Public art and retelling a city story: St Kyneburgh’s Well, Southgate Street, Gloucester

Just above the docks of Gloucester at the end of Southgate Street where one of the old Roman gates into the city once stood, there’s now an open space known as Kimbrose Triangle. Within this space is a large two-part installation in steel by the artist Tom Price, one a hollow tower standing to about 15m in height and the other a 30m or so length of wall. Both are made from steel slats, organically shaped and layered, laid horizontally for the tower and vertically along the wall. Art always means something in its making, and this one turns our focus back to early days of Gloucester’s Christian history and the tale of its one and only saint.

Kimbrose Triangle with it’s tower-and-wall installation, looking towards Southgate Street

Back in late 7th century, so the later medieval re-telling goes, a noble woman by the name of Kyneburgh wanted to give herself to God but her family had other ideas, arranging her marriage to a local prince. Kyneburgh then ran away to Gloucester (another version says she was the sister of a king, made abbess of the city’s new abbey of St Peter who, when promised in marriage – being a useful royal commodity – hid herself away elsewhere in Gloucester). Regardless, the ending for our Kyneburgh was the same. She was taken in by a local baker, working as his apprentice, but while he was away one day his jealous wife murdered Kyneburgh and threw her body into a well just outside the city walls, hence the installation here: the city wall and the well.

The story continues that, on his return, the baker calling out to Kyneburgh heard her voice from the well, found her body and had her buried near by. Stories circulated that the well had healing powers, attributed to Kyneburgh. A chapel built to her memory over the well was a popular point of pilgrimage across the medieval period.

The ‘wall’ part of the installation, along one edge of Kimbrose Triangle, follows the line of the old Roman city wall as it wended its way towards the ancient docks. Walking along, looking through the slats, it’s like the wall melts away and comes back into focus constantly reflecting that the city wall, while pretty much invisible in the modern city, was real and sections still exist, albeit mostly lying somewhere beneath your feet these days.

The wall following the old Roman alignment. A section of this original wall can be seen in the furniture shop behind.

The tower – an above-ground representation of the well – is different, stretching and twisting its way upwards. You can stand underneath the structure looking skyward through these spiralling layers to the circular opening at the top, probably the only regular shape in the whole installation. It’s claustrophobic, the feeling of being trapped in this narrow well, yet filled with light, I assume representing Kyneburgh’s saintly soul.

Looking up through the centre of the well

Knowing this story, the whole installation of course makes sense. As the shoppers bustled by, to and from the town centre and the Gloucester Quays, I found myself standing in the middle of something else, an invisible past, part real, part legendary, and all part of the long memory of an ancient city.

If you enjoyed this post why not also read:

In photos: Gloucester Docks, Gloucestershire, England

Gloucester’s Roman City Wall and King’s Bastion

Visiting the Anglo-Saxons at Deerhurst, Gloucestershire

2 thoughts on “Public art and retelling a city story: St Kyneburgh’s Well, Southgate Street, Gloucester

    • Well, nor did I! I’ve seen this tower and wall so many times and wondered about it I thought ‘really, just read the panel’. Even if it had just said ‘we asked the artist to build a weird tower and wall to confuse everyone’ I’d still like it but having it based around a little-known part of the city’s history is really wonderful. Glad you enjoyed it, thanks!

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