Peak District well dressing

An ancient custom in Derbyshire and Staffordshire

Well dressing is an ancient custom, probably dating back to Celtic times, that is still followed in the English Peak District. Every year, in summer or early autumn, teams of volunteers in villages and towns create the dressing: a wooden board decorated first in clay and then with flowers to form a colourful decorative scene.

2014 well dressing in Buxton, a spa town known as Aqua Arnemetiae in Roman times

The Peak District was settled by the Celts in the Iron Age and it has long been a relatively remote area of England – even today there are few major roads – and perhaps that’s why the custom of well decoration has survived rather than being overtaken by Saxon, Viking, and Norman customs as happened elsewhere in England.

Having said that, it’s hard to imagine the early Christian church was particularly happy about a pagan custom implying water worship, and the custom may have waned until the early 19th century, when it became a way of celebrating the arrival of piped water.

The skill and creativity involved in creating unique well dressings, based on Biblical verse, local geography, and historic events, every year is impressive, and for the visitor these colourful decorations are yet another reason to visit this beautiful part of the country.


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