The Peak Venues Blog

Well Dressings In the Peak District

Well Dressing  in the  Peak District and Derbyshire is an ancient, traditional, English custom with origins that are a little mysterious:

Well dressing, also known as well flowering, is an ancient tradition in which local communities decorate wells, springs and other water sources of a village or town with detailed pictures of varying themes each year. It’s mainly associated with rural England in the Peak District, Derbyshire and Staffordshire areas and attracts over 35,000 visitors to over 80 villages and towns from May to September.

How did well dressings start?

Its mysterious beginnings are up for speculation as the tradition has waxed and waned. The three theories we've heard are:

  • The tradition began when locals celebrated their escape from the Black Death and reasoned it was due to the purity of the water supply in 1348
  • It's a tradition celebrating continuous water supply throughout a prolonged drought in 1615
  • Its beginnings are from a pagan sacrifice to the gods and water goddesses for being a reliable source of drinking water

The earliest village to record wells being decorated was Tissington in 1758. The themes of the artwork created have traditionally been religious imagery depicting popular stories and thankfulness for a continuous water supply.​

As the customs have passed down, the subject matter has become broader. Depending on the year, there will be topical creations paying tribute to related anniversaries like the Queens Platinum Jubilee or Children's book authors like Beatrix Potter

How to make a well dressing

The first step of creating well dressings is creating boards and then filling them in with clay in a process called puddling. 

Ashford in the Water villagers puddling at sheepwash bridge for their well dressings celebration

Villagers or townsfolk will draw the chosen design onto sheets of paper laid on the clay-filled boards. The drawing is pricked through the paper onto the clay to create an outline of an image to follow.

The day following begins Petaling, where the locals gather natural materials such as flower petals, seeds, coffee beans, leaves, berries, mosses, wood, twigs, and sheep wool to get pressed into the boards. The boards get decorated in garages and barns.

The decorated boards are then carefully placed in the villages and towns for spectators to admire and are blessed by a church official. Towns like Bakewell and Buxton hold a week-long celebration of events, including a carnival.

Middleton-by-Youlgrave's Well Dressings 

Where to visit Well Dressings

There are dozens of well-dressing events to name from May to August 2024

Here are just a few!

Tissington: 9th - 15th May 2024

Wirksworth: May 25 - June 2 2024

Middleton-by-Youlgrave:  25th May 2024 - 31st May 2024

Ashford In The Water: 25th May 2024 - 2nd June 2024

Stoney Middleton: July 27 to August 5, 2024

Monyash: May 25 to June 1, 2024

Peak District Accommodation

Spend your weekend in the Peaks and discover the different traditions of the Peak District folk. If you're looking for stylish accommodation in a rural setting, you're in the right place. We can sleep from 1 person to 50 guests, and have cottages that are great for the whole family.

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Published on April 29, 2024 in Whats On