Last Photographed: Saturday 26th June 2010
Other Names: The Liberty, St Andrew Liberty
Surrounding Wells Cathedral is one of the world's largest collections of medieval clerical buildings. The church precinct undoubtedly represents the finest medieval complex to be found in Britain. Originally, all these buildings fell within an area known as The Liberty of St Andrew (or St Andrew Liberty, or The Liberty). This was a walled area within the city of Wells within which the normal monarchic rights to raise taxation had been dissolved to the church. It's outer edge is still marked by three remaining gatehouses.
The most famous feature of the cathedral precinct is the spectacular Vicars' Close. Built from around 1363AD-1412AD to house members of the clergy, this is the oldest example of a complete medieval street in the world (although the ornate chimneys are a later Tudor addition, and a gap is filled by a later dwelling built to replace houses destroyed by fire). Today, it's still owned by the cathedral and is still used to house clergy. At its near end, the close is joined to the cathedral building by a medieval chain-gate that climbs over the street towards the chapter house. At the far end, it's adjoined by a chapel and library, built around 1424AD and marking the outer edge of the Liberty.
Opposite the entrance to Vicars' Close can be seen The Rib. Dating from the mid 15th Century, it was originally built to house cathedral dignitaries. It was once part of a row of three houses that fell within the bishop's gift, known collectively as The Bishop's Ribs. The other two houses no longer survive, and The Rib is now a private residence.
Heading west from Vicars' Close along the edge of the cathedral green, the street features a number of period buildings, including the Old Deanery. Originally built in the 14th Century, this now houses modern conference facilities. At the end of the street, access to Sadler Street is via the original medieval western gatehouse (Brown's Gatehouse - at one time referred to as The Dean's Eye). This survives complete, and is now incorporated into The Ancient Gatehouse hotel.
Heading back towards the cathedral across the green, access to the corner of the market place is via Penniless Porch - a gatehouse built in 1450AD, named for the freedom given to beggars to ply their trade there. This forms a pair with the contemporaneous Bishop's Eye - a second gatehouse situated slightly further along the market place giving access to the Bishop's Palace.