Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

The Treacle Well

The Treacle Well at Binsey
The Treacle Well at Binsey

I want to take a short detour to see the treacle well. “Fancy falling for that one” I hear you chuckle. Chuckle ye not, for it exists in the churchyard of St Margaret’s in Binsey.

Treacle was an old English word for medicine, and was also used to describe dark coloured undrinkable water, which from its foul palate was associated with the commonly held taste of medicine. Consequently a well where the water became undrinkable would be termed a “treacle well”.

A more romantic story is attached to this particular well, which is situated by the small Binsey church that at one time used to be a part of the Priory of St Fridewide.

Frideswide was a Saxon princess who was born around 650AD. She was the daughter of Didanus and his wife Safrida. Frideswide took holy orders as a nun and made her vows of celibacy. Nonetheless Frideswide was pursued by King Agar of Mercia who was eager to marry her and establish stronger bonds with the Saxon tribes. Frideswide rejected his unwanted advances and ran away, hiding herself in the woods. Agar did not take too kindly to his rejection, and brought an army to Oxford to claim his prize by means of force. To save Frideswide from her unwanted fate, so the story goes, Agar was struck blind before he was able to complete his mission.

Frideswide heard about the blindness and for some unaccountable reason took pity on Agar, praying fervently that his sight should be restored. She prayed especially to St Margaret of Antioch. St. Margaret had lived during the time that the Romans were persecuting the Christians and in common with Frideswide she had attracted the advances of an unwelcome suitor and likewise chose to flee to safety. The spurned admirer sought his revenge for this perceived slight by denouncing Margaret as a Christian to the authorities. The result was that Margaret was arrested, tried, found guilty and beheaded.

During one of her prayers to St Margaret, Frideswide heard a voice from the heavens telling her to strike the ground nearby with her staff. She followed the instructions and when she beat the ground with her staff the earth opened up and to reveal a small well. Frideswide took some of the water from the well and bathed Agar’s eyes in the fluid, with the result that his sight was miraculously restored. To mark the miracle Frideswide established her priory next to the well and dedicated the chapel to St Margaret of Antioch.

I return to the river via “The Perch” which is another excellent riverside pub, with a garden leading me back down to the river.

The Perch, Binsey
The Perch, Binsey

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