St Cleer Holy Well and Cross is situated within a small walled enclosure in the village of St Cleer, near Liskeard.
Thought to date from the late 15th or early 16th century, St Cleer Holy Well is a Scheduled Monument and also Listed Grade One – a demarcation earned by only 2.5% of listed buildings and marking it out as nationally important.
Some well sites had covering structures but the one at St Cleer is unique in its architectural form in being open-sided. The mouldings on the building’s capitals are also unusual.
The open, arched form of the structure, with a steep gabled roof, was probably intended to resemble a high-status saint’s tomb or shrine; prior to the Reformation the interior may have been used to display the image or relics of a saint, to be viewed by pilgrims to the site, who would have had access to water from the spring covered by the building through the small double arch at the east end.
The first reference to the building was by the Cornish historian William Hals around 1700: ‘In this parish is yet to be seen a famous chapel Well, dedicated to S. Clare, a work of great skill, labour, and cost, though now much decayed . . .’ This is the only record of the well prior to the early nineteenth century.
St Cleer Well had become a ruin by about 1700 but the spring continued to be used as a domestic water supply until at least the later nineteenth century.
It was probably also used for ‘folk cures’ for eye problems and aches and pains and perhaps also for divining marriage partners or the well-being of absent family members up to at least the time it was restored, in 1865, when the pool inside the well building was covered over.
The restoration was not completed until 1865, despite the stone at the well which says 1864. The restoration of the well was closely faithful to its original medieval form and was carried out by the architect, Henry Rice, based in Liskeard and responsible for some of the town’s most interesting buildings. It was carried out as a memorial to the Reverend John Jope, who served as vicar of St Cleer for 67 years until his death in 1844.
As a picturesque ruin, the well was a popular subject for illustrators prior to the restoration but received much less attention afterwards. It was also a ‘sight’ for Victorian tourists, including the writer Wilkie Collins (author of The Moonstone and The Woman in White), who went there in 1850 and described his visit to the well in his Rambles Beyond Railways, published in 1851.
Cornwall Heritage Trust acquired the site in November 2022 and took on its management. Due to its interventions, the site was removed from the Heritage at Risk Register in November 2023.
We’re now looking to raise the £8000 needed to have the roof entirely repointed by Historic England-approved heritage specialists — essential maintenance which the Grade One Listed, Scheduled monument has been in need of for some time.