states "28 March 1336. Joan de Chevenynge had a licence for a chapel in
her Manor of Deure in Lyngefeld. No such name is now known." Interesting! A
woman getting a licence for a medieval chapel in an area called "Deure" in
Lingfield. I don't think I'm stretching the bounds of credulity in suggesting
this might be the missing St Margaret's Chapel in an area that sounds
suspiciously like the "dor" name element in a parish that has a
chalybeate spring. It is quite possible for Deure to have become part of
Dormansland because of the similarity of the names.
Does this help us with locating St Margaret's Chapel? Most
sources place it on Margaret's Hill. OGILVY places it to the west at Newchapel.
MANNING & BRAY refer to a Chapel Field and a St Margaret's Field but we don't
know where they are. I am speculating wildly now, but it's fun so I'll carry on.
If the spring was an important early pagan site, there would have been access to
it. The Iron Age fort at Dry Hill has routes leaving it to the North, East and
South but there is nothing to the West. If you travel West from Dry Hill, you
come to Lady Cross Farm, just south east of Dormansland. If you continue west,
you past Apsley, an old site and then get to Rede Place, formerly Reads Farm and
recorded in 1418. GRAY says that it was approached via a hollow lane and so is
clearly on an ancient site. The markstone at the end of the footpath to the east
of the spring is at the entrance to the current Rede Place. Could the Lady Cross
name be linked with the Chapel?
Now I admit I am getting a bit carried away here and I
don't know enough about early charters and documentation to do much more with
this, but I think it is certainly food for thought. The coincidence of a missing
pagan site, a missing St Margaret's Chapel, a medieval chapel in an area called
Deure and a rediscovered chalybeate spring in an area known for early Iron
working seems to me to be more than chance.
If you visit the Felcourt/Dormans spring, which I believe
to be Aubrey's spring known as the Golden Well, wear strong boots and thick
nettle/thorn proof trousers. It is an effort to get to it, but you will be well
rewarded. Then decide for yourself, has the mystery of the Lingfield chalybeate
spring been solved? Or has it become an even bigger mystery? Was the spring
known as St Margaret's Well in medieval times? Was it an important pre-Roman
pagan site with a "dor" element in its name? I am just an enthusiastic
amateur so I will have to leave it to somebody with far more knowledge than me
to answer those question.
(In chronological order)
AUBREY "Natural History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey"
Map of South East Surrey
MANNING and BRAY "The History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey" Vol II
BRAYLEY "History of Surrey" Vol III
1864 and 1888
SURREY ARCHAEOLOGICAL COLLECTIONS, Vols II and IX
COBHAM "A Short History of and Guide to the Antiquities of Lingfield"
WHITAKER "The Water Supply of Surrey"
"The Victoria History of the Counties of England - A History of Surrey"
OGILVY "A Pilgrimage in Surrey"
HAYWARD and HAZELL "A History of Lingfield"
Ordnance Survey map XXXV 16
GRAY "Lingfield Heritage"
BIRD "Roman Surrey"
SMITH "Surrey Place-names"
Ordnance Survey Explorer Maps 146 and 147
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