The Monks' Well

The name Monkswell Drive - a typical cul-de-sac of 1930s semis is a reminder of Monkswell House which formerly stood on the site. Turn the corner from North Drive into Mill Lane and you will see the sandstone cross from which the old house got its name: the 'Monks Well' itself.

Baines's Lancashire Directory of 1825 says of Wavertree: "Here is a well at which charitable contributions were anciently collected, bearing the following monkish inscription in antique letters - Qui non dat quod Habet, Doemon Infra Ridet. Anno 1414. Which may be thus freely translated: - He who here does nought bestow, The Devil laughs at him below". Moss's Liverpool Guide of 1796 had gone further, suggesting that "an old monastic looking house" alongside had been "inhabited by some religious order, who might thus request alms towards their support".

The well is undoubtedly ancient. It used to stand further back from the road, at a point where pure water bubbled out from the sandstone of Olive Mount. In the masonry beneath the original cross was an archway, under which a few steps gave access to the stone cistern or chamber containing the water. The Wavertree Enclosure Act of 1768 referred to "the through tunnel, channel or stone gutter, lately laid and made ... to carry and convey water from the said well or basin into another ... lately also made, erected and built, in the highway or road adjoining". Apparently the owner of Lake House had objected to the villagers walking over his lawn to draw water!

Legends about the Monks Well abound, and most of the stories involve secret passageways: leading either to Childwall 'Abbey' (which never was an abbey) or Childwall Priory (which was a farmhouse near the present Fiveways junction) or the Bishop Eton Monastery (which was only established in the 1840s) or even the Rose Brewery in Picton Road! It seems likely that such legends were sparked off by Victorian children, who spotted the inlet tunnel already referred to, and the outlet pipe which would have channelled the surplus water into Wavertree Lake alongside (where the children's playground is today).

In 1834 the Select Vestry - the predecessor of the Local Board of Health - installed an iron pump to lift the water from the underground chamber. They also ordered the Constable to lock the pump during church service times on Sundays, it having been found that "women met at the well when drawing water, and stayed gossiping there". With the arrival of piped water in the 1850s, the well became redundant, and the legends began to grow! Late in the nineteenth century a stone cross - inscribed 'Deus dedit, Homo bebit' (God gives, Man drinks) in accordance with local tradition - was added to the base.

By 1932, the site was owned by a building firm - Messrs David Roberts, Son & Co. - who had bought and demolished Monkswell House to make way for an estate of semi-detached houses. The survival of the Well appeared to be threatened, but, recognising its historic value, the firm presented it to the City Council. The structure became one of Liverpool's first Listed 'Buildings' in 1952.

The above is an extract from 'DISCOVERING HISTORIC WAVERTREE',
. © Mike Chitty 1999.

Home page                    Return to Map 10                  Return to Key Map                  Next page

Page created by MRC 26 February 2000.