wishing wells


wishing wells
   A popular custom nowadays is to throw *coins into water, making a wish. It is obviously related to offerings at holy and healing *wells, and may well be equally old, though less fully documented; in 19th-century Shropshire and Herefordshire there were wells into which people dropped pebbles or *pins while making a wish in a ritualistic way - in silence, or at midnight, or drinking water from one's hand and tossing the rest at a particular stone (Burne, 1883: 422-9; Leather, 1912: 13). The OED's first record for the term 'wishing well' is from 1792.
   This behaviour is often actively publicized and encouraged, to amuse tourists and/or raise money for charity or for the upkeep of a museum, beauty spot, etc. In most cases, the water is clear and shallow, showing the offerings of previous visitors, and the 'well' is often a man-made fountain or artificial pool. Among innumerable and very varied examples may be mentioned the ancient hot springs at Bath, an old mill at Bibury (Gloucestershire), the cascades at Gatwick Airport, and a former baptismal pool in a church converted to a pub in Worthing (Sussex) JS]. At Bibury, a notice offers two *origin stories: first, that whenever ancient Romans crossed water, they threw silver coins in; secondly, that 'It is told that a poor mill worker dropped his meagre wages into a millstream. He was unable to find his money, but on looking for his money next day he found a purse of gold sovereigns. Every time he passed the stream again he threw in a coin, and his luck continued to improve.'

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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