The Eel that Time Remembered

Pic from

Pic from

In the heart of England, there lies a valley called the Golden Valley.

It is a very nice valley. Green fields dotted with sheep, hemmed by hedgerows. And in the Golden Valley sits a mediaeval church. St Peter’s, Petersfield, has recently been ‘re-ordered’- the church left intact but community rooms built within,  in structures sat on the old stone floor.

And I have no way of knowing if the eel survived the re-ordering.

I do hope he did.

Peterchurch, sitting in the Golden Valley, appropriately also has a Golden Well. I know it’s there because it’s marked on the Ordinance Survey map. But what was once a very important holy well which attracted pilgrims and was renowned for healing, has all but disappeared from view.

Ella Leather – a folklorist who documented Herefordshire’s old sites – recorded the well as a bathing pool where those with rheumatic pains would come to rid themselves of their discomfort. But these days, the well has been filled with concrete. You have to turn off the Madley Road on the footpath to Wells Cottage, and keep your eyes peeled for the head of St Peter peering out of the undergrowth.

Still: the story goes that if you visited the well in mediaeval times, there was one sure sign you would be well again.

A friendly local eel – clad in a chain- would come and wrap itself round your legs. And once you stopped shuddering, you could go home and tell all your family that you were well again, because the eel said so.

In those days eel success rates league tables did not exist as they do today for the National Health Service, so we have no idea whether the eel healed many people. But a testament to his popularity spent centuries on the wall of St Peter’s Church; and may be still there today.

The portrait of the worthy local eel, complete with chain, hung high on the church wall for its beneficiaries to appreciate.

Was it the world’s first celebrity eel? Probably not. These strange creatures have a varied folkloric history which stretches way back.

But what a nice way to say thank you to a healing eel with a taste for bling.


20 thoughts on “The Eel that Time Remembered

  1. I am partial to an eel or two, which are specialities of the Vendee. in a nearby market they are thrown live onto the grill, which is a bit rugged. My sister gave me the “Book of Eels” a couple of years ago, and I have yet to read it. It may contain more details of the healing eel.

  2. here’s my theory: the shock of having an eel wrap itself around you would send so much adrenaline rushing through your body that all illness would flee and you would know to never be sick another day in your life! *giggling*

  3. Eek . . . an eel!
    Grasping on to my heel!
    Whilst wrapped in chain

    Oh what a sight
    I shudder with fright
    But e’ll steal my pain

    All’s well that ends well

  4. Gosh Kate! You are one of the very few people I “know”(via your blog of course) who knows about Mary Ella Leather’s wonderful book. I am impressed, but then, that is not an unusual reaction when reading your posts on things historical . I always feel I am in the presence of a kindred spirit when you write about English history . Thank you for yet another fine post.

  5. I can’t seriously accept that anyone feeling an eel hugging their legs – no matter in how friendly a fashion – would stick around for long enough to be assured of their wellness.

  6. What a tough dilemma. Think of the desperation for renewed health to expose oneself to anything to do with an eel. I would be tempted to say “no way” but there’s the dilemma. Of course people will do anything for health. But an eel? Shivers!

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