"WELLS, a parish, an ancient city, parliamentary and municipal borough, market, assize, session, polling, and union town, locally situated in the hundred of Wells Forum, Somersetshire, but having separate jurisdiction, 19 miles S. of Bristol, the same distance S.W of Bath, and 120 S.W. of London. It has two railway stations, viz:, on the East Somerset, and Somerset and Dorset railways. It is situated on the S. side of the Mendip hills, by which it is sheltered from the N. winds. Wells was anciently called Tethiscine, Tudingtone, Welve, Wielia, Fonticuli, &c., and derives its name from the numerous springs in the neighbourhood, and more especially from that of St. Andrew, which, rising near the bishop's palace, flows through the south-western part of the city.
In the year 704 Ina, king of Wessex, is said to have founded a collegiate church on the site of the present cathedral. In the reign of Edward the Elder, about the beginning of the 10th century, the town became the seat of a bishopric. About 1091 the bishopric was obtained by John de Villula, who removed the episcopal seat to Bath, and styled himself Bishop of Bath only. Bishop Robert, De Villula's successor, determined, about 1139, that the diocesan should be styled Bishop of Bath and Wells, and be enthroned on his admission in both churches. The town was first incorporated by Bishop Robert about 1140, which charter was subsequently confirmed with additional privileges by Bishops Fitzjocelin and Savaric, respectively between the years 1174 and 1192.
The first royal charter was granted by King John in 1202, erecting the town into a free borough, constituting the men free burgesses, and granting a Sunday market and five annual fairs; since which various other charters have been granted by Edward I., Edward III., Richard II., Henry IV., Henry VI., and Elizabeth. The town has returned two members to parliament since the reign of Edward I., and under the late Corporation A form Act is governed by a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councilmen, with the style of "mayor, masters, and burgesses of the city and borough of Wells. The revenue amounts to £979. It comprises the liberty of St. Andrew and the in-and-out parishes of St. Cuthbert, which contains the tythings or hamlets of Coxley, Easton, Horrington, with Burcott, Chilcott, Dulcott, Milton, Polsham, East Water, Walcombe, Wick, Whitnell, Wookey Hole, and Warminster.
The acreage of the city and the in and out parishes is about 15,371. The population in 1851 was 7,401, and in 1861 it amounted to 7,443. Wells consists of four principal streets, with several minor ones, and is well paved, lighted with gas, and supplied with water. The town possesses a literary and scientific institution, a mechanics' institution, and an agricultural society. There is a market-house with an area for a market-place, and the townhall, erected in 1780, contains some curious MSS. and portraits. There is a prison for the temporary safety of prisoners, a workhouse, and not far from the town stands the county lunatic asylum, which was established in 1848.
Very little manufacture is now carried on in Wells; the silk trade has long been given up, as also the stocking manufacture. It was formerly noted for the manufacture of boots and shoes. In the neighbourhood are several extensive paper and corn mills, besides several breweries, and a brush factory, and gasworks. Lead, iron, and manganese are procured in the district, although not in such large quantities as in former years, and the neighbourhood, especially on the Mendip hills side, abounds with geological interest. The corn market has decayed, but the market for cheese is still important. There is a county court held in the city. The summer assizes for Somersetshire are held in Wells. Races are run annually in the vicinity.
The living is a vicarage* in the diocese of Bath and Wells, commuted gross value £800, in the patronage of the Dean and Chapter of Wells. There are also the following district churches-viz:, St. Thomas the Apostle, East Wells, perpetual curacy, value £90; Horrington, perpetual curacy, value £300, in the patronage of the Vicar of Wells; Coxley, perpetual curacy, value £300, and Easton, perpetual curacy, value £200, both likewise in the patronage of the Vicar of Wells. The parish church, dedicated to St. Cuthbert, contains sepulchral chapels, some of which are of ancient date, and remains of a reredos in each transept. A new reredos has lately been placed in the E. end of the church. This work is by the well-known sculptor, Mr. Forsyth. The church of St. Thomas the Apostle was erected by Mrs. Jenkyns in 1857, in memory of her husband the late Dean of Wells. The Independents, Baptists, and Wesleyans, have each a chapel. Near the town is a cemetery of eight acres.
The cathedral church is dedicated to St. Andrew. Its form is that of a cross, extending from E. to W. about 371 feet, the transept measuring from N. to S. 135 feet; the tower is 165 feet high; there are about 150 statues of the size of life, and above 300 smaller ones. The present edifice was commenced about 1225 by Bishop Joceline de Welles; the two western towers were added about the end of the 14th century, that at the S. end by Bishop John de Harewell, and that on the N. by the executors of Bishop Bubwith, twenty years later. The Lady Chapel is one of the best specimens of ecclesiastical architecture in England. There are other chapels in different parts of the cathedral -one contains an ancient clock, formerly belonging to Glastonbury Abbey, having an astronomical dial and a moving train of knights in armour. The ancient font is preserved in the S. transept. The earliest date in the cathedral register is 1664. Within the walls lie King Ina, Bishops Joceline and Beckington, and there are many old monuments throughout the building.
The chapter-house, erected by Bishop Marchia about the end of the 13th century, is an octangular building 480 feet in circumference, the roof being supported by a single central pillar; beneath this structure is a crypt. To the S. of the cathedral are the cloisters, which form a quadrangle, the sides measuring severally 160 feet. The episcopal palace, which is of the 14th century, stands near the southern side of the cathedral, and has embattled walls, a moat on either side, and a drawbridge. During the Commonwealth the palace suffered great damage, but has been repaired by various bishops since that period. To the N.W. of the cathedral stands the deanery (built by Bishop Gunthorpe about 1475), and beyond are twenty houses called the Vicar's College, or Close. King Henry VII. was entertained in the deanery in 1498, on the occasion of his march to suppress the rebellion of Perkin Warbeck.
The see of Bath and Wells is in the province of Canterbury, and was held by Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop Laud, and Bishop Ken. The diocese comprises the county of Somerset (except Bedminster), contains 460 benefices, and is divided into the archdeaconries of Wells, Bath, and Taunton. The chapter includes a dean, sub-dean, 4 canons, precentor, chancellor, treasurer, 3 archdeacons, 45 prebendaries, 4 minor canons, &c., with the patronage of 19 livings. Wells archdeaconry includes the deaneries of Axbridge, Carey, Frome, Ilchester, Merston, Poulet and Glaston jurisdiction, or about 210 benefices. Wells Theological College was founded in 1840 by the late Bishop Law, and the grammar school is supposed to have been founded by Bishop Joceline do Welles about 1240. There is a National school for both sexes, and also Barkham's, Hodges's, and Hickes's charity school, founded in 1654.
There are numerous charities connected with the town, among which are Bishop Bubwith's almshouses, founded in 1437, for 24 persons; Bishop Still's, founded about the beginning of the 17th century, for 6 men; Walter Bricke's, founded in 1637, for 4 poor burgesses of the town; Henry Llewellyn's, founded in 1600, for 12 women; Archibald Harper's, for 5 wool-combers; Charles's, for 2 women; and Bishop Wille's, for 4 poor men. Joceline de Welles, Bishop of Bath and Wells; Hugh de Wells, Bishop of Lincoln (both active participators in the Barons' rebellion against King John), and Bishop Bull, of St. David's (16341709), were natives of this place. Saturday and Wednesday are market days, and a market for cattle is held on 4th January, 14th May, Whit-Tuesday, 6th July, 25th October, and 30th November. There is a monthly market for cheese, cattle, &c., also, on the first Saturday in each month."
"BURCOTT, a tything in the parish and city of Wells, locally in the hundred of Wells-Forum, in the county of Somerset, 1 mile from Wells."
"CHILCOTE, a tything in the parish of Wells St. Cuthbert, county of Somerset, 2 miles E. of Wells."
"DULCOTT, a tything in the parish of Wells, and hundred of Wells-Forum, in the county of Somerset, 1 mile S.E. of Wells, of which city it is a suburb."
"EAST WATER, a tything in the parish and city of Wells, county Somerset, 3 miles N. of Wells.
"MILTON, a tything in the parish and city of Wells, county Somerset, 1 mile N. of Wells."
"POLSHAM, a hamlet in the parish of Wells, hundred of Wells-Forum, county Somerset, 3 miles from Wells, and 16 S.W. of Bath. It is a station on the Wells branch of the Somerset and Dorset railway."
"WALCOMB, a tything in the parish and city of Wells, county Somerset, adjoining Wells."
"WEEK, (or Wick), a tything in the parish and city of Wells, county Somerset, 2 miles S.W. of Wells.
"WHITNELL, a tything in the parish of Wells St. Cuthbert, county Somerset, 1 mile from Wells."
"WORMINSTER, a tything in the parish and city of Wells, county Somerset, 2 miles S. of Wells."