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THE WHITTLESTONE AND THE LADY WELL

 

(First performed in Springfield Sanctuary August 2004)

 

NARATOR: Amongst the legends of Gloucestershire is one very close to us tonight. It is said that when Stow on the Wold church clock strikes 12, the Whittlestone walks down to the Lady Well in Lower Swell and drinks. Why should this be?

WHITTLESTONE: I am the Whittlestone. I was dug from the bed of the Cotswold rocks 5000 years ago by men wearing clothes made from animal furs and using axes made from flints brought from hundreds of miles away and axes made from animals’ horns. I was set at the top of the hill, behind the church when there were no buildings on the land, only woods and open pasture where the animals grazed. They set me there to mark the entrance to the round barrow, their special place of burial for those who had passed on into the world of the ancestors.

ROUND BARROW: I am the Chief whose house became my final resting place. I took my weapons and some food with me into the spirit world. I protect others within my tribe whose bodies are brought here for burial. They lie around me, protected by the stone walls and the earth and they have planted grass over the top of us. There are other barrows here which mark the tombs of my people and the Whittlestone shows where we lie.

Whittlestone: (Butting in) Except they moved me! Over the years the frost cracked my face. Then I fell and lay in the earth, but people still remembered my name. When the pastures were ploughed up for crops, the farmers cursed me when they could not plough over me. In the eighteenth century, the vicar brought some men and dug me up and dragged me with many horses half way down the hill. I was too important to be lost for ever, so they planted my stump into the earth once again by the side of the road. When they built the village hall, they wrote a plaque to remind people who I was. I am but a shadow of my former self!

HOARSTONE: (Jumping up and down) Don’t forget me, don’t forget me! My name means old stone and I sit in the field above the village where the parish boundary is marked. I have a history too. Before the Round Barrow was created, I was part of a chambered cairn where the people of the tribe came to join their ancestors. Their bones were separated – the skulls and long bones were very important. Every year when the time was right, the priests and the chief came to open the cairn and collect the special bones to show them to the people. Sometimes the bones would be carried around the boundaries of the land, to show who had the power of custodianship (that means who was there to look after it!) If the chief did not have the blessings of his ancestors to govern the land, someone else would come and take it away or maybe even drive the whole tribe away! My chambers were used for hundreds and hundreds of years, but when I became full, they closed the entrance with stones and grass grew over the stop of me. Wind and rain has blown away the earth from around me and the feet of animals and the blade of the plough has broken my chambers. Only I am left and I stand here.

LADY WELL: I am the Ladywell. Water bubbles from the ground and gives life to the people and plants. All water is sacred for it comes from the world below and out into the world above. I am guarded by a female sprite because all waters come from the Mother Goddess, or so my people believe. The Romans called them the Duboni, in their Latin tongue, but they were Celts and they called me sacred. They drank my waters for its healing properties and their priests would sleep by my side to walk in the spirit world and bring back teachings into the world of men. Many people brought me offerings to grant their wishes, or to honour me. Others used to throw special gifts into me to see how they floated or spun. Even down the ages maidens would be drawn to my powers to discover the name of their future husband no matter what their priests said about such heathen customs.

Of course when the Hwicci tribe of Saxons turned from their Northern Gods and followed the cross, their priests wanted to destroy all the signs of the Old Ways. They built churches on the sacred places and some broke up the stone circles or buried them beneath the ground so that people could not use them for worship any more. But the people loved me and the priests did not know what to do for the best. So Pope Gregory had a cunning plan. He told the priests not to destroy the sacred wells, but to baptise them and give them the name of a Christian saint. I was dedicated to the Mother of God, the Lady, which never bothered me, for am I not part of the Mother of all things. (sighs) But now my people have mostly forgotten me.  Here I sit at the entrance to The Abbots Wood, watching towards fields where once the ancient village stood. My well house was built in Medieval times and now those who love wells visit me and wonder about my past. Come, taste my waters!

WHITTLESTONE: I know where you are, Ladywell. Only your waters will replenish me.

STOW CLOCK: (chimes) Don’t forget my part in all this! I may not be as old as everyone else, but I’m just as important! Without the sound of my chimes you would not know the time of midnight. Midnight is a very special time – a time of change, a time when the old day becomes the new, a time which draws magic into the world of men. Without my chimes, Whittlestone, you could not use the magic to walk down the hill and drink at the Ladywell and then return to your place once more.

(asks audience) Do you want to see magic work?

AUDIENCE: Yes!

STOW CLOCK: Should I let my bell strike?

AUDIENCE: Yes!

STOW CLOCK: Then you will have to help me count my chimes. Will you do that?

AUDIENCE: Yes!!

STOW CLOCK: (Chimes 12 chimes waiting for the audience to count the number after each one. After the 12th chime, the Whittlestone lumbers down to the Ladywell, takes a drink and then wanders back up to his place.)

 

THE END

 

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