Day by Day, History and geography

Wells – “A City of Bells” – Part 1

The city of Wells in Somerset, is the smallest city in England. I’ve lived within in its environs for about thirty years, so it holds lots of precious memories for me. It is still one of my favourite places to visit, each season offering some new perspective.

Elizabeth Goudge’s delightful book, “The City of Bells” is based on Wells, and as it’s the book of the month in the Elizabeth Goudge book club @elizabethgoudgebookclub I thought I’d take a few photos for anyone who is reading along. I’ll start with a funny story; despite being British and living here most of my life, I had not come across Elizabeth Goudge until I was introduced to her by an American (none other than the lovely Sally Clarkson) while we were showing her around Wells! I admitted my ignorance and have since had the joy of catching up on those wasted Goudge years!

Anyway, as I read “City of Bells” I imagined where the various locations might be. It’s supposition and some places I couldn’t work out. Do let me know your thoughts.

Elizabeth lived in Wells from 1903-1911. Her house is tucked away behind the Cathedral, just beyond the Vicars Close.

Glastonbury Tor can be seen from Wells, maybe giving the city it’s fictional name of Torminster. My little camera wasn’t up to taking a picture of the view of the Tor from Wells but I’ll put a close up of the Tor in the next post.

I’ve wondered which abode the house with the green door might have been modelled on. This is the closest I can find. It’s in the cobbled market place, between an inn and a shop. It’s not as small as described in the book and only has one gable, but it looks smaller than the buildings on each side, so in my mind it’s where I imagine Gabriel Ferranti lived.

I think Grandfather’s house might be a conglomeration of several houses. It’s location seems to point us the “The Vicars’ close” but the houses there don’t quite fit its description. So, with the Cathedral on our right, we walk under an archway and into the cobbled close.

The houses are beautiful but not are not behind high walls. I’ve visited the house below, however, also lived in by Cathedral clergy, and although it’s in a different location it captured my imagination as to what Grandfather’s house was like, complete with flagstone floors and a large kitchen.

Here is the market place, with the cathedral to the left and the Bishop’s Palace straight ahead.

The Cathedral itself is built of limestone, quarried from the deeper layers (I think it is known as inferior limestone, not because of its quality but because it is taken from lower layers). This means it is very soft, good for sculpting but is why some of the many figures on the Cathedral front have weathered.

It is truly magnificent inside.

The clock was built sometime between 1386-1392 and is mentioned in another of Goudge’s books, “The Dean’s Watch”.

The cloisters have uneven stone floors, worn down by many centuries of plodding feet!

One of Wells’ most notable citizens was a certain Bishop Jocelyn, elected bishop in 1206. His life was fascinating and I’ll write a little more about him next time. I wonder if he was the inspiration for the Jocelyn in this story?

I’ll put a few more photos together next week. If anyone is interested in some of the history projects we’ve done, there are post here:

Tudor and Elizabethan Times – our learning. 2018-2019

Shakespeare’s Schoolroom – visit August 2019

Middle Ages – our learning. May 2018

All aboard The Matthew October 2018

Thank you for reading this…I hope it’s shed a little more light on Goudge’s Torminster.

Check out part two here

6 thoughts on “Wells – “A City of Bells” – Part 1”

  1. How beautiful. Thank you for introducing me to the city of Wells. We will be in England and Scotland in April and are so very excited for the opportunity to see the amazing thread of history across those lands.


  2. Wonderful tour, Molly! Thank you for taking such time to photograph and post it all here. I know it’ll continue to be a blessing for years to come to a new generation (or two!) of Goudge readers. ❤️

    There is quite a lot of biographical info in Elizabeth’ memoir “The Joy of the Snow”, and a lot more in the biography by Christine Rawlings “Beyond the Snow” that you would enjoy! Elizabeth was born in 1900 at Tower House (as he father was the vp of Wells College) and then they moved to the Rib. She says in TJOTS that she placed her family in Tower House but “fetched the cherub population from across the road”. I’ll post a few passages from BTS in stories! Thanks again!!


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