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Places to Visit in Wells

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

Wells Cathedral dominates the City, as it has for centuries. The impressive West Front with 300 carved figures illustrates the Christian faith with biblical scenes, angels, saints, kings and bishops. Although breathtaking in golden limestone, traces of brightly coloured pigments on the stone suggest that the sculptures may have been even more stunning in the past. The Cathedral has plenty to amaze and inspire visitors inside too: the unique ‘scissor-arches’ which support the nave; the 600 year old mechanical clock with four jousting knights; the evocative stone stairway which leads to the Chain Gate and the Chapter House where the Canons met, well worn through the ages by the tread of many feet; the scenes from thirteenth century life carved on the capitals in the transepts; the medieval Jesse Window and the carved misericords under the stalls in the Quire.

Special Guides are available between April and October to answer questions and provide information. There are also daily guided tours from Monday to Saturday at 10am, 11am, 2pm, and 3pm.
Services are held daily. On weekdays: 7.30am Morning Prayer, 8am Holy Communion, 5.15pm Evensong. On Sundays: 8am Holy Communion, 9.45am Sung Eucharist, 11.30am Morning Prayer, 3pm Evensong.

Open April to September daily 7am-7pm, October to March daily 7am-6pm. Entry is free, but donations are gratefully received to help towards the upkeep of the Cathedral. Most parts of the Cathedral are accessible to wheelchairs and there is a toilet for disabled visitors. A Hearing loop system is installed and an audio tape is available for the visually impaired. Guide dogs are allowed. The Cathedral shop sells gifts, guidebooks, postcards and CDs. The Egon Ronay recommended Cloister Restaurant serves coffee, lunches and teas.

Further information is available from the Cathedral Offices, Chain Gate, Cathedral Green (D2). Tel: (01749) 674483.

The Bishop’s Palace is surrounded by a tranquil moat where swans glide and fish swim. If you are lucky you may see the swans perform their party trick of ringing a special bell that hangs from the gatehouse when they are hungry. Entrance to the Palace is over the drawbridge and through the fourteenth century gatehouse.

The oldest parts of the Bishop’s Palace are the vaulted Entrance Hall with its Tudor fireplace and the Undercroft, which date from the early thirteenth century when King John granted land to Bishop Jocelin so that he could build a residence and a deer park.
In the late thirteenth century, a magnificent Banqueting Hall, 115 feet long and 60 feet wide, was built for Bishop Burnell. Special guests, including royalty, were entertained there, and dined on a huge variety of dishes, such as heron, peacock, quail and… swan. One of these guests was Edward III who enjoyed the Bishop’s hospitality during Christmas 1331. The Hall was sold during the sixteenth century and the glass windows, and the lead and timbers of the roof were stripped. Only the north and west walls remain today, but they are still magnificent as ruins standing amongst the trees in the grounds. Burnell also added the (recently restored) Bishop’s Chapel.

A Jacobean staircase leads to a Gallery with portraits of significant bishops, and State Rooms where you can see the Glastonbury Chair and the Coronation Cope, worn by the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

In the fifteenth century Bishop Bekynton had the north wing added, and this is the home and offices of the current Bishop of Bath and Wells.

The gardens and arboretum are peaceful places to walk, and the Rampart Walk gives views across the surrounding countryside. When conditions are right, a reflection of the Cathedral can be seen in the pool which contains the three springs or wells that gave the City it’s name.

Open April to October from Monday to Friday 10.30am-6pm, and Sundays 1pm-6pm. Last entry 5pm. Please telephone before making a special journey, as on occasion the Palace may have to close without prior notice. Both the Palace and Gardens are wheelchair accessible, and electric wheelchairs are available free of charge, but must be prebooked.The Visitor Reception, near the Gatehouse, has a range of gifts, cards and plants for sale. Homemade lunches and teas are available in the Restaurant and Garden Terrace. Tel: (01749) 678691.

WELLS AND MENDIP MUSEUM, 8 Cathedral Green. Tel: (01749) 673477. Open Easter to the end of October 10am-5.30pm daily, August from 10am-8pm. November to Easter open from Wednesday to Monday 11am-4pm, closed on Tuesday. Tickets are valid from the day they are bought until the end of the calendar year. Limited wheelchair access (at a reduced admission charge). The Museum Shop sells a range of gifts and books.

Many of the exhibits here are from the collection of a local man, Herbert Balch. Balch was a naturalist, caver and geologist. His passion for the local environment took him deep into the Mendip cave systems and he brought back many fascinating items that help us discover the area’s unique past. He believed that some objects must have belonged to the famous Witch of Wookey Hole.

Much of the focus is on archaeology and ancient history, including displays of the creatures that lived in the area 180 million years ago when most of the Somerset levels were under the sea, but the Museum also has items from more recent history. There is a large collection of samplers dating from the eighteenth century, displays of pottery, and stone carvings of Saints, Kings and gargoyles from the West Front of Wells Cathedral.

The museum has displays of Iron Age pots and Neolithic and Bronze Age arrowheads. Gigantic bones from Mammoths, Bears, Hyenas and even a Hippopotamus reveal some of the amazing creatures that walked the Mendip hills.

Roman life in the area is represented, including their skills at mining lead, copper, iron and zinc, an ancient craft that continued to be an important local industry until the nineteenth century. The museum has four huge ingots of Roman lead, each weighing over 180lbs. Lead mined in the Mendips was taken all over the Roman Empire.

The Vicar’s Close is the oldest complete street in Europe. It was built in the fourteenth century to provide houses for minor canons or vicars who performed duties in the Cathedral. The addition, in 1459, of the Chain Gate over St. Andrew’s Street meant that they could travel to and from the Cathedral without ever having to face the many temptations of the town.

The Bishop’s Barn in Silver Street dates from the fifteenth century, and is buit to a similar style and scale as the Glastonbury Abbey Barn. Originally used to store produce from the Bishop’s lands and rents paid in kind from his estates. The barn was repaired in 1986 with the help of English Heritage.

Many fascinating buildings surround Market Place, most of them built in the fifteenth century by Bishop Bekynton, giving it a very special character. The Bishop’s Eye looks out over the town, and leads to the Bishop’s Palace. It incorporates a house on each side. A little further along is Penniless Porch. This leads onto the Cathedral Green and to the Cathedral. It got its name because the poor used to shelter in it and beg from passing pilgrims. A row of twelve bay-windowed houses runs down from Penniless Porch, and opposite is the Georgian Town Hall, now the home of the Tourist Information Centre. Local athlete Mary Bignal Rand’s gold medal win at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 is commemorated in a brass pavement plaque the same length as her jump (22 feet 2¼ inches). The Conduit was built in 1799 and is a replacement for the original conduit which brought a free supply of water to the Market Place from the springs. The seventeenth century coaching inn, The Crown Hotel, is a lovely timber-framed building.

The City Arms Inn in the High Street was the city gaol from the sixteenth until the early nineteenth century.

St. Cuthbert’s Parish Church is the largest parish church in Somerset. There has probably been a church on this site since the ninth century, but the present building dates mainly from the fifteenth century.

There are two gardens in Wells that are well worth a visit. The Combe (D1) is a beautiful, tranquil and wild garden (open from April to October. Free entry). Milton Lodge Garden on Old Bristol Road (off D1) is a mature listed grade II terraced garden with excellent views of Wells Cathedral and the Vale of Avalon. It has mixed borders, roses and fine trees, and a separate 7-acre Arboretum. Open from Easter to October on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays, 2pm-5pm. Free car park. Café. Limited disabled access. Tel (01749) 672168.


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


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