In 2016 Wessex Archaeology West was commissioned by the Parks Projects Team of Bristol City Council to monitor restoration work on St Edith’s Well, Castle Park, Bristol. In recent decades the wellhead had been sealed beneath a flagstone surface which had begun to subside and needed replacing.
The well is located in what was probably the late Saxon settlement of Brigstowe, which later became the centre of the medieval town of Bristol. The earliest documentary reference to the well dates to 1391, when it was known as St Peter’s Pump or St Edith’s Well – although the reference to St Edith suggests that it may originally have been Anglo-Saxon in date.
There is a mid-15th century reference to the well’s superstructure, which bore a cross; in the late 1700s this was bought by Henry Hoare and moved to his estate at Stourhead, in Wiltshire, where it can be seen today. In its place, a new shaft and superstructure were built, as depicted in an 1822 watercolour drawing by M.H. Holmes (in the Braikenridge Collection), and an early 20th-century drawing of St Peter’s Pump by Samuel Loxton.
Excavation revealed that the well had been capped using railway sleepers and scaffold planks – which was why the subsidence had occurred. However, below this capping the structure appeared to be sound, with no sign of collapse in the upper courses (Plate). The well is stone-lined to a depth of 10 m, the walls being solidly constructed from roughly quarried stone and rendered with a pale grey lime mortar. Below, the shaft cuts directly through the bedrock.
A number of small openings were observed within the shaft, presumably to enable the use of a pumping mechanism, of which only a large iron pipe remains. An iron crossbar spanning the diameter of the shaft at approximately 8 m depth probably acted as a support for the pipe (Plate). The upper stone lining probably dates to the later 18th century, being built following removal of the earlier superstructure; no evidence for an earlier structure was exposed. The well shaft was re-capped using reinforced concrete lintels.