At the place known as the Maudlands, in Ashton near Preston, there is an interesting mound. Archaeologists confidently state that this was the base for a small observation tower, built by the Romans, with the purpose of protecting the Friargate entrance to Preston. Local people, however, always had superstitious feelings about the place, because the area was also known to be the site of a mediaeval leper hospital, St Mary Magdalene’s. The mound was commonly believed to be the site of the hospital’s church, now sunken into the earth. On Christmas Eve, they said, bells could be heard ringing beneath the ground.
The mound was excavated and found to contain a brick-lined chamber, narrow but about six feet deep, which the archaeologists identified as a powder magazine, where gunpowder would have been stored in wooden barrels. However, the local people refused to accept this diagnosis and took the chamber’s existence as evidence for their own belief, for surely it must be part of the church’s steeple.
Interestingly, the story of the subterranean bells of St Mary Magdalene’s is also told about the ground beneath St Walburge’s Church.
St Walburge’s Church was also the scene of a veritable miracle, in 1845, when a Preston woman suffered a broken knee which threatened to cripple her. St Walburge was a Saxon princess whose shrine was known for imparting an oil with healing properties, so a request was sent for a small amount of the magical substance. The woman’s knee was entirely healed.
At one time there was a well here, known as Spa Well, in the area below Maudlands, closer to Preston Marsh, near the river. The well gave forth copious amounts of mineral rich water which was valued for its health-giving benefits, so much so that late in the 16th century the flow was harnessed into a proper bathing pool, which was well-used. The water, which was said to be extremely cold, was described as ‘fizzy’ and ‘invigorating’ and this is why it became known as Spa Well. Any saint’s name the well may once have carried is lost in the mists of time.