Bell Pond – the story behind the name
In 1850, John George Fardell, Rector of Sprotbrough writes – “It possesses little in the way of picturesque beauty – little of those attractions which mark the character of the brook-stream, sauntering through all pleasant places, seeking out happy nooks and peaceful recesses. But Bell Pond is the ancient of days, and possesses its peculiar history and its peculiar associations.”
Where is Bell Pond I hear you ask? On foot, it can be reached following this route. Taking the road between the Goldsmith centre and Sprotbrough Fish Bar, walk under the railway bridge and down into the tiny hamlet of Newton, at the T-junction, turn right and follow the Don navigation for about 1 mile. From the flood defence bank that you now find yourself on, Bell bond is on your right.
From the ground it is quite impossible to see its shape properly but from the air it possesses the form of what can only be described as a horse-shoe. Although peaceful and serene today, providing a haven for an abundance of wildlife and a much-needed watering hole for the grazing sheep, the pond hides a much sinister past and if the imagination is loosened for a moment while I relay this story, you may well feel differently about the scene from here-on in.
Fardell continues – “Its character now is distinctly marked. It is without form, if not void; amid a confusion of shapes; mysterious, amid a brood of mysteries. Its waters know no current – they are mute, motionless, death-like, fearful; they are deep and appalling, but contain the soul of hidden mysteries; they are surrounded by a host of goodly trees, which have undergone no change from generation to generation; they are peculiar in their character; they are strangers among strangers, yet faithful to their purpose; they are aged among the aged, yet bid defiance to storm or hurricane; they are safely anchored to the banks by countless cables, gnarled and twisted and tough. Indeed the pond possesses the same reputation as a haunted house; and therefore the inference may be drawn that some historic deed, some adventure, some misfortune, is associated with Bell Pond”.
The Rector paints a pretty bleak picture of what we now see as a pleasant expanse of water in a quiet and unspoilt corner of Sprotbrough. He is setting the scene for a tale of love found and lost, desertion, isolation, ostracism, loneliness, and death.
He goes on – “In the year 1685, immediately after the revocation of the edict of Nantes, upwards of 80,000 individuals sought a spot of refuge in this country. Among this body of refugees was the remnant of an ancient family of the name of Dumas, consisting of only two individuals, Madame Dumas and her only daughter, Isabelle. Madame Dumas died and Isabelle was left alone in the world. She was adorned with surpassing beauty and loveliness. She enchained all hearts by her personal charms, but more by her unostentatious goodness, unsullied purity and true female dignity. Unfortunately for her, she formed an attachment to the youngest son of an old Catholic family, an offshoot of one of the ancient Catholic Nobility.
The passion was mutual, and after a severe trial she was induced to renounce her Protestant belief and to embrace the Roman faith. The adoption of this step entailed upon her the loss of all her old friends; and as calamities never come single-handed, her lover, who then was a commander in the Royal Navy, lost his life in an attack off Sandwich with a body of smuggling Hollanders.
Thus having lost everything, and being cut off from all hope for the future, she very happily obtained a refuge in a family then resident at Sprotbrough, a distant branch; it was surmised, of the De Maulays, of Hexthorpe. But the heart of Isabelle was stricken with an incurable blight. Her days were the days of gloom and despondency – her nights the nights of sadness and anguish.
She wandered alone through the intricacies of what was then called Conisbrough forest, climbed the barren heights of Cadeby, or lingered alone in the depths of the valley below. Her foster friends pitied her fate, and tried to soothe her feelings by the words and deeds on consolation and comfort; yet, on the strength and nobleness of her mind they placed the fullest confidence.
At length she was missing; instant search was made for her in every conceivable direction, and by every available means. ‘Twas all in vain. In the course of a short time, however, the secret was laid open. She had drowned herself in the pond not too far from Sprotbrough. Her corpse was taken from its hiding place and immediately interred, without inscription or headstone, in the churchyard of Sprotbrough.
From that mournful period these dark waters bore the name of Isabelle Pond, which has since been corrupted into Bell Pond”.