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The Bishop's Palace and Bishop's House

A Grade I Listed Building in Wells, Somerset

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Latitude: 51.2095 / 51°12'34"N

Longitude: -2.6426 / 2°38'33"W

OS Eastings: 355207

OS Northings: 145781

OS Grid: ST552457

Mapcode National: GBR MN.4495

Mapcode Global: VH89S.4VTP

Plus Code: 9C3V6954+QX

Entry Name: The Bishop's Palace and Bishop's House

Listing Date: 12 November 1953

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1382873

English Heritage Legacy ID: 483259

Location: Bishops Palace, Wells, Mendip, Somerset, BA5

County: Somerset

District: Mendip

Civil Parish: Wells

Built-Up Area: Wells

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset

Tagged with: Architectural structure Historic house museum

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662-1/7/4 The Bishop's Palace and Bishop's
12/11/53 House


Bishop's Palace and House. Begun in c1210 by Bishop Jocelyn
but principally from c1230, restored, divided and upper storey
added by Benjamin Ferrey 1846-54; north wing (now Bishop's
residence) added in C15 by Bishop Bekynton, modified C18, and
c1810 by Bishop Beadon. Local stone, roughly squared and
coursed, with Doulting ashlar dressings, Welsh slate roofs,
stone chimney stacks.
PALACE EXTERIOR: the main palace now used for public functions
and meetings is in 2 storeys with attics, in 7 bays. Plinth,
string course between floors, wide buttresses with 2 offsets
to bays 2 and 6, coped gables to bays 2, 4 and 6, paired
octagonal stacks with openwork cappings to bays 3 and 5.
Ground floor has 2-light trefoil-headed plate tracery windows
to all but bay 4, similar windows to first floor with added
quatrefoil windows with trefoil-arched labels, smaller
versions of these windows to attic gables; central porch added
c1824, has angled corner buttresses, gable with string and
central panel of arms crowned with a mitre, the entrance
through a moulded pointed- arched door flanked by two early
C19 light fittings.
The E wall is in 5 and-a-half bays, with large buttresses to 2
stepped offsets. The first 2 bays have lancets to the ground
floor only, but bays 3, 4, and 5 have large 2-light windows
with quatrefoil over, and lancets to the ground floor. The
last half-bay has a corner stair-turret with stepped offsets.
Far right is a deep gabled wing with a large stone-mullioned
oriel above a panelled apron with shields of arms, carried on
a deep moulded bracket, and with very large buttresses. A
tower is set-back from this, adjacent to the moat, with 2 and
3-light cusped casements on 3 floors.
PALACE INTERIOR: the original plan was with hall, solar,
gallery and undercroft, the long range divided by a spine wall
at each level; this remains the layout, with the addition of
an upper floor (not inspected). The ground floor is entered
through the central porch to a narrow gallery in 6 bays of
quadripartite ribbed vaulting, carried on corbel capitals. In
the central wall is a large C16 stone fireplace, brought in
the late C19 from the former solar. The S wall has a doorway
with Y-tracery to its head, and a corner door gives to Bishop
Burnell's chapel (qv). The floor is of stone flags. At the N
end is a very fine Jacobean open well stair with large square
newels, including a double newel at the top landing,
supporting carved griffons and with openwork pendants,
panelled plaster soffite, painted dado panelling, and a
compartmented ceiling with pendants. The undercroft beyond the
wall is in 2x5 bays with a central row of Purbeck shafts to
quadripartite vaulting, on faceted responds; there is a large
stone fireplace of C15 design in the spine wall.
The first floor, within Jocelyn's shell, has C19 detailing;
Ferrey complained that much of the work to the ceilings was
'.... done by an upholsterer from Bath....', but detailing is
very rich, and good replica C19 patterned colourful wallpapers
were installed c1970. On the E side is a suite of 3 rooms,
with compartmental ceilings. The square room at the head of
the stairs has a stone basket-arch fireplace with triple
cusping, and retains some C18 panelling, and six 6-panel
doors. The long central room has a 24-panel ceiling, and three
C19 lighting pendants; at its S end a very rich pair of
panelled doors opens to the square S room, in which are
visible in the E wall remains of the original windows, which
have been blocked externally. This room has no fireplace. The
long gallery to the W of the spine wall has two fireplaces,
dado panelling, and a ribbed panelled ceiling. The windows are
in deep embrasures, and there are three 9-panel C19 doors.

BISHOP'S HOUSE EXTERIOR: returns at the N end, being backed by
the moat wall. It is in 2 parallel ranges, with a very narrow
courtyard partly filled by C20 building, a cross wing
containing a former hall, and opening to a porch at the S end,
and a square tower on the NE corner. The S front is
crenellated, and has 4 windows on 2 storeys with attic, all
flush 2-light stone mullioned casements with cusped heads to
the lights; at first floor 2 of the windows have C19 cast-iron
small-paned casements, and there are 4 casement hipped dormers
behind the parapet. To the left, in a lower wall with raked
head are 2 similar casements, and set forward to the right,
fronting the 3-storey N/S hall range is a low square tower
with two 2-light plate-traceried windows as those in the
adjacent Palace, and a round-arched C16 stone outer doorway
with moulded and panelled responds and a large keystone with
diamond embellishment. The porch is stone paved, with a stone
bench to the left, and the inner doorway is a C15 stone
4-centred moulded arch with rosettes, hood-mould, and small
diagonal pinnacles at the springing and key, above a carved
angel keystone, containing a fine pair of early doors with
panel, muntin and mid-rail, all with nail-heads. At the left
end is a wide archway into the courtyard, on the site of the
gateway seen in the Buck view. There are various lofty yellow
brick stacks, including one very large stack to a coped gable
in the rear range.
BISHOP'S HOUSE INTERIOR: has been subdivided several times; in
the front range are 2 plain rooms, then the inner hall to the
porch, with the C15 doorway, a shell niche, and a stone arch
matching that to the outer doorway of the porch; this gives to
the main stair. N of the hall is a fine C15 oak screen with
narrow panels and moulded muntins and mid-rail, and a central
round-arched C20 doorway of C16 style. To the right is a large
3-light stone casement with transom, and to the left is a
stone-flagged cross passage which runs through to a doorway at
the moat end. The inner hall has 3 windows as in the outer
hall, and the inner side of the screen has raised and moulded
panels, and all members embellished, including small-scale
chevron to the bressumer; the central C16 doorway has raised
diamond keystone and enrichment.
A dining room to the N has a peaked moulded wooden rere-arch,
and opens in the NW corner to a small square study in the
tower. This has a stone alcove in the N wall with a 3-light
C16 casement, and in the corner access to a stone spiral stair
rising the full height of the tower. There are many 6-panel
doors, with raised mouldings, and with square centre panels.
The main staircase is C20 with heavy turned balusters to the
first floor, and a C19 straight flight with stick balusters in
the upper flight. At first landing level the window contains
fragments of mediaeval and C16 stained and painted glass;
there is a second straight-flight stair between the ranges to
the W.
Rooms at first floor are generally plainly detailed; the N
range had an extra floor inserted, and one bathroom has the
lower part of one of the mediaeval oriels in its N wall.
The second floor has a through corridor, and has many early
2-panel doors with raised mouldings. The square end room to
the tower has a low relief plastered ceiling to a central
rose, the window has early crown glass and a scratched date of
1822. Two of the bedrooms contain the upper parts of the
oriels, and these have stone vaulted soffites, one including a
carved angel keystone. Over the S range is a 6-bay collar and
2-purlin roof with original rafters, formerly with plaster;
the space has 4 dormer windows.

HISTORICAL NOTE: the complex building history, coupled with a
splendid setting within its walled moat, makes this Palace an
outstanding historic and visual document, with one of the most
remarkable structures of the mediaeval period which
'...represent the grandest aspect of the mediaeval way of
life'.(Barley) The first-floor hall represents an outstanding
example of its type, contemporary in date with those at St
David's, Dyfed, and Southwark, London.
(Buildings of England: Pevsner N: North Somerset and Bristol:
London: 1958-: 312; Colchester LS: Wells Cathedral: A History:
Shepton Mallet: 1982-: 227-244; Wood M: The English Mediaeval
House: London: 1965-: 24 (PLAN); Bony J: The English Decorated
Style: London: 1979-: PASSIM; Parker JH: Architectural
Antiquities of the City of Wells: Oxford: 1866-; Barley M:
Houses and History: London: 1986-: 60-63).

Listing NGR: ST5522445760

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