Bishop's Palace

Venue Type & Location

Private Residence

Site Name: Bishop`s Palace
Location: Wells
County: Somerset
Location Type: Town - in town at determined location

Performance Spaces


A magnificent site located immediately to the E of the Wells marketplace, with views of the Mendip Hills and the drained marshland of Somerset levels from the S wall encircling the palace.

Bishop Jocelin's early 13th c. range built of mellow Mendip stone is incorporated in the central range of the present palace but Burnell's great hall is ruinous. The 14th c. walls, moat and gatehouse remain, as well as Beckington's impressive gatehouse facing the marketplace.

Performance History

Relevant household accounts for bishops of Bath and Wells have not been found but entertainers patronized by 2 15th and 16th c. bishops are recorded elsewhere in the W of England. It is possible that they may also have performed at the palace when their patrons were in residence.

Current Status

Parts of the palace are still used as a residence for the bishop of Bath and Wells, but the grounds, chapel and some rooms are open to the public at stated times.

History of the Venue

1207 Bishop Jocelin Trotman received a licence to form a park on the S side of the city.

1230--50 2-storey E range built with hall, solar and parallel gallery in front and garderobe wing at the rear on the upper floor over a vaulted undercroft.

1280s Remodelling by Bishop Robert Burnell who built a new great hall with separate kitchen block and redesigned the adjacent chapel at the SW end.

ca. 1340 Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury received a licence to crenellate. Walls and moat with gatehouse at the N entrance

ca. 1453 Bishop Thomas Beckington dismantled the defensive N wall and added the N range (including a new hall and further accommodation) and a turreted gatehouse entrance from the marketplace.

1523--40 Bishop Clerk opened 2 oriel windows in the N range overlooking the moat and remodelled the palace interior.

1550 Palace and other episcopal lands surrendered to the Crown and granted to Protector Somerset during a period when the see was deprived of most of its estates.

1552 Reverted to the Crown on Somerset's attainder and regranted to the bishop in exchange for other manors. Great hall granted to Sir John Gates who dismantled the roof. The hall subsequently was neglected and fell into decay. Other parts of the palace let to tenants.

1560--81 Bishop Berkeley made some renovations.

1608--16 Bishop James Montague expanded and improved the palace, especially the chapel and gallery.

1646 Bishop's lands sold during the Civil War. Palace and manor of Wells purchased by Cornelius Burgess who lived in the deanery and sold the lead from the palace roof and some of the timber.

1660s Restoration by Bishop Peirs. Cloister walk and curtain wall connecting Beckington's buildings on the N with the chapel pulled down.

1733--99 Alterations made to the N range.

ca. 1810 N range further remodelled by Bishop Beadon, with the creation of a 3rd storey from the original 2.

ca. 1824 Bishop George Henry Law pulled down the S wall of the great hall to create a 'picturesque' ruin. He also restored the chapel and created a great E window in the 13th c. garderobe.

1845--54 Bishop Richard Bagot commissioned Benjamin Ferrey to extend the palace by creating another floor above the 13th c. hall, solar and gallery and adding a conservatory on the S side of the hall range and new entrance porch 1 bay to the left of the original. Dormers and chimneys added to the W facade but Bishop Jocelin's windows and buttresses were restored. The interior and chapel were remodelled in questionable taste by an unidentified Bath upholsterer.

1945 N range modernized to serve as bishop's home and offices.

Record Source

REED Devon 96, 125, 221; Heref/Worc 463, 504

Patrons who owned this venue

Name Dates Titles
Stafford, John 1413-1452
Wolsey, Thomas 1475-1530

Bibliographic Sources

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