Road into Derbyshire village with well dressings

Well Dressings in Derbyshire

16 May, 2019 | Derbyshire, Peak District, What's on

Two well dressings made of shaped petals on clay

What is a well dressing?

Throughout Derbyshire during the summer months many of the villages display well dressings. A well dressing is in collage form and made from placing different coloured and shaped petals onto a clay mixture to form a scene. The pictures may have a religious link, such as a scene form the bible, or commemorate a significant event or person. It may be this year the birth of a new Royal baby is evident in one of the dressings.

Where are well dressings found?

Well dressings, as the name suggests, are often found near former wells or water. However, over time they can also be found in village squares, church gardens or other local places. There is a calendar of well dressings throughout Derbyshire.

2 Derbyshire village well dressing images made from flowers

How did well dressings originate?

Well dressings are thought to have originated as part of pagan festivals to give thanks for a reliable water supply. As time progressed the dressings started to be blessed and this custom often continues. The blessings usually take place on the first day the well dressing is placed on display. Well dressings also became associated with celebrating new water supplies to villages. Probably the most notable site for well dressings is Tissington. The historic village displays a number of well dressings around the time of the Ascension Thursday.

Ashford in the Water cricket club well dressing

How are well dressings and Derbyshire linked?

Well dressings are most common in Derbyshire and Staffordshire. When we consider the importance of water it is perhaps not too surprising that this type or ritual developed. The reason why the tradition is associated with Derbyshire is not clear. However, one theory suggests that during the Black Death epidemic in the middle of the 14th century, many Derbyshire villages were spared, and this was thought to be linked to some form of ‘protection, from the deadly disease. However, the Pagan route is still likely. Interestingly the arrival of Christianity was not good news for well dressers as water worship was banned and action taken by Henry the VIIIs chancellor, Cromwell, to put an end to the tradition.

Well dressings today

Today the wonderful art continues and there are dressed well throughout the county for visitors to enjoy form May through to September. And one of the great things about the dressings is that no two are ever alike. There is always something new to see and surprises in store. One of our favourites is Tissington, given the variety of dressings in one village. If you do visit any of the dressings we are always delighted to see your pictures. If you are happy to share please post them to Instagram using the hashtag #glendonbandb

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