Dereham – St Withburga’s Well

This well was originally the burial place of St. Withburga, but it is said that in 974 monks from Ely took her body to be buried at Ely Cathedral. When the locals discovered that someone had pinched the saint they had happily buried in their graveyard they were rather displeased and decided to go and have a fight with the Ely monks. The fight didn’t go very well as the Dereham men got into boggy ground in Ely, so they came home. When they arrived home they found that the burial site was now full of water, and they liked this water and so it became a pilgrimage site, although it’s behind iron railings to stop people from falling into it. The water still flows today, and it remains a site that pilgrims come to visit.

St. Withburga, or Wihtburh, died in 743 and she founded a religious house in Dereham. She was also part of the family who ran the local area and her body still remains in Ely Cathedral, although relics relating to her were mostly destroyed during the Reformation.

The inscription on the stone reads “the ruins of a tomb which contained the remains of Wethburga, youngest daughter of Annas, King of the East Angles who died AD 654”.

The EDP from 1896 mentions that the site of the well was once a baptistery where locals were baptised, but this was changed in 1752 when it was converted into a bath. Then in 1793, a brick bath house was built over the top and apparently one local decided to have a bath in the water every single week. He apparently lived “to a good old age”, so it didn’t do him any harm.

The well is located just in front of St. Nicholas Church in Dereham.