WELL DRESSING - 3
The first point to consider is where the well dressing is to be located, a very straightforward decision where a well, or tap is to be dressed, but less obvious when this is not the case. Churchyards, schoolyards, village greens and even front gardens are all used nowadays. Once a site has been established, apart from the occasional one-off event, that is where dressings are placed in the future.
When a team of volunteers has been recruited, a drawing of the proposed design for the dressing has to be completed and assessed. This is a skilled job; some wells always adopt a biblical theme, but others do not and the design has to match the tradition. The finished article should be put on to grease proofed paper the size of the board or boards where there are more than one used in the display. Where more than one design is produced the volunteers usually hold a vote to decide.
The vote at Chester Green
The boards to be used as the screen for the well dressing display are immersed for several days in a pond, or stream, before dressing commences. Where neither of these two options are available they are normally hosed down for a few hours. All this is done to ensure that the boards do not absorb the water from the clay that is placed on top of them and accelerate the drying out process.
After that the selected drawing is placed on top of the clay, and the design pricked out and the paper peeled off. Then the slow process of filling in the picture starts with all the materials that have been collected.
Children collecting well dressing materials
Gradually the picture takes shape and then the really heavy work begins, when the boards have to be transported to the site. If the distance is short the boards can be carried by a team of strong people, otherwise a truck is usually used with people walking alongside ready to shout a warning if the boards begin to slip.
At last the boards are erected and everyone breathes a sigh of relief when the well dressing fits together perfectly. That is not the end though as volunteers have to be found to supervise the site to ensure as far as possible that no damage is done and answer visitors many questions. After a week or so as the clay starts to crack and the petals to deteriorate the time arrives to take everything down and remove it from whence it came. The end, well no not really, there is next year's well dressings to plan for and the cycle begins all over again.
Chester Green, Derby
Loading the boards The final piece in the jigsaw
Chester Green erect their well dressing on the Saturday prior to the Spring Bank Holiday weekend in late May, the blessing taking place on the same day. It is located near to the site of two wells that provided water for the Roman fort of Derventio at Chester Green on the northern side of Derby. Due to unfortunate circumstances the well may not be dressed in 2004.
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WELL DRESSING RULES
Different rules apply in different places, some have rigid rules that 'only growing things' should be used, others bother less about rules and concern themselves more about results. Again some towns and villages stick rigidly to religious themes, but elsewhere designs are much more diverse.
Many places hold well dressings where there are no wells and the location of the taps, that heralded the arrival of piped water, has been forgotten. But, in other places it is a strict rule that only wells with running water are dressed.
WIRKSWORTH HERITAGE CENTRE
Here visitors can see a permanent display of how well dressings are made. The display has been re-positioned for 2004 to make room for exhibitions.
The ‘Wirksworth Story’ is told at this splendid little heritage centre and museum. You are taken on a fascinating journey through time to learn all about the history of this historic old town. For opening times and further information go to:
THE USE OF CLAY
Puddled with water, clay is used on the well dressing boards as an adhesive. Salt is added to keep the clay moist and to avoid premature cracking and preserve the flowers. Hundreds of nails protrude from the boards to 'key' the clay that is then levelled to a uniform thickness, before the petalling can begin.
All the images on this page have been kindly supplied by John and Irene North and have been taken from their highly acclaimed Well Dressing Video, which is narrated by BBC Radio Derby's Paul McKenzie.
For full details of their video collection contact:
Alpha Audio Visual www.derbyshirevideos.co.uk
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