Crossing the wooden boardwalk, you approach the shady and secretive corner of the grounds where St Andrew’s Well rises. There are two or three other wells here, which in summer are thick with wetland plants.*
St. Andrew’s Well
In 705 King Ine of Wessex gave land near the wells to Aldhelm, his Bishop, so that he could build a minster. The Saxon minster lay just south of the present Cathedral. A stream from this well flowed close beside the minster. Water might have been taken straight from the stream for use in some church ceremonies.
The Well’s unceasing flow through the city would have seemed very significant in the middle ages.
The Book of Revelation (cc.21-22) describes a vision of the City of God:
‘Then the Angel showed me the river of life, rising from the throne of God and flowing crystal clear. Down the middle of the city street, on either side of the river, were the trees of life, the leaves of which are for the healing of nations.’
Wells, with its ceaseless waters, could be seen as an earthly reflection of this perfect city.**
The Well Pool
On a perfect day, the broad, curving well pool calmly reflects the tower of St Andrew’s Cathedral. The still surface is barely disturbed by the water visibly bubbling up through the silty bed.
It was Bishop Law who saw how to use the Wells’ abundant flow in a new way: as a mirror.
Law’s reflective pool was built in the 1830s as part of his vision for a romantic landscape. Before this time the water supply was carefully managed for more practical ends. Bishop Beckynton built a weir to raise the level of the water and this made it possible to maintain a head of pressure. Then, as now, a system of channels directed water from a reservoir pool, and there were sluices to control how much water flowed out.*
*From the Bishops Palace guide to the Palace and Gardens.
**From a signboard next to St Andrew’s Well