St Boniface and the Wishing Well at Ventnor

A plaque indicates the site of St Boniface Well

The famous St Boniface Well is located on St. Boniface Down, which makes up part of our Ventnor Downs estate on the very south of the Isle of Wight. Both are named after the 8th century St Boniface. The well itself is now very difficult to reach, being on a very steep part of the downs that is overgrown with holm oaks and we don’t recommend attempting a visit. However we have placed a stone bearing a plaque on a plateau just above the site.

Earliest written evidence

 
A 1769 map of the Island shows ‘Holywell Spring’ on St. Boniface Down, and other published accounts of the well appeared in the 18th century. By this time several myths and customs were already well established.
 

Myths and customs

 
In 1796 Charles Tomkins wrote ‘Just above St. Boniface Cottage there is a spring, which was formerly held in high veneration by the seamen. It was their custom, in passing this place, to lower the fore-topmast in reverence to St. Boniface. The youth of both sexes, on that saints day, used to resort to this spring, proudly decorated with chaplets of flowers, in order to regale themselves’.
 
And a description from 1867: ‘The popular belief was that, if the well was reached without once looking back, any wish formed while drinking the water would certainly be granted’.
 
Another 19th century legend concerns an old pensioner who attempted to deepen the well but had the opposite effect of causing it to dry up. It remained dry until the pensioner died, whereupon it filled with water.
 

The spread of the holm oaks 

 
In the 20th century, a large wood of evergreen holm oaks spread over the face of St. Boniface Down making it difficult to locate the well. Already by 1974 a travel guide noted: ‘The well is difficult to find and distinguish, as only in wet weather is any water apparent. In summer it is merely the chalky bed of a dried-up spring situated in a clump of trees’.
 
By the 21st century the well was effectively lost, although several people claimed to know where it was. It was re-located again in 2009 by one of our volunteers. It's still possible to identify a saucer-shaped pit, but there is no longer any sign of water.