Last time we visited the Museum of Lakeland Life & Industry in Kendal, we came across an old map of the shores of (Lake) Windermere between Windermere (town) and Ambleside. It dated from sometime in the 18th or early 19th century, I think – well before the area started to become more developed after the opening of Windermere railway station in 1847. For that reason it had very few buildings marked on it, but one that caught my eye was a well, or even holy well, roughly half way between the Low Wood hotel and Waterhead.
This intrigued me. The name on the map was accompanied by a rather charming little illustration of a small building with three distinctive gables. There was also a suggestion, either on the map itself or more likely on the accompanying blurb written by the museum, that the sites marked were early tourist “attractions” in the area. But there’s no well listed in that location these days, and rummaging on the internet hasn’t found any reference to one in the past. So what on earth was it?
Well, there are various possibilities. One is that it really was a well which has long since vanished and been forgotten about – so far forgotten that there’s no longer any apparent record that it existed. Another is that the map placed the well in completely the wrong location. Old maps tended to rely on hearsay, local knowledge and someone visiting the area on foot, and are notoriously unreliable. And in the nearby village of Troutbeck there are three wells, not particularly close together and not in the shape of a gabled building, but each with its own saint’s name which could have been interpreted as holy wells.
Finally, the picture of the well building was quite similar to the front of local landmark The Samling (pictured above, in a photo from squaremeal.co.uk), now a posh hotel but formerly a private house built in the 1780s. This is indeed on the hillside between the Low Wood and Waterhead and has the same three-gable layout, and might well have been a landmark for early visitors to the area. But I can’t find any reference to it housing a well, or having a well in its grounds, or even being called after a well.
So what is the answer? Was this a cartographer’s slip? Was it an attempt to portray the three wells in Troutbeck? Was it an illustration of The Samling, and if so, why? If any historians or locals know more about it I’d really like to know, because at the moment it’s quite a puzzle.