WELLS, a city, a liberty, a parish, a sub-district, and a district, in Somerset. The city stands on the East Somerset railway, under the Mendip hills, 19 miles SW of Bath; took its name from numerous springs in and near it, particularly from St. Andrew's well, between the cathedral and the palace; was anciently called Welve, Wielia, Wellie, Fonticuli, and other names, all having reference to its springs; originated in a collegiate church founded in 704, by King Ina; was made a bishop's see, in 905, by Edward the Elder; was visited by the queen of James I. in 1613; sent two members to parliament from the time of Edward I. till 1867; lost one-half of its franchise by the reform act of 1867, and the other half by the act of 1868 for transferring seven franchises from England to Scotland; was chartered by King John; is governed, under the new municipal act, by a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors; is a seat of summer assizes, quarter sessions, and county courts, and a polling place; publishes two weekly newspapers; carries on brewing, currying, brush-making, and knitted-hose-making; conducts some trade in connexion with neighbouring paper-mills, corn mills, mining-operations, and an extensive nursery; retains, nevertheless, the quietude and seclusion of an ancient cathedral town; presents a well built, neatly-paved, clean, and cheerful appearance, with runlets of water flowing through the streets; underwent considerable improvement in 1865-6, by the erection of several new buildings and the remodelling of others; and has a head post-office,‡ designated Wells, Somerset, a r. station with telegraph, two banking offices, three chief inns, a town hall and court-houses of 1779, a market-house of 1835, a cathedral to be noticed in next paragraph, a fine decorated English church with later English-tower, a handsome church of 1857, five dissenting chapels, a cemetery of 1855, comprising 8 acres and containing two chapels, a literary and scientific institution, a theological college of 1840, a grammar-school dating from 1240, a blue-coat school with £514 a year from endowment, a central national school of 1859, another public school of the same year, four suites of alms houses with aggregately £686 a year from endowment, other charities £223, a large workhouse of 1837, and a county lunatic asylum, 1½ mile distant, built in 1848, and so enlarged in 1861 as to have capacity for 500 patients. The borough limits include all the liberty, but exclude part of the parish. Corporation income, about £980. Real property, £10,054; of which £400 are in gasworks. Pop. in 1861, 4,648. Houses, 863.
The cathedral was founded, on the site of the ancient collegiate church, in 1206; began to be used in 1239; underwent extensions, at various periods, till 1424; and was partly restored in 1842. It comprises a nave of ten bays, with aisles; a transept of two bays, with aisles; a choir of six bays, with aisles; a presbytery; a Lady chapel of two bays, with aisles; two western towers, and a central tower; a cloister; and a chapter-house-The nave is 191 feet long, 67 wide, and 67 high; the transept is 135 feet long; the choir is 108 feet long; the presbytery is 22 feet long; the Lady chapel is 47 feet long, and 33 wide; the western towers are 130 feet high, the central tower, 160 feet; the cloister is 155 feet long E, 159 feet long W, and 164 feet S; the chapter-house is 55 feet long, 42 wide, and 65 high; and the entire pile is 371 feet long. The W front, the nave, the transept, part of the choir, and the lower part of the central tower are early English; others are decorated English, of several dates; and part of the cloister is later English. The W front is 235 feet long; shows exquisite features and compositions of early English; and is entirely covered with sculptures, comprising 153 of life-size or larger, representing kings, queens, princes, mitred ecclesiastics, nobles, and knights, and upwards of 450 smaller figures, representing Bible subjects from the creation till the end of time. Other parts of the structure, both exterior and interior, also present features of much interest. Many monuments, chiefly ancient-altar-tombs, canopied tombs, effigies, and incised slabs, of various characters- are in the nave, the transept, the choir, and other parts. A massive and lofty wall formerly surrounded the precincts, and was pierced with three strong and beautiful gates, which have been dilapidated and defaced.-The deanery stands on the N side of the precincts; was built chiefly in 1475; and is an open quadrangle, adorned with buttresses and turrets. The episcopal palace stands on the outskirt of the town; was built in 1329, and considerably altered and improved since the Reformation; resembles an old baronial castle, with strong military gateway, bastions, broad moat, and embattled wall; includes a chapel of 1236, restored by the late Bishop Bagot; and stands in a plot of 7 acres.-The diocese and the cathedral establishment are noticed in our article Bath and Wells. The liberty is called St. Andrew, is extra-parochial, and surrounds the cathedral. Pop., 326. Houses, 60. -The parish is called St. Cuthbert; is divided into In and Out; and includes, in the Ont part, 14 tythings and a part. Acres, 14,918. Pop., 7,120. Houses, 1,219. Summerleaze House and Milton Lodge are chief residences. A palace of the Bishops of Sherborne was once at Polsham. The ancestors of the Duke of Wellington were seated, before the Norman conquest, at a place which bears their family name of Wellesley. The living of St. Cuthbert is a vicarage, and that of St. Thomas is a p. curacy, in the diocese of Bath and Wells. Value of St. C., £800;* of St. T., £300. Patrons of St. C., the Dean and Chapter of Wells; of St. T., Trustees. The p. curacies of Horrington, Coxley, and Easton are separate benefices.The sub-district contains also six other parishes, part of another parish, and another extra-parochial tract. Acres, 33,428. Pop., 11,254. Houses, 2,172.The district includes Glastonbury sub-district, and comprises 64,822 acres. Poor rates in 1863, £12,712. Pop. in 1851, 21,342; in 1861, 21,889. Houses, 4,356. Marriages in 1863, 148; births, 637,-of which 32 were illegitimate; deaths, 437,-of which 121 were at ages under 5 years, and 13 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 1,378; births, 6,055; deaths, 4,454. The places of worship, in 1851, were 23 of the Church of England, with 6,853 sittings; 5 of Independents, with 1,140 s.; 5 of Baptists, with 859 s.; 1 of Quakers, with 320 s.; 9 of Wesleyans, with 1,596 s.; 1 of Primitive Methodists, with 150 s.; 5 of Bible Christians, with 672 s.; 1 of Brethren, with 300 s.; and 1 of the Catholic and Apostolic Church, with 54 attendants. The schools were 23 public day-schools, with 1,501 scholars; 35 private day-schools, with 677 s.: and 26 Sunday schools, with 1,349 s.
(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))
|Feature Description:||"a city, a liberty, a parish, a sub-district, and a district" (ADL Feature Type: "cities")|
|Administrative units:||Wells CP Wells SubD Wells PLU/RegD Somerset AncC|
|Place names:||FONTICULI | WELLIE | WELLS | WELVE | WIELIA|
Go to the linked place page for a location map, and for access to other historical writing about the place. Pages for linked administrative units may contain historical statistics and information on boundaries.