Wells is a small town in Somerset – well it’s not a town it’s actually a city, the smallest city in England and the second smallest in Britain as it has a very fine cathedral.
Built between 1176 and 1450 to replace an earlier church on the site since 705, it is moderately sized for an English cathedral. Its broad west front and large central tower are dominant features in the city and countryside. It has been called “unquestionably one of the most beautiful” and “most poetic” of English cathedrals and so it does make a wonderful photographic subject both inside and out. Having visited most cathedrals in Britain I think it is for me the finest.
In the north transept of the Cathedral is an astronomical clock from about 1390 believed to be by Peter Lightfoot, a monk of Glastonbury. It is the second oldest surviving clock in the world after the Salisbury cathedral clock and the oldest with its original dial. At the striking of the clock (every quarter hour), jousting knights appear above the clock face as they have for about 630 years or over an astonishing 22 million times !
Unlike many cathedrals of monastic foundation, Wells has many surviving secular buildings linked to its chapter of secular canons, including the Bishop’s Palace and the 15th-century residential Vicars’ Close.
Vicars’ Close is the oldest purely residential street with original buildings surviving intact in Europe. It comprises numerous Grade I listed buildings, comprising 27 residences (originally 44), built for Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury, a chapel and library at the north end, and a hall at the south end, over an arched gate. It is connected at its southern end to the cathedral by way of a walkway over Chain Gate.
The Close is about 140m long, and paved with setts. Its width is tapered by 3m to make it look longer when viewed from the main entrance nearest the cathedral. When viewed from the other end it looks shorter.
The Vicars’ Hall was completed in 1348 and included a communal dining room, administrative offices and treasury of the Vicars Choral. The houses on either side of the close were built in the 14th and early 15th centuries. Since then alterations have been made including a unified roof, front gardens and raised chimneys. The final part of the construction of the close was during the 1420s when the Vicars’ Chapel and Library was constructed on the wall of the Liberty of St Andrew.
The Vicar’s Close is, frankly, utterly superb.
The Bishop’s Palace and accompanying Bishops House is adjacent to the Cathedral and has been the home of the Bishops of the Diocese of Bath and Wells for 800 years.
Building of the palace started around 1210 by Bishops Jocelin of Wells and Reginald Fitz Jocelin. The chapel and great hall were added by Bishop Robert Burnell between 1275 and 1292. The walls, gatehouse and moat were added in the 14th century by Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury. The Bishops House was added in the 15th century by Bishop Thomas Beckington.