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Wells is a small cathedral city and civil parish in the Mendip district of Somersetmarker, England, on the southern edge of the Mendip Hillsmarker.

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 Palacemarker and cathedralmarker. During the Middle Ages these wells were thought to have curative powers. 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).

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 Londonmarker, though St Davids in Walesmarker is the smallest city in the UK.


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 by 1091, this had been removed to Bathmarker. This caused severe arguments between the canons of Wells and the monks of Bath until the bishopric was renamed as the 'Diocese of Bath & 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 Glastonbury, and Fontuculi. Tydeston has also been recorded although this may relate to a hill settlement to the south east of Wells. 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.

English Civil War

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 Americamarker, 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.
The main street.
The cathedral is seen.

Monmouth Rebellion and the Bloody Assizes

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.

PoW camps

During World War II, Stoberry Park in Wells was the location of a Prisoner of War camp, housing Italianmarker 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.


The Cathedral rising behind the market place
Wells has had three railway stations. The first station, Priory Roadmarker, 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 Glastonburymarker. A second railway, the East Somerset, opened a branch line from Withammarker in 1862 and built a stationmarker to the east of Priory Road. In 1870, a third railway, the Cheddar Valley line branch of the Bristol and Exeter Railway from Yattonmarker, reached Wells and built yet another station, later called Tucker Streetmarker. 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 steam locomotive no 34092 in the Great Western Railway 3700 Class 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 in service on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway in Yorkshire.


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. The city has two football clubs, one being Wells City F.C.marker, 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 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 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 Parliamentmarker which elects seven MEPs using the d'Hondt method of party-list proportional representation.


Wells is situated at the junction of three numbered routes. The A39 goes north-east to Bathmarker and south-west to Glastonburymarker and Bridgwatermarker. The A371 goes north-west to Cheddarmarker and east to Shepton Malletmarker. The B3139 goes west to Highbridgemarker and north-east to Radstockmarker.

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 Schoolmarker, founded in 1654, is a state coeducational comprehensive school and has been awarded Specialist science college status. It has 1,460 students aged 11–18 of both sexes and all ability levels and is the largest school in Somerset.

Wells Cathedral Schoolmarker, 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 Britainmarker. 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 Cathedralmarker is the cathedral of the Church of England Diocese of Bath and Wellsmarker. Parts date back to the 10th century. It is known for its fine fan vaulted ceilings, Lady Chapel and windows, and the scissor arches which support the central tower. Together with the Bishop's Palacemarker (still used by the Bishop of Bath and Wells) Wells has been an ecclesiastical City of importance for hundreds of years. The cathedral is a grade I listed building.

The cathedral is notable for:
  • the west front – said to be the finest collection of statuary in Europe, containing 356 individual figures carved from the cathedral's warm, yellow Doulting stone.
  • the east end of the nave – an unusual scissored arch design of striking beauty, which saved the cathedral's central tower from collapse. In 1338, the original construction was found to be weakening underneath the tower (the West side had sunk 100 mm (4 inches). About 1340, the Master Mason, William Joy, implemented his ingenious solution of the inverted arch to redistribute the weight on the foundations by 10% from west to east.
  • the Chapter House – at the top of a flight of stone stairs, leading out from the north transept. It 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 heaviest ring of 10 bells in the world. The tenor bell weighs just over 56 CWT (6,272 lb, 2,844 kg).

Tourism and architecture

St.Cuthbert Parish Church, Wells
Wells is a popular tourist destination, due to its historical sites, its proximity to Bathmarker, Stonehengemarker and Glastonburymarker and its closeness to the Somerset coast. Also nearby are Wookey Hole Cavesmarker, the Mendip Hillsmarker and the Somerset Levels. Wells and Mendip Museummarker includes many historical artifacts from the city and surrounding mendip hillsmarker. Wells is part of the West Country Carnival circuit. Somerset cheese, including Cheddar, is made locally. The Mendip Way and Monarch's Way long-distance footpaths pass through the city, as does National Cycle Route 3.

A walled precinct, the Liberty of St Andrew, encloses the twelfth century Cathedralmarker, the Bishop's Palacemarker, Vicar's Close and the residences of the clergy who serve the cathedral. Entrances include the Penniless Porchmarker The Bishop's Eyemarker and Brown's Gatehousemarker which were all built around 1450. The Bishop's Barnmarker was built in the 15th century.

The Bishop's Palace gatehouse and drawbridge
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 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 Vicars' Closemarker is the oldest residential street in Europe. The Close is tapered by to make it look longer when viewed from the bottom. When viewed from the top, however, it looks shorter.

The The Old Deanerymarker dates from the 12th century, and St John's Priorymarker from the 14th.

The Church of St Cuthbertmarker (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.

In popular culture


Elizabeth Goudge used Wells as a basis for the fictional Cathedral city of Torminster, in her book City of Bells

Film and television

Wells has been used as the setting for several films:

The cathedral interior stood in for Southwark Cathedralmarker during filming for the Doctor Who episode The Lazarus Experiment.

Notable people

Civic ties

Wells is twinned with Bad Dürkheimmarker in Germany and Paray-le-Monialmarker in the Burgundy region of France.HMS Somerset, The Rifles and Harry Patch have the Freedom of the City. West Country Class locomotive 34092 is named City of Wells and is preserved at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.


Wells is part of the Wells & Shepton Mallet Travel to Work Area which also includes Glastonbury, Cheddar and surrounding areas.

See also


  • Somerset Railway Stations, by Mike Oakley, (Dovecote Press, 2002)

External links

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