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The Rib

A Grade II* Listed Building in Wells, Somerset

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Latitude: 51.2109 / 51°12'39"N

Longitude: -2.6425 / 2°38'32"W

OS Eastings: 355216

OS Northings: 145935

OS Grid: ST552459

Mapcode National: GBR MN.3Y2H

Mapcode Global: VH89S.4TWM

Plus Code: 9C3V6965+82

Entry Name: The Rib

Listing Date: 12 November 1953

Last Amended: 26 January 2012

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1383106

English Heritage Legacy ID: 483524

Location: 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

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A detached former canonical house. It comprises a mid-C15 former open hall which may incorporate some C14 fabric; a north porch built between 1464 and 1484 for Canon Walter Osborn; and two parallel wings on north-east side of hall dating to the late C15/early C16 and c.1600. The building underwent extensive renovations in 1802 for William Phelps, and further work including the exposure of early fabric in the late C20.


MATERIALS: it is built of coursed local sandstone rubble with Chilcote and Doulting ashlar dressings under clay pantile and slate roofs; brick and stone chimney stacks.

PLAN: the former open hall is orientated west to east and had a screens passage at its west end. There were originally service rooms to the right (west) and a solar wing to the left; both have been demolished, the former as recently as the mid-C20. To the north-east of the hall are two parallel wings of early C16 and late C16/early C17, with further additions of the C19 to the north and east.

EXTERIOR: the principal (north) elevation has, from left to right, two gabled wings, a recessed stair bay and a projecting two-storey porch. The two right-hand (east) gables are crowned with C19 ashlar chimneys set diagonally and with simple caps; the second gable has a small chamfered stone surround single-light window to first floor. The west return of the earlier left-hand wing has two sash windows and evidence for a blocked four-centred window head adjacent to the first-floor window. In front of the gabled wings is a single-storey C19 addition with rendered walls and regularly-spaced mullion windows. The recessed stair bay with its catslide roof was added in the early C19 and has a pointed arched window with Y tracery at mezzanine level. The porch to the right has corner buttresses and a gable finial, and its north face is rendered. It has an off-centre doorway with a four-centred arch set in a square frame with indented spandrels; the left hand one inscribed with the letter 'W', the other with an 'O' for Canon Osborn. The carved doors and the fanlight are C19. Above the doorway is a moulded panel with three tournament-style shields. The left shield bears crossed keys, the central one is blank, and that to the right hand has a carving of crossed swords. Above the panel is a three-light Perpendicular traceried window under a four-centred arch with vestigial label. Most of the tracery lights retain decorated stained glass including a pair of seraphim flanked by monograms and also the initials 'W' and 'O'. There is a small blocked single light in the gable.

The west return of the porch has a blocked arch and a tall relieving arch; the gable end of the hall has a simple chamfered single-light window to the ground floor and a blocked window at a high first-floor level. Diagonal scars in the stonework indicate the position of the adjacent, now demolished service block. The south elevation is a late-C18 revision of three bays with tall two-tier buttresses between the bays. To the far-left, at ground-floor level, is part of a stone relieving arch over the remains of a jamb and the head of a four-centred doorway, probably the former doorway to the screens passage. There are two-light casement doors to each bay at ground floor; the upper floor has two-light windows with Y-tracery under vestigial labels with curl stops. The upper right-hand window originally extended over ground and first floor levels and marks the position of the upper end of the hall. The east gable end of the hall has a sash window to the ground floor and a casement above. There is also a straight joint with quoins and a possible blocked archway which may have linked through to the former solar wing. To the north-east of the hall is a C19 gabled two-storey addition and C20 addition, and a C19 single-storey range with a monopitch roof to the east.

INTERIOR: the porch has timber panelling to the walls and a four-panelled, framed ceiling with moulded beams. In the inner corner is a squinch (a section of corbelling set diagonally across the angle) possibly marking the location of a winder stair. In the south wall is a square-headed doorway with stone jambs leads from the porch to the right-hand ground-floor room; part of an elliptical archway with wave moulding to its exposed south face is visible immediately beyond the porch doorway and is probably the door to the screens passage. The east side of the porch has a square doorway with chamfered surround to the stair hall. This has an early-C19 open-well staircase with turned newels and stick balustrade. At the north-east end of the former hall, set within what was originally the external north wall, is a wide four-centred stone archway with trefoil mouldings, possibly a former oriel arch. The ground floor of the former hall is now divided into three rooms. The right-hand (west) parlour has panelled walls and a shell-headed display case dating from the 1802 refurbishment. In the north wall of the east parlour, formerly the external wall to the hall, is a wide four-centred stone archway with trefoil mouldings and indented spandrels which may represent the remains of a C15 or C16 oriel to the hall. The room also has simple cornicing and a Doulting stone fireplace, probably installed in the early C19.
The ground floor of the two gabled wings on the north side of the building has been opened up to create one large room. It has an eight-panelled moulded ceiling and a cornice which were probably added when the second gabled wing was built; it is supported by a late-C20 central post. The east wall has a window with ovolo moulding and a small fireplace with four-centred arch; in the north wall is a large fireplace with square surround which may be reset. The sash windows have fielded panel shutters. The C19 addition to the north of the gabled wings retains an oven and a copper; to the east is a narrow four-centred arch doorway with chamfered jambs that may be re-sited.

Upstairs, the former open hall has a six-bay roof with arch-braced principals and four rows of wind braces separated by butt purlins; the central truss has an inserted king strut. The main elements of the roof are all chamfered, and a crenellated cornice plate runs beneath the trusses at the base of the roof, below which are the remains of a quatrefoil-moulded board. The trusses are supported on timber corbels of carved shield-carrying angels except at the upper (east) end of the hall, now one of the main bedrooms, where the mouldings to the easternmost truss continue further down the wall with octagonal shafting and a moulded bell base upon stone angel corbels. This bedroom also has a fireplace with C19 tiles and a timber surround. Some restoration work was undertaken at this upper level in 1989. The room over the porch, probably a former oratory, has an inserted fireplace in the south-west corner. The first floor of the late C15/early C16 wing retains a depressed four-centred fireplace with plain chamfers descending to pillow stops. The roof over this wing is similar to but later than that in the hall and although not inspected (2011) is understood to have three arch-braced, collared trusses and also traces of a crenellated cornice. The first-floor room in the adjacent wing of c.1600 has a depressed four-centred arch fireplace with indented spandrels and moulded piers, and just below ceiling level are several moulded beams. The roof (not inspected 2011) has chamfered wind braces rising to single butt purlins at collar height.


The Rib is situated on the south side of St Andrew Street, just beyond the north-east corner of Wells Cathedral. The building dates from the mid-C15 and was a purpose-built canonical house. From the medieval period onwards canons and other religious dignitaries lived in substantial houses, usually situated within the cathedral close, which were intended to display their wealth and status. At the beginning of the C14 there were approximately fifteen canonical houses in Wells. The Rib is the only survivor of a row of three houses on St Andrew Street which were formerly in the gift of the Bishop rather than the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral and which were known as the Bishop's Ribs. The two adjacent houses located to the east of The Rib were described as dilapidated at the time of the Civil War although documents refer to them continuing to be let into the C18. A section of walling within the east range of The Rib may represent the vestigial remains of the middle house or west ruin as it is sometimes known. In 1771 a headmaster of the Cathedral School occupied The Rib. By 1802 it was occupied by another headmaster, William Phelps, who made extensive alterations and additions to the building including ceiling over the hall and inserting a new staircase. From the mid-C19 The Rib was occupied by the Principal of the Theological College, and it came into private ownership in 1989.

The Rib appears to have originally comprised a central open hall with a screens passage at the west end and service rooms (demolished mid-C20) beyond this; to the east was a solar wing (demolished). The hall appears to have been heated by a wall fireplace and not a central hearth since there is no evidence for smoke blackening on the roof timbers; this fireplace, however, is not extant. A two-storey porch was added to the front (north) in the second half of the C15. In the late C15/early C16 a north-south gabled wing was added at the north-east end of the hall; this was extended to the east with a further gabled wing in c.1600. The house was extensively remodelled at the beginning of the C19 when the hall was ceiled over and both floors sub-divided; the windows to the south elevation were altered; a new staircase was added; and one of the ground-floor rooms was given a panelled interior. Further additions were built to the north and east in the C19, and some restoration took place in the late C20.

Reasons for Listing

The Rib is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: for its early date, rarity as a building type, quality of workmanship and decorative features this building is of more than special interest;
* Historic interest: an important and prominent late-medieval house whose special significance lies not just in its architecture but in its survival as a purpose-built canonical house for Wells Cathedral and one which is well documented;
* Group value: a significant C15 house of ecclesiastical origins that has especially strong group with other important buildings within the cathedral close that are listed at Grade I and II*.

External Links

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