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Mike's Blog - Day 253

Yesterday I mentioned the spring in the woodland garden that feeds the stream there. That’s a natural spring and records of it go way back.

Thanks to a local expert, Alan Rose, a great deal is known about the history of this spring. The stone work you see in the woodland garden is fairly recent, constructed I think when the greenhouse was built in the early 1970s. You’ll notice on the greenhouse lawn, which is flat, that there is a stone wall. This wall was built so the soil could be removed to make the flat area needed for the construction of the greenhouse. As the soil was excavated and pushed out onto the area in front of the pond it was covering up a natural spring. So at this point the spring was directed to what you see now flowing into the woodland garden.

The woodland garden incidentally, before the spring and subsequent stream were created, was a clay tennis court apparently. I’m not sure if this would have belonged to Hollingside House or the old hall that was demolished when Collingwood College was built.

Anyway, back to the spring and what we know about it. It is a natural spring, iron rich, which you can see by the abundant iron stain deposits on the stones and sometimes along the channel of the stream that issues from it. Sometimes it can run really orange. A few years ago, one winter, it was running like tomato soup.

It runs all the time, even during the dry period we had in April where the ground was bone dry and cracks appearing.

Alan has done a lot of research on it and has led many walks visiting this and other local springs. He tells me:

The water from this spring was from ancient times collected and taken medicinally. The spring even had a small book written about it with the grand title “Spadacrene Dunelmensis or the Durham Spaw Fountain”, published in London in 1675. Palace Green Library has a couple of fragile copies but modern technology means that the book can be read from any computer via Google Books. And quite a read it is for a damp autumn afternoon! The author, “Doctor of Physick” (i.e. physician) Edmund Wilson had a way with words and a robust sense of humour, and was aware of the scientific debates of the time. But the ultimate aim of the book seems to have been to attract custom to the spring; for in order to really benefit from the medicinal waters, and to avoid any bad effect from improper use, it was necessary to have the advice and assistance - of a Doctor of Physick!

Before the enclosure of Elvet Moor in 1773 into hedged fields, the spring was easily accessed on foot from the Great North Road, now South Road, or from what we now call Hollinside Lane. A “pant” had been built to protect the source and ease the drawing of water, and a sketch of this stone structure can be seen on this Enclosure Map which is held in the Special Collections of Palace Green Library.

Hollinside Lane is on the right hand side and a stile in the hedge can just be made out. The name of the spring is given as ‘Buck’s Well’; the hill on which Gray College stands is still called Buck’s Hill. But after the enclosure, access to the spring became less convenient and it fell into disuse. Its existence was still remembered when, in 1839, the Durham Tithe Map was created: the name of the field in which it had stood was given as Well Field. When much later the garden and greenhouses were laid out earth was moved, the spring was buried and its issue was piped to the water feature we see today, along with the rainwater drainage from the greenhouses. For decades the ongoing production of iron deposits underground caused drainage problems until about ten years ago when new pipes were installed, solving the problem. The story of Durham’s “Ancient Medicinal Fountain”, as Edmund Wilson described it, was forgotten except for a few references in local histories”.

As Alan says, you can see a stile off Hollingside lane on the right and the covered spring in the middle. The original site of the spring is thought to have in the middle of the lawn in front of the pond.

The path leads off down the garden which would be the access to South Road I presume. Alan says this was a cart track used by the Dean and Chapter for maintenance work and he suggests that, pre-enclosure, this was how people were accessed the spring from the main road because it would have avoided the steep climb up Buck’s Hill.

You can see/read the 1675 book Alan refers to here:

Spadacrene Dunelmensis: or a short treatise of an ancient medicinal fountain etc. - Edward WILSON (M.D.) - Google Books


Thank you for your help with this one Alan.