In 1833 the Welsh antiquarians Samuel Lewis and Walter Davies published their Topographical Dictionary of Wales. In the section relating to the parish of Llanishen they say “The water of a spring called St. Dene’s Well is considered efficacious in the cure of scorbutic complaints”.
They are referring here to the spring which still exists at The Oval and which was the principal reason for the arrival of St. Isan in the area in 535AD. This spring, also known as Ffynnon Dennis or Ffynnon Llandennis, was one of a number of wells in Cardiff which were considered to be holy and endowed with powers of healing.
With the development of Roath Park and the area to the north at the end of the nineteenth century there was a danger that the spring might have been buried beneath a road and lost but, fortunately, the Parks Committee were persuaded by John Hobson Mathews, the city archivist, of the historical and religious significance of the site.
He wrote: “Within the northernmost area of Roath Park is, as you are doubtless aware, a beautiful well or spring. It rises out of the soil with great force, and immediately forms a pool of considerable size, which is overhung with trees, and teems with aquatic growths of various kinds. The scene is one of wild and romantic beauty…
It is known to old inhabitants as Ffynnon Llandenis…and has for ages past been regarded with veneration by the country folk. This was owing to its association with the memory of a Saint, and to the reputation it enjoyed as a healing well. Its water was believed to possess singular curative properties, especially in cases of rheumatic and scrofulous affections, and also for the eyes. It is certain that the water is of remarkable purity. I have been informed by old people living hard by, that down to quite recent times this well was resorted to for the cure of the maladies referred to above, and on account of the excellent quality of its water for ordinary drinking purposes – persons coming from great distances to procure the same”.
It is doubtful whether sufferers from scurvy, rheumatism, tuberculosis, or eye infections would find drinking the water or bathing in the spring beneficial today, but we are fortunate that this little green oasis is still with us and reminds us again of Llanishen’s past.