Heritage Category:
Listed Building
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Date first listed:
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Mendip (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
ST 55207 45781



ST5445 BISHOP'S PALACE 662-1/7/4 The Bishop's Palace and Bishop's 12/11/53 House


Bishop's Palace and House. Begun in c1210 by Bishop Jocelyn but principally from c1230, restored, divided and upper storey added by Benjamin Ferrey 1846-54; north wing (now Bishop's residence) added in C15 by Bishop Bekynton, modified C18, and c1810 by Bishop Beadon. Local stone, roughly squared and coursed, with Doulting ashlar dressings, Welsh slate roofs, stone chimney stacks. PALACE EXTERIOR: the main palace now used for public functions and meetings is in 2 storeys with attics, in 7 bays. Plinth, string course between floors, wide buttresses with 2 offsets to bays 2 and 6, coped gables to bays 2, 4 and 6, paired octagonal stacks with openwork cappings to bays 3 and 5. Ground floor has 2-light trefoil-headed plate tracery windows to all but bay 4, similar windows to first floor with added quatrefoil windows with trefoil-arched labels, smaller versions of these windows to attic gables; central porch added c1824, has angled corner buttresses, gable with string and central panel of arms crowned with a mitre, the entrance through a moulded pointed- arched door flanked by two early C19 light fittings. The E wall is in 5 and-a-half bays, with large buttresses to 2 stepped offsets. The first 2 bays have lancets to the ground floor only, but bays 3, 4, and 5 have large 2-light windows with quatrefoil over, and lancets to the ground floor. The last half-bay has a corner stair-turret with stepped offsets. Far right is a deep gabled wing with a large stone-mullioned oriel above a panelled apron with shields of arms, carried on a deep moulded bracket, and with very large buttresses. A tower is set-back from this, adjacent to the moat, with 2 and 3-light cusped casements on 3 floors. PALACE INTERIOR: the original plan was with hall, solar, gallery and undercroft, the long range divided by a spine wall at each level; this remains the layout, with the addition of an upper floor (not inspected). The ground floor is entered through the central porch to a narrow gallery in 6 bays of quadripartite ribbed vaulting, carried on corbel capitals. In the central wall is a large C16 stone fireplace, brought in the late C19 from the former solar. The S wall has a doorway with Y-tracery to its head, and a corner door gives to Bishop Burnell's chapel (qv). The floor is of stone flags. At the N end is a very fine Jacobean open well stair with large square newels, including a double newel at the top landing, supporting carved griffons and with openwork pendants, panelled plaster soffite, painted dado panelling, and a compartmented ceiling with pendants. The undercroft beyond the wall is in 2x5 bays with a central row of Purbeck shafts to quadripartite vaulting, on faceted responds; there is a large stone fireplace of C15 design in the spine wall. The first floor, within Jocelyn's shell, has C19 detailing; Ferrey complained that much of the work to the ceilings was '.... done by an upholsterer from Bath....', but detailing is very rich, and good replica C19 patterned colourful wallpapers were installed c1970. On the E side is a suite of 3 rooms, with compartmental ceilings. The square room at the head of the stairs has a stone basket-arch fireplace with triple cusping, and retains some C18 panelling, and six 6-panel doors. The long central room has a 24-panel ceiling, and three C19 lighting pendants; at its S end a very rich pair of panelled doors opens to the square S room, in which are visible in the E wall remains of the original windows, which have been blocked externally. This room has no fireplace. The long gallery to the W of the spine wall has two fireplaces, dado panelling, and a ribbed panelled ceiling. The windows are in deep embrasures, and there are three 9-panel C19 doors. BISHOP'S HOUSE EXTERIOR: returns at the N end, being backed by the moat wall. It is in 2 parallel ranges, with a very narrow courtyard partly filled by C20 building, a cross wing containing a former hall, and opening to a porch at the S end, and a square tower on the NE corner. The S front is crenellated, and has 4 windows on 2 storeys with attic, all flush 2-light stone mullioned casements with cusped heads to the lights; at first floor 2 of the windows have C19 cast-iron small-paned casements, and there are 4 casement hipped dormers behind the parapet. To the left, in a lower wall with raked head are 2 similar casements, and set forward to the right, fronting the 3-storey N/S hall range is a low square tower with two 2-light plate-traceried windows as those in the adjacent Palace, and a round-arched C16 stone outer doorway with moulded and panelled responds and a large keystone with diamond embellishment. The porch is stone paved, with a stone bench to the left, and the inner doorway is a C15 stone 4-centred moulded arch with rosettes, hood-mould, and small diagonal pinnacles at the springing and key, above a carved angel keystone, containing a fine pair of early doors with panel, muntin and mid-rail, all with nail-heads. At the left end is a wide archway into the courtyard, on the site of the gateway seen in the Buck view. There are various lofty yellow brick stacks, including one very large stack to a coped gable in the rear range. BISHOP'S HOUSE INTERIOR: has been subdivided several times; in the front range are 2 plain rooms, then the inner hall to the porch, with the C15 doorway, a shell niche, and a stone arch matching that to the outer doorway of the porch; this gives to the main stair. N of the hall is a fine C15 oak screen with narrow panels and moulded muntins and mid-rail, and a central round-arched C20 doorway of C16 style. To the right is a large 3-light stone casement with transom, and to the left is a stone-flagged cross passage which runs through to a doorway at the moat end. The inner hall has 3 windows as in the outer hall, and the inner side of the screen has raised and moulded panels, and all members embellished, including small-scale chevron to the bressumer; the central C16 doorway has raised diamond keystone and enrichment. A dining room to the N has a peaked moulded wooden rere-arch, and opens in the NW corner to a small square study in the tower. This has a stone alcove in the N wall with a 3-light C16 casement, and in the corner access to a stone spiral stair rising the full height of the tower. There are many 6-panel doors, with raised mouldings, and with square centre panels. The main staircase is C20 with heavy turned balusters to the first floor, and a C19 straight flight with stick balusters in the upper flight. At first landing level the window contains fragments of mediaeval and C16 stained and painted glass; there is a second straight-flight stair between the ranges to the W. Rooms at first floor are generally plainly detailed; the N range had an extra floor inserted, and one bathroom has the lower part of one of the mediaeval oriels in its N wall. The second floor has a through corridor, and has many early 2-panel doors with raised mouldings. The square end room to the tower has a low relief plastered ceiling to a central rose, the window has early crown glass and a scratched date of 1822. Two of the bedrooms contain the upper parts of the oriels, and these have stone vaulted soffites, one including a carved angel keystone. Over the S range is a 6-bay collar and 2-purlin roof with original rafters, formerly with plaster; the space has 4 dormer windows. HISTORICAL NOTE: the complex building history, coupled with a splendid setting within its walled moat, makes this Palace an outstanding historic and visual document, with one of the most remarkable structures of the mediaeval period which '...represent the grandest aspect of the mediaeval way of life'.(Barley) The first-floor hall represents an outstanding example of its type, contemporary in date with those at St David's, Dyfed, and Southwark, London. (Buildings of England: Pevsner N: North Somerset and Bristol: London: 1958-: 312; Colchester LS: Wells Cathedral: A History: Shepton Mallet: 1982-: 227-244; Wood M: The English Mediaeval House: London: 1965-: 24 (PLAN); Bony J: The English Decorated Style: London: 1979-: PASSIM; Parker JH: Architectural Antiquities of the City of Wells: Oxford: 1866-; Barley M: Houses and History: London: 1986-: 60-63).

Listing NGR: ST5522445760


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Barley, M , Houses and History, (1986), 60-63
Bony, J, The English Decorated Style, (1979)
Colchester, LS , Wells Cathedral: A History, (1982), 227-244
Parker, J H, Architectural Antiquities of the City of Wells, (1866)
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: North Somerset and Bristol, (1958), 312
Wood, E , The English Medieval House, (1965), 24


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 19 Jul 2001
Reference: IOE01/03230/34
Rights: Copyright IoE John Boothroyd. Source Historic England Archive
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