The Lost Well of Saint Elli
As well as being the prime source of water vital to life, wells and springs have always been considered as holy and mystic places. Since ancient times the peoples of these islands have venerated, worshipped and even dedicated sacrificial offerings to the spirits and gods that were believed to dwell or inhabit these sources of living water.The Celts and later the Romans, named these watering holes after their gods and even built temples and places of worship over them. With the advent of Christianity into Britain, Celtic and Roman gods were replaced by the Christian saints that we know today, as with St Dwynwen's Well, St. Winifred's Well, and closer to home, St Anthony's Well.
Wells were also considered to have healing and curative powers and so encouraged pilgrimages to their sites. People still throw coins, pins and other offerings into wells, but these days they say it's for luck. The Victorians often travelled to take the waters of these wells because of their curative properties, as with Llandrindod and Llanwrtyd Wells. Historians have often speculated or surmised to the location of a mystical and long lost well in Llanelli.
Prior to the building of the Trebeddrod Reservoir at Furnace in c1854, drinking water for the town of Llanelli was obtained from seven springs and wells in the vicinity and neighbourhood of the town. According to the Clark Report to the General Board of Health of 1850, they are listed as being at Capel Als, Bress, Waunlle, Tyisha, Llanerch, Furnace, and Kille. Victorian historians have referred to two of these wells as being dedicated or named after St. Elli, the saint after whom our town and parish church was named. One well is reputed to have been in the vicinity of the village of Furnace and the other was said to be between Old Road and New Road, Llanelli.
Our earliest historian David Bowen, writing in his prize winning essay Hanes Llanelli (1856) describes the well:
There is a spring near the town on Cille land called Ffynon Elli. Mr John Thomas (Glantowy) suggested in his splendid lecture on "Place names in the neighbourhood of Llanelli", which he gave at the Mechanics Institute, that the spring was dedicated to some famous saint named Elli. Others were of the opinion that it was to Saint Elliw that it was dedicated, but the name has been corrupted. This spring had the best health-giving water in the whole neighbourhood, and was probably regarded as virtuous in earlier times
This information is repeated by the author and historian Arthur Mee in his book Llanelly Parish Church (1888):
The name is generally accepted as a compound of Llan – church, and Elli a saint who figures in the martyrology of ancient Britain. In the same way, Ffynon Elli – a spring near Kille famed among old inhabitants for its admirable water, is conjectured by some to be no other than Elli's Well.John Innes clouds the water a little, because he adds another location for Elli's well in his book Old Llanelly (1902):
At the lower end of the New Road is Waunelli Place, so called from the field to the N.E., in which is a spring. The "Cille" level begins in a field called Cae Ffynon Elli according to the old maps; in this field was a well. The writer remembers one Margaret Hughes selling, at a halfpenny per jar, the water of this well in dry years.The eminent antiquarian and hagiographer, the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) included a paragraph about the location of this well of Saint Elli in his encyclopaedia, The Lives of the British Saints (1913)
The Saints Holy Well at the latter Llanelly was formally in a field called Cae Fynnon Elli, from which is derived the name Waun Elli Place, at the lower end of the New Road. It was famed among the old inhabitants for its admirable water. Fynnon Elli here was reputed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to possess medicinal properties.In searching for the location of this well, the old adage springs to mind... History never repeats itself – historians repeat each other. Were the authors of the above quotes merely repeating each other?
Cae Ffynnon Elli
The 1814 plan also shows a field to the North East of New Road called Wein Ell-lly the area was also known as Waun Elli. An examination of the 1852 plan reveals that this field also contained a well which would place it at the South end of Harries Avenue, where incidentally, there once stood a small group of cottages called Waunelli Place, now part of New Road. [b]. However, the name Waun Elli indicates that it was Elli's Meadow. No mention of a well in the name.
Given the close proximity of this field to church or glebe lands, the name of Waun Elli could merely indicate that this meadow was once owned by the parish church which just coincidently had a spring or well.
In conclusion I am inclined to favour the Kille Well in Furnace as being the Lost Well of St Elli, whereas the historian John Innes confused the issue by including Waunelli in his publication. Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould merely repeated and compounded the error made by Innes.|
Given the healing properties of its water, it may be beneficial for the coach or trainer of Furnace Rugby club to locate the old well and put its waters to the use of the injured players of the club?
[a] Coal mining in the Llanelli Area Vol 2 1830-1871 Dr M. V. Symons p 254-256
[b] 1851 Census Returns – New Road, Llanelli
Photograph of Cille/Kille 'Castle Colliery' Furnace, Llanelli c1914 reproduced by permission of National Railway Museum / Science & Society Picture Library