It’s well-dressing season in the Peak District… starting in Makeney, near Belper during early May, the well dressing ‘season’ runs through until the last in Hartington village during mid September. Some 95 communities in and around the Peak District in the counties of Derbyshire, Staffordshire, South Yorkshire and even the Greater Manchester on the borders of the Peak District will get together to create amazing scenes from clay, flowers, plants and seeds, as part of a long-standing tradition of being thankful for pure, clean water.
Every year people come together … local farmers haul the heavy wooden boards into the village river or stream to soak for a week or so; then the village school children get involved in the “puddling” – working the clay to a consistency that it can be put on the sodden boards and hold the materials, used to make the scene, in place; and then teams (some family based, some village friends, some from out of the village, and children from village schools) are formed and during less than 7 days the most beautiful pictures emerge using natural materials pressed into the clay. Sometimes there are themes – all of them have a resonance with the community and how they live.
Although well-dressers are happy to show off their creations whilst they are “work-in-progress”, it’s hard to appreciate them on the flat, surrounded by “petallers” and their little heaps of materials. So, the morning they “go-up” the locals are all walking about the village between them, admiring them, and comparing the designs (and executions!) with those of previous years. Later in the afternoon, the community will gather together, often with a local brass band, and a procession is held led by the local vicar, to bless the wells. Well-dressing week sees more visitors to the village, and the opportunity to raise funds – through the provision of home made teas and exhibitions – for local amenities, and towards the costs of making next year’s dressings, even to help sustain local businesses.
At the end of the week, the sunshine and any rain or wind has taken its toll…the petals are starting to curl, some drying of the clay may show as cracks… and we are reminded that such natural beauty is only with us fleetingly….and it is the turn of another village to show what it can do with some clay and heaps of dry seeds and petals…