West Hallam Well Dressing History
My sincere thanks go to my main contributor, Brenda Parker
THE FIRST WEST HALLAM WELL DRESSING
by Brenda Hunt 1978
This is our first attempt at a Well Dressing. Seven of us visited the Etwall Well Dressers in May as they were preparing their frames and we learned many “tricks of the trade” from them.
Since then, an old door has been cut to shape and a frame made. Nails have been hammered into the door to support the clay after it had been “puddled” (A process evolving treading water, salt and clay together in a tin bath).
The frame was soaked for a week and the wet clay pressed in and flattened.
The design of St Wilfrid was pricked through the paper pattern to the clay and the outline followed with alder cones. This is known as “black knobbing”.
By the beginning of the week, the non perishable materials were added and later the blossoms and flower petals.
We chose the figure of St Wilfrid, the patron saint of the Church and show him beside a background of cliffs and sea, as he was associated with Whitby Abbey, Yorkshire.
Our thanks go to the Etwall Well Dressers for their advice and for donating the spar and coal, Mr H Stevens for the door and for the loan of a tin bath for puddling, to Mr G Baker for fitting good lighting for us to work by, to Mr H Sims for clearing room for us to work in his garage and to everybody who helped by donating flowers.
The West Hallam Well Dressers
Jonathon and Simon Walker
The First Well Dressing Sketch
First Well Dressing Photograph
Well Dressing Poem
How did Well dressing in West Hallam first start?
It’s thanks to the Flower Club for this ancient art
In ‘74, before the Flower Festival began
in St Wilfrid’s Church, we all had a plan.
Widening floral knowledge was our desire
So we visited Etwall in May to acquire
All the tricks of the trade of this Derbyshire craft
From the well dressers there who really did graft.
In their expert hands we were willingly taught
How they did this and that, how things were sought
The history, the language and useful techniques
That would be very useful in the following weeks.
All things natural, not manmade or fake
Is the order of the day, well dressings to make.
Everything from nature, flower, seed or shell
Wool in raw state, leaves and pebbles as well
Back home once again, we had no time to shirk
We had to decide a theme for our work.
The festival at Church was based on folks who
had connections with the village. We knew who’d do.
St Wilfrid was our own patron saint
A unanimous decision with no complaint
So we set to work on a pretty design
Wilfrid in front, Whitby Abbey behind.
An old coalhouse door was used for a frame
Studded with nails - oh it was such a game.
For a week the frame soaked in a pond nearby
How cold and dripping it was that July
We collected the clay from the building site near
We had to dig it ourselves, that very first year.
Hard work it was and how tired we grew.
How well dressers of old toiled, we very soon knew.
In an old tin bath we got salt and and water
In wellies, puddled clay, both mother and daughter.
At last the mixture was as fine as could be
And trowelled in the frame to make a good key
Black knobs were gathered from alders close by
By water the trees grow and we soon did espy
Cones a-plenty to outline our design
We soon filled our baskets with specimens fine.
The pattern was pricked then onto the clay
And black knobbing done without much delay.
Blossoming was done with leafy sprigs green
Our picture took shape and soon could be seen
Then soon did begin the prettiest work ever
Petal after petal was added in our endeavour.
Creating our own work of art, our first try
At this ancient craft and we were on a high.
At last it was over, our long work was done
Working with petals had been so much fun.
We were dirty and tired and ready for sleep
But oh it was worth it, a good memory to keep.
There was pride in our hearts. How hard we had worked
And said shucks to cynics who had earlier smirked,
Said “it can’t be done and it’s not work for you.”
We’d proved them all wrong. We’d seen it through.
From modest beginnings, grew a much larger thing
But it must be remembered how it all did begin.
The Flower Club were first in West Hallam to start
The craft of well dressing with thanks in their heart.
God’s gift of water does affect one and all
Without it we’d suffer and would very soon fall.
Well Dressings are Derbyshire’s very own way
Of giving thanks to God for saving the day.
Brenda J Parker (formerly Hunt)
Founder member of both the West Hallam Flower Club and the Well Dressings in West Hallam
First Well Dressing Church Magazine Entry
First Well Dressing Report. Ilkeston Advertiser
Disclaimer - Copyright - Is this page correct? Something wrong or missing? Please let me know. Also contributions very welcome