St John the Baptist Church, Holywell-cum-Needingworth
The two villages of Holywell and Needingworth, lying a mile apart, form one civil
and ecclesiastical parish and one village community. Holywell is the smaller settlement,
located at the side of the River Ouse. An ancient Anglo-Saxon ring village of about
80 houses, it is a conservation area. Needingworth is the larger part of the parish,
with over 900 households: the historic centre of the village grew up along the former
St Ives–Ely road, now the High Street, and Church Street, leading to Holywell. Our
thriving community supports three pubs and other local businesses, many voluntary
and social groups, and a much-used village hall, home on Thursdays to Chatters Community
Café. Both the village and the church benefit greatly from having our own village
school, Holywell Church of England Primary School.
The parish church of St John the Baptist is situated at the western end of Holywell.
There has been a church here since AD 990; the current building (Grade I listed)
dates from about 1250 (the chancel) to early 16th century (the tower, which was brought
from Ramsey Abbey and re-erected here). Most of the church is of 14th-century construction.
The church has undergone major renovations and repairs in recent years. In 2005–6
the church roof was restored, along with associated works, at a cost of approx. £300,000,
about £90,000 of which came from local direct fund-raising and donations. In 2010–11
a new maintenance programme included complete rewiring, extensive repairs to the
windows and plasterwork and the acquisition of a new sound system with a loop installation
for the hard of hearing. In the south of the churchyard is the Holy Well from which
the village takes its name, a site of pre-Christian worship and Christian pilgrimage
in the Middle Ages; it is now enclosed by a Victorian structure. The parish is one
of very few in southern England to hold a well-dressing festival, similar to those
in Derbyshire, around the Feast of St John the Baptist (24th June). South of the
church and holy well is the church’s Wild Garden, planted with native shrubs and
wild flowers. Through it runs a stream issuing from the holy well; in former times
this fed a watercress bed. The garden is intended as a place of tranquillity, wildlife-friendly
and open for anyone to enjoy. A bench donated in 2010 by the local Women’s Institute
enables visitors to sit and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.