This tradition has existed as far back as recorded history goes. Although it is a pagan tradition it is thought Christians adopted it during the time of the Black Death as a way to give thanks for pure water. Christians had initially been against it and tried to end the practise as they saw it as worshipping a false god.
The tradition is still very much alive and well in rural England especially around the Peak District in Derbyshire. It can still be seen in many villages between spring and autumn.
As the name suggests this tradition involves dressing wells, springs or other sources of water with designs made of flower petals. In modern days this has also included the dressing of water taps or anywhere else water can be found.
Well dressings are created by making a wooden tray often lined with nails and covering it in clay, water and salt. The design is drawn onto paper first before being traced onto the clay by pricking the clay. Flowers, berries, seeds or any other material used is then added to complete the picture. Some groups specify only natural material should be used whereas some will allow any material. The clay must be kept damp to prevent the clay cracking and the petals falling off.
The design is carefully thought out to ensure the right colour petals are available at that time of the year. Blue hydrangeas are the favourite petals in order to create blue sky. It takes around 10 days to build a dressing and many people help along the way.
The wells are often blessed in a simple service when the dressings are erected. In modern days brass bands also often perform during the day. It can also be the start of a week of celebrations in the village that end with a carnival. During the week there may be sporting events, Morris dancing, concerts, flower festivals as well as unusual events, By the end of the week the dressings can look well worn especially if the weather has been hot so it is best to try and visit near the start of the week.
Designs can vary although many have a religious theme. Some may depict local scenes or commemorate an event. Other areas have an ongoing theme, for example Tideswell feature a different cathedral every year.
Schools are create children’s well dressings and nowadays there are some competitions run between schools.
It is a fascinating tradition and well worth seeing.