There are two schools of thought regarding where well dressing first began. One is that is began in Tissington in Derbyshire just after the Black Death in 1348-49. A large part of the population of England died during the plague, but some towns and villages were left untouched, one of these was Tissington. The local people attributed their good fortune to their clean water supply and so dressed the well with flowers and greenery to give thanks.
The second school of thought is that the practice goes back to our Pagan ancestors, in part because there is usually a ‘Well Queen’ which some think the well dressing could have been a form of fertility right.
Either way it is a tradition that is unique to the Peak District and the surrounding areas of Derbyshire and a part of South Yorkshire.
The construction of the modern well dressing is a skilful art in which most of the village takes part.
A wooden backing board is covered with clay and then a pattern is pricked out from a paper template, then petals and other foliage is used to bring the picture – usually with a religious theme – is brought to life. The clay must be kept damp for the life of the dressing or it will just crumble away.
If a town or village has several wells to be dressed there will be a procession around them, led by a band and there will be a short outdoor service of thanksgiving at each well.