The Art of Well Dressing

Well dressing is an ancient Derbyshire tradition that involves the arrangement of flower petals and other natural materials onto clay boards. It is a skilful art that is still celebrated in villages across the county today.

The art of well dressing is believed to have originated around the time of the Black Death in 1348-1349. This harrowing disease was widely spread across the country, however it remained absent from the Derbyshire village of Tissington. The villagers of Tissington attributed this to the purity of the local water supply. In order to give thanks for the water, they began ‘dressing’ the wells and springs in the area. The well dressings encapsulated religious scenes, wildlife, landscapes and cartoon characters and were exceedingly striking and beautiful in their natural design.

Denby supplies the clay to a number of local well dressings. The clay is first puddled and then set into frames. In the week prior to the celebration, the materials are gathered from the surrounding area. Once the design has been marked out, the intricate process of pressing the petals, berries, bark, seeds, moss, wool and many other natural materials begins – this can take up to seven days. The use of such organic materials aids the design process and allows for the designers to introduce diverse colours, shapes and textures into the clay. The petals are precisely angled with the rounded edge facing downwards to create a smooth surface which prevents rainfall damage. They also draw the water from the clay which helps to preserve the well dressing.

With thanks to one of our designers, Tom Allen for researching, Shaun Walters for the photos of Waingroves well dressings above and Rosemary Timms and all those featured in the photos of Milford and Makeney's well dressings below. Derbyshire’s well dressings are run from May through to September – you can find the full calendar for 2016 here.

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