On Saturday afternoon we took the opportunity to see the well dressings at nearby Etwall, a village located to the south-west of Derby.
Well dresssing is a custom observed in over 50 villages around Derbyshire; Etwall probably being the most southerly of them all. Most are in the Peak District and Derbyshire Dales where they have been held for hundreds of years. Etwall is a relative new comer to well dressing as it was first celebrated in the village in 1970.
This year, Etwall celebrated with 8 wells, all decorated by various organisations in the village, including a wonderful example by the local primary school.
A blessing of the wells service was held in the morning to officially open the festival. In addition to the well dressings there was entertainment and activities for the whole family, various craft stalls and demonstrations and a special flypast by the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster. This was of particular interest to a number of residents and their families who work for Rolls Royce in nearby Derby. ‘Royces’ built the engines for the Lancasters in WW2.
The true origins of Well Dressing are unclear. Some accounts say it developed from a pagan custom of making sacrifice to the gods of wells and springs to ensure a continued supply of fresh water. Like many folk traditions, it was later adopted by the Christian Church as a way of giving thanks to God for His gift to us of water.
In the early days, the dressing of wells would have taken the form of simple arrangements of flowers and other natural materials. The unique Derbyshire tradition of elaborate pictures made for the most part of individual flower petals pressed onto clay covered boards seems to date from Victorian times, when there were many movements afoot to revive and enhance old folk traditions. It can take up to seven days to make and soak the clay covered boards and then decorate them.