On the north side of the Cloister Garth stood the Holy Well, from which some writers have derived the name of Senlac, given to this place by Ordericus Vitalis. It is mentioned in Queen Elizabeth's time, as a place held sacred by recusants' :—whither many, especially women, resort, like a young pilgrimage, and call it Dr. Graye's well.' This Dr. Grey was a priest, who had been committed to prison by Sir Francis Walsingham, about a year before, and was then chaplain to the Dowager Viscountess Montague, a zealous Roman Catholic, at that time resident at the Abbey. I have heard,' continues the report, that there have been above a score together there at evening prayer time on a Sunday.' It was afterwards known as the Wishing Well, and was unfortunately destroyed in the course of Sir Godfrey Webster's alterations, in 1814. One of the workmen employed described it to me as a square opening five or six feet wide, enclosed by a massive stone wall nearly seven feet high; a flight of steps led up to it on either side, and at each angle was what he called a vase, or receptacle for flowers and votive offerings. The spring was conveyed to the other side of the church wall, and now furnishes the drinking water of the household; it is remarkably sweet and pure, and we appreciated it for its own sake long before we were made aware that it was the charmed water of the old Holy Well.
The Holy Well of Battle Abbey not only proves how much there is still waiting to be discovered in the field of holy wells - I haven't seen it referred to by anyone else - but it is interesting on at least three other counts. First, it must be a holy well without any pagan antecedents, as Battle only exists because of its Abbey established as Duke William's thank-offering for the victory of Senlac Hill. Second, assuming it had some reverence paid to it in the intervening centuries, it shows a group of Roman Catholics using a holy well as an element in an attempt to keep the traditional religion going in the protected environment of a great house under the patronage of an aristocratic family. Third, it shows that sacred status declining into that of a wishing well, in the way we assume often happens but can so rarely demonstrate. How is it that this fascinating and, arguably, important site has so far escaped anyone's attention?
There's also a house in the town called Prior's Well, and I remember passing a cottage named Jacob's Well a few miles away on the main road. Would anyone care to do a proper survey of Sussex's holy wells?