Penniless Porch and The Bishop's Eye
Wells shown within Somerset
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Wells is a small cathedral city and civil parish in the Mendip district of Somerset, England, on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills. Although the population, recorded in the 2001 census, is only 10,406, it has had city status since 1205. This was confirmed and formalised by Queen Elizabeth II by letters patent issued under the Great Seal dated April 1, 1974. It is the second smallest city in England, following the City of London, though St Davids in Wales is the smallest city in the UK.
The name Wells derives from the three wells dedicated to Saint Andrew, one in the market place and two within the grounds of the Bishop's Palace and cathedral. During the Middle Ages these wells were thought to have curative powers.
The City was a Roman settlement but only became an important centre under the Saxons when King Ine of Wessex founded a minster church in 704. Two hundred years later, this became the seat of the local Bishop; but in 1088, this had been removed to Bath. This caused severe arguments between the canons of Wells and the monks of Bath until the bishopric was renamed as the Diocese of Bath and Wells, to be elected by both religious houses. Wells became a borough some time before 1160 when Bishop Robert granted its first charter. Fairs were granted to the City before 1160.
Wells was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Welle, from the Old English wiells, which was not listed as a town but included four manors with a population of 132 which implies a population of 500-600. Earlier names for the settlement have been identified which include Fontanetum, in a charter of 725 granted by King Ina to Glastonburyand Fontanensis Ecclesia. Tidesput or Tithesput furlang relates to the area east of the Bishops garden in 1245. An established market had been created in Wells by 1136, and it remained under episcopal control until its city charter from Elizabeth I in 1589.
During the English Civil War, Parliamentarian troops used the Cathedral to stable their horses and damaged much of the ornate sculpture by using it for firing practice. William Penn stayed in Wells shortly before leaving for America, spending a night at The Crown Inn. Here he was briefly arrested for addressing a large crowd in the market place, but released on the intervention of the Bishop of Bath & Wells.
During the Monmouth Rebellion the rebel army attacked the Cathedral in an outburst against the Established Church and damaged the West front. Lead from the roof was used to make bullets, windows broken, the organ smashed and their horses stabled in the nave. Wells was the final location of the Bloody Assizes on September 23, 1685. In a makeshift court lasting only one day, over 500 men were tried and the majority sentenced to death.
There was a port at Bleadney on the River Axe in the 8th century that enabled goods to be brought to within 3 miles (5 km) of Wells. In the Middle Ages overseas trade was carried out from the ports of Rackley. In the 14th century a French ship sailed up the river and by 1388 Thomas Tanner from Wells used Rackley to export cloth and corn to Portugal, and received iron and salt in exchange. Wells had been a centre for cloth making, however in the 16th and 17th centuries this diminished, but the town retained its important market focus.
Wells has had three railway stations. The first station, Priory Road, opened in 1859 and was on the Somerset Central Railway (later the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway) as the terminus of a short branch from Glastonbury. A second railway, the East Somerset, opened a branch line from Witham in 1862 and built a station to the east of Priory Road. In 1870, a third railway, the Cheddar Valley line branch of the Bristol and Exeter Railway from Yatton, reached Wells and built yet another station, later called Tucker Street. Matters were somewhat simplified when the Great Western Railway acquired both the Cheddar Valley and the East Somerset lines and built a link between the two that ran through the S&DJR's Priory Road station. In 1878, when through trains began running between Yatton and Witham, the East Somerset station closed, but through trains did not stop at Priory Road until 1934. Priory Road closed to passenger traffic in 1951 when the S&DJR branch line from Glastonbury was shut, though it remained the city's main goods depot. Tucker Street closed in 1963 under the Beeching Axe, which closed the Yatton to Witham line to passengers. Goods traffic to Wells ceased in 1964. A Pacific SR West Country, West Country Class steam locomotive no 34092 built by the British Railways Board was named "City of Wells" following a ceremony in the city's Priory Road station in 1949. It was used to draw the Golden Arrow service between London and the Continent. It was withdrawn from service in 1964, and rescued from a scrapyard in 1971. It is now undergoing a complete restoration on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway in Yorkshire.
During World War II, Stoberry Park in Wells was the location of a Prisoner of War camp, housing Italian prisoners from the Western Desert Campaign, and later German prisoners after the Battle of Normandy. Penleigh Camp on the Wookey Hole Road was a German working camp.
Wells City Council has sixteen councillors, elected from three wards: Central, St.Thomas and St.Cuthbert. It was previously known as Wells Municipal Borough. The City Council has responsibility for local issues, including setting an annual precept (local rate) to cover the council’s operating costs and producing annual accounts for public scrutiny. They also evaluate local planning applications and work with the local police, district council officers, and neighbourhood watch groups on matters of crime, security, and traffic. This includes City Centre management including CCTV, an alcohol ban and regulating street trading permissions including the two funfairs held in the Market Place in May and November each year and the Wells In Bloom competition.
The city council's role also includes initiating projects for the maintenance and repair of city facilities, as well as consulting with the district council on the maintenance, repair, and improvement of highways, drainage, footpaths, public transport, and street cleaning. They are involved in the management of the Community Sports Development Centre at the Blue School, the skateboard park and allotments in the grounds of the Bishop's Palace, Burcott Road and Barnes Close. Conservation matters (including trees and listed buildings) and environmental issues are also the responsibility of the council. The Wells city arms show an ash tree surrounded by three wells, with the Latin motto Hoc fonte derivata copia (the fullness that springs from this well).
The Town Hall was built in 1778, with the porch and arcade being added in 1861 and the balcony and round windows in 1932. It is a Grade II listed building. It replaced the former on the site of the Market and Assize Hall in the Market Place, and a Canonical House also known as 'The Exchequer', on the authority of an Act of Parliament dated 1779. The building also houses the magistrates courts and other offices. The Assize court last sat here in October 1970.
Wells elects five councillors to Mendip District Council from the same three wards as are used for the City Council. The Mendip District was formed on April 1, 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972. The district council is responsible for local planning and building control, local roads, council housing, environmental health, markets and fairs, refuse collection and recycling, cemeteries and crematoria, leisure services, parks, and tourism.
Wells has one councillor on the Somerset County Council, which is responsible for running the largest and most expensive local services such as education, social services, libraries, main roads, public transport, policing and fire services, trading standards, waste disposal and strategic planning. Wells is part of the UK Parliament constituency of Wells. Its Member of Parliament is David Heathcoat-Amory of the Conservative Party. Wells is within the South West England constituency of the European Parliament which elects six MEPs using the d'Hondt method of party-list proportional representation.
Wells lies at the foot of the southern escarpment of the Mendip Hills where they meet the Somerset Levels. The hills are largely made of carboniferous limestone, which is quarried at several nearby sites. In the 1960s, the tallest mast in the region, the Mendip UHF television transmitter, was installed on Pen Hill above Wells.
The water from the springs fills the moat around the Bishops Place and then flows into Keward Brook, which carries it for approximately a mile west to the point where the brook joins the River Sheppey in the village of Coxley.
Along with the rest of South West England, the Mendip Hills have a temperate climate which is generally wetter and milder than the rest of England. The annual mean temperature is about 10 °C (50 °F) with seasonal and diurnal variations, but due to the modifying effect of the sea, the range is less than in most other parts of the United Kingdom. January is the coldest month with mean minimum temperatures between 1 °C (34 °F) and 2 °C (36 °F). July and August are the warmest months in the region with mean daily maxima around 21 °C (70 °F). In general, December is the dullest month and June the sunniest. The south west of England enjoys a favoured location, particularly in summer, when the Azores High extends its influence north-eastwards towards the UK.
Cloud often forms inland, especially near hills, and reduces exposure to sunshine. The average annual sunshine totals around 1600 hours. Rainfall tends to be associated with Atlantic depressions or with convection. In summer, convection caused by solar surface heating sometimes forms shower clouds and a large proportion of the annual precipitation falls from showers and thunderstorms at this time of year. Average rainfall is around 800–900 mm (31–35 in). About 8–15 days of snowfall is typical. November to March have the highest mean wind speeds, with June to August having the lightest. The predominant wind direction is from the south west.
The population of the civil parish, recorded in the 2001 census, is 10,406. Their average age is 44 years with 2,602 of the peopl,e being over the age of 65 years. 4,208 of the population are considered to be economically active.
Within the 1,702 people living in the central ward 1,690 are white, and the predominant religion is Christian. Similar profiles are seen amongst the 4,577 people living in St Cuthberts Ward, and the 4,126 living in St Thomas's ward.
Following construction of the A39/A371 bypass, the centre of town has returned to being a quiet market city. It has all the modern conveniences plus shops, hotels and restaurants. Wells is a popular tourist destination, due to its historical sites, its proximity to Bath, Stonehenge and Glastonbury and its closeness to the Somerset coast. Also nearby are Wookey Hole Caves, the Mendip Hills and the Somerset Levels. Somerset cheese, including Cheddar, is made locally.
Wells is situated at the junction of three numbered routes. The A39 goes north-east to Bath and south-west to Glastonbury and Bridgwater. The A371 goes north-west to Cheddar and east to Shepton Mallet. The B3139 goes west to Highbridge and north-east to Radstock.
Wells is served by FirstGroup bus services to Bristol, Bath, Frome, Shepton Mallet, Yeovil, Street, Bridgwater, Taunton, Burnham on Sea and Weston-super-Mare, as well as providing some local service. Some National Express coach services call at Wells. The bus station is in Princes Road.
The Blue School, founded in 1654, is a state coeducational comprehensive school and has been awarded Specialist science college status. It has 1,453 students aged 11–18 of both sexes and all ability levels.
Wells Cathedral School, founded in 909, is an independent school that has a Christian emphasis and is one of the five established musical schools for school-age children in Britain. The school teaches over 700 pupils between the ages of 3 and 18. The school's boarding houses line the northern parts of the city and the music school retains close links with Wells Cathedral.
The primary schools in Wells are Stoberry Park School, St Cuthbert's Church of England Infants School, St Joseph and St Teresa Catholic Primary School, and Wells Central CofE Junior School.
Wells is part of the West Country Carnival circuit.
A walled precinct, the Liberty of St Andrew, encloses the twelfth century Cathedral, the Bishop's Palace, Vicar's Close and the residences of the clergy who serve the cathedral. Entrances include the Penniless Porch The Bishop's Eye and Brown's Gatehouse which were all built around 1450.
The Cathedral is the cathedral of the Church of England Diocese of Bath and Wells. Wells has been an ecclesiastical City of importance for hundreds of years. Parts of the building date back to the 10th century, and it is a grade I listed building.. It is known for its fine fan vaulted ceilings, Lady Chapel and windows, and the scissor arches which support the central tower. The west front is said to be the finest collection of statuary in Europe, retaining almost 300 of its original medieval statues, carved from the cathedral's warm, yellow Doulting stone. The Chapter House, at the top of a flight of stone stairs, leading out from the north transept is an octagonal building with a fan-vaulted ceiling. It is here that the business of running the cathedral is still conducted by the members of the Chapter, the cathedral's ruling body. Wells Cathedral clock is famous for its 24 hour astronomical dial and set of jousting knights that perform every quarter hour. The cathedral has the heaviest ring of 10 bells in the world. The tenor bell weighs just over 56 CWT (6,272 lb, 2,844 kg).
The Bishops Palace has been the home of the Bishops of the Diocese of Bath and Wells for 800 years. The hall and chapel are particularly noteworthy, dating from the 14th century. There are 14 acres (5.7 ha) of gardens including the springs from which the city takes its name. Visitors can also see the Bishop's private Chapel, ruined Great Hall and the Gatehouse with portcullis and drawbridge beside which mute swans ring a bell for food. The Bishop's Barn was built in the 15th century.
The Vicars' Close is the oldest residential street in Europe. The Close is tapered by 10 feet (3.0 m) to make it look longer when viewed from the bottom. When viewed from the top, however, it looks shorter.
The Church of St Cuthbert (which tourists often mistake for the cathedral) has a fine Somerset stone tower and a superb carved roof. Originally an Early English building (13th century), it was much altered in the Perpendicular period (15th century). The nave's coloured ceiling was repainted in 1963 at the instigation of the then Vicar's wife, Mrs Barnett. Until 1561 the church had a central tower which either collapsed or was removed, and has been replaced with the current tower over the west door. Bells were cast for the tower by Roger Purdy.
The city has two football clubs, one being Wells City F.C., past winners of the Western League. The oldest football club in Wells though is Belrose FC who play their football in the Mid-Somerset Football League at Haybridge Park.
Wells Leisure Centre has a 25 metres (82 ft) swimming pool, gymnasium, sports hall, sauna, steam room, relaxation area and solarium.
Wells has been used as the setting for several films including: The Canterbury Tales (1973), A Fistful of Fingers (1994), The Gathering (2002), The Libertine (2005), The Golden Age (2007), and Hot Fuzz (2007) The cathedral interior stood in for Southwark Cathedral during filming for the Doctor Who episode The Lazarus Experiment.
Wells is the smallest city in England, with a population of around 10,000. It is in Somerset in the South West of the country. The city is dominated by the magnificent Gothic cathedral and is famous for its remarkably intact ecclesiastical quarter. This area contains the Bishop's Palace - the seat of the Bishop of Bath and Wells - and the Vicar's Close, a mediaeval street purported to be the oldest continuously-inhabited street in Europe. The city takes its name from the wells found in the Cathedral grounds.
The nearest airport is Bristol International Airport, around 20 miles away. You can hire a car at the airport or catch the bus into Bristol itself in order to catch a bus to Wells. In common with many rural towns, Wells has no train station.
If you are driving from Bristol, take the A37 south until you reach the A371, then head west into Wells. If you happen to be coming from Bath, take the A39 west into the A37, and then on to the A371 west into Wells.
There is an hourly bus service, number 346, from Bristol. Get on at Bristol bus station or at Bristol Temple Meads rail station. This service is run by FirstGroup and up-to-date timetables can be found here 
The city is so small that unless you have a medical condition you should have no trouble walking everywhere. If you would like there are taxis but these would only be useful making forays into the countryside (beautiful, by the way) or to nearby Cheddar, but these are accessible by bus, as well.
Wells Cathedral is the only cathedral in England that still has a Vicars Close and Bishop's Palace intact (so they claim). This makes it a must-see and a will-see, as it rises above the town and is visible for miles! The most distinctive thing about this cathedral is the scissor arches in the transept. These modern-looking arches were built in the 1300s to stabilise the structure after a heightened tower was added, and they face north, south, and west.
There is a bunch of restaurants in the centre of Wells and around it. No matter what you like, if Italian, Chinese, Indian or traditional English, you'll find somewhere. To figure out what's best, go to the tourist office within the town hall to get a leaflet about all the restaurants in the city.
Other local attractions near Wells are:
These attractions are all accessible by bus (busses usually leave from the bus station near Tesco)
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WELLS, a city, municipal borough and market town in the Wells parliamentary division of Somerset, England, 20 m. S. of Bristol, on the Great Western and Somerset & Dorset railways. Pop. (1901) 4849. It is a quiet, old-fashioned place, lying in a hollow under the Mendip Hills, whose spurs rise on all sides like islands. The city is said to have derived its name from some springs called St Andrew's Wells, which during the middle ages were thought to have valuable curative properties. During Saxon times Wells was one of the most important towns of Wessex, and in 905 it was made the seat of a bishopric by King Edward the Elder. About the year1091-1092Bishop John de Villula removed the see to Bath; and for some years Wells ceased to be an episcopal city. After many struggles between the secular clergy of Wells and the regulars of Bath, it was finally arranged in 1139 that the bishop should take the title of "bishop of Bath and Wells," and should for the future be elected by delegates appointed partly by the monks of Bath and partly by the canons of Wells. The foundation attached to the cathedral church of Wells consisted of a college of secular canons of St Augustine, governed by a dean, sub-dean, chancellor and other officials. The diocese covers the greater part of Somerset. The importance of the city is almost wholly ecclesiastical; and the theological college is one of the most important in England.
Wells is governed by a mayor, 4 aldermen and 12 councillors. Area 720 acres.
The cathedral, one of the most magnificent of all the secular churches of England, was executed principally by Bishops Reginald Fitz-Jocelyn (11 7 1-1191), Savaricus (1192-1205) and Jocelyn (1206-1242). According to the usual medieval practice, the eastern part of the church was begun first, and the choir was consecrated for use long before the completion of the nave, the western part of which, with the magnificent series of statues on the façade, is commonly attributed to Bishop Jocelyn. With him was associated a famous architect in Elias de Derham, who was his steward in 1236, and died in 1245. The upper half of the two western towers has never been built. The noble central tower, 160 ft. high, was built early in the 14th century; the beautiful octagonal chapter-house on the north side, and the lady chapel at the extreme east, were the next important additions in the same century. The whole church is covered with stone groining of various dates, from the Early English of the choir to the fan vaulting of the central tower. Its plan consists of a nave (161 ft. in length and 82 in breadth) and aisles, with two short transepts, each with a western aisle and two eastern chapels. The choir and its aisles are of unusual length (103 ft.), and behind the high altar are two smaller transepts, beyond which is the very rich Decorated lady chapel, with an eastern semi-octagonal apse. On the north of the choir is the octagonal chapter-house, the vaulting of which springs from a slender central shaft; as the church belonged to secular clergy, it was not necessary to place it in its usual position by the cloister. The cloister, 160 by 150 ft., extends along the whole southern wall of the nave. The extreme length of the church from east fo west is 383 ft. The oak stalls and bishop's throne in the choir are magnificent examples of 15thcentury woodwork, still well preserved.
The glory of the church, and that which makes it unique among the many splendid buildings of medieval England, is the wonderful series of sculptured figures which decorate the exterior of the west front. The whole of the façade, 150 ft. wide, including the two western towers, is completely covered with this magnificent series; there are nine tiers of single figures under canopies, over 600 in number, mostly large life size, with some as much as 8 ft. in height, and other smaller statues; these represent angels, saints, prophets, kings and queens of the Saxon, Norman and Plantagenet dynasties, and bishops and others who had been benefactors to the see. There are also forty-eight reliefs with subjects from Bible history, and immense representations of the Last Judgment and the Resurrection, the latter alone containing about 150 figures. The whole composition is devised so as to present a comprehensive scheme of theology and history, evidently thought out with much care and ingenuity. As works of art, these statues and reliefs are of high merit; the faces are noble in type, the folds of the drapery very gracefully treated with true sculpturesque simplicity, and the pose of the figures remarkable for dignity. A great variety of hands and much diversity of workmanship can be traced in this mass of sculpture, but in very few cases does the work fall conspicuously below the general level of excellence.
The interior of the central tower presents an interesting example of the skilful way in which the medieval builders could turn an unexpected constructional necessity into a beautiful architectural feature. While it was being built the four piers of the great tower arches showed signs of failure, and, therefore, in order to strengthen them, a second lower arch was built below each main arch of the tower; and on this a third inverted arch was added. Thus the piers received a steady support along their whole height from top to bottom, and yet the opening of each archway was blocked up in the smallest possible degree. The contrasting lines of these three adjacent arches on each side of the tower have a very striking and graceful effect; nothing similar exists elsewhere.
On the south side of the cathedral stands the bishop's palace, a moated building, originally built in the form of a quadrangle by Bishop Jocelyn, and surrounded by a lofty circuit wall. The hall and chapel are beautiful structures, mostly of the 14th century.
The vicars' college was a secular foundation for two principals and twelve vicars; fine remains of this, dating from the 15th century, and other residences of the clergy stand within and near the cathedral close; some of these are among the most beautiful examples of medieval domestic architecture in England.
The church of St Cuthbert is one of the finest of the many fine parochial churches in Somersetshire, with a noble tower and spire at the west end. It was originally an Early English cruciform building, but the central tower fell in during the 16th century, and the whole building was much altered during the Perpendicular period. Though much damaged, a very interesting reredos exists behind the high altar; it consists of a "Jesse tree" sculptured in relief, erected in 1470. Another beautiful reredos was discovered in 1848, hidden in the plaster on the east wall of the lady chapel, which is on the north side.
There was a Roman settlement at Wells (Theorodunur, Fonticuli, Tidington, Welliae, Welle), this site being chosen on account of the springs from which the town takes its name, and the Roman road to Cheddar passed through Wells. King Ine founded a religious house there in 704, and it became an episcopal see in 910. To this latter event the subsequent growth of Wells is due. There is evidence that Wells had become a borough owned by the bishops of Wells before i 160, and in that year Bishop Robert granted the first charter, which exempted his burgesses from certain tolls. Other charters granted by Bishop Reginald before 1180 and by Bishop Savaric about 1201 gave the burgesses of Wells the right to jurisdiction in their own disputes. These charters were confirmed by John in 1201, by Edward I. in 1290, by Edward III. with the grant of new privileges in 1 334, 1 34 1, 1 343 and 1345, by Richard II. in 1377, by Henry IV. in 1399 and by Henry VI. in 1424. Wells obtained charters of incorporation in 1589, 1683, 1688 and 1835. It was represented in parliament from 1295 to 1868. Fairs on March 3, October 14 and November 30 were granted before 1160, and in 1201 fairs on May 9, November 25 and June 25 were added. They were important in the middle ages for the sale of cloth made in the town, but the fairs which are now held on the first Tuesdays in January, May, July, November and December are noted for the sale of cheese. The market days for the sale of cattle and provisions are Wednesdays and Saturdays. Silk-making, stockingmaking and gloving replaced the cloth trade in Wells, but have now given place to brush-making, corn and paper milling, which began early in the 19th century.
See Victoria County History, Somerset; Thomas Serel, Lectures on Wells (1880).