What a contrast this is to Chatsworth: the latter a vast palace in an exquisite garden of nearly two thousand acres, and this a small, dribbling well. This well though, or a well somewhere, was such as to excite the attentions of mediaeval monkish scholars, and later of William Camden and of Thomas Hobbes, who reports at length the remarkable properties in it.
The well in the picture is possibly not it. Hobbes in his poem reports it as a thousand paces from the Eldon Hole, another great wonder. Tideswell, the reputed location, is somewhat further. The rival claimant is to the east of Banmoor Clough, between Peak Forest and Chapel-en-le-Frith. Neither ebbs nor flows.
Hobbes reports that the well he saw was small, with a double wellhead, two yards by a little less, and the local legend was that the well was connected by some secret channel to the sea, so that the water would ebb and flow with the tide. Hobbes reports that he waited by the well for anything to happen, then having abandoned the watch and turned away, he heard from a distance the gushing of waters, turned his horse around and hurried back to see the waters indeed rising and filling the well. A wonder indeed.
Hobbes was not convinced, even in verse, that the tide drove the changing of the waters, or the sun and moon, nor knew what secret channel could effect it. The effect was a wonder though, and had been noted since the Middle Ages as a noteworthy wonder.
Daniel Defoe came in a later generation to explore the Seven Wonders of the peak and the Ebbing and Flowing Well he sought in Tideswell. He declared the well he was shown “A poor thing indeed to make a wonder of”. I am not sure that the well I have pictured is the right one or even the one Defoe saw: some say it is in a garden down the road, and all agree that it ceased to ebb and flow in the eighteenth century after works nearby that smashed the underground channels affecting it. This one is a double wellhead in a way though: another well head is found a hundred yards or so up the road, though even less impressive.
The rival claimant, closer though still more than still more that a thousand yards off Eldon Hole, is a spot marked as a pond on the maps label “Ebbing and Flowing Well”, but there is no obvious sign of a well, and not is not the two-yard double well-head Hobbes describes. There is a long, dug lake with security fences. Opposite, where the map suggests, by a disused farm gate, there is a depression in the ground which the map seems to mark as a pond. It may be that once this was the location of a well head, from which water gushed up to amaze writers and philosophers of past ages, now lost. It is said of this well (wherever it was) that it was dried up by the building of the Dove Holes Tunnel, which carries the railway though a spur by Banmoor Clough, started in 1860. An underground river was found and diverted, which action dried the well.
All we know is that in some spot in the peak, near Eldon Hill, there is, or was, a well whose motions astounded or puzzled learned men for centuries, such that it was a veritable wonder of the Peak.
A mark is by the swelling waters made,
Which gives the stony brink a signal shade.
Which by its blackness to have ebb’d of late
Discerning it uneasie seem’d to wait
So long until the tide again came on.
So we our Horse heads turn for to be gone.
When we’re call’d back by th’ gushing waters noise,
And see them plainly on the Stones to rise.
Now the full Fountains waters boil apace,
As when fierce fires we under Cauldrons place,
The water cannot rest that is above,
But shuns the mettle, and does volant prove.
When near the Font from the aforesaid head
A rivulet does suddainly proceed, …