The Art of Well Dressing

The village well dressing committee begins work many months before the preparation of the well for the August Bank Holiday weekend. A key early task is the selection of the theme for the main picture and the detailed design of the central panel.

This is a work of art and draftsmanship of the highest order. The theme of Wormhill well dressings has moved from biblical scenes in the 1950s to the depiction of churches and cathedrals which has become more usual in recent times.

well dressing 1951

In the week before the process of well dressing begins, the wooden framework is soaked in water before the locally dug clay is trodden to the right consistency and carefully applied to the framework.

well dressing 1951

The main picture of the central panel and the patterns for the outer frames, after being transferred to paper, are traced onto the clay using a toothed wheel. This outline is marked out with reeds and sometimes with alder cones gathered from the nearby valley of the river Wye.

Then comes the delicate and laborious task of constructing the picture with a combination of flower petals, leaves, berries and other natural materials to create the desired colours, shades and textures.

well dressing 1951

Petals are overlaid in rows like roof slates in graduated shading for artistic effect and to offset any rain while the well is on display. Other plants such as statice and parsley are used as necessary for background. As much material as possible is collected from the local landscape and gardens. Artificial and man-made materials are strictly avoided. Many dedicated villagers gather in the barn at Hargate Wall to create the dressing. They work through the day and night for 5 days; several hundred hours work goes into the dressing to make the Friday night deadline. The well dressing is erected at the Brindley Memorial after evening milking on the Friday night, and remains on show for 9 days. A second smaller well is also on show in the churchyard of St Margaret's Church.well dressing 1951

 

An open air church service accompanied by a local brass band is held at the well on the first Saturday evening and is always strongly supported by the village community. The display is seen by many visitors who are also hosted to teas and sales of work in the village hall. The proceeds from the well dressing week provide an essential support for the local community, church and village hall as well as producing a focus of activity and pride for the whole population.