1884.140.331 .1

Rag strip

Place details: EUROPE. UK. England West Yorkshire Leeds Thorp Arch St Helen's Well. Cultural Group: European English Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Textile / ?. Processes: ?. Weight: Dimensions: Max L = 148 mm Maker: Unknown Field Collector: Marianne Cooke When Collected: 1869 Other Owners: Marianne Cooke Pitt Rivers sent this object to Bethnal Green Museum for display, as part of the first batch of objects sent there, probably in 1874. This object was listed in the Delivery Catalogue as having been transferred from South Kensington Museum in 1884. PRM Source: Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection Acquired: Found unentered 1 October 2003 Donated 1884 PRM Image: Collections Digital Reference Photo 25/02/2013

KEYWORD: Religious Offering / Textile / CLASS: Religion / ?.

Object description: Beige rag strip knotted twice. [JW [Excav. PR] 25/02/2013]

There does not appear to be an original accession book entry for this object.

PR VIII entry - [1 of] Votive rags from St Helens Well. Found unentered during the DCF 4 - 5 Court Project. The information written on the object box and label matches that given in the Blue Book Entry. [MdeA [DCF Court] 1/10/2003]

Blue book entry - Idols and objects connected with religion Case 78 159 Fragments of rag used as votive offerings for the cure of diseases at St Helens Well Thorp Arch Yorkshire at the present time (2496)

Delivery Catalogue II entry - Religious emblems Votive rags on card 2496 13 Cases 225 226

There does not appear to be a geographical catalogue card for this object [under England or British unprovenanced archaeology or under the same categories for ethnography]

Detailed Amulet card catalogue entry - Amulets D. Crop Fertility, E. Offerings to Gods etc F. Spirit Houses, Scares G. Sacred and Mem. food H. Relics and Mementos - Models of human body E3 Ex voto rags, pins etc Description: Votive rags from bushes at a holy well hung there by the country people who believe the water is good for eye diseases [insert] if [end insert] combined with an offering of this type to St Helen. They are often left by Roman Catholics being near Clifford where they are numerous Locality: St Helen's Well Thorp Church Yorks Collected by: Mrs Marianne Cooke 1869 How Acquired: PR coll 159 dd Mrs M. Cooke 1869 [sic]

Written on object box - Votive rags from St Helen's Well, Thorp Arch, Yorkshire. [DCF Court Team 1/10/2003]

Pitt Rivers Museum label - VOTIVE RAGS FROM ST. HELENS WELL, THORP ARCH, YORKSHIRE [JW [Excav. PR] 25/02/2013]

Publications history, trails & websites: Mentioned in Ellen Ettlinger, Folklore vol 54, no. 1, (March 1943) pp 227-249, 'Since E. Sidney Hartland's convincing interpretation ["Pin wells and Rag-bushes, in Folk-lore vol iv pp 451-470] the numerous rags found fastened to bushes (or trees) near sacred wells in all parts of Great Britain must be regarded as examples of Contagious Magic. In the Pitt Rivers Museum can be seen specimens collected mostly at the end of the last century in Cornwall, Yorkshire ... E. Sidney Hartland argued thus: if any article in contact with a beneficent power may relieve my pain, restore me to health, or promote my general prosperity. In pre-Christian days, when wells and trees were identified with spirits, offerings were deposited in their immediate neighbourhood to preserve the contact between the worshipper and the divinity. Since the spread of Christianity the real intention of this rite has been preserved only at those wells, where Christian Spirits replaced the well spirit. To quote only instances from the Pitt Rivers Museum, this was the case in St Helen's Well in Thorparch, Yorks ... From St Helen's Well .. it is reported that rags had been placed there as a cure for eye diseases. Miss Burne, who observed that the majority of healing springs are reputed to be effectual for diseases of the eyes, has connected this special virtue with a legend in the Prose Edda, which tells how Odin gave his eye in return for a draught of water from the wisdom well Mimir under the Ash Yggdrasil. As the All-Father has but one eye - the sun - the other eye, namely, the reflection of the sun, is seen in the well - and hence its waters can heal diseased eyes. [C.S. Burne Shropshire Folklore p 422]' [p247-8]

Research notes: http://people.bath.ac.uk/liskmj/living-spring/sourcearchive/fs3/fs3ew1.htm

Holy Wells in Yorkshire - 1 by Edna Whelan ...

St Helen's Well, Rudgate (SE 451 458)

Situated on the north side of River Wharfe east of Thorpe Arch, and about 400 yards from the river.

'This well was re-dedicated from a Pagan deity to St Helen's Well. Metal and pins were thrown into the water and ribbons tied to trees nearby. Waters reputed to be of specific use for eye troubles.' [Speight, Lower Wharfedale].

'The well is now dried up due to the lowering water table but in the not too distant past people, particularly young girls, used to give offerings to St Helen in the form of pieces of cloth tied to the branches of trees around it. In this way, if done in secret, you would see your true love. Also, that ghastly hound the Bargest was supposed to haunt St Helen's Well rattling its chains. Leland mentions a chapel at St Helen's (now gone).' [Guy Ragland Phillips].

St Helen's Cross was found near the spring. There is a plantation to the NE of the well called Chapel Wood and the church at Bilton 3 miles to the North is dedicated to St Helen.


Bonser also recalls visiting St Helen's Well in Thorp Arch in the 1930s, when "there were a number of rags and ribbons fluttering from the branches of bushes overhanging the spring which bubbled out of the ground quite close to the banks of the River Wharfe, at a ford where the Roman road, the Rudgate, crossed the river. Now spring and bushes are engulfed by the far-spreading Trading Estate. ' (p.40)

Other information: As all the labels on the object and the primary sources that are available have been found for this object it is strange that the detailed card catalogue entry contains new information relating to a previous owner / collector. It is not known where this information was obtained from [AP 21/07/2006]