Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Billy Hobby's Well

Billy Hobby's Well is in Grosvenor Park, Chester, on the bank of the River Dee which can be seen in the background of this photo.

Its canopy is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II listed building.

Grosvenor Park was developed on land given to the city of Chester by Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquess of Westminster in the 1860s. The land consisted of fields on the north side of the River Dee overlooking the river. The largest field was marked on the 1833 Plan of the City of Chester as 'Billy Obbies' Field.   This field contained a spring or well that was believed to have magical powers.

As part of the development of the park, the Marquess commissioned the Chester architect John Douglas to design a number of features for the park, including a canopy for the well. The structure is now used as a pump house for the water garden in the park.   The canopy is built in red and buff sandstone ashlar. It stands on a square plinth and has canted corners. Each face has a pointed arch flanked by a granite column containing wrought iron bars. The blocks that make up  the arches include carved roses. On each corner is a small carved circle containing a carved sheaf and portcullises.

The roof consists of a tiled spire, and at its apex is a lead finial surmounted by a copper fish which acts as a weather vane.

The spring's magical powers applied only to girls as this old rhyme tells us:-

I loved the tales that idle maids would tell
Of wonders wrought at Billy Hobbie's Well;
Where love-sick girls with leg immured would stand,
The right leg 'twas - the other on dry land,
With face so simple, stocking in the hand,
Wishing for husbands half a winter's day
With ninety times the zeal they used to pray.

Pixyledpublications  website gives some detail about this rhyme.

"This old rhyme despite some pedigree suggested I have been able to date only to 1823. It appears to record a ritual undertaken at the well, a similar ‘one part of the body in, one out’ was done at Walsingham by lovelorn maidens...

However the name is much older. A Billy Obbies Field is marked in 1745, with a spring marked at 1791. This would appear to suggest that the spring gained its name from the field and not vice versa, possibly a local personage. Yet, the name is significant and it may hide a much earlier origin. The name Hobby derives from Hobb a name for a devil or demon and where the name Hobglobin derives from. It may be possible that the area was a marshy waste and to warn people away a legend of a demon was introduced. More interesting is the idea that as the name Hobb is synonymous with Puck, and Puck possibly having a Roman origin, that the site could be a much earlier Pagan site."


  1. Well, well, well (no pun intended - originally) I didn't know that. In fact I know roughly where the park is but I am not sure that I've ever been in it. Which, given my love of Chester and the amount of time I've spent there, is a bit strange.

  2. What a great post - fascinating stuff!

  3. There’s so much rich history behind even the most mundane or secluded spot, if one is willing to look.

  4. Interesting and full of history.

  5. Oh! A fish as a weather vane - how cool is that!


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