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rebecca's well

PICTURED: The delightful Rebecca's Well, Crazies Hill, Berkshire.

THIS astonishing and beautiful well, lies almost hidden in woods in Berkshire. Historian Michael Bayley explains the history behind it.

Up until the birth of the Oxford Movement of the Church of England, the parson preached on Sundays, married, baptised and buried his parishioners, collected his tithes, and passed on his dues to his superiors and presided over the village feast, generally assisting the lord of the manor in matters spiritual. Men were born to their station and minded their own business, and so in general the people of the hills between Henley and Cookham, south of the Thames were left free from ecclesiastical interference and largely ignorant of Christianity and what went on in the rest of England as well into the mid 19th century.

Then a new sort of missionary and pastoral curate was appointed to Wargrave just as had been to Cookham Dean 40 years earlier. He walked up the hill out of Wargrave and as far as he was concerned he walked a thousand years back in history as he climbed Crazies Hill. The people of Crazies Hill had neat little cottages - no lighting but oil lamps and penny dips or candles, no drainage or refuse collection but the annual removal of the midden (rubbish dump), and no water except that from the muddy pool and the spring in the woods known as Rebra's Well. The Rev Grenville Phillimore was shocked and he determined to help these poor villagers even though he was poor himself.

 By his publicity he raised enough funds to have a proper basin fitted to the spring in 1870 so that the water would not be sullied by the mud. Then, because the villagers seemed to treat their spring as thing to be worshipped in itself, he had a cross erected there to claim it for his religion and at the same time decided that Rebra must be a run down form of the Biblical name, Rebecca, for she was chosen to be Isaac's wife when she went to the well to draw water. He added a text and a verse from Chaucer for good measure and to crown his work his parishioners raised a further £25 to build the brick building around the spring. Because of his work, many people called the spring Phillimore's Spring. The Reverend gentleman himself insisted on Rebecca Well, but the local people who drew the water there and lived at Crazies Hill still called it Rebra's Well.

 This is an abridged version of the article that first appeared in the now out-of-print book, Strange Berkshire.

Want to visit the well yourself? See Streetmap.co.uk for its exact location.