Figgy Dowdy had a well
On top of Carn Marth hill
She locked it up night and day
Lest people carry the water away!
Carn Marth is the highest of a range of hills that stretch from Gwennap to Camborne. Rising 757ft (230m) above the village of Lanner, it is riddled with quarries and old mine workings. Carn Marth was once a place of refuge in the Bronze Age and the site of one of the beacons that used to be lit across Cornwall in times of war or celebration.
Tucked away in a cleft in the side of the hill is a spring known as Figgy Dowdy’s well.
The well has recently been restored by the Carn Marth Preservation society but as far as I know the tradition that it once shared with its sister well, Venton Bebilbell near Madron, has not been revived. In the 19th century the custom was to bring dolls to the well on a Good Friday to be ‘christened’, you can read more about it HERE.
“Figgy Dowdy’s Well, Carnmarth, Redruth, c1910,” cornishmemory.com, accessed May 9, 2018, http://cornishmemory.com/item/BRA_8_038.
The other story of Figgy Dowdy and her well goes something like this. The well was most likely the main water source for people in the area but the land on which it stood was owned by, or perhaps protected by, a lady with many different names. Whether Figgy Dowdy, also known as Margery Daw or Maggy Figgy, was a real person is up for debate.
Margery Daw is thought by some to be an early Cornish saint and Figgy Dowdy may hark back to an early fertility goddess. Robert Hunt mentions Maggy Figgy in his book Popular Romances of the West of England but to him she was a witch and a wrecker living near St Leven.
While Margery Daw, of course, was made famous by the folksong or nursery rhyme. To add to the confusion Figgy Dowdy is also the name of a pudding made with raisins!
Whatever the truth, this is hidden place worth seeking out even if just for the views!
Figgy Dowdy’s Well is hidden down a flight of granite steps about mid-way up the hill and is easily missed – perhaps as the lady herself might have hoped. It can be found on the right of the path up from Wheal Amelia just before the entrance to the quarry (amphitheatre).
For stories of more legendary ladies try: Saint Keyne and Equal Rights for 5th Century Women or Granny Boswell: Cornwall’s Gypsy Queen