TISSINGTON WELL DRESSINGS 2004
Well dressing is not unique to Derbyshire, but it is the county where the tradition is the strongest. Almost all the wells dressed every year are either within the county, or only a short distance from the county boundary. Tissington is known as the mother place of well dressing and visitors come from all over the world to witness the annual well dressing ceremony. This takes place on Ascension Day, when large crowds gather to see the wells blessed.
For centuries five wells have been dressed in the village, Yew Tree Well, Hall Well, Hands Well, Coffin Well and Town Well, but in 1982 a sixth well, a Children's Well was introduced in some what unusual circumstances. This took place when Yorkshire TV visited the village in 1982, with the intention of filming a feature for schools, involving well dressing and children. As a result of the discussions it was decided to introduce a small Children's Well, built entirely by the children that the television company filmed, which by coincidence was also filmed by Granada TV.
In Derbyshire children have always been involved in helping in the preparation work for well dressings. Now they are more involved than ever with the introduction of an increasing number of children's wells, often supported by the local school. In Derby, a special school well dressing competition takes place, and in 2003 there were 51 exhibits displayed in the Cathedral.
Well dressing is extremely hard work. It takes a team of volunteers many hours, from gathering berries, mosses, flowers and all the other essential materials required to complete the design to the erection of the boards at the chosen site. Even then their work is not done as the well has to be supervised. A collection box is usually placed unobtrusively close to the well, the proceeds from which go to both local and national charities.
Well dressing almost certainly dates back to pagan times, when sacrifices were made to water gods for maintaining the supply of water and as an inducement to continue to do so. The sacrifices took both human and animal form, but gradually the cruelty and wastefulness of this method of giving thanks gave way to primitive man hanging garlands of flowers over the wells.
Water was such a vital commodity for ancient man that settlements were always located close to a good supply of fresh water and the consequences of the source running dry were dire. This led to many other countries offering thanks to water gods at pagan festivals and flowers were often used. In Italy, at Genzano, flowers were arranged to form a gigantic pattern along the village street, but in no other country were boards used to mount the display, as in Derbyshire.
Tissington is an estate village and Lords of the Manor, the FitzHerbert's, who have lived here for centuries have always taken considerable interest in the well dressings. This is maintained to the present day by Sir Richard FitzHerbert who takes an active role in the preparation work.
For many years Tissington was the first to dress its wells in the county, until Etwall started well dressing in 1970. One of the problems of dressing wells so early in the year is that if the winter has been a hard one and the weather leading up to Ascension Day poor, obtaining suitable materials is more difficult especially flowers, than for those who hold their dressings in the middle of the summer.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
Tissington Hall (Tel. 01335 352200) a fine Jacobean Manor House in the heart of the village. Open - see Tissington Hall Feature.
Ilam Village with its Alpine style cottages and close proximity to Dovedale makes it a very popular attraction. The National Trust grounds and country park of Ilam Hall are open to the public.
Ashbourne is one of Derbyshire’s finest towns, with a wealth of Georgian architecture. The triangular cobbled Market Place holds markets twice per week on Thursday and Saturday.
The Coach and Horses, Fenny Bentley (Tel. 01335 350246) charming 16th century pub, with beamed ceiling, stone flagged floors and a coal fire in winter. Meals served at lunchtimes and in the evenings during the week and all day at the weekend.
Bassett Wood Farm (Tel. 01335 350254) situated in a lovely countryside setting, morning coffee and afternoon teas are served daily in the summer (except Wednesdays). Reduced winter opening. The Pets Paddock is an added bonus.
The Old Coach House (Tel. 01335 350501) Award winning tea rooms in the beautifully renovated Coach House to Tissington Hall. Open daily 1 March to 31 October from 11-5pm, during the remainder of the year open from Thursday to Sunday. Closed over the Christmas period.
Tissington is one of the prettiest and most unspoilt villages not only in Derbyshire but in the whole of the country. An avenue of 200 year old lime trees, immediately creates an air of expectancy. No planner designed it; the beauty of the village is the result of evolution.
A relaxing walk taking in the Tissington Trail, Fenny Bentley and the beautiful countryside around Tissington.
Tissington Hall, a fine Jacobean Manor House, standing in a slightly elevated position above the road behind a walled garden. The house was built in 1609 by Francis FitzHerbert, but has been much extended by his descendants.
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