Wells Bishops Palace

Has been described as a Certain Palace (Bishop)

There are major building remains

NameWells Bishops Palace
Alternative Names
Historic CountrySomerset
Modern AuthoritySomerset
1974 AuthoritySomerset
Civil ParishWells

The palace is surrounded by a moat and fourteenth-century curtain wall with gatehouse. The main structure consists of two periods of 13th century domestic construction: the first floor suite of Bishop Jocelyn (1206-1242), now the bishop's residence; and the great hall of Bishop Burnell (1274-1292), a ruin in the palace gardens (Wood). The Palace's inner court consisted of the central domestic buildings, which were partially arranged around a 15th century courtyard. Outside this, but still inside the defences, would have been various functional buildings and areas: kitchens and gardens certainly and probably storehouses, stables, a bakehouse and a brewhouse. Outside the fortifications, were the bishop and his household's support system; the springs, the home farm, the mill and the park (Payne, 1999) The Bishop's Palace is located to the south of Saint Andrew's Cathedral and a number of the springs. Along with the 13th century buildings built by Bishop Jocelyn and Bishop Burnell there is also a later, 15th century range constructed by Bishop Bekynton. Although the earliest surviving part of the palace dates from Jocelyn's episcopate, there are references to an earlier site; possibly replaced by or supplemented by Jocelyn's construction (Payne and Hoggett) Ralph of Shrewsbury was appointed Bishop in 1329. With his arrival at Wells, the palace complex was embellished with a moat, walls, and a drawbridge; probably completed in honour of Edward III's visit during Christmas 1331 (Scrase). (Somerset HER)

Wall with corner towers and gatehouse, surrounded by moat. c1341 (date of license to Crenellate) by Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury. Local stone rubble with ashlar copings and other dressings, average 5m high. PLAN: irregular, with 6 bastion towers, that to the NW, sometimes referred to as the prison, has a small but lofty room, with apsidal W end, and looks more like a small chapel; it has stone tablets with the decalogue set high on the walls

The gatehouse lies on the N side. The wall is boldly crenellated with some arrowslits. Part of the N side is incorporated in that part of the Bishop's Palace (qv) presently known as Bishop's House. The gatehouse in random rubble with Doulting stone dressings with lead flat roof behind crenellated parapets. EXTERIOR: 3 storeys, the gateway bay flanked by two rectangular towers with corners chamfered on north side. Towers have mostly arrowslits to ground and first floors, but east face of east tower has a 2-light mullioned window with square label (under which is the Swans' Bell), the N face has a circular cinquefoil window, and to the NE corner an angled oriel window at first floor level of 1+2+2+1 lights, with moulded base and reeded frieze to a lead flat roof. The centre gateway has a 4-centre arch in a rectangular recess with carved spandrels, part of the portcullis and the chains of the drawbridge (now connected to a modern fixed bridge) remain, arch has a pair of possibly C14 gates with an inserted wicket of c1600. Above this a single lancet with cusped window set deep inside. Inside the gateway is a quadripartite ribbed vault with short spring shafts, and carved head boss and corbels. In E wall of this space a small oriel window, presumably for the gatekeeper. Side doors in the projection of the towers south of the minor gate arch. INTERIOR: not inspected. The enclosing wall with its moat helps to provide what Pevsner (op cit) calls an "...exquisite beauty of setting...". (Listed Building Report)

Gatehouse Comments

The exterior of the precinct wall was whitewashed and at it's height the gleaming white walls reflected in the surrounding moat would have created a remarkable impression.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceST551457
Latitude51.2093200683594
Longitude-2.64372992515564
Eastings355130
Northings145760
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Copyright Elliott Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Elliott Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Elliott Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Elliott Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Elliott Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Elliott Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Elliott Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Elliott Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Elliott Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Elliott Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Elliott Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Elliott Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Elliott Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved

Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.

Calculate Print

Books

  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 230-2, 261, 370
  • Emery, Anthony, 2006, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol. 3 Southern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) p. 669-74
  • Creighton, O.H. and Higham, R.A., 2005, Medieval Town Walls (Stroud: Tempus) p. 105, 108, 257
  • Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles of Wessex (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 86-7
  • Thompson, M.W., 1998, Medieval bishops' houses in England and Wales (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing) p. 47, 49-54, 134, 156, 158, 167, 168, 169
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 224-5
  • Dunning, Robert, 1995, Somerset Castles (Somerset Books) p. 67-68
  • James, T.B., 1990, The Palaces of Medieval England (London; Seaby)
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 445
  • Dunning, R.W., 1982, 'The Bishop's Palace' in Colchester, L.S. (ed), Wells Cathedral: A History (Shepton Mallet) p. 227-244
  • Pevsner, N, 1958, Buildings of England: North Somerset and Bristol p. 313-16
  • Oman, Charles W.C., 1926, Castles (1978 edn Beetham House: New York) p. 59-60
  • Woodcock, Eveline M., 1910, 'The Palace of Wells' in Rait, R.S. (ed), English Episcopal Palaces (Province of Canterbury) (London; Constable & Co) p. 287-326 online copy
  • Parker, J.H., 1866, The Architectural Antiquities of the City of Wells (Oxford and London)
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 345-6, 412 online copy
  • Turner, T.H., 1851, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 1 p. 165-7 online copy
  • Pugin, A., 1850, Pugin's Examples of Gothic Architecture (London: Henry and Bohn) Vol. 2
  • Buck, Samuel and Nathaniel, 1774, Buck's Antiquities (London) Vol. 2 p. 263

Antiquarian

Journals

  • Burton, Peter, 2010-11, 'Original castle gates and doors – A Survey' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 24 p. 246-59 online copy
  • Guy, N. et al., 2010-11, 'Castle Studies Group Conference 'Castles of West Wessex'' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 24 p. 4-146 esp 57-66 plan and photos otherwise slight)
  • Scrase, Anthony John, 2008, 'The bishop and the guild : the Wells crisis of 1341-3' Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Vol. 151 p. 117-25
  • Coulson, C., 1994, 'Freedom to Crenellate by Licence - An Historiographical Revision' Nottingham Medieval Studies Vol. 38 p. 124
  • Coulson, Charles, 1993 Aug, 'Specimens of Freedom to Crenellate by Licence' Fortress: The castles and fortifications quarterly Vol. 18 p. 3-15
  • Coulson, C., 1982, 'Hierarchism in Conventual Crenellation: An Essay in the Sociology and Metaphysics of Medieval Fortification' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 26 p. 69-100 see online copy
  • Binney, M., 1975, 'The Bishop's Palace, Wells, Somerset' Country Life , 158 p. 1666-9, 1738-41
  • Faulkner, P.A., 1958, 'Domestic Planning from the Twelfth to the Fourteenth Centuries' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 115 p. 150-83 online copy
  • Wood, M.E., 1950-51, 'The Bishop's Palace, Wells' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 107 p. 108-110 online copy
  • Wood, Margaret, 1950, 'Thirteenth-century Domestic Architecture in England' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 105 supplement p. 74-6
  • Brakspear, 1930, The Archaeological Journal Vol. 87 p. 464-7 online copy
  • Leland, 1897, Country Life Vol. 2 p. 528-30 (slight)
  • Buckle, E., 1888, 'Wells Palace' Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Vol. 34 p. 54-97
  • Parker, J.H., 1863, 'The bishop's palace at Wells' Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Vol. 11 p. 143-58 online copy
  • Davis, C.E., Journal British Archaeological Association Vol. 13 p. 177-86

Primary Sources

  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1893, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward I (1281-91) Vol. 2 p. 229 online copy
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1898, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward III (1338-40) Vol. 4 p. 466 online copy
  • Harvey, J.H. (ed), 1969, William Worcestre: Itineraries (Oxford: Clarendon Press) p. 289, 295

Other

  • Payne, Naomi, 2003, The medieval residences of the bishops of Bath and Wells, and Salisbury (PhD Thesis University of Bristol) p. 129-134 (available via EThOS)
  • Gathercole, C., 2003, An Archaeological Assessment of Wells (English Heritage Extensive Urban Survey) p. 18-9 online copy
  • Payne, N & Hoggett, R., 1999, Test Pits in the Allotments of the Bishop's Palace, Wells (University Bristol)
  • Payne, N., 1998-1999, The Precinct of the Bishop's Palace, Wells, Somerset _(A study submitted for the MA in Landscape Archaeology, Bristol University)