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Wells, Somerset

Historical Description

Wells, an episcopal city, a market-town, a municipal borough, and a parish in Somerset. The city stands under the Mendip Hills, with stations on the G.W. and Somerset & Dorset Joint railways, 126 miles from London, and 19 SW of Bath. It took its name from numerous springs in and near it, particularly from St Andrew's Well, between the cathedral and the palace, was anciently called Welve, Wielia, Wellie, Fonticuli, and other names, all having reference to its springs, originated in a collegiate church founded in 704 by King Ina, was made a bishop's see in 905 by Edward the Elder, was visited by the queen of James I. in 1613, sent two members to Parliament from the time of Edward I. till 1867, when it was deprived of one, and of the other in 1868, when seven seats were transferred from England to Scotland. The city was chartered by King John, is governed by a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors, is a seat of assizes, quarter sessions, and county courts, publishes a weekly newspaper, carries on brush-making, and conducts a considerable trade in connection witli neighbouring paper-mills, corn-mills, and an extensive nursery, yet retains the quietude and seclusion of an ancient cathedral town, presents a well-built, neatly-paved, clean, and cheerful appearance, with rivulets of water flowing through the streets. It has undergone considerable improvement in recent years by the erection of several new buildings and the re-modelling of others. It has a head post office, two banks, three hotels, a town-hall and court-houses of 1779, a market-house of 1835, a cathedral, a fine Decorated English church with Later English tower, a handsome church of 1857, a natural history and archaeological society, a small museum, a theological college of 1840, a grammar-school dating from 1240, four suites of almshouses, a cottage hospital, recreation grounds, a large workhouse, and a county lunatic asylum, 1½ mile distant, built in 1848, and since enlarged sufficiently to accommodate 1000 patients. The market day is Saturday, and the Great Market the first Saturday in every month. Fairs are held for cattle on the first Tuesday in January; for cattle, sheep, and lambs, first Tuesday in May and July; for cattle and horses, first Tuesday in November; and for horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs, first Tuesday in December. The borough limits include all the liberty and the in-parish of St Cuthbert. Area of the city, 720 acres; population, 4822. Area of the civil parish of St Cuthbert Out, including Coxley, Dulcote, East and West Horrington, Worminster, and Wookey Hole, 14,890 acres; population, 3498: of St Cnthbert In, 668 acres; population, 4464: of St Andrew, 52 acres; population, 358. St Cuthbert Out has a parish council of thirteen members, and is divided into the North, South, East, and West Wards.

The cathedral was founded on the site of the collegiate church in 1206, underwent successive extensions till 1424, was partly restored in 1842, and was further restored in 1869. It comprises a nave of ten bays with aisles, a transept of two bays with aisles, a choir of six bays with aisles, a presbytery, a Lady chapel of two bays with aisles, two western towers, a central tower, a cloister, and a chapterhouse. The nave is 191 feet long, 67 wide, and 67 high; the transept is 135 feet long; the choir is 108 feet long; the presbytery is 22 feet long; the Lady chapel is 47 feet long, and 33 wide; the western towers are 130 feet high, the central tower, 160; the cloister is 155 feet long E, 159 W, and 164 S; the chapter-house is 55 feet long, 42 wide, and 65 high; and the entire pile is 371 feet long. The W front, the nave, the transept, part of the choir, and the lower part of the central tower are Early English, others are Decorated English of several dates, and part of the cloister is Later English. The W front is 235 feet long, shows exquisite features and compositions of Early English, and is entirely covered with sculptures, comprising 153 of life-size or larger, representing kings, queens, princes, mitred ecclesiastics, nobles, and knights, and upwards of 450 smaller figures, representing Bible subjects from the creation till the end of time. Other parts of the structure, both exterior and interior, also present features of much interest. Many monuments, chiefly ancient-altar-tombs, canopied tombs, effigies, and incised slabs of various characters are in the nave, the transept, the choir, and other parts. A massive and lofty wall formerly surrounded the precincts, and was pierced with three strong and beautiful gates, which have been dilapidated and defaced. The deanery stands on the N side of the precincts, was built chiefly in 1745, and is an open quadrangle, adorned with buttresses and turrets. The episcopal palace stands on the outskirt of the town, was built in 1329, and considerably altered and improved since the Reformation; resembles an old baronial castle, with strong military gateway, bastions, broad moat, and embattled wall, includes a chapel of 1236, restored by Bishop Bagot, and stands in a plot of 7 acres. The diocese and the cathedral establishment are noticed in our article BATH AND WELLS.

The church of St Cuthbert is a handsome building of stone in the Early Perpendicular style, and contains a number of interesting statues. A handsome reredos was presented to the church by local Freemasons, and incloses a bas-relief by Forsyth of " The Last Supper." There are also some stained glass windows, and nearly the whole building has been well restored from time to time. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Bath and Wells; gross value, £596 with residence. Patrons, the Dean and Chapter of Wells. St Thomas the Apostle's, in East Wells, is a building of stone in the Decorated style, and was erected in 1857. It has a western tower and spire, and contains numerous handsome stained glass windows. The living is a vicarage; net value, £290 with residence. Patrons, the Dean and Chapter of Wells. A Carmelite nunnery was founded in 1875, and has about seventeen inmates. The Roman Catholic Church of St Joseph and Teresa was erected in 1877, and is a building of stone, with a Lady chapel and sacristy. There are Baptist, Wesleyan, and Congregational chapels. The church of St Mary Magdalen at Wookey Hole is a chapel of ease to St Cnthbert's, and was erected in 1874.

The liberty is called St Andrew, is extra-parochial, and surrounds the cathedral. The parish is called St Cuthbert, is divided into In and Out, and includes, in the Out part, fourteen tithings and a part Population of the ecclesiastical parishes of St Andrew, 358; St Cuthbert, 4627; St Thomas the Apostle, 1002. A palace of the Bishops of Sherborne was once at Polsham. The ancestors of the Duke of Wellington were seated before the Norman Conquest at a place which bears their family name of Wellesley. Wells is said to be the only city in England which has not furnished a title of nobility.

Wells Parliamentary Division of Somerset was formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885, and returns one member to the House of Commons. Population, 55,581. The division includes the following:-Axbridge-Badgworth, Banwell, Borrow, Biddisham, Blagdon, Bleadon, Brean, Burnham, Burrington, Butcombe, Chapel-Allerton, Charterhouse-on-Mendip, Cheddar, Christen, Churchill, Compton Bishop, Congresbury, East Brent, Hutton, Kewstoke, Locking, Loxton, Lympsham, Mark, Puxton, Rowberrow, Shipham, South Brent, Uphill, Weare, Wick (St Lawrence), Wedmore, Weston-super-Mare, Winscombe, Worle, Wrington; Wells-Batcombe-cum-Nyland, Dinder, Meare, Priddy, Rodney Stoke, St An-drew-in-Wells (Liberty), St Cuthbert (In-Parish), St Cuth-bert (Out-Parish), West Bradley, Westbury, Wookey; Wells, municipal borough.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountySomersetshire 
Poor Law unionWells 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records, in association with Somerset Archives & Local Studies, have images of the Parish Registers for Somerset online.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Wells from the following:


Online maps of Wells are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Somerset papers online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of Somersetshire, 1623 is available on the Heraldry page.

RegionSouth West
Postal districtBA5
Post TownWells

Wells St Cuthbert