In the famous Chapter VII of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, titled “A Mad Tea Party,” the Dormouse tells a story of three daughters who lived at the bottom of a treacle well. Like many other things in Carroll’s book, the inspiration behind this chapter can be found in Oxford, in the village of Binsey.
Dating back to the 12th century, the parish church of Saint Margaret is famed for the holy well that sits outside its west end. Known as St. Margaret’s Well, it was dedicated to Saint Frideswide, the patron saint of Oxford. According to legend, during the 7th century, Prince Algar of Mercia was going to force her into marriage. To escape this fate, Frideswide fled to Binsey. While out searching for his bride to be, Algar was blinded by a lightning bolt. Frideswide prayed to God and it brought forth a spring, whose waters had healing powers and cured the king’s blindness.
In the literary giant, Lewis Carroll describes the well as a “treacle well.” During the medieval period, the word “treacle” meant “healing fluid.” The well became a focus for pilgrimages during the Middle Ages, though it’s rather obscure and mostly forgotten today. If you’re a fan of the classic tale, you can’t miss this place on your pilgrimage to Oxford.