92. Bisley Well Dressing

Children from Bisley Blue Coat School dressed in Victorian uniform for the well dressing ceremony, which takes place each year on Ascension Day.The 1909 Ascension Day parade in Bisley prior to the well dressing.In the village of Bisley, near Stroud, an Ascension Day tradition dating back to 1863 is carried out each year by senior pupils from Bisley Blue Coat School.

Dressed in period costume, the pupils, carrying floral displays, process through the streets of Bisley to the accompaniment of a silver band and dress the wells to give thanks for the village's clean water.

The wells - seven water chutes underneath the slope below All Saints Church -  were restored in 1863 at the instance of the Reverend Thomas Keble and paid for by public subscription.

A short church service is followed by a procession to the wells led by the oldest 22 children from the village school who carry wreaths and garlands.

These consist of Stars of David; the letters A.D. and the year; letters spelling out the word 'Ascension'; and five hoops.How the Ascension Day parade looks in the 21st Century.

Year 6 children dress up in replicas of the old blue uniform which would have been worn at the turn of the 20th Century.

Some Bisley families have been involved in the well dressing for generations. Close by the wells are the large troughs once used to water the animals of the village and now the home of several ducks.

Children carrying star-shaped floral arrangements head the procession of flowers. The custom of well dressing is common in Derbyshire and in other areas of England, including Malvern in Worcestershire.

The act of dressing wells with flowers has pagan origins, with its roots in the worship of the life-giving force of water but it could be that Rev Keble simply wished to mark the restoration of the wells.

The Bisley wells were designed by the Rev W H Lowder and built by Messrs Wall and Hook of Eastcombe at a cost of £95.

Rev Thomas Keble was vicar of Bisley from 1827 to 1873 and instituted the ceremony of the Blessing of the Wells on Ascension Day which is still a prominent feature of village life.

He was the younger brother of the Rev John Keble, one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement in the Church of England, or Tractarians, in the mid-19th Century and ‘The Bisley School’ became one of the most important groups of that movement.

Thomas Keble was succeeded as vicar of Bisley by his son, the Rev Thomas Keble, Junior, who was vicar from 1873 to 1903.
© Loving The Cotswolds. 2017.