Wells is the smallest city in England, by virtue of its magnificent cathedral, and lies between the Mendips Hills and the Somerset Levels. There has been a settlement here since Roman times and the city derives its name from the natural springs that are now found in the beautiful gardens of the Bishops Palace. Today Wells is a thriving and attractive market town, rich in medieval heritage and architecture, and home to the Hilliard Society Annual Exhibition of Miniature Paintings and Sculpture.
Work on the present cathedral began in the 12th century, although there had been a saxon chapel in the grounds since around 705 AD, and was the first English cathedral to be built in the new 'Gothic' style from France. It remains one of the most impressive cathedrals in Britain. (Shown here from the Bishops Palace gardens in 1890. The view remains unchanged today).
medieval clock face
The north transept houses the oldest surviving medieval clock face in the world. It is a twenty four hour astronomical clock, and every quarter of an hour jousting knights rush around above the dial and 'Quarter Jack' kicks his heels to sound the bells. The original mechanism, dating from around 1390, is still working today, although it is now housed in the Science Museum in London.
The famous 'Scissor Arches' were constructed in the 14th century, the idea of master mason William Joy, an ingenious solution to a very real problem. Cracks had begun to appear in the high tower and wooden spire, which had been constructed on unstable foundations, and there was a growing fear that they would collapse.
Originally built to house the Vicars Choral in the mid 14th century, the Vicars' Close is believed to be the only remaining complete planned medieval street in England. The houses are built on two sides of a quadrangle with a chapel at one end and a hall at the other (shown here).
Home to the Bishops of Bath and Wells since 1206, the Palace, moat and gardens are now open to the public. Enter through the gatehouse and explore 14 acres of gardens, including the springs after which the city was named, the Chapel and the Great Hall.
The Hilliard Society has been staging its annual Exhibition of Miniature Art in Wells for thirty years. The Town Hall provides a perfect venue for this international show. The building replaced the original market house and assize hall in 1778, with various additions over the intervening centuries. The exhibition takes place in the stately main hall on the first floor, overlooking the bustling market place below.