Image: Derbyshire well dressing at Ashford in the Water.Well Dressing is a celebrated Derbyshire custom that attracts locals and tourists alike. It takes a great deal of dedication and skill from village and townspeople to produce these transient pieces of art. It is not unique to Derbyshire but it is probably practiced its most highly developed form here.

It is not clear exactly when the custom of well dressing began but it is generally accepted that the village of Tissington revived well dressing in the mid 14th century but it didn't really capture the public imagination until Victorian times, the source of many of our English traditions. Well dressing celebrates the source(s) of clean water in a village or town. It is now strongly linked with the Christian Church but may have its roots in Pagan worship. If indeed it started during pre-christian times, it was probably through superstition and was more to appease their gods and ensure that the supply continued. During well dressing, the local well or spring is decorated with a picture made from plant materials - berries, petals, leaves and, in the case of Holymoorside, entire flowers.

Dressing a well takes a great deal of planning by the locals. After the planning stage, it can take the dressing team a week or so to put together the picture that will last for only a week or two at most. A wooden frame is soaked (traditionally in the local river or stream) and filled with soft clay. The outline of the picture is transferred to the clay and then the 'petallers' take over. They skilfully add the colour using a variety of plant materials to arrive at the finished article. It is this technique of creating a picture from natural materials in a clay filled frame that is at the heart of Derbyshire well dressing. The pictures are very often religious or specific to Derbyshire, but we have seen more modern subjects, notably in 2010 we saw cartoon characters on several of the wells at Ashford in the Water.

There is no real point in us publishing the dates when they are published elsewhere on the net - a good site for well dressing dates is http://welldressing.com/ plus a load of more detailed well dressing information if you want more than the brief introduction we have given here. We recommend that you contact the appropriate local tourist information office to confirm dates and times if you are coming specifically to a particular dressing.


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