Reasons for Designation
Bishops' palaces were high status domestic residences providing luxury
accommodation for the bishops and lodgings for their large retinues; although
some were little more than country houses, others were the setting for great
works of architecture and displays of decoration.
Bishops' palaces were usually set within an enclosure, sometimes moated,
containing a range of buildings, often of stone, including a hall or halls,
chapels, lodgings and a gatehouse, often arranged around a courtyard or
The earliest recorded examples date to the seventh century. Many were occupied
throughout the medieval period and some continued in use into the post-
medieval period; a few remain occupied today. Only some 150 bishops' palaces
have been identified and documentary sources confirm that they were widely
dispersed throughout England. All positively identified examples are
considered to be nationally important.
The palace at Wookey survives as a good example of its class, within
contemporary grounds, and will contain archaeological evidence relating to its
use and history. The low lying nature of the site suggests that waterlogged
deposits will be present.
The monument includes the earthwork remains of a medieval bishop's palace and
grounds, where these have not been affected by modern development. These lie
mainly within but partly adjacent to a large moated enclosure on low lying
land in a loop of the River Axe. The only upstanding building of the period,
in the area of the scheduling, is now a farmhouse, which is Listed Grade II*.
The site was the subject of a survey by the Wookey Local History Group in
The palace stood in the northern part of its grounds, where the farmhouse
stands today. An area of earthworks to the east of the house indicates the
sites of former buildings.
The main grounds of the palace were encircled by a moat, enclosing a large
polygonal area of over five acres. The course of this moat is shown on the
tithe map of 1839 and it can be traced in places as an earthwork; to the south
it has been re-worked to form a later water leat. To the north it has been
encroached upon by a realignment of the river for garden landscaping in the
19th century. In the south east corner its accompanying bank can be seen
diverging from the later leat, and to the south west as a shallow rise and
break of slope running across the field. In the paddock behind the farmhouse
the moat is visible as a slight, broad curving depression, and it continues in
the main field to the south as a very shallow depression towards the track.
The angle at the west end of the northern arm of the moat can be traced
clearly in the garden of Abbey Cottage, where it is separated from the river
by stone revetting, and further south west by a low bank. It then runs through
the 1960s housing development of Abbey Close, surviving as a break of slope in
the gardens of nos 6 and 9, and as a hollow between two mounds on the road
island. This area is not included in the scheduling.
A record of 1557 indicates that the palace complex included a great hall,
parlour, a new parlour, buttery, wine room, a new chamber, little chamber,
broad chamber, three chambers over the `old' cloister, armoury, galleries,
chapel, kitchens, brewhouse, larders, cellar, enclosed yard with running water
and fish troughs, gatehouse, dairy house and stable. The present farmhouse has
been identified as being part of the `new' buildings of this period.
The grounds were entered from the south east, where a gatehouse was recorded.
On the right were an ox house, hay house, stable and pigsty; on the left
(south) were a cow house and walled barton of two acres. There also appears to
have been an entrance to the south west. Earthworks of buildings are visible
on the south, with lynchets and banks suggesting sub-divisions of this part of
the grounds. The mound in the south east corner of the field is a modern soil
Within the grounds were a garden behind the house, an orchard, a piece of land
called the Coney Grenne with a barn, a small barton, a barton called Culverhey
with a `fayer large' dovecote, and a four acre orchard. The acreages listed
for these indicate that they extended beyond the moated enclosure. In 1839
fishponds are also shown. The 1557 record makes no mention of the moat.
The site of the dovecote is believed to be indicated by the rectangular
earthwork beside the track on the west edge of the main grounds, and one of
the fishponds can be identified as a shallow hollow, filled in recent years,
to the south. In the field to the south of the moat are the linear ridges of
an orchard, part of which has trees on today. This can be identified as the
large orchard recorded as being within the curtilage of the palace in 1557.
The tithe map of 1839 shows a subsidiary moated enclosure, two ponds and two
small paddocks to the west. Traces of this moat and a scarp corresponding to
the site of one of the fishponds are visible, and the outline of the small
moat is preserved by an 18th century wall.
From more recent times, a modern water leat cuts across the site, following
much of the line of the former southern side of the moat, and there is a
19th century farmyard on the west side of the present farmhouse. In the 1960s
a housing development, Abbey Close, was built over the north west corner of
the site. Finds of medieval pottery, stonework, tiles, a thimble and an iron
arrowhead have been recorded from one of the gardens.
The site in medieval times was one of the palaces of the bishops of Bath and
Wells. Their residence at Wookey is first documented in 1224 in a licence to
Bishop Jocelin to use oak trees from Cheddar forest for its repair. In a 1330s
history of Wells it was written that the chapels and chambers of Wookey and
Wells were built `magnificently' by Jocelin. A mention of Bishop Bubwith in
1418 speaks of him being in a walkway between the hall and chapel of the manor
of Wookey. Major repair work is again recorded in 1461-2, including the
re-roofing of the hall with lead. The survey of 1557 records new buildings and
rooms, and mentions an old cloister. The palace was obviously much updated and
changed in appearance by this time, as befitted such a residence. In 1839 the
tithe map marks the position of the moat and fishponds.
Excluded from the scheduling are all structures above ground, although the
ground beneath these features is included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.