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The City of Wells Visitor Guide

The information presented on the Wells pages is based on the Wells Street Map and Guide

Wells was named after the natural springs or wells that bubble up to the surface in a pool in the gardens of the Bishop´s Palace. The flow of water averages 40 gallons per second and feeds the Palace moat, supplies the Fountain or Conduit in Market Place, and flows down the High Street in special wide channels to eventually join up with the River Sheppey. Historically, the flow of water provided power for the many mills that once flourished in the City. But there would have been no city of Wells without the establishment of the Cathedral which brought people flocking to the area.


The first Church of St. Andrew was founded by Ina, King of Wessex near the natural wells in 705AD. In 909AD, Aethelhelm was appointed the first Bishop of Somerset at Wells and the Cathedral flourished until the arrival of the Norman, John de Vilula, who felt that Wells was not worth bothering with. He moved to Bath and let Wells fall into ruin. His successor, Robert of Lewes, repaired the buildings and improved the administration of the clergy.

In 1180 building began on the present Cathedral using limestone quarried nearby at Doulting. Work continued for another 250 years, as each Bishop added to the vision of his predecessors.

The town that grew up around the Cathedral caused many problems for the bishops. Apart from the noise and nuisance during the markets that were held regularly in Wells from the twelfth century onwards, the townspeople were constantly trying to wriggle out from under the Bishop´s authority. Such tensions led to the fortification of the Bishop´s Palace, although the unrest never became serious enough that the fortifications were needed. Small concessions were made through the centuries until Queen Elizabeth I granted a Charter making Wells a free city.

Wells has frequently been caught up in events that changed history. During the Wars of the Roses, Margaret of Anjou and her Lancastrian forces rode through Wells on their way to fight the Yorkist army of Edward IV. In 1497 the small town would have been completely overwhelmed by the arrival of Henry VII and his ten thousand strong cavalry, visiting to suppress support for Perkin Warbeck, a claimant to the throne. Although Wells escaped the worst effects of Henry VIII´s Reformation, the Lord Abbot of Glastonbury was famously brought from the Tower of London to be tried in the Banqueting Hall of the Bishop´s Palace. He had allegedly hidden valuables from the King´s Commissioner, but he may merely have refused to give up his abbey. He was found guilty and hung, drawn and quartered on Glastonbury Tor. The chair he was tried in is on display in the Bishop´s Palace. The Cathedral and town were ransacked and looted by both Parliamentarian and Royalist armies during the Civil War.

More recently Wells has also become famous for its exceptional schools. Wells Cathedral School, with a history going back over a thousand years, now occupies many of the buildings in The Liberty, attracting pupils from all over the world.

Wells is twinned with Paray le Monial in France and Bad Durkheim in Germany.

For further information about Wells, including a free visitor pack, please contact the Wells Tourist Information Centre.

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