Well Dressing is the art of decorating springs or wells with pictures made from growing things. All but unique to Derbyshire, this ancient and once pagan custom has long since had Christian associations, though the exact origins are unknown.
The thanksgiving for the gift of water is today celebrated by the blessing of the wells and a festival for the whole village. The actual dressing of the well is done by the local community.
How is the Well dressed?
Imagine a wooden tray of about six feet high, four feet wide and one and a half inches deep. It's left to soak for a few days in the local pond or river to get the wood really wet, then it's hauled out and filled with soft, wet clay.
The artist brings the design, drawn full size on thin paper, smoothes it over the clay - and so the work begins. Each village has its own method of marking out the design. Some use small pieces of bark pressed through the paper. Others use a knife to cut along the outline, or a knitting needle to make marks in the clay along each line. The picture is outlined with straw, black wood, alder cones, peppercorns or seeds. Only when the outline is clearly marked on the clay can the pictures be 'coloured-in'. Some call this stage 'petalling', others call it 'flowering'.
A host of villages across the District stage Well dressings, which are on display from early May to early September each year.