On the southern edge of the Mendip Hills in Somerset lies the beautiful cathedral city of Wells, England’s smallest city. Wells is home to the oldest medieval street in Europe and welcomes many visitors to its historic attractions including its Cathedral. The home of the Witch of Wookey can also be explored with tours available in the famous Wookey Hole Caves, and with over 20 attractions on this site alone there is plenty on offer in Wells for the whole family to enjoy.
Wells takes its name from the 3 wells dedicated to St Andrew, all of which are located within the city. As well as Roman settlers, the Saxons developed the area of Wells and built a church on the site now the location of the great Cathedral which dominates Well’s skyline and is the Diocese of Bath and Wells.
Noted in the Domesday Book as Welle, Wells is an ecclesiastical city and is of significant religious importance. Browns Gatehouse grants access the Liberty of St Andrew, a wall precinct that encloses the Cathedral, the Bishops’ Palace and the Vicar’s Close. Access can also be achieved through the Penniless Porch and the Bishop’s Eye gateways also found in the city.
A trip to Wells would not be complete without visiting the Wookey Hole Caves, with evidence found that indicates the caves were inhabited over 50,000 years ago by both man and animal. As well as exploring the caves, more can be learnt about its fascinating history and the many artefacts and specimens that have been uncovered from the site which is classed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The caves themselves are the result of natural acid in the river and rain water that has dissolved the rocks.
The famous Wookey Witch is a stalagmite within the caves which is shaped like a human and stands in a cavern known as the Witch’s Kitchen. Legend has it that the Wookey Witch was turned to stone by Monk Father Bernard, and that she guards the caves protecting the animals and creatures that still live there. Other features of the site include the Cathedral Cave, and as the caves have a constant temperature of 11 ?c they are used by cheese makers providing the ideal environment for maturing cheddar.
Wells is a historic and cultural city and as such has also been a focus in popular culture.
Films & TV
The Libertine (2004) starred Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton and John Malkovich and was based on the life of the Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot. Scenes for this drama were shot in Wells and Montacute in Somerset.
Elizabeth – The Golden Age (2007) this period drama features shots of Wells Cathedral and other locations in Somerset, with Cate Blanchett portraying a mature Queen Elizabeth as she faces both the Spanish Armada and an assassination plot.
Hot Fuzz (2007) this film comedy starred Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Martin Freeman with a quaint English village the setting for sinister goings-on. Extensive filming for this comedy took place in Wells including at the Crown Pub and the Bishops Palace.
City of Bells by Elizabeth Goudge was inspired by the city of Wells and it formed the basis of her fictional city of Torminster which features in this novel together with Sister of the Angels and Henrietta’s House, with the 3 stories together forming The Torminster Saga.
An expert in both ballooning and high-altitude flight, Andy Elson was born in Wells and holds the record for the longest flight within the atmosphere of any aircraft.
Herbert E. Balch was born in Wells on the 4 November 1869, an archaeologist and caver he was responsible for the pioneering methods used by many cavers and also extensively explored the caves within the Mendip Hills, with Balch Road within the city named after him.
John Holloway was born in Wells on 15 January 1744, the Royal Navy Officer was active in service during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars as well as the American War of Independence and became the Governor of Newfoundland in 1807.
The Bishops Palace
The Bishops Palace in Wells dates back over 800 years and is open to the public complete with 14 acres of gardens, a flagstone drawbridge, moat and portcullis. Bishop Jocelin Trotman was the first Bishop of Bath and Wells and received the authority to build a residence and deer park, the result of which is simply breath-taking.
Wells Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Bath and Wells and dates back to 1175 when construction began, although there has been a church on the site since 705. Dedicated to St Andrew the Apostle, The West Front of the magnificent Wells Cathedral is truly a sight to behold, over 100 feet high and 147 feet wide, is it regarded as one of the great sights of England and features over 300 statues and carvings.
Vicar’s Close is regarded as the oldest complete medieval street in Europe and the rarest of survivals. The Close was built for Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury and now comprises 27 residences, many of which are classed as Grade I listed buildings. The Close itself is 460ft long with a chapel, library and hall which connect to the Cathedral via the Chain Gate walkway. Shrewsbury House was rebuilt following a devastating fire which took place in the 19th century, and as such features a different architectural design to the other dwellings.