Wells is in the English county of Somerset, which is thought to come from two words, summer and settlement. Wells was first settled in because of the springs (cold, not hot as in neighbouring Bath) which you can now see in the Bishop’s Palace gardens. The Bishop’s Palace is unique as it is like a castle with a moat, gatehouse, portcullis and drawbridge. You will probably see swans on the moat.
Wells’ cathedral was begun in 1180 and was more or less completed by 1306. The original buildings associated with it are Vicar’s Close, the Chapter House and Cloisters. There was an original Roman mausoleum on this site followed by the Anglo-Saxon minster church of Saint Andrew, another cathedral. The foundations of this one can be seen still in the Camery Gardens by the Cathedral. You can still see more than 300 mediaeval statues in the Cathedral, as well as the Scissor Arches, built in the 14th century by William Joy, a master mason, to support the central tower which had been heightened.
The Cathedral Clock
The cathedral clock is unique; it has the second oldest clock mechanism in the UK (made in 1390) and its face is the oldest surviving one of its kind. The clock still has the original mediaeval 24-hour face with mechanical figures:- the Quarter Jack bangs the bell every quarter of an hour with his heels and above the clock are two jousting figures which rotate in opposite directions, knocking each other off their horses on the hour. The outer dial of the clock is a 24 hour one and the inner dial shows minutes. The hands are moving stars. The clock also shows the phases of the moon.
The clock opposite the Vicar’s Hall was constructed 70 years later and was connected to the Cathedral Clock.
(You need a permit to take photos in the Cathedral. This costs £3.)
This is the only completely mediaeval street in England. It was built in 1348 by Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury for the vicars who sang in the choir. They lived in a community in their own small houses – 42 of them. The houses were built around a quadrangle with the Hall where they had their meals at one end, and a chapel at the other. They could go through the Chain Gate from the Hall to the Cathedral.
Wells is on the southern edge of the Mendip hills in Somerset. It is the smallest city in England and in the 2001 census had a population of 10,406. (The smallest city in Britain is Saint David’s in south Wales which has a population of around 2,000.) A city in the UK is given a royal charter usually if it has a Cathedral and the size of its population doesn’t matter historically.
Wells grew as a market town and there is still a market place which is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Wells Museum was founded by Herbert Balch in 1893. He was a naturalist, carver and a geologist. In the museum there are artefacts from Neolithic times, from the Bronze Age and from the time when the Romans occupied Britain. There are also displays of fossils, reflecting one of the interests of the museum’s founder.
Wookey Hole Caves
In 1912 Herbert Balch found the almost complete skeleton of an old woman, the remains of some goats, a dagger, some household items and a polished alabaster ball among Iron Age remains in Wookey Hole Caves, near Wells. The skeleton was said to have been that of the Witch of Wookey, although she was either killed by King Arthur or by a priest, Father Benedict, according to legend.
Archaeologists’ finds indicate man has lived in and around the caves for 50,000 years. They believe that the cave was occupied by hyenas and man alternatively between 35,000 and 25,000 BC.
Burcott mill is a working water mill that still produces organic flour. The mill takes its water from the River Axe through a 400 metre mill leat (a man-made trench or ditch that takes water to a mill wheel) into the mill pond. It is the weight of this water – not the current of the river – that turns the waterwheel that, through a series of large Victorian cogs, drives the giant millstones that grind the flour. The mill is also a guest house.
Related content:Eating and drinking in and around Bath