This moated medieval palace, built for the Bishop of Wells, has 14 acres of RHS gardens around it and has links to the sacred past of the city of Wells.
The Palace was built in the early 13th century as the medieval home for Bishop Jocelin of Wells. It’s got everything you could want in a medieval building - moat, drawbridge, portcullis… Bishop Ralph knew that political war and plague could wreak havoc during the mid 1300s and the palace served not only as a home but as a symbol of authority and security. The current Bishop of Wells lives at the Palace today, but he’s much more friendly and invites visitors to discover the history of the Palace and see the rooms where Bishop Jocelin worked, slept and entertained. Other buildings, like the Chapel and Great Hall, were added in the late 1200s by Bishop Burnell, and an extra floor was added to the medieval building around 170 years ago. You can examine the portraits of past bishops in the Long Gallery, or pop into the chapel and watch the light streaming through stained glass collected from French churches after the 1789 Revolution.
The Great Hall was added by Bishop Brunell in the 13th century and is the 3rd largest secular hall in England after Canterbury and Westminster Palace. Though it’s no longer fully intact, it makes a grand backdrop for the Picturesque Garden, which was added later in the 19th century.
The city of Wells was named after the well pools in the grounds of the Palace. One pool in particular, St Andrew’s Well, has supplied water to the city since medieval times. Visit the Wells Gardens, or check out some of the other gardens on offer. They’ve been awarded RHS ‘Partner Garden’ status, recognising the “outstanding and exceptionally high standards of planting and design”. There’s a South Garden with wide lawns and mulberry trees, rose- and dahlia-filled East Garden, as well as a more modern Quiet Garden, less formal than the others and seeded with grasses and wildflowers. The Dragon’s Lair is an interactive playground for children, based on a legend about a dragon that terrorised Somerset in the 13th century. Dragons aside, it’s clear that the animals at the Bishop’s Palace truly are something special; even the swans that live in the surrounding moat have learned to ring a bell at the gatehouse for food.