The Griffin's Well
Griffydam is a village that lies in the countryside of Northwest Leicestershire, and its strange name has an even stranger origin. Along a lane off the main road, almost hidden between hedges, is a very old well set in a stone grotto. Although considered a sacred spring by many it isn't dedicated to a saint, but it is the location for Griffydam's legendary origins.
It is said that during the Medieval era the well was a vital source of water for the little settlement but one day a ferocious griffin landed there and made its den. Once the lion/eagle hybrid had slaked its thirst it curled around the well, roaring at any who dared to appoach. A team of men was gathered and with various makeshift weapons they launched an attack on the griffin but were easily repelled by the beast, so carrying their wounded they sloped off to work out where the village was going to get its water from now.
A few days later a knight rode into the village, asking only for water for his horse and himself before he would continue his journey, but he was told by the frightened people the reason why no water was available. They begged the knight to do something, so he crept towards the now dammed well to scout out the scene. He threw a rock at the griffin from a distance and noticed how its leathery feathers ruffled apart at the front of its neck as it rose and flapped its wings in anger. Returning to his horse the knight took his bow and some arrows then knelt and prayed, asking God to bless his actions and to to forgive him for what he was about to do to this noble beast, the image of St Mark the Evangelist in earthly form.
He approached the well and gave the signal to a villager to throw a rock at the griffin. With perfect aim the knight sent his arrow between its feathers and into its throat as the beast rose, and as it rolled onto its back he sprang forward to finish it quickly with his blade. The villagers were ecstatic and offered the knight all the hospitality they could give but he insisted on riding on to the nearby hilltop priory at Breedon where he could make sense of what had happened in monastic peace.
The villagers butchered the griffin to obtain all of its body parts for magical and alchemical value but the knight returned to claim the hide, which he had tanned and given to the priory where it was said to have hung inside the church for some centuries. Indeed, a local tradition used to maintain that couples married in the church were expected to pass under the skin for good luck. A griffin was also carved on a stone and set into the wall of the church to commemorate the event.
A wonderful Medieval tale that attempts to explain the name of Griffydam, but are their any facts here? The well is certainly very old and was clearly heavily relied upon as five paths all lead to it. However, the field below it was once owned by a Griffiths, who dammed the field boundary to create a pond, so make of that what you will. Up at the church at Breedon-on-the-Hill there's no sign of any hide now but there is mention of a skin that once hung there in the 1700s, probably that of a deer or cow. There is definitely a sculpture of a griffin set into a wall there though, and this is actually part of the magnificent collection of Anglo-Saxon carvings housed in the priory church, which I will be posting about in greater depth next time. Griffydam also has another story associated with churches, perhaps slightly more believable.
It is said that John Wesley, the Methodist founding father, came to Griffydam to preach which angered the local lord, an Anglican. He sent a team of thugs to the chapel led by a bare-knuckle boxer named Massey with orders to disrupt the gathering violently and run Wesley out of town. As Massey waited for his men to take their positions he listened to some of Wesley's words, to see if this man was really as objectionable as his master had told him, and became transfixed, falling to his knees and converting on the spot!
For now the griffin's well is a very peaceful little spot which has been nicely preserved, and as long as we continue to tell its tale then the folklore will live on.
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The griffin's well
Carving of a griffin set into a wall at the priory church at Breedon-on-the-Hill
Medieval image of a knight slaying a griffin
The griffin as portrayed in the Harry Potter films, an image familiar to many
Approach to the well at Griffydam, I counted five paths leading to it