This new book draws together the facts about St Anne’s Well and the medieval chapel, and challenges some of the long-standing ideas about these two sites. It questions whether they were ever part of a single pilgrimage complex, and disputes the claim that this was once one of the top three holy sites in England.
With 188 pages with 130 illustrations, author Ken Taylor covers a lot of ground, and also raises important new questions about our relationship with the heritage and the future of the sites – particularly the well which is enjoying a popular renaissance of interest that is being further developed by the Friends of Brislington Brook.
Copies have been donated to Wick Road Library, Bristol Central Reference Library, and Bristol Record Office, but it is only available to buy online, and is published in a limited edition of 200 copies (see here). Please note – this is a not-for-profit publication produced by Archyve.biz without any grant funding.
Questions & Answer session with Ken Taylor:
Q. Why did you decide to write a book specifically about the history of the holy well and the Chapel of St Anne in the wood?
I love a mystery. Almost as soon as my wife and I arrived in Brislington in 1991 we heard about the Well and the chapel and their importance as a medieval pilgrimage site, and it fired my imagination. The more I learned, the more I was surprised there wasn’t a book about these important sites, and it wasn’t until I decided to write the book myself that I realised how true it is that “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” The project began as a simple celebration of the holy well and pilgrimage, yet it not only grew into a huge undertaking, but it turned into a nightmare of damage limitation to many fondly cherished beliefs. The difficulty lies in linking the well with the medieval chapel. There is no doubt the chapel was an important pilgrimage centre, but the historical record is silent about the well – which has been the focus of veneration for more than a century. An archaeological solution could be found, but funding is stubbornly elusive, so the key question remains unresolved. The well could actually pre-date the chapel, we simply don’t know. Questions like that deserve attention, and in my book I’ve tried to bring the debate right up to date.
Q. How long did the book take you to research and then write?
Far, far too long, but nowhere near long enough… In 1992 I started collecting all the information I could find, and in 2008 I started investigating the many questions that were staring at me (some with a twinkle in their eyes). In 2013 I accepted a commission to write a book and I collated my notes into a readable text to meet the brief. The following year that deal fell through and I rapidly had to rewrite for a broader audience – this is what Archyve published in 2014, the long- anticipated centenary of the archaeological excavation of the Chapel of St Anne in the Wood. There are quite a few loose ends in the narrative of my book, so even a little more research and investigation could lead to important discoveries (plenty of opportunities for everyone!) Every book like this is really just a stepping stone toward a greater understanding, and I look forward to hearing new ideas that can loosen up some knotty problems or bring a sweeping change of perspective. Despite its wealth of detail, my book reveals just the bare bones of the history of this facet of our local heritage, and the work of organisations such as the Friends of Brislington Brook is invaluable in determining a creditable future for this ancient site of deep human significance.
Q. If you had to describe the book in 20 words, what would you say?
Seriously? Twenty words! Well… It’s what few wanted to hear but everybody deserves to know. We can build on this. [It was then suggested maybe 50 words was a better number?] I vividly remember the struggle I had in keeping the text for the book down to a mere 80,000 words, so I couldn’t help but poke fun at the idea of summing it up in just 20.
Q. Can we expect any further local history books from you in the future?
Yes, if past form is anything to go by, but my immediate future looks pretty busy on other fronts.
Q. What is your favourite thing about being a resident of Brislington?
I was raised in a tiny Devon village, so coming to live in Bristol has required quite a mental adjustment. The fact that Brislington was a Somerset village until relatively recently has, no doubt, helped me orient myself. Looking back through time can help settle us down and even create a sense of belonging, but looking forward and seeing the challenges that face our children and their children, forces us to address a whole new set of circumstances. Brislington has many new residents who live alongside families whose ancestral roots run as deep here as historical records allow us to trace, and this dynamic brings constructive ways to find a future that benefits all. I think Brislington is an exciting place to be.