‘Where do you live?’
‘Like the water?’
‘Yeah, like the water.’
*Insert eye roll*
Stories from Buxton Water
Most people who live in Buxton, forget the Well. Except for once a year when they are covered in dried petals, but that’s another story.
The famous St Anne’s Well is the spring where the renowned Buxton water comes from. It’s located in the centre of town. Nestled right between the high street and the path that leads to the perfectly manicured Pavilion Gardens. You could easily miss it, if you didn’t know it was there.
This version of the Well was built in the 1940s. “The well of living waters” is said to have healing properties. Mending the sick and easing aching joints, for centuries it has been the site of a hospital. The water takes 5,000 years to filter from rainfall down through the earth, past old ancient Derbyshire limestone, to then be pumped back up to the surface at a balmy 27 degrees, filled with minerals.
I used to walk past that Well every day to and from work.
Eventually, I didn’t see it anymore. It faded into the background as a blur of the everyday world around me. I didn’t notice it.
Yet people from near and far queue to fill their bottles and jerry cans, empty milk cartons and buckets with the magic Buxton water. Thirsty dogs on hot days jump up and use the spring as a personal water fountain and kids walking by in the summer use it for water fights. So, there is no surprise that when lockdown started the Well was closed.
Like most people, I enjoyed my daily walks at the start of lockdown, a sense of freedom and something that had to be done each day. It was after all the only time we were allowed outside. Since then, I’ve kept up my daily walks and I’ve been walking past that Well almost every day.
Yet my attention was only drawn to it when I realised it had been closed. A huge ugly metal casing was padlocked around the precious waters and social distancing signs were placed in front of the 80-year-old structure.
We don’t notice things until they are missing. We only notice when they’ve gone. We don’t appreciate or see them when they’re here.
We only notice the missing.
Last week the Well was opened once more.
Stopping in my tracks on one of my daily walks, I noticed it. I saw it. The flowers surrounding it seemed so vibrant, the purple of the petals was so deeply pigmented, they looked like artwork. The sound of the flowing water as it splashed against the walls of the ancient fountain once more, tapping and pinging and trickling. It sounded so alive.
I forced myself to notice its presence because I had noticed it’s missing, and I wanted to feel the moment of realisation when I knew it was back. I wanted to be present.
I took some time to really take it in. Looking for the things I had stopped seeing before.
- The brass lion’s head.
- The tiny blue mosaic tiles spotted with gold.
- The flowers the girl holds in the bronze statue.
- And finally, the tribute. I noticed the faded and disappearing words so carefully chiselled into the stone. They were a tribute.
Emelie Dorothea Bounds. A councillor of this borough marked by her husband and daughter.
Gosh, Emelie must have been so loved. Can you imagine? Your husband and daughter order a tribute to be built. You are named on the most famous Well in Derbyshire (arguably) and Derbyshire folk have a thing about Wells. What a powerhouse she must have been.
You can see from this picture, how years ago the words were bold, etched deeply for all to see. But the harsh Buxton weather and the relentless passage of time has let them fade.
History has let the details of Emelie’s life fade too. I tried for hours to find more about the life of this woman. But her story seems to be missing. And in that missing I noticed her. This woman with a family who loved her so powerfully, so consuming, that this infamous landmark was attributed to her. Her memory and work. For years and years, the people of Buxton, the tourists will look up and see her faded name.
In the missing, we notice what’s gone.
Stories of change
There has been so much more I’ve missed over the last few months and in the missing, I’ve noticed more and about more about my life and what I take for granted. What about you friend? What do you miss when you notice it’s gone?
Touch. Taking for a granted a pat on the back and a hug when greeting friends. We don’t notice it when it’s there. But when it’s gone, it feels huge. We feel it in the missing. The empty space where physical comfort should be. The space a phone call, a text or a 2-meter gap can never fill.
I feel even more change coming. Moving with the tide, the change of season and the weeks and months of more missing. There are rumblings of change all around us, if you’ll give yourself time to notice.
Now my daily walks are another thing I notice through their missing. If I haven’t been, I feel like I’ve missed out. Like I’ve lost a chance to notice the day, the world, my life all in slow motion.
For now, I’ll keep walking and noticing the missing and then the welcoming back. Because it makes it even sweeter when we noticed it was gone and we can then enjoy its return.
- A 16th-century act of parliament ruled that a free supply of the spring water must be provided for the town’s residents.
- About a million litres of water flow out per day.
- The Well was denoted one of seven ‘Wonders of the Peak’ by Thomas Hobbes in 1600’s:
The Sun burnt clouds but glimmer to the fight,
when at famed Buxton’s hot bath we alight
unto St. Ann the Fountain sacred is:
With waters hot and cold its sources rise,
And in its Sulphur-veins there’s medicine lies.
This cures the palsied members of the old,
and cherishes the nerves grown stiff and cold
— Thomas Hobbes, De Mirabilibus Pecci: Being The Wonders of the Peak in Darby-shire
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