Wonders of the Peak 2: The Ebbing and Flowing Well

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, …


0 Introduction – 1 Chatsworth – 2 The Ebbing and Flowing Well – 3 Eldon Hole – 4 St Ann’s Well – 5 Poole’s Cavern – 6 Mam Tor – 7 The Devil’s Arse

Wonders of the Peak 1: Chatsworth

What can I say about Chatsworth that has not been said better by the gushing tributes of many ages? A house so large as to defy photography. This is a glorious house and estate, set in the verdant dale of the Derwent and a landscape transformed from the roughness of the Peak to produce the finest lordly park in the land.

The house that stands today is not the one which Thomas Hobbes knew. That house, built by the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick, was an enormous Tudor house, famed in its time, and the pictures we have are of an astounding building for that time. Of that time, The Hunting Tower remains, perched high on a wooded hill, from which the ladies could watch the hunt below, and a ‘fishing platform’ bigger than a house. The house today though is a huge, early Baroque palace, built by Hobbes’s last patron, the 4th Earl and and 1st Duke of Devonshire. He received the promotion of his title as a reward for his active role in overthrowing James II and inviting William of Orange to take the throne in his place. Perhaps he had in mind what Hobbes said about when subjects no longer have duties to the Sovereign:

The Obligation of Subjects to the Soveraign is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them. For the right men have by Nature to protect themselves, when none else can protect them, can by no Covenant be relinquished. The Soveraignty is the Soule of the Common-wealth; which once departed from the Body, the members doe no more receive their motion from it. The end of Obedience is Protection; which, wheresoever a man seeth it, either in his own, or in anothers sword, Nature applyeth his obedience to it, and his endeavour to maintaine it. And though Soveraignty, in the intention of them that make it, be immortall; yet is it in its own nature, not only subject to violent death, by forreign war; but also through the ignorance, and passions of men, it hath in it, from the very institution, many seeds of a naturall mortality, by Intestine Discord.

The house the Duke built is astounding in scale and filled with art to which I am unable to do justice. The parkland though – that is a wonder all of itself, crafted over several generations of the Cavendish family.

The Derwent is a cool, languid river here, simply making its course southward, and the harsh Peak landscape is forgotten, in a soft, lush landscape. Above the broad valley though the Peak reasserts itself. The park at Chatsworth is a tribute to all these qualities. The house stands close to the valley bottom, but the park of nearly two thousand acres encompasses the meadowland but then also climbs the steep slope. It has green lawns, parkland where sheep safely graze, then beyond is a pinetum, planted with pine trees of the Americas, and close by a grotto and rockery of rocks in fantastical shapes, reminiscent of the shapes of the Peak.

A cascade tumbles down the hill, carefully crafted by man, but the water is from springs on the wild hill about. Beside the house is a fountain, a huge spout of water bursts 290 feet into the air – all without pumps, just from the natural height of the springs from which the water comes.

None of the house nor the landscaping would have been known to Hobbes or Camden before him, but they are the result of man settling in a remarkable landscape, which they did know.

ON th’ English Alps, where Darbies Peak doth rise,
High up in Hills, that Emulate the Skies,
And largely Waters all the Vales below,
With Rivers that still plentifully Flow,
Doth Chatsworth by swift Derwins Channel stand,
Fam’d for it’s Pile, and Lord, for both are grand.
Slowly the River by its Gates doth pass,

Here silent, as in Wonder of the place,
But does from Rocky precipices move
In rapid streams below it, and above.
A losty Mountain guards the house behind,
From the assaults of the rough Eastern wind;
Which does from far it’s rugged Cliffs display,
And Sleep prolongs, by shutting out the day.

Behind, a pleasant Garden does appear;
Where the rich earth, breaths odours every where.
Where in the midst of woods, the fruitful Tree
Fears without prune-hook, seeming now as free.
Where by the thick leav’d roof the Walls are made
Spite of the Sun were all his beams display’d
More cool than the fam’d Virgil’s Beechen shade.

Where Art (it self dissembling) rough hewn stone
And craggy flints worn out by dropping on
Together joyning by the workmans tool)
Makes horrid rocks, and watry caverns cool.


0 Introduction1 Chatsworth2 The Ebbing and Flowing Well3 Eldon Hole4 St Ann’s Well5 Poole’s Cavern6 Mam Tor7 The Devil’s Arse

Wonder of the Peak 0: introduction

De Mirabilibus Pecci is one of the lesser works of Thomas Hobbes, but influential, as others have followed him to explore and describe the Seven Wonders of the Peak. Over the next seven days (if I can manage it) I would like to look at them too.

William Camden may have been to record the tradition of seven wonders in the Peak District:

There are in High Peake wonders three,
A deepe hole, Cave, and Den,
Commodities as many bee,
Led, Grasse, and Sheepe in pen.
And Beauties three there are withall,
A Castle, Bath, Chatsworth.
With places more yet meet you shall
That are of meaner worth.

The Peak District is a wonderous place, certainly, and choosing just seven places for a list is limiting. The list, by Camden then by Hobbes, is fixed now, and ranges in themes that explore the eclectic nature of the Peak District.

Hobbes was born, of course, in Wiltshire, but he travelled widely, and lived for many years as a guest of the Earls of Devonshire, his patrons. He composed De Mirabilibus Pecci (‘Of the Wonders of the Peak’) as a grateful tribute to the 3rd Earl, his former pupil and his patron (who owned much of the Peak). It is a long poem, in Latin so I cannot comment on the quality of the poetry. The quality of the seven wonders he listed however I can explore. Mercifully for readers, I will do so in prose.


0 Introduction – 1 Chatsworth2 The Ebbing and Flowing Well3 Eldon Hole4 St Ann’s Well5 Poole’s Cavern6 Mam Tor7 The Devil’s Arse