Wells Civic Society

Plaque Awards

Wells Civic Society Plaques are awarded to recognise distinctive features of the City, whether it may be people of merit who have been associated with the City (Blue Plaques), buildings or streets with a distinctive history or association (Architectural Awards), as well as local businesses (Indoor Plaques) that have made a long term contribution to the life of the City. 

BLUE PLAQUES                            INDOOR PLAQUES                     ARCHITECTURAL PLAQUES

Forthcoming Plaques - 2018

 

An addition to our existing series of six rectangular plaques that tell the architectural history of the more famous streets in Wells. This one will be placed in The Liberty.

 

BLUE PLAQUES

The Blue Plaques are a series being installed across the city by Wells Civic Society with financial support from Wells Rotary Club.

The Wells gallows

All the first seven Blue Plaques installed in Wells are cheerful – but No 8 is not. It commemorates the Wells gallows and reads: “Near here during the 17th and 18th centuries stood the place of public execution for hanging, drawing, quartering and burning at the stake.”

 

The Reverend Clare Cowlin from St Cuthbert’s in Wells was present for the unveiling of the plaque off the Glastonbury Road at Keward and said: “We cannot name the hundreds who died here, but we can honour them as individuals, known to God whose own son died like a criminal on the cross,” and led the Lord’s Prayer.

 

Civic society vice-chair Philip Welch read a report from the Bath Journal about an execution at Keward of a woman called Susannah Bruford who had poisoned her husband.

 

 “She was brought from the room where she was imprisoned into the yard of the Star Inn at Wells and was seated on the sledge with a hurdle thereon and a barrel of pitch. “She was dressed in a black gown and had a black hood placed over her head. From thence she was taken to the place of execution and being brought to the stake spent half an hour with a clergyman in prayer. She was then set upon the stool in order to put the halter about her neck to strangle her. She prayed very fervently and begged for mercy and standing two or three minutes then dropped a black handkerchief which she held in her hand as a signal and was executed at about 25 minutes after five o’clock.

 

Soon after she was launched into eternity the faggots were placed around her and a barrel of pitch set under them. Two hoops of iron were put around her body and nailed to the stake to keep it up while it was consuming. Before she was quite dead the faggots were set upon the fire and they burnt for nearly an hour with a great fury by which time she was consumed to ashes. There was a small coffin to put her remains in. A prodigious concourse of people appeared as spectators of this dismal scene.”

 

Mr Welch thanked Mark and James Vear of Vear Construction for providing the stone and building this splendid plinth.

 

“Also Jon Jefferies who did much of the work including the planning application, Clare Blackmore and David Mather for helping with the research.”

The Rib and Elizabeth Goudge

An author who helped inspire the Harry Potter books has been commemorated in Wells. J K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, said Elizabeth Goudge’s Little White Horse was her favourite book as a child and one of the very few with direct influence on her series about the boy wizard. Elizabeth was an English author of novels, short stories and children's books who won the Carnegie Medal for British children's books in 1946 for The Little White Horse. She was a best-selling author in both the UK and the US from the 1930s into the 1970s. Elizabeth was born in the Tower House on St Andrew Street, Wells, in April 1900.

 

Elizabeth wrote City of Bells based on Wells and Wells Cathedral in 1936, then followed with Sister of the Angels and Henrietta’s House, both set in the fictional city of Torminster, which was really Wells.

Three years later her father was made head of the Wells Theological College and the family moved across St Andrew Street to The Rib, because that house was owned by the Church of England.

On March 9th a Blue Plaque was unveiled in her honour on the perimeter wall of The Rib, which sits next to the east end of Wells Cathedral with views over the Bishop’s Palace gardens. In 1989 the Church of England sold The Rib which has just been restored by the present owners David Morgan-Hewitt and Paul Dickinson.

Elizabeth wrote: “No child can have lived in lovelier homes than my first two homes or in a more enchanted city.”

 “The plaque will hopefully encourage more people to read this celebrated author’s books,” said Paul.

“When we bought this historic house we appreciated how special and unique it is.

“We are happy to share it with local charities and continue the tradition of people enjoying convivial company here, which has been going on for 600 years.”

Brine's Brush Factory

After the unveiling: From left to right, Chris Winter, John Devane, Geoff Haskins from Wells Rotary Club, Clare Blackmore and Sarah Villiers

 

Over the years many people have wondered why 7a Portway in Wells looks so different from neighbouring houses. The answer is that No 7a stands on the site of the entrance to Brine’s brush factory.

 

There were several brush factories in Wells during Victorian times. They appeared to have been set up in response to growing demands for improved hygiene in the diary industry. A range of brushes was required to clean the dairies and the processing factories from which cheese and other milk products were distributed. One of the largest was the Cow & Gate factory which was in Glastonbury Road opposite where Wells police station is now. Now the Brine’s site has been marked with a blue plaque installed by Wells Civic Society.

 

Albert Brine bought the Portway site in 1869 and set up the brush factory which prospered well into the 20th century. Then Tom Morgan bought the property in the 1950s, demolished the factory and built No 7a as two storeys with office space on the ground floor and a flat above. Now a house, the present owner John Devane said: “I would like to thank the civic society for marking the old factory site. “It is important to inform residents about pieces of local history that are not well known.”

 

This is the sixth blue plaque installed in the city and more are planned during 2018 said civic society vice-chairman Philip Welch, who is leading the project.

 

“We are grateful for the support of Wells Rotary Club, who are paying half the cost of the blue plaques,” said Philip, “also to Sarah Villiers from Wells Museum for her detailed research into the history of Brine’s brush factory.”

Barclay's Bank

The Blue Plaque on Barclays bank in Wells Market Place was unveiled by manager Alison Potter, after a witty poem read by Town Crier Len Sweales.


The plaque records how the notorious Judge Jeffreys came to Wells and tried 542 people in one day in 1685 for joining the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion against King James II. All but one, were convicted and 94 executed.


“It is good to take part in celebrating and recording the history of Wells,” said Alison Potter before unveiling the plaque. “We had comments from people even before the plaque was unveiled. The Duke of Monmouth was the Protestant illegitimate son of Charles II. When Charles died, his Roman Catholic brother James II ascended the throne, but was unpopular and Monmouth used this as an opportunity to overthrow the King and claim the crown for himself. However his army, which reached 6,000 men at one stage was mainly formed of poor armed peasants and were soundly defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor at Westonzoyland in Somerset.

The Swan Hotel

Time for bubbly: Philip Welch and Kevin Newton of the Swan Hotel celebrate the unveiling of the plaque with Wells Town Crier Len Sweales.


Did you know that King Henry VII, Winston Churchill and Queen Anne of Denmark have all stayed at the Swan in Wells? Most people don’t, which is one reason for installing a blue plaque listing some of the hotel’s most famous guests


“We want to record interesting pieces of our city’s history for local people,” said Civic Society vice-chairman Philip Welch, who is leading the project. “Also we hope the plaques will prove an added attraction for the visitors who are critical to the economy of Wells.”

W.G. Grace Visit

English cricket legend W.G. Grace has been honoured by Wells Civic Society.
However when the great batsman came to what is now Wells Recreation Ground in 1867 he was out for a mere three runs.


His visit is now recorded by a blue plaque on the playing field’s wall, unveiled by the Chairman of Gloucestershire Cricket Club and WGG expert Rex Body.

The Crown: Bert Phillips Photographers

A 20th century mid-Somerset photographer has been honoured with a blue plaque. This tribute to Bert Phillips has been installed on the building in Wells Market Place where he worked for almost 40 years in the last century. It was a photographic studio and shop from 1855 to 1979 before becoming part of the Crown hotel. The last owner was Hilda Southwood whose son Alan unveiled the plaque on November 22, 2016.


“Mother worked at the photographic studio all her life and donated many old photographs and negatives to Wells Museum on her retirement,” said Alan.


“She and Dad, together with Uncle Bert (Phillips) would be very pleased the old firm is not forgotten.”

Edgar Wright director of Hot Fuzz

Hollywood film director Edgar Wright returned to Wells Blue School, where he was a student from 1985-92, to unveil a blue plaque commemorating his achievements. In July 2016 the plaque was placed on the outside wall of the school’s reception where it can inspire current students to pursue their dreams.


Edgar’s movies include Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz (which was mainly filmed in Wells), The World’s End and Scott Pilgrim v the World. He also co-wrote Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and the screenplay for Ant-Man. He now lives in Los Angeles.

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INDOOR PLAQUES

Fisher family jewellery shop

Personal service is key to the long lasting success of the Fisher family’s jewellery shop in Wells. They tell the story of a customer who left her clock for repair saying “I will be back next week to collect it.” In fact she returned 30 years later after moving to Australia, marrying, divorcing and returning to Fisher’s to collect the clock, which of course was waiting for her.

 

The shop was founded in 1919 by Leon Fisher, the great grandfather of the present boss Marcus, in the High Street premises now occupied by Specsavers. Later the Fishers moved next door to where they are now.

 

To mark almost a century of service the Fishers were presented with the latest in a series of commemorative plaques given by Wells Civic Society as part of their campaign to support the long-standing family businesses that give the city its unique character as a shopping centre.

 

“One reason we are still here is the clock and jewellery repair side of the business,” said Marcus. “Many of the big chains don’t offer our this service. Here you meet the person who will actually do the repair.”

 

His father Paul is officially retired but still does the clock repairs and recalls how five generations of the family used to wind the Wells Cathedral clock three times a day from the early 1920s to 2012. Now it is electric.

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Leon the Barber

Wells Civic Society vice-chairman Philip Welch takes to the barber’s chair to present the plaque to Leon Tooze

 

Back in 1959 we had only two TV channels, the average house cost £2,410 and Leon Tooze started work as a barber. Now 73, he is still going strong with no plans to retire.

 

“I love my work and have a real camaraderie with my customers,” said Leon.

“They come from as far away as Cheddar, Somerset and Crewkerne to my shop in Wells. I am loyal to my regulars and have no thoughts about retiring as long as my health is OK.”

 

Working on his feet for four hours at a time helps keep Leon fit. His first job was at Mike Howe’s barber shop in Street High Street from 1959. Then in 1964 he took over an existing barbers in St Cuthbert Street, Wells, which was once the local Labour Party offices, where he remains to this day.

 

Now Leon has been presented with a plaque to mark running his own barber business for more than 53 years – the longest in the city ­– by Philip Welch on behalf of Wells Civic Society.

 

“You get to know a lot of people,” Leon said. “I reckon I knew at least half the people of Wells back in the 70s and 80s before the population grew.” Leon believes one reason for the longevity of his business is that he cuts his customers’ hair the way they want it done. “Too often hairdressers think you should look like the latest fashion fad. Nothing is worse than seeing an older gentleman with a young man’s cut,” said Leon. “It is wonderful that the civic society has recognised my long service to the men of Wells. Thank you.”

Basil Powell Shoes

Wells has had a shoe shop at the top of Broad Street since 1863.
The George family ran it for several generations but after the Second World War the shop was bought by Clarks of Street who ran it under their Peter Lord brand. Then in 1969 Clarks sold the shop to one of their employees, Basil Powell, under whose name it still trades, and run since 1989 by his son Robert and wife Sarah.
Now they have been presented with a plaque by Wells Civic Society to mark the shop’s more than 150 years of service to the city. The society’s chair, Chris Winter said: “Independent businesses are so important to the city. Not only to its economic prosperity but they make a vital contribution to the community too. “Customers are fellow residents and visitors who are valued, and Robert and Sarah engage in many aspects of city life. “They also respect and enhance the historic built environment of Wells with well kept shop fronts, in particular the clues to the history of businesses like the well maintained mosaic doorway of Basil Powell Shoes".


”Robert thanked the Civic Society and said: “We are proud of Wells which is a great place for independent businesses. We are unique with a loyal customer base offering a personal fitting service and we stock lots of brands for people with uncomfortable feet.”


Sarah, who was brought up in Paris, met Robert at a dinner party and they have two grown-up daughters.

db+PAUL

Not many businesses can say they have worked in Wells for 150 years.One that may is the Paul family whose care for buildings in the city began in the late 1800s. Now Wells Civic Society has marked this achievement by presenting a commemorative plaque to Jim Paul, the present owner, who said: “This is a great honour and the plaque will have pride of place in our offices.”It was presented by Philip Welch, the civic society’s vice-chair, who explained: “This is the latest in a series of plaques we are giving as part of our campaign to support long-standing family businesses in Wells.
”According to an advertisement in the Wells Journal, William Paul started the firm of W & H Paul after 17 years working as a painter, decorator and paperhanger. The firm began trading on July 29, 1893 from 16 South Street.
William married Harriet Tripp and it is likely that the name of the firm came from their partnership. They produced 11 children and Harry Paul, their sixth child, took over the running of the business around 1918, having returned from South Africa where he had learnt his craft as a sign-writer and gilder.
Harry ran the business from 2 St Cuthbert Street, where he and his wife Rose brought up four children, Madeline, Jack, George and Sybil. On Harry’s retirement in the 1950s, Madeline, Jack and George continued to run the business, which had developed into building and renovation contractors.
George however, having been apprenticed to his father, continued the sign-writing part of the business. A memorable commission was the restoration of the quarter-jacks and the repainting of the face of the Wells Cathedral clock in 1959. This included gilding the clock hands with gold leaf.
The W & H Paul business continued at premises in 38 Market Street, from where refurbishment of many of the important buildings in Wells was undertaken. The business ceased trading on the retirement of Madeline, Jack and George in 1990.
In the meantime, George’s son Jim qualified as a Chartered Building Surveyor in 1980. Jim became a partner in Davis Blackburn & Partners and opened a new Chartered Building Surveyors’ office in Wells in 1982. The office was located in Rock House, occupying two rooms on the first floor. As the workload increased, new larger offices were acquired at 44 High Street, Wells in 1984 and additional staff recruited. Jim became a Fellow of the RICS in 1989 and the business continued to flourish. Eventually these premises became too small and the business moved in 2007 to their present base in St Cuthbert Street.
Following the retirement of the founding partners, the name of the firm was changed in 2009 to db+PAUL to reflect the ownership.

Browne's Garden Centre

Napoleon Bonaparte ruled Europe and his demise at the Battle of Waterloo was seven years in the future when Browne’s garden business was founded in Wells. The date was 1808 when Emmanuel Browne opened a nursery on a large site off New Street. Later the family opened the Priory Nursery in Tucker Street, where Higos now have an office, and The Flower Basket shop at 20 High Street. Then in 1974 Lionel Browne moved the business to the present Browne’s Garden Centre on the Glastonbury road at Keward.

 

“We are thrilled to receive this award,” said the current owner Jonathan Browne, “and hopefully one of our three sons will take over the business from me in due course. We offer a relaxed family-friendly atmosphere and are always happy to give expert advice.”

 

The plaque was presented by Philip Welch, the Civic Society’s vice-chair, who said: “Surely Browne’s must be Wells’ oldest family business. It is a remarkable record. “We are also delighted to give this plaque because independent businesses maintain the character of a place and are much more likely to support the community than national chain cafes and shops.”

Earthcraft Shop

Opening the long standing Earthcraft shop was a family idea.

“My sister thought I would be good at running a shop and my brother suggested selling crafts as well as cards,” said Julie Romeo who has run Earthcraft since she opened it in 1979 and has no plans to stop now.

“I will never be a millionaire but it’s great fun. I love talking to people, helping them and it keeps the wolf from the door.”

To mark her 38 years’ service to local people at the shop in Priory Road, Julie was presented with a commemorative plaque by Wells Civic Society.

30 Year Family Dentist Practice in Wells

Richard and Sue Leworthy have been running Rock House Dental Practice for over 30 years and were delighted to receive a plaque which has pride of place in their reception area. Rock House is a Grade II listed building and the Leworthy’s have taken great care to preserve many of the historical architectural features of the 1740s building, the whole of which is used on a daily basis.

Wells Film Centre

Chris Winter, in February 2016, presents the indoor plaque to Sally Cooper watched by other members of the Cooper family

 

Derek Cooper founded the film centre 24 years earlier. It has grown from one screen to three and switched from celluloid packed in big cans to digital technology with the films arriving online.

 

“This is a very special award,” said Derek, “and all of us at Wells Film Centre are touched by this recognition from the civic society.”

Protec

The Protec team look on as Wells Civic Society vice-chairman Philip Welch presents the indoor plaque to Debbie Bevan in August 2016.

 

The “three shops in one” family business of Queen Street in Wells have been recognised for serving the city since 1983, and helping to give the city its unique character as a shopping centre.

 

“We are absolutely delighted with this award,” said Debbie Bevan, who co-manages the shop with her 29-year-old son Richard and runs to work in the morning from home in Coxley.

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ARCHITECTURAL PLAQUES

The Liberty and East Liberty

The latest of the architectural plaques has been unveiled at the Liberty in Wells. This road has been of historical significance for many centuries and contains several buildings of note. The unveiling ceremony was attended by representatives of the Rotary Club of Wells, Wells Voice, the Cathedral and Cathedral School, the Museum and the City Council, together with the owner of the wall on which it was installed and members of the Civic Society. We are grateful to everyone for their support.

 

The Liberty refers to the area of land, including the Cathedral, which until 1866 was free of the bishop’s jurisdiction. The oldest fabric lies within Ritchie Hall, rebuilt in 1884 but containing six 12th century piers of the former Canon’s Barn. The adjacent house, named after Polydor Vergill, the humanist scholar and non-resident Archdeacon (1508-46), also has 15th century details.

 

The splendid corner property, Cedars House, was designed by Thomas Paty in 1758, and became the Tudway family’s home: it contains rich plasterwork by Thomas Stocking and much original joinery, notably the great staircase.

 

Opposite here the lofty stone boundary wall which enclosed the Deanery garden plays a vital part of the townscape. Towards its west end a gap reveals the Canon’s houses built in the late 1960s.

 

The eastern section of the Liberty’s features the elegant Claver Morris House which was built for an eminent local physician in the early 18th century.

 

Further down, behind high walls, the large 15th century house is the Dean’s lodging. Most of these properties are now occupied by Wells Cathedral school.

Almshouses in Wells

1. Llewellyn’s and Charles’ Almshouses
Established in 1636, these buildings date from 1887, with an older unit at the far end of the left-hand range. The style and layout, with its regularity and prominent chimneys, is reminiscent of traditional almshouse design, and creates a dignified urban space.


2. Wells Old Almshouses
In the churchyard, behind you, is the principal Wells group of buildings originally for ‘the indigent poor”. Bubwith’s, the oldest almshouse endowment in Somerset, was founded in 1436 by the bishop of that name, and include a chapel and Guildhall, still in use. Bubwith’s faces Chamberlain Street, with a projecting porch, which originally spanned a small waterway. Facing the church is the delightful small-scale range of Still’s founded in 1615, and behind them are Willes’ (1777) and Bricke’s (1637).


3. Harper’s almshouses
In Chamberlain Street are Harper’s Almshouses of 1726, now in private hands. The two-storeyed painted front retains two of the original stone-mullioned windows. A small tablet set into the front wall records the foundation for “…. 5 poor old decayed Wooll-combers of this parish ….” – a proviso which no longer applies. In the centuries before the introduction of the welfare state, almshouses (provided by private generosity) were important in taking care of elderly citizens; occupants had to be upright characters who had lived in the city, and has been regular attenders of the parish church of St Cuthbert.

The Market Place

Bekynton's New Works
This row on the north side of the Market Place was provided by Bishop Bekynton in 1451-52. He had planned to build a complete square but only this side was constructed. It is known as “Bekynton’s New Works”.


The Conduit
The present water fountain was erected by the city corporation to replace an earlier mediaeval conduit built by Bishop Bekynton in 1451 and demolished in 1797.
Near the present water fountain stood the High Cross built by Bishop Knight in 1542 with money bequeathed by Dean Woleman to replace an earlier 14th century cross. It was used for important civic occasions and by market traders until demolished in 1783
From 1661 until demolished in 1779, a long rectangular pillared market house stood in the centre of the Market Place. The upper storey comprised two rooms – one the Council Chambers/Exchequer, which was also used as a courthouse and the other a wool store. The ground floor housed a fire engine. Its construction marked the final relocation of the market from the High Street to the present site.

Sadler Street and Brown's Gate

From the mid 13th century Sadler street has been the main entry to the city from the north. Known earlier as Canons Street, Cheap Street and High Street, it was a favorite place for the establishment of Coaching Inns and Taverns – some still trading. The west side of the street was developed first in the 13th century, whilst the east side adjacent to the churchyard was built only after the construction of the Precinct wall.
A. Brown’s Gate. This was built by Bishop Beckynton c. 1450 on the site of the earlier churchyard steps, as was the Ancient Gatehouse Hotel. It pierces the mid-14th century Precinct Wall around the Cathedral Churchyard and became a popular shortcut for traffic into Wells until closed c. 1970.


B. The White Hart Hotel. There was an earlier building on this site from 1301 to c. 1497. This inn was first known as “The Hertehed” and by 1706 as “The White Hart”. Parts of the structure are original, but the frontage dates from c. 1908.


C. 15-17 Sadler Street. There was an Inn here known as the “Flower De Luce” from 1605 – 1760. It was then renamed the “Mitre Inn” but has since closed.


D. The Swam Hotel. First mentioned in 1422 and called a “Great Inn”. Being an important Coaching Inn, it was rebuilt in 1769 by Charles Tudway, Mayor and the Member of Parliament for Wells.

High Street

The High Street dates from the 12th Century, the wider middle section of the street becoming the main market area. In 1201, King John granted the right to hold a weekly market and five fairs annually also took place here.
A Middle Row was built in the centre of the widest part of the street in 1571 to accommodate the butchers’ and fishmongers’ shambles. The following year a Town Hall was erected at the upper end of the row opposite modern numbers 27 and 29 High Street over the fish shambles. In 1591 the fish shambles were replaced by the first city prison. The prison was moved in 1606 to what is now the City Arms where it remained until the 19th Century.
In an earlier building close to where you are standing, a linen hall was established in 1571 for the twice-yearly linen fairs. The Corporation established the city exchequer and the Town Clerk’s office here in 1599, following the grant of the City’s royal charter in 1589.


Most of the main city traders lived and worked in the High Street, and here most of the important inns were situated. In 1700 there were 13 inns in the upper part of the street of which only the King’s Head now remains as an inn.


With the demolition of the Middle Row in 1767, to ease traffic flow, the market finally moved to today’s Market Place.

St John Street

Until 1840 and the creation of Priory Road, the main entry to Wells from Glastonbury was via Southover and St John Stree, named after the Priory of the Hospital of St John the Baptist, founded c. 1220 by Bishop Jocelyn and his brother Bishop Hugh of Lincoln. The Priory was a religious community dedicated to worship, nursing the sick, and helping the poor and the disabled. It comprised the Prior and ten Brothers.

 

The Priory was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539, but the main Priory buildings survived until 1859, being then demolished and replaced by the Central School, whose buildings still exist but are now converted into dwellings. The adjacent house, called The Priory, was probably the Prior’s lodging, and contains significant mediaeval remains.

Guardhouse Lane

Guardhouse Lane takes its name from its eighteenth-century guardhouse. The Napoleonic Wars of the late 1790s and early 1800s saw a new warfare of mass armies and large fleets. This made necessary the first serious attempt to house prisoners-of-war in specially built prisons or prison camps, as on Dartmoor or at Norman Cross near Peterborough. Captured French soldiers and sailors were landed at southern ports and marched about 20 miles a day, lodging en route at specially constructed staging-posts.

 

Wells Guardhouse was the last overnight stop for other ranks before reaching the newly enlarged Stapleton Prison, Bristol.

Broad Street

Originally called Wet Lane and subsequently Water Lane, this finally became Broad Street when widened from a modest 3.5 metres to its present size in 1838. At that time the early buildings opposite here were demolished and replaced with those now forming the frontage; the street was also continued to the completely new Priory Road to create a more direct route to Glastonbury. Broad Street is part of the main shopping area of Wells, and remains an important thoroughfare through the city.


In the eleventh century the street was the site of an early market in Wells. By the fourteenth century some of the buildings were occupied by dyers producing purple from woad, and in 1426-7 there are records of five properties registered in Water Lane. By 1821 Water Lane had a smithy, the Bulls Head Inn, and at the junction with High Street, Jacob’s Well. In 1858 No 1 Broad Street, part of this building, was sold for £58.

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