Last Photographed: Saturday 3rd June 2006
Work began on the Bishop's Palace at Wells cathedral in the early 13th Century. Unlike his predecessors, Bishop Jocelin preferred to reside at Wells rather than Bath, necessitating the provisioning of suitable accommodation. Throughout the following decades, work continued on improving and expanding the building, with the Great Hall being added in 1280AD.
It wasn't until the tenure of Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury that a license to crenelate was obtained in 1341AD. This allowed the enclosure of the palace within a fortified stone wall, moat and substantial gatehouse. The church had been at odds with the townsfolk over taxes imposed by the church, and it was the resulting riots that encouraged Bishop Ralph to construct more robust defences. The work was paid for out of fines levied upon the citizens of Wells.
The Great Hall fell into decay in the middle of the 16th Century, when the Reformation saw the lead and timbers of its roof sold for profit. During the 19th Century. the palace was remodelled and extended by Benjemin Ferrey, much altering its medieval character.
Today, although the palace is still the official residence of the Bishop of Bath and Wells,much of the complex is open to the public. Visitors enter through the 14th Century gatehouse, and are greeted by the site of the palace, the bishop's chapel and the ruined Great Hall. The hall and chapel are fully explorable. Beyond the hall, access is available to the medieval palace undercroft (which now contains a restaurant), the ornate gardens, and the well-springs from which the town obtains its name. Visitors can also walk a large stretch of the medieval battlements atop the surrounding wall.
The Bishop's Palace is well worth exploring at least once, but make sure it's on a sunny day. The gardens are incredibly peaceful and isolated from the outside world, and they really deserve to be enjoyed in ideal conditions. Seeing the cathedral reflected in the quiet pool formed by the springs is a truly stunning sight.
Outside the walls, the fields extending to the south of the palace were originally home to the bishop's deer park. A footpath leaps away towards Dulcote, and provides an excellent perspective from which to look back towards the cathedral, with a view uncluttered by modern buildings.