Saturday 30 January 2010

Dressing up

Derbyshire has a couple of traditions which are almost unheard of outside the county and, although it is completely the wrong time of year, I couldn't leave Tissington without reference to one of them.

It begins with this...

and continues with barrow loads of this...

to which is added a whole host of natural ingredients to create these..

Tissington is known as the mother place of well dressing. Tradition has it that wells were first dressed in Derbyshire, as 17th century villagers gave thanks for deliverance from the plague, which had so devastated nearby Eyam. There is also reference to successive years of drought during which the wells of Tissington never dried up. Either way, it is almost certainly a practice which has been adapted from earlier pagan water blessing rituals.
Around three quarters of wells are dressed with a religious theme. Preparation begins far in advance with decisions about the topic, design, colours and materials to be used (which should always be 100% natural, and are often flowers or plants grown and collected locally). In the final stages, the flowers are pressed into a puddled clay base which has been marked out with the agreed design. It can take a team of people up to a week to complete the dressing for one well.
The end results are always spectacular, which is why, every ascension week, Tissington is swamped with visitors who want to come see the offering for the year.
We were lucky enough to see the dressings being prepared. If you're interested enough to read more about well dressing or want to browse a gallery of completed wells from all over Derbyshire, follow this link:
A little tip though. If you decide to come to Tissington and see for yourself, park in Mapleton or Alsop and walk up the trail. It's 3 miles each way, but probably still quicker than queuing to get the car out!


  1. I used to live over the border in Notts so we had annual trips to see the various Derbyshire well dressings. They are wonderful and it's great that the tradition is kept alive.

  2. jennyf - My aunt and uncle are involved with the Wirksworth well dressings every year. Uncle Frank is a member of the Rotary, which takes responsibility for one of the wells. My aunt usually has a hand in the designing.

    Wirksworth also has a scarecrow festival now. Shades of Kettlewell.