The aim of this blog from the beginning has been to throw some light onto the lesser known places, stories and people of this fascinating county. And today was one of those days when I felt particularly blessed to have been born here. Cornwall is overflowing with legends and mysterious traditions – some of which are just being rediscovered.
In the 1980s an ancient well was uncovered close to Men-an-tol and the standing stone known as Men Scryfa. It was hidden in the undergrowth just off the track that leads from that famous ancient monument to the Nine Maidens Downs. In fact it was so I am told discovered by Craig Weatherhill when he literally fell in it!
Venton Bebibell, (also known as Fenton Bebilbell) which translates as ‘well of the little people’, had been practically forgotten since it was last mentioned by the historian A K Hamilton Jenkin in the 1930s but these days this ancient site is finding a new place in people’s lives.
Hamilton Jenkin recorded many unusual Cornish customs in his books but wrote that this particular well in Morvah parish was used by the local children on a Good Friday to baptise their dolls (dolly dunking!). It is likely that these little christenings hark back to some much older ancient tradition. The toys today being used to represent the magical spirits that guarded the well. Like so many others the tradition had been forgotten. Venton Bebibell disappeared beneath the underground of this wild area of West Penwith.
But for the past 13 years a local group Friends of Cornwall’s Ancient Sites have been reviving the Good Friday tradition. I joined this jolly group of people to make the walk to the well. We were to give it some annual TLC and I wanted to watch them ‘dunk their dolls’!
We spent a few minutes clearing the undergrowth with the spring sunshine on ours backs. Trying not to fall in as we pulling away the weeds and a few people brought their dolls or other items to be blessed. Cheryl Straffon then said a few words of thanks and we all shared a sip of mead and a bite of a butter bun. Heaven!
The well itself is a magical spot, tucked away in a dip in the landscape, not far from Men-an-tol and the Nine Maidens Circle. This clear, bubbling spring is actually the source of the river Newlyn and bursting with life. In the warm sun I spotted perturbed toads and newts wondering what on earth was occurring!
Really wonderful! This could quite easily become another annual tradition for me!
If you liked this you might also like
Figgy Dowdy’s Well – Carn Marth
Quenchwell Spring & a Pocket full of Nonsense.
16 thoughts on “Venton Bebibell – Cornwall’s Well of the Little People”
Thank you Liz. A lovely write up. It was great having you along.
Just a small correction to the spelling: Bebibell (pron. ‘be-BIB-el’).
Lovely. As a child I knew just where the magical places were.
A shame I didn’t know about this well when I visited Men-an-Tol a few years ago on an archaeology tour of Cornwall. We visited a few wells – they all had clouties, which were fascinating. I didn’t know about ‘dolly dunking’ until now, so thanks for sharing!
Hi, I’ve enjoyed the posts on your delightful blog. Would you mind if I used one of your pictures (of Venton Bebibell with Carn Galver SE tor in background) on my new blog post. It’s about (usually Penwithian) ancient sites & alignments & my latest post will heavily feature Carn Galver & Boskednan Moor. I would, of course, credit you beneath it &/or put a link to your blog.
My blog is not for profit & contains no advertising & serves merely as a record of my findings.
Your lovely picture will be a useful illustration, Thanks, – K.
Hi Kenny, you are welcome to use the image as long as you drop me a credit. A link to my blog would be great!
Good luck with your blog, I’ll have to take a look!!
All the best E x
Just been asked to review The Mouth of Truth , Alan M Kent’s latest book of poetry. Came across a poem called Dolly Dunking about the well at Venton Bebibell and checked it out to find out more. A lovely surprise that it is so near to where I live. What a lovely story and hope to take grandchildren there (while they still have dolls!)
Was born in Redruth and lived over 20 years in Cornwall but never knew anything about these wells. Thank-you for this information. Might try and find the Carn Marth well this summer