By Roy Townsend

Spanish Liquor Day is coming - a chance to walk in the Forest from Leafield Five Ash Bottom down to the Kennel Lake or just walk down Patch Riding.

Spanish Liquor is made up with some pieces of hard liquorice with two to three black gobstopper type sweets and white peppermints which were crushed, made up on Saturday night and shaken well on Sunday Morning.

You take your bottle with the mixture in down to the well behind the kennels called the Iron Well. If it's still there behind the fencing. We were forbidden to drink much of it on the way home.

Some years ago I was with the late Bill Campbell who knew the forest very well and all about the Spanish Liquor custom. He told me that the well which was originally used was called Ussell, but was flooded when the lakes were formed. John Kibble believed that the custom was a remnant of well worship which was forbidden in 963 (some custom). He also thought it would never die out, but I think he will be proved wrong. But, there was a man from Leafield, who used to take his bottle of mixture to the well up until a few years ago.

Finstock people would go to Lady Well at Wilcote, but because we lived at the end of Patch Riding, we always went into the Forest.


An Annual Palm Sundy walk from Finstock to Ladywell in Wilcote was an event which was very much looked forward to, especially by the Children of the Village. The making and drinking of "Spanish" Water or Liquor as it was called was an important part of this event.

Mrs. Ivy Pratley, describes the making of the Spanish Water.

"On the Saturday evening before Palm Sunday, we children would crush humbug sweets and white peppermints together and to this we would add some pieces of chopped liquorice stick, the mixture was then added to a bottle of water and we would sit around the room shaking the bottles until it had dissolved".

This bottle of liquid was drunk the following day while walking to Ladywell. They also carried with them, in a paper bag, some of the dry mixture, which was mixed with water from the well to drink on the way home.

Early on Sunday afternoon the walkers would set off, one group using the footpath by the Plough Inn and another group near the top of High Street using the path to the left of the road about 50 yards east of Gadding Well.

The groups then merged to follow the path through Wilcote Field Longcut or the Longcut as it was known locally.

Most of the girls were given a new straw hat for the occasion and these were filled with primroses and voilets on the way through Sumteths Copse. They then crossed the field to the front of Wilcote Manor and followed a route past St. Peter's Church to the Ash Avenue which leads directly to Ladywell.

This tradition which is believed to have had its origins in Pagan Celtic Well Worship, continued until the outbreak of war in 1939.

In recent years one or two people from Finstock and Leafield have taken "Spanish Water" to the Iron Well in Cornbury Park using the entrance to the Forest at Five Ash Bottom in Leafield.


  1. The iron well, where you describe it, is certainly still there, now with a stone surround and iron railings. The present Lord Rotherwick appears to have bulldozed the valley it overlooks and, I suppose, "landscaped" it, for reasons I cannot imagine, when he "improved" the ruined Kennel Cottages. The mossy remains of an old stone seat on which Mrs Watney sat when she visited the well were wrecked in the process: his lordship told me he was unaware it was there. The last time I tried to visit it on a Palm Sunday, the gate which would have given access to the iron well was locked. I suspect it is only ignorance that keeps us out: if the local history society asked, they'd probably let a group in next year.

  2. It is many years since I visited the Chalybeate Well. But the water I took became putrid and exploded. Did I do something wrong, or has the water changed? Or was it another well?

  3. I remember walking to the Iron Well on Palm Sunday with my great Aunty Vi and Molly and mixing the water with our Spanish liquor. Before the footpath was opened through the Wychwood forrest as it is know this was the only day you could walk down to the lakes and I remember lots of people doing this.

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