Day by Day, History and geography

Wells – A City of Bells – Part 2

Welcome to the second instalment of my wander around Elizabeth Goudge’s Wells, as some of us read along with @elizabethgoudgebookclub. If you’ve missed the first post you can check it out here Wells – “A City of Bells” – Part 1

We’re beginning our journey today in the market place, where the bus, with Jocelyn ensconced, took its first stop. In the book it was virtually deserted with only one old gentleman and a couple of cats. When we visited on Saturday it was a bustling market day. In the foreground is the well, surrounded by its high parapet. The house I imagine to be the one with the green door is on the right, just out of view, but there is a picture in the last post.

The bus then takes Jocelyn passed what I take to be the Cathedral Green with the Deanery on the left. Straight ahead is the Cathedral (to the right of this photo). There is more on this stunning cathedral in the previous post. From here Goudge mentions a wooded hill can be seen, from which Torminster takes its name. There is indeed a small hill behind the Cathedral but I don’t think it’s visible from The Green. A much more prominent Tor is also visible from Wells, Glastonbury Tor, and I wondered if this was in her mind when she named Torminster.

I think this is the second archway, which joins the Cathedral to Vicars’ Close.

Stepping into Vicars Close is truly like walking through time travel (even television aerials are not allowed). But, as we observed before, the houses don’t have high walls like Grandfather’s house is described as having, so maybe she had a different one in mind.

This clock is such fun. Many a time we’ve run to catch the striking of the hour.

Now we are heading to one of my favourite places; the Bishop’s Palace. The oldest parts are about 800 years old and were begun in 1210 by Bishop Jocelin. It’s surrounded by a moat,

and has a rather castle-like and imposing gatehouse to guard it. I always think this is a somewhat sad reflection of the church in medieval times; very different to the vibrant but persecuted church of the first few centuries.

The moat is always home to a few graceful swans, who ring on the bell when food is at hand! This trio are Grace, Gabriel and Lucky, the latter so named as she is the only surviving signet this year.

The current bishop still lives in part of the Bishop’s Palace, together with his wife and friendly dog. The chapel on the right was added in 1275. There is now a cafe which overlooks this view, and whatever the season I love to sit there, warm drink in hand, and gaze across the lawn. In the summer one can watch the croquet, but even when the wind is howling and rain is beating against the windows, it still holds a gentle and calming beauty.

On entering the Palace we find ourselves in a long, stone flagged hall. I imagine this to be the “somber, great room below the gallery, where damp stains disfigured the walls and and where the wind always howled in the chimneys.”

Thanks to central heating I’ve not seen any damp stains on the walls, but it is often quite cold! At Christmas time it is set out as it might have been during the mediaeval period, with tables groaning under large pies and decorated with armfuls of greenery brought in from the garden

Upstairs is the gallery where the choirboys received their presents from the Christmas tree. “Few lovelier rooms were to be met with at this time in England than the gallery of the Bishop’s Palace at Torminster.” The paintings of previous Bishops do indeed line the walls.

A small door leads out into the peaceful gardens.

It is here that we find the famous wells. In the 1820’s Bishop Law combined three of them to form one deep pool, in which, on a clear day, the reflection of the cathedral can be seen. I understand that the water which fills these springs flows from the slopes of the Mendip hills, and can be seen entering the ground in “swallets”. Once, in order to find out if this was indeed the source of the deep springs in Wells, some dye (red, I was told) was put into the stream as it entered the swallet. The wells of Wells turned red not long after!

The house peeping through the trees is the back of “The Rib” where Goudge lived from 1903-1911.

The towering walls in the following two pictures are all that is left of the vast mediaeval banqueting hall, built around the same time as the chapel. Today there are beautiful gardens, where once there was decadent feasting. I think I prefer it as it is today. It’s also a wonderful space for outdoor performances (we watched “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” here) and other events (a mediaeval encampment during the summer).

The final picture is a view of the Cathedral from one of the remaining windows of the Great Hall. I can quite see how this city inspired Elizabeth Goudge, and in turn inspires Jocelyn, Felicity and Henrietta to such vivid creativity. It is also a place in which peace and redemption are found, all of which have been a part of my story, too, intertwined in some way with this place which holds a special place in my heart.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this. Thank you to @elizabethgoudgebookclub for choosing such a great book with which to begin the year!

If anyone is interested to see any other history related posts they can be found here:

Tudor and Elizabethan Times – our learning. 2018-2019

Middle Ages – our learning. May 2018

Shakespeare’s Schoolroom – visit August 2019

Out and about learning in Malvern July 2018

A special weekend with Sally Clarkson September 2018

2 thoughts on “Wells – A City of Bells – Part 2”

  1. Really brilliant! So enjoyed the journey through your words and pictures. So descriptive. I shall look afresh at all those places.


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