Holywell is a market town in the county of Flintshire in Wales. Located on a height overlooking the Dee estuary it lies five miles north-west of Flint and ten miles north of Mold; it has a population of 7,176 (2001 census).
As its name implies, the central feature of the town is a natural spring. The remains of a Roman bath has been found, but tradition claims that the spring arose from the severed head of Saint Winifred, who miraculously survived her beheading. The resulting Saint Winifred's well, one of the Seven Wonders of Wales, became a centre for pilgrimage during the middle ages. Margaret Beaufort, the Countess of Richmond, and mother of Henry VII, built the chapel that now stands over the well which is regarded as one of the best examples of late perpendicular English architecture.
The pligrimage business disappeared as a result of the Reformation and Holywell was little more than a village at the beginning of the 18th century. A few mills sprang up in the nearby Greenfield Valley in the 1800s but the large growth took place in the following century when a variety of industries such as lime quarries, coal, lead, copper and zinc mines, smelting works, a shot manufactory, copper, brass, iron, and zinc works, and paper and flannel manufactories grew up in the area.
Most of this industrial development disappeared in the 20th century and Holywell is now a realtively quiet Welsh market town noted for a variety of fine late Georgian and Victorian period buildings, of which more than sixty have listed building status. There is a Holywell Town Council but its functions are very limited and don't amount to much more than organising the annual Christmas decorations.
Nearby are the ruins of Basingwerk Abbey, which is of uncertain origin but became a Cistercian foundation in 1132 by the efforts of Ranulph, 2nd earl of Chester. The author Thomas Pennant, best known for his 'A Tour in Wales', was born at nearby Whitford in 1726 and Holywell is also the birthplace of the actor Jonathan Pryce.
Table of References