VCH Explore

Explore England's Past

Bishop's Palace, Wells

Bishop's palace, Wells from cathedral

The first bishop of Wells, Athelm, was recorded in 909, so in 2009 the diocese celebrated 1100 years of history. We do not know where Athelm lived but three hundred years later bishop Jocelin began building a palace at Wells. The site chosen was near the Cathedral and the springs or wells, which gave the city its name.

At some date after 1206 work on the palace began but the main range was probably not completed until the 1230s. For most of the Middle Ages the palace would have formed an L with a chapel in the angle. The site was walled and gated in the mid 14th century and in the 15th century the private wing now known as the Bishop's House was added.
The site has been greatly altered since, mainly after the great storm of 1703, which killed bishop Kidder and his wife when a chimney fell on them, and in the 19th century when most of the great hall was demolished, its formal gardens and canal obliterated and the main range of the palace was largely rebuilt between 1846 and 1850 by Benjamin Ferrey.

In the 20th century the main range became a conference centre and the palace was opened to the public.

Content derived from research undertaken as part of the Victoria County History project