Well Dressing

Homage to the water that is life itself

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Bollington Well Dressing 2014

The theme this year is to be 'Bollington Now and Then'. Six sites have been chosen to display boards and a Trail Leaflet is available from shops and pubs throughout the town.

Preparation of the boards will begin with the insertion of clay on Tuesday 1st July at 2.30pm and will continue with the decorating on Wednesday and Thursday 2nd and 3rd July from 10.30am to 8pm and on Friday 4th July from 10.30am to 2pm. All are very welcome to come along to the Adlington Road Cricket Pavilion at any of these times to watch and/or take part in this ancient craft. Help is especially needed on Tuesday and Friday afternoons with the insertion of clay and the siting of the heavy decorated boards.

The Town Mayor Amanda Stott will open the Festival at the Greg Fountain opposite the Cock & Pheasant, Flash Lane on Saturday 5th July at 11.30am.

The children from Bollington Cross School will give a dance display at the ceremony.

The boards will remain in place until Sunday 13th July.

Bollington Well Dressing 2013

This year our theme was The Four Seasons and the five sites - the Greg Fountain, the Memorial Gardens, Pool Bank well, the grassed area by the NatWest Bank car park on Ashbrook Road, and the water trough at the top of Lord Street - were again dressed by the committee.

The festival was opened on Saturday 6th July 2013 at 11.00am at the Greg Fountain by the Mayor, David Laffan, and was attended by the children from St. John's and Pott Shrigley Primary Schools.

This year there also was an Irish dancing display by a group from our twin town of Thurles in Ireland.

Bollington Well Dressing 2012

The festival this year was opened by the Mayor of Bollington, Cllr Ken Edwards, at the Greg Fountain, Flash Lane, beside the Cock & Pheasant Inn on Saturday 30th June. The event included a wonderful display of dancing by pupils from Dean Valley School.

A trail leaflet was available depicting the five chosen sites - the Greg Fountain, the Memorial Gardens, Pool Bank well, the grassed area by the NatWest Bank car park on Ashbrook Road, and the water trough at the top of Lord Street. The themes this year were the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games and the committee were assisted with the designs by local artist Debra TraceyExternal link.

Grants were secured from Bollington Town Council, Cheshire East Council, Macclesfield Castle Rotary Club, Macclesfield Lions and, it is believed, a first for a Well Dressing event, from the Arts Council.

Pupils from Dean Valley School, the Air Cadets and the Sea Cadets, residents and staff from Mount Hall Nursing Home , and volunteers from local organisations took part in decorating the boards, in addition to the Well Dressing team.

Bollington Well Dressing 2011

Saturday 2nd July to Sunday 10th July

The Opening Ceremony was at the Greg Fountain on Saturday 2nd July and the dressings were on show until 10th July.

The top picture, right, shows the Greg Fountain dressed with its flower panels. There are also two on the sides of the fountain. The panel to the top left was beautifully made by the residents and staff at The Mount care home using predominantly seeds and nuts.

The children of Bollington Cross Primary School performed well rehearsed dances accompanied by the accordion.

There were five locations around Bollington which were dressed in a similar manner.

Fountain fully decorated

Bollington Cross children dancing

Lord Street / Chancery Lane / Cow Lane

Science in Pool Bank

2010’s theme was “Historical Bollington”

Our sixth annual Well Dressing was launched by Town Mayor, Councillor Angela Williams, at an Opening Ceremony on Saturday 17th July at the Greg Fountain by the Cock & Pheasant Inn, Bollington Cross. The children from St Gregory’s School took an active part in the ceremony.

An ambitious seven sites were decorated this year. All proceeds went to the Bridgend Centre as Bollington Well Dressing is a Bridgend Community Project.

2009's theme was ...

The International Year of Astronomy with

Macclesfield Astronomical Society

Creating the picturesOur fifth annual Well Dressing was launched by Town Mayor, Councillor Shirley Sockett, at an Opening Ceremony on Saturday 18th July at the Greg Fountain by the Cock & Pheasant Inn. The children from St John’s and Pott Shrigley schools performed a delightful dance under the direction of Heidi Reid. We welcome everyone to be part of our celebrations. Many of the 100 audience joined in with the Spiral Dance too!

An ambitious eight sites have been decorated this year. Trail leaflets showing the sites are available from various locations throughout Bollington. All proceeds will go to the Bridgend Centre as Bollington Well Dressing is a Bridgend Community Project. The picture page, as well as the list below, describes each site and where to find it.

The picture shows some of the 40 volunteers who have toiled for several days in the Bridgend Centre to create the tableaux on slabs of clay. These have been taken out and mounted at the various locations for public viewing.

Greg Fountain 2009

More pictures


The eight sites are:

  • The Greg Fountain, Bollington Cross (picture left);
  • The Nat West Bank on Ashbrook Road, being decorated for the first time by the Bollington Cross & Lowerhouse W.I.;
  • The Ash brook (behind Barrow’s Butchers), decorated this year by the children and adults from St John’s and Pott Shrigley schools;
  • The Recreation Ground; the Friends of the Rec have made a special request that we decorate the bridge over the river this year. This is in the capable hands of the Bollington Flower Club. Look in the water, there might be a surprise;
  • The Memorial Gardens, another new site for this year;
  • Defiance Mill, Queen Street is our third new site. Here a textile flower garden has been prepared. The space above is for the public to decorate with stars and sparkly things please. We have saved all the decorations placed in previous years and some of these are being used in a display in the window of Belfield’s Bakery throughout the month of July;
  • Pool Bank Well, by the approach to the Bollington Print Shop from Pool Bank Car Park, is also being decorated for the first time this year, by kind permission of the owner, Jon Weston;
  • Cow Lane Spring. At this site, whole flowers are being used to depict some of the planets.

2008 A great show once again!

Well dressingOur fourth annual Well Dressing was launched by Town Mayor, Councillor Helen Kennedy (right), at an opening Ceremony on Saturday 12th July at the Greg Fountain by the Cock & Pheasant. There was an excellent Dancing display by children from St Gregory’s School.

Six sites were decorated this year. All proceeds went to the Bridgend Centre as Bollington Well Dressing is a Bridgend Community Project.

The six locations were ...

  1. The Greg Fountain, at junction of Bollington Road and Flash Lane.
  2. The Ash Brook, in the car park of Barrows Butchers, Henshall Road.
  3. The Cloutie - this self dress site is in the beer garden at the Vale Inn, Adlington Road.
  4. The River Dean in the Recreation Ground.
  5. Cow Lane Spring , at the top of Lord Street.
  6. Endon Cottage spring, at the junction of Higher Lane and the Rally Road (no vehicular access; please park in Kerridge and walk up).


The origin of Well Dressing is something of a mystery and may date back to the Celts or even earlier. At its simplest, it is the art of decorating springs and wells as a thanksgiving for the gift of water.

In some places precious items were placed in the water itself. We are continuing this tradition on the Recreation Ground by having a model of a fish, made from aluminium cans, in the River Dean. The model has been made by the Rainbows, Brownies and Guides of Bollington, in collaboration with the Visual Arts Committee of the Bollington Festival. Two more models are planned for exhibition at next year’s Bollington Festival and Well Dressing.

Close to the Recreation Ground is an example of another type of Well Dressing. In a tradition that pre-dates the petalled Well Dressing boards, trees are decorated and you can make a wish with every decoration placed. These are called “Cloutie” sites. In Scotland the word “clout” means a rag or cloth. This is a tradition that survives in many places in the world – South America, Tibet, and now Bollington! We have had two “Cloutie” sites before at Ingersley Vale. This year we decided it was unsafe to use that site and have moved to the beer garden of The Vale. We have saved all the decorations placed in previous years and some of these are being used in a display in the window of Belfield’s Bakery throughout the month of June.

Cow Lane Spring is being decorated for the second time by the ladies of the Bollington Flower Club. At this site, whole flowers are used.

The Greg Fountain, by the Cock & Pheasant, the board by the Ash Brook (the stream behind Barrow’s Butchers and the Bay Leaf Restaurant on Henshall Road) and the board at Endon Cottage (at the junction of the Rally Road and Higher Lane, Kerridge) are all examples of clayed and petalled boards.

These boards were submerged in water for a week before being filled with clay which was smoothed to a level surface then decorated with seeds, leaves, petals, and other natural materials.

2007 well dressing better than ever!

The well dressing ceremony took place on Saturday 14th July 2007 at the Greg Fountain, Bollington Cross, followed by the traditional Maypole dancing this year excellently performed by the children of Dean Valley school.

In addition, other water features have been decorated including the trough at the top of Lord Street, the waterside in front of Clarence Mill and the small waterfall just up Ingersley Vale (not the big waterfall at the top end!).

In 2006, seven wells!

In 2005 a small group of people set out to start a new tradition in the town by dressing the Greg fountain at Bollington Cross (see below) in a manner popular in many Derbyshire villages. The response to that event, both in the numbers who came to see the dressing and, perhaps more importantly, the number of volunteers who got involved with the project surprised all concerned. Rather than just repeat last year's event, 15 July 2006 saw the launch of Bollington's Well Dressing Trail. No less than seven sites were decorated, linked together to form an accessible and enjoyable walk in and around the town. Water was the central and uniting theme of this year's Well Dressing Trail. In the rainy North West we may be forgiven for taking water for granted but in other parts of the world, and indeed other parts of this country, it is a resource to be valued. Water can be found at all the sites selected, but none is actually a well.


Wells and springs have been decorated, or 'dressed', since pre-Christian times to give thanks for the gift of life-sustaining water. At its simplest flowers or coloured ribbons would have been left at the well as an offering and there are historical references to this practice locally. This has grown to the extremely complicated designs which we see in Derbyshire today. These dressings celebrate a variety of themes but in many instances the original purpose has been forgotten.


  • The designs are prepared full size on paper.
  • Specially prepared boards are soaked for a week to help the dressing stay damp. A grid of large headed nails on the boards helps retain the clay which is pressed into place and smoothed off.
  • Over a three-day period the designs will be laid out on the clay. The process has to be completed quickly as the materials used are perishable and the clay will start to dry out.
  • Tracings of the design are laid onto the clay panels and the design pricked through.
  • The outline of the design is pressed in using seeds, cones, peppercorns etc.
  • Next the design is filled in using a variety of natural materials.
  • Flower petals, which are the most delicate go on in the final day.

While the technique for producing these 'petal pictures' is painstaking, it is easily mastered. Those doing it for the fist time last year found it an enjoyable and rewarding experience, and with more displays to do this year why not consider joining in.

Four of the seven dressings were made by this method, but in order to add variety and interest three were prepared in other ways, described below.

The opening was followed by a Dancing Display by Bollington Cross School.

The Mayor then proceeded by pony and trap to the Drop-In Centre to launch the Trail.

First Well Dressing in 2005!

The Town was looking for new events as a way of bringing more community fun into the town, with the added benefit of bringing more visitors into Bollington. A very popular activity is Well Dressing and the first was held in July 2005. It was such a great success that it is now an annual event!

Well dressing 2005, Bollington CrossThe first Bollington Well Dressing ceremony was held at the Greg Fountain, Bollington Cross (opposite the Cock & Pheasant Inn) on Saturday 23rd July 2005. Around 200 people joined the Town Mayor, Cllr Sandra Edwards, at the well to see her unveil the beautifully made decorations. We were all delighted to see that the water had been re-connected to the fountain and the final act of the ceremony was to start the water flowing once again!

Well dressing 2005, Bollington CrossThe lower panel is very cleverly designed on an underwater theme.

Panel from The MountThe staff and residents of The Mount, the former Greg family home and now a nursing home, had put their hearts into this event first of all by preparing their own decoration for the fountain (left) and secondly by turning out in large numbers to enjoy the ceremony.

Maypole dancing, Bollington CrossA special addition to the festivity was a very well practiced Maypole Dance performed by the pupils of Dean Valley Primary School. This was very much enjoyed by the enthusiastic audience.

Maypole crown

The fountain

The fountain was installed in memory of the Greg family, who lived at The Mount and developed Lowerhouse Mill, in the late 19th century. While it no longer supplies water either to the community or passing horses, cattle and dogs it does provide a charming focal point for the area. The mention of dogs refers to the small dog water trough at the foot of the fountain on the right!

Well dressing

The activity of well dressing involves the preparation of a display of flowers, seeds and other natural materials on a bed of clay set in an artistic frame. The flower petals and other items are arranged to construct a picture which will be admired by all.

The display is developed over the couple of weeks prior to Well Dressing day and unveiled after a short ceremony for all to see and enjoy.

On Well Dressing day (23rd July) the unveiling will be supported by the Town Mayor, Councilor Mrs Sandra Edwards, and the children from Dean Valley school who will give a display of Maypole Dancing. Everyone is very welcome to come and enjoy the day!

Origins ...

Well Dressing has its origins in Derbyshire - a pagan ceremony to bless the well water which was so critical to the maintenance of life in an area. If the well went dry the community might have to move on. A good and reliable well was essential for the establishment of a stable and prosperous community.

These old ceremonies have been continued into the modern era quite simply because they are good fun and a way of getting the community together for social pleasure. Nowadays the unveiling ceremony often has a religious element to it. In recent years well dressing has been re-established or, indeed, established for the first time, in many villages throughout the Peak District and surrounding area and we see no reason why Bollington should not do the same.

Come and join us!

If you are interested or just want further information please phone Jean on 572559.

For more information on well dressing have a look at:

Well Dressing in Derbyshire

Information on Well Dressings in Derbyshire

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