Weird Norfolk: The magical silver well of Shouldham

A small woodland in Shouldham

High Plantation woods, which is just beyond Osier Holt, pictured here, was once home to the Silver Well. - Credit: Google Maps

The Silver Well of Shouldham is lost to time, but once it glittered with a silver sheen – but what made the village’s well sparkle?

In High Plantation woods, the Silver Well has disappeared from the woodland floor but not from folklore, where a story sees an unholy fight over stolen silver involving workmen and the Devil.

Once in a field lined with ditches that drained to the River Nar, the well’s name is thought to be linked with the silver sheen that settled on the water. In William White’s History, Gazatteer and Directory of Norfolk from 1845, the curious well is mentioned.

“On Mr. Catton's estate is a fine chalybeate spring, called Silver Well, which gives rise to a small rivulet that flows through the village,” it reads.

White then explains the first of the folklore theories as to why the water ran silver.

It was, he said, “…so called from the silvery scum which flows on its surface, or, as tradition says, from a chest of silver coin lost in its unfathomable depth.

“The fabulous legend relates, that some workmen, employed in cleansing the well, discovered this treasure; but just as they had raised it to the surface, their ropes broke, and it sunk to some secret recess, where it has since remained.”

Other stories suggest the workmen had more than gravity to contend with and that the real reason the treasure was lost to the watery depths was because Lucifer came to claim it, much as what happened at Callow Pit in Southwood, in a previous Weird Norfolk tale. During a Devilish tussle, the treasure was lost.

Most Read

Mary Manning, in Taking the Waters in Norfolk, wrote in 1994

“The well is the subject of a local legend, which takes two forms.  One version is that at the Dissolution, treasure from one of the abbeys was hidden in the well. 

“The second says that workmen repairing the well brought up a container/box of silver ware, which was inadvertently dropped back and never recovered.  Both tales attribute the silver colour of the well water to the effect of passing over silver treasure.” 

Aerial view of High Plantation Wood, Shouldham

An aerial view of High Plantation woods where the silver well once was. - Credit: Google Maps

There were once two wells in Shouldham, both of which boasted chalybeate waters, mineral spring waters that contained iron salts which could have given a sheen to the waters.

Early in the 17th century, iron-rich chalybeate water was said to have health-giving properties - Dudley North, 3rd Baron North, discovered the chalybeate spring at Tunbridge Wells in 1606.

His eldest son’s physician said the waters could cure: “…the colic, the melancholy, and the vapours; it made the lean fat, the fat lean; it killed flat worms in the belly, loosened the clammy humours of the body, and dried the over-moist brain.”

One of the wells was covered with a stone obelisk and the water flowed through a lion’s mouth into a stone basin and it was said that Roman urns and coins were found nearby while the other was the magical sounding Silver Well.

In 2017, Shouldham’s village sign was taken down ahead of a replacement one in 2019 – but something was missing. On the older sign’s post, the village’s Silver Well was pictured but on the present sign, it has – as in real life – disappeared. Perhaps the Devil claimed it.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter