The Chapel of St. James, which stood close to an ancient holy spring near St. John’s Well Lane, belonged to a small community of monks, the Brotherhood of St. John the Baptist during the 11th and 12th centuries. The Hospital of St. John the Baptist was founded by Geoffrey Fitzpiers, the Earl of Essex, in c1213, close to the Chapel.
“In years gone by St. John’s Well was famous locally on account of its alleged curative properties. Way back in the Middle Ages it was the town’s principal source of drinking water, and two keepers or wardens were appointed to regulate the use of the water and save it from pollution. That they carried out their duties zealously is shown by the fact that in 1400, a number of people were summoned for washing clothes at the well.
Those were days of unbounded superstition, and it is not surprising that all sorts of curious legends concerning the well gained currency… [for example in Cobb’s ‘History of Berkhamsted’] that St. Paul extended his travels to Berkhamsted, and cast out thunderstorms and serpents from the neighbourhood.
Taking the ‘Cure’…
The most interesting tradition of all was that the waters of St. John’s Well cured sore eyes. It was no unusual thing to see a string of carriages at the top of the lane while the owners walked down to bathe their eyes and perhaps bring away a bottle or tow of the precious water for home treatment. An old resident once told me a delightful story of an elderly lady who regularly sat in state in her carriage and pair while the coachman filled half a dozen old champagne bottles with the precious lotion!”
(Beorcham, Berkhamsted Review, May 1942).