The City is packed with historic buildings and architectural delights.
The West Country city’s medieval buildings were props in the Johnny Depp and John Malkovich film The Libertine and also the British comedy Hot Fuzz. But you need to see the city first hand to experience the full wonder of some of England’s finest medieval buildings.
Wells sits at the foot of the Mendip Hills in Somerset and grew in Saxon times around the wells, which gave it its name, and church. It became the seat of a bishop in the ninth century. After the Norman conquest, the Saxon church was replaced by a stone Cathedral and the city rebuilt in stone.
The Cathedral of St Andrew’s was built in the 12th century on the site of a Saxon church. It was one of England’s largest and most impressive cathedrals dominating the city and surrounding countryside.
The west face is a particular delight with its many statues of kings, queens, saints and martyrs. When built the whole Cathedral was painted in bright colours of white, green, blue and red. Behind the statues is the singing gallery where on festivals the choir would sing to the crowds outside while being hidden behind the statues. The combination of colour and singing would have made for an awe-inspiring spectacle.
Inside there is one of the oldest clocks in Europe with its original face of moon and stars. There is the mechanical figure of Jack Blandiver, presumably a local dignitary, who strikes the clock bell on the quarter hour. The original mechanism is in the Science Museum in London.
There are also many carvings, tombs and chapels. It also has a remarkable architectural feature of a huge stone figure of “8” buttress. When the cathedral was finished, the master masons noticed that the tower was too heavy for the walls of the building. Their ingenious solution was to build a figure of “8” buttress, which would take the weight of tower on to the top part of the “8” and redistribute to the lower walls. The buttress was a success as the original tower still stands today.
The Cathedral is still used so you may see a choir at practice or people at prayer.
Just beyond the cathedral’s cloisters is the Bishop’s Palace, which was built by Bishop Jocelin in the early 13th century.
The first thing that strikes you is the huge moat and walls, it is more of a castle than a Bishop’s residence. There is a drawbridge with gatehouse that leads to the main grounds of beautiful lawns, flowers and trees. There is also the palace itself and a ruined banqueting hall for entertaining the bishop’s guests.
Behind the palace is the wells that give the city its name, several large pools – one being the pool of St Andrew – that bubble up to feed water into the moat. Also the wells provide the water that runs down the sides of the main streets of the city, in medieval times the water acted as a drainage system and provided fresh water for the city’s inhabitants. There is also an arboretum near the wells.
The Swans in the moat are trained to ring a bell by the drawbridge when they want feeding.
The Vicars’ Close is a cobbled residential street hidden away behind the Cathedral. Its claim to fame is that it is the oldest continuously inhabited row of houses in Europe. There are some Victorian touches such as the gas lamps but the houses are far older with their tall chimneys. The close was built in the 1360s for vicars who sang in the Cathedral’s choir. At one end there is a wonderful medieval gateway onto the cathedral grounds and above that a bridge from the gateway to the Cathedral itself.
The medieval market place was the site of the shoot-out in the British comedy film Hot Fuzz, although you never saw the two great stone gateways that lead to the Cathedral and Bishops’ Palace.
The water fountain and the buildings housing the shops were built in the 15th century. Markets are still held here twice a week.
The city has other delights such as shops, cafes. restaurants and pubs in addition to plenty of accommodation in the city or in the surrounding area – which itself an area of outstanding natural beauty of hills and wetlands.
Wells is also near the Roman City of Bath and Glastonbury with its legends about King Arthur, the Holy Chalice and the great ruined Abbey – arguably the oldest Christian site in England.