The usual definition of a city is a large town created a city by charter and containing a cathedral.Where Wells differs is the fact that it can hardly be defined as a large town. The population is not much more than 10,000 and it might better be described as a large village, nestling in a sleepy Somerset backwater. In fact, it is the smallest cathedral city in the UK.
Yet it is also one of the most beautiful, and the cathedral itself is a magnificent building which has a number of special attractions which makes it appealing to the modern eye, while at the same time bearing remarkable record of the history associated with the city, which derives its name from the wells, or springs, which can still be seen today in the Bishop’s Palace garden, close by the cathedral.
The wells were the reason for the original settlement of the area and it was as long ago as 705 AD that King Ine of Wessex gave permission for a minster church to be founded there. A little town grew up around the church and in1175 the present Cathedral was begun.
It was the first English cathedral to be built entirely in a new Gothic style and the first phase took about eighty years, building from east to west and culminating in the magnificent West Front, where 300 or so of its original medieval statues remain.
Then there is the famous Wells clock, which houses the second oldest clock mechanism in Britain to survive in original condition and still in use. When the clock strikes every quarter jousting knights rush round above the clock and the Quarter Jack bangs the quarter hours with his heels.
Other features are the Jesse Window, one of the finest examples of 14th century stained glass in Europe; the scissor arches, cleverly constructed between 1338 and 1348 to solve a structural problem; and Vicars’ Close, a street which is the only completely medieval street in England.