Located in Buxton’s historic Grade-II listed crescent, St Ann’s Well is a drinking fountain that has existed – albeit through several different incarnations – since the Roman period. One of the Seven Wonders of the Peak District (according to English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, in 1678), St Ann’s Well has been a vital centrepiece to the history of Buxton, providing a free water supply to both Buxton locals and tourists since the 16th century. The current St. Ann’s Well is known as the ‘Lion’s Head’ in relation to its spout.
In July, St Ann’s Well is dressed, alongside the Market Place Well and St Ann’s Well, as part of the Buxton Well Dressing Festival, in commemoration of fresh water arriving at Market Place in 1840.
Present-day Buxton was once a small settlement during the Roman Britannia period, and was known then as Aquae Arnemetiae. The natural, 27.5 degrees thermal springs found below the surface of Buxton was, imaginably, the main reason as to why the Romans decided to settle in this area. The Romans believed the waters to be sacred, and thus dedicated the settlement to Romano-British Goddess Arnemetia. In 1695, a leaden cistern, alongside bath structure made of lead and timber, was discovered near to where St. Ann’s Well stands today, proving that the Romans had constructed a bath house upon the spring water grounds and present-day crescent. Later excavations uncovered additional baths, alongside a plethora of Roman coins.
A well, like the one that stands today, has stood in this location since medieval times, and has been dedicated to St. Ann since 1520. Given the perceived holy properties of the waters, the well became one of the most popular religious shrines in Derbyshire; a chapel stood next to it, where pilgrims would pray, believing in the curative powers of the spring water.
In 1538, during Henry VIII’s suppression of the Monasteries, the chapel was demolished, and the well was locked up; any emblem denoting St. Ann was also promptly removed and destroyed.
Despite the suppression, St. Ann’s Well renown grew during this time, prompted by the publication of the Dr John Jones’ book ‘The Benefit of the Auncient Bathes of Buckstones’, alongside the host of celebrities who were known to regularly visit, most notably, Mary Queen of Scots, who visited annually between the years 1573 and 1584, while imprisoned at Chatsworth House.
The public were granted access to the well again in 1772, and in 1780 the well was moved to its present positioning in order to compliment the newly built crescent, as Buxton emerged as a prominent spa town.
The ‘Lion’s Head’ St. Ann’s fountain that stands today was erected in 1940, with a spout made of brass and a trough made of marble. The name Emelie Dorothy Bounds is engraved into the well, who was a councillor in Buxton at the time of this well’s construction.
How to Get There
St Ann’s Well can be easily found at the bottom of the slopes – formally named St Ann’s Slopes – directly opposite the Crescent Hotel on Buxton Crescent.
– Bring a water bottle to sample Buxton’s famed spring water – its free!
Things to See & Do While at St. Ann’s Well
– It is worth spending a bit of time marvelling at the historic grade-I listed Buxton Crescent, which stands as a testament as to why Buxton is described as the ‘Bath of the North’. Originally built for 5th Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, as part of his campaign to transform Buxton into a Georgian spa town.
– The Pump Room, located just left of the well, has been converted into the Buxton Visitor Centre, where you’ll be able to find out extra info on the well, alongside a small gift shop.
– The crescent area is also home to Buxton’s main war memorial, standing slightly elevated on the sloping hills that surround the crescent itself. Measuring eight metres in height, ‘the slopes’ memorial is made of ashlar stone, and was designed by Louis Fredrick Roslyn, who also constructed the monument in 1920.