Peak District village prepares for week of traditional well dressing celebrations
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The event, now in its 88th year, is rooted in the custom of giving thanks for the water sources which rural communities depend on, and is replicated by residents across the Peaks over the summer months.
Stoney Middleton has some claim to helping popularise the tradition, as the Derbyshire Times reported in 1936: “Whatever doubts might have existed in the minds of people as to the success of Stoney Middleton's venture into the art of well dressing, were completely dispelled last Friday night. The veteran well dresser, Mr Ted Shimwell, a former resident of Youlgreave, achieved a big success.
“This has been taken to heart by the people of Hathersage, Curbar, Calver and Eyam, who have been inspired by the work, and intend to inaugurate the custom of well dressing in their villages. Thousands of people visited the well during the weekend, coming from all parts of the country.”
The Stoney calendar includes stretches to several days of festivities, starting with the collection of foliage and flower petals for the well dressing artworks in the week July 17 – preparation of the clay backdrop began some time ago – before the official opening on Saturday, July 22.
Writing in this year’s well dressing programme, Andrea Tomlinson, headteacher of Stoney Middleton Primary School, said: “Along with many other talented petallers in the village, the children have enjoyed designing and creating their well dressing. “The children from the federation have also been busy practising maypole dancing for you to enjoy during the opening Saturday.”
The wells will be blessed in a ceremony at 3pm on that first day, with Tideswell band playing at 2.30pm and 4pm, dance displays at 3.30pm and and 4.30pm and a ball race at 5pm.
The ‘well dressing shop’ will be open on The Nook from 10.30am on the Saturday, then throughout the week, along with an exhibition in the village chapel and a giant children’s jigsaw.
Visitors may also want to take a wander around the village to see residents’ entries into the scarecrow and window dressing competition, which this year has a royal theme.
Other highlights to look out for include an outdoor service in the grounds of St Martin’s Church, 9am on Sunday, July 23, and another appearance by the Tideswell Band at 3pm that afternoon.
On the Monday, there is an antique and valuables valuation evening at the church, 6.30-8.30pm, on Tuesday there is a homemade boat race at 5pm and bingo at 7pm, and on Friday there is a treasure hunt starting from the church at 6.30pm.
Perhaps the centrepiece of the week away from the wells is the fell race on Thursday night, the 40th anniversary of the challenging 8.5-kilometre run over hills and dales.
Starting at 6.30pm, entry is open to ages 16-plus with a fee of £6, book in advance via stoneymiddleton.niftyentries.com/Stoney-Middleton-Fell-Race-2023.
For updates on everything happening over the course of the week, go to facebook.com/Stoneywelldressing.