Two night’s away for F’s birthday present and I chose Wells, England’s second smallest city (after only the City of London). We stayed at the Lord Leazes Hotel in Chard as this got extremely good write-ups. However it was strange driving on a convoluted route through a large housing estate and then down a short country lane to arrive there. As our room wasn’t ready we asked to leave our suitcase and were directed to our room. Bad mistake! With unmade bed and the detritus of someone else’s occupation it was a horrible experience, and I nearly sought out somewhere else. Anyhow off we went to Wells and our first impressions on walking from the car park into the centre were very favourable, with neat streets of old houses (above and below)……and a historic market place crammed with characterful buildings…The range of independent shops we had passed was impressive too…First stop for lunch was ASK which, as often with them, was in a lovely old building, in this case the former market hall also in the square. We used a couple of offers by virtue of the kind waitress booking us theoretically onto two separate tables…mine a glass of Aperol spritz which was delicious..the meal and service were great.Next to the Bishop’s Palace free with our HHA cards and the major reason for our visit. On entering through the imposing gatehouse……..the first you see is the moat which along with the battlements surround all fours sides of the groundsThe inner precinct is approached over a drawbridge. This is all a very impressive-looking assemblage of buildings. In the 14th century, Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury continued the building of the original palace and he had an uneasy relationship with the citizens of Wells, partly because of his imposition of taxes. Thus he surrounded his palace with the crenellated walls, moat and a drawbridge. None of this was built for serious defence as the walls are flimsy and the moat shallow. But it served its purpose. Inside a harmonious range of buildings. In this view the original palace on the left, the chapel, and the ruined wall of the banqueting hall. On close inspection, the hall built by Bishop Burnell as a splendid dining and entertaining hall, was built c.1290 alongside his chapel. Although only two walls and the four corner turrets survive, it is still one of the most impressive examples of a medieval open hall; its huge size reflects the power held by Bishop Burnell as a leading statesman of his time. It is the third largest secular hall in England after Canterbury and Westminster Palace. Built in the Early English Decorative style, elements of this can be seen in the remaining wonderfully large windows…….As part of our visit we did a grounds tour with a very knowledgeable guide, and here we are walking on a section of the ramparts…then proceeding through one of the many beautiful gardens…before getting to a point where there are spectacular views of the Cathedral itself….We then looked at the three wells or springs – in Anglo-Saxon, wella -, to which Wells owes both its name and its origins….they bubble up continuously at a point which is now within the gardens. The most northerly spring was held to be a holy well and was dedicated to St Andrew. The springs are a result of the geology of the surrounding area. When it rains, water runs off the Mendip Hills and disappears into a system of underground channels and rivers. When it reaches Wells the water hits a layer of mudstone and is forced up through clefts in the rock to form what are known as the springs. On average 4 million gallons of water flow from the springs every day.use of the springs is made in the community allotment gardens which are also within the precinct….What a wonderful spot for the citizens of Wells, the gardens are quite magnificent….Inside the chapel was quite as restful as the grounds…Built by Bishop Robert Burnell at around the same time as the adjoining Great Hall in the late-thirteenth century, the windows are surprisingly large for the period and the tracery in them is an exceptionally fine example of the Early English style. The roof bosses are of naturalistic foliage and bizarre animals painted in traditional medieval colours. The Chapel was restored by Bishop George Henry Law in the nineteenth century. In the windows he used fragments of French medieval glass from churches in the Rouen area, which were destroyed in the revolutionary era.The Bishop’s Palace dates from the early-thirteenth century when Bishop Jocelin Trotman, the first Bishop to hold the title Bishop of Bath and Wells, received a crown licence to build a residence and deer park on land to the south of the Cathedral of St Andrew, and inside there are lots of reminders of how it has developed through the centuries…This piece of wood carving presumably very recent is very good….and the dining hall atmosphericI enjoyed the pictures of past Bishops including the large one of Laud who was responsible for the splendid Canterbury Quadrangle at my old college St Johns….Unsure which arms these are…more research needed, but obviously could be William Piers Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1663……On the way back to Chard from Wells we pulled in for refreshments at The King’s Arms at a beautiful little village called Charlton Horethorne…vintage Jag sports car outside, not at all like the pesky Ford influenced ones now. We wished we were staying here…never mind……Next day first port of call was the NT’s Barrington Court It was a hot one. We were there to see the gardens mainly and the various rooms and borders were exceptional. It just made me want a herbaceous border of my own all the more. Must look into this.Built in c.1550 for William Clifton, a prosperous London merchant, Barrington Court is a typical early-Elizabethan E-plan house built of honey-coloured Ham stone. The original entrance façade to the south consists of two long projecting wings enclosing a forecourt and is topped with a riot of finials and spiral chimneys. Inside, apart from 2 overmantels, one of which depicts the Judgment of Solomon, little original decoration survives. In 1907, neglected and dilapidated, Barrington was the first country house to be acquired by the National Trust, although the Trust was unable to find the funds necessary for its repair. In 1920 it was let to Colonel A.A. Lyle, who restored the house and filled it with his fine collections of oak panelling and other interior fittings. Strode House (below), built in 1674, was originally a stable block. This grand, red brick building bears the initials of William Strode II, who was keen to display evidence of his wealth by housing his horses and carriages in style. It was remodelled and restored in the 1920s for the Lyle family’s use, and they added a connecting corridor from it to the Court. So there are two houses to explore as well as the gardens.Colonel Lyle (yes, of the sugar dynasty) really did have a passion for collecting historic woodwork and other architectural features, salvaged from houses that were neglected or abandoned. The items he saved included linenfold panneling, fireplaces and surrounds, and a staircase saved from a Scottish castle and installed in the east hall. Together with his architect, E.F. Forbes, Colonel Lyle put his collection to good use during the Court’s restoration between 1920 and 1925.It is very instructive to see the before and after pictures of the long gallery, showing it when it was used as a farm building in the 1920’s and then after restoration….what a great job Lyle and his architect did.Plenty of inspiring views from the house both to the wider world and internally….Walking through the fruit and veg garden on the way back it was obvious the gardeners believe in the magic French marigolds can do!Footpaths everywhere were different and well-maintained….The white garden……..Our next step was another NT property nearby Montacute House.…..We had a drink and something to eat in the rather nice pub at the end of the village and then admired the village of Monatcute itself. Built almost entirely of the local hamstone, from the 15th century until the beginning of the 20th century it formed the heart of the estate of the Phelips family of Montacute House. First built in the 12th century the church contains monuments to the Phelips family, of Montacute House. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to exploreMontacute House is a masterpiece of Elizabethan Renaissance architecture and design. With its towering walls of glass, the glow of the ham stone and its surrounding gardens, it is certainly a place of beauty and wonder. Sir Edward Phelips was the visionary force and money behind it, and it was completed in 1601. Built by skilled craftsman using local stone under the instruction of William Arnold, master mason, the house was a statement of wealth, ambition and showmanship. Sir Edward Phelips made his fortune as a lawyer, enjoying a successful political career after entering Parliament in 1584 and becoming speaker of the House of Commons from 1601-1611. Edward played a key role in one of the trials of the century, making the opening statement for the prosecution against the notorious Guy Fawkes and his fellow gunpowder plotters. The architecture is a mix of two styles, the traditional Gothic and the new fashionable Renaissance, with ideas and influences coming from the continent. The house was built on a grand scale with turrets, obelisks, shell niches, pavilions and walls of glass. On the east front stand the Nine Worthies, statues of biblical, classical and medieval figures, including Julius Caesar and King Arthur.Sir Edward takes pride of place as you would expect in the entrance hall……Family portraits line the walls …..This remarkable C17 plasterwork frieze panel in the Great Hall tells a story. On the left, a husband is being chastised by his wife for drinking while minding the baby. On the right, a (perhaps the) man is seen “riding the Skimmington”, being carried around the village on a pole while being mocked…………In 1787 the house was occupied by a later Edward Phelips, who gave it a face lift. Remarkably he took an ornamental façade from another local 16th century house, Clifton Maybank, and added it to the west front. It meant the layout of the house could be changed. On the ground floor, rooms were enlarged and fireplaces added. The first floor was transformed by the creation of a corridor; family and visitors could have privacy and their own door. Before this, family and visitors would have to go through each other’s rooms to get from one side of the house to the other. By 1895 Montacute House was being leased to tenants, the most notable being Lord Curzon, who took the lease from 1915 till his death in 1925. Two portraits, one of the Lord and another his mistress Elinor Glyn are touchingly together. The painting of Elinor is particularly powerful…..His personal bathroom in a cupboard is quite remarkable……Four years later, Gerard Almarus Phelips felt he had no alternative but to sell the house. It eventually made its way into the possession of the National Trust, but the house was virtually bare except for the Phelips family portraits and Lord Curzon’s bath. Much of the collection in place today came via a bequest from the industrialist Sir Malcolm Stewart, ‘…for the adornment of Montacute House in order that it may re-assume its former character.’ The Long Gallery extends the full length of the house. Measuring an amazing 172 feet from end to end, making it the longest surviving Elizabethan gallery in the country, and an amazing place to be. On a rainy day no trouble getting my 7000 steps in…… And in rooms off the Gallery there are lots of portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, a great touch. Mind you most of them are by artists unknown or ‘after’ so the NPG not quite as generous as I thought first. If you’re interested in British History, there’s plenty to interest you….. and me. Here Thomas More (his hair shirt we have seen in Buckland Abbey).Here Jane Seymour, not exactly a beauty….’after Holbein’….and Katherine Parr…Here Sir William Butts ‘after Holbein’ and physician to Henry VIII. The original is in America and this is dated to Elizabeth’s reign, so it indicates an interest by Elizabethan patrons in early Tudor history…..And here Elizabeth ‘by an unknown artist’. Painted in the 1580’s this together with similar portraits copying early originals shows an increased demand for images of the Queen….It was discovered in a blackened state in 1890 built into the fireplace of a blacksmith’s cottage in Sussex. Astonishing!Essex ‘by an unknown artist’ shows him as the adventurer he was. Painted on English oak from the West Midlands…..and his co-conspirator the Earl of Southampton. they led a badly planned rebellion against Elizabeth. Both condemned to death, Southampton survived (he had been a favourite of Elizabeth).Here Sir Christopher Hatton (you’ve guessed it) ‘by an unknown artist’ . He became Lord Chancellor and was visited by the Queen on his deathbed. he is shown holding a cameo of the Queen.This portrait of James I is thought to have been presented to the builder of Montacute Sir Edward Phelips. By John de Critz.and his daughter Elizabeth for a very short while Queen of Bohemia…there is a special exhibition about ‘the Winter Queen’ in one room..
Elizabeth of Bohemia (1596-1662) was an extraordinary political and cultural figure in the networks of power that spanned seventeenth-century Europe. Born in Scotland, she was the goddaughter of Elizabeth I, sister of Charles I and grandmother of George I.
This special display in Room 4 exploring Elizabeth’s life and portraits has been developed by the National Trust and the National Portrait Gallery, in partnership with the University of Bristol, as part of the National Trust’s year of events on ‘Women and Power’.
Strikingly beautiful and highly educated, at sixteen Elizabeth was married to a German count, Frederick, Elector Palatine. Ruling from Heidelberg, the Protestant couple were drawn into the religious wars that raged across Christian Europe when Frederick was offered, and accepted, the crown of Bohemia. After little more than a year, they were expelled from Prague, the capital of Bohemia, and their German dominions by Catholic forces and forced to flee to The Netherlands where they settled in The Hague.
Elizabeth spent the rest of her life campaigning for the restitution of the German lands of the Palatinate, first to her husband, and then to her children. Hundreds of her letters survive, many written in code. Initially described in scorn as the ‘Winter Queen’ because her reign in Bohemia had lasted only a single winter, the term was adopted by her supporters as a sign of affectionate respect.
Elizabeth became a symbol of militant Protestantism in Europe whose supporters proclaimed allegiance to her as ‘Queen of Hearts’ and her descendants played a crucial role in the continuity of Protestant rule in Britain. Her grandson, the eldest son of her youngest daughter Sophia, was invited to take the British throne as George I after the Stuart line ended with the death of Queen Anne in 1714.
This display was inspired by the important early seventeenth-century bed associated with Elizabeth’s marriage that is on permanent display in the Crimson Bedroom at Montacute House. The ornate carved headboard includes the Royal Arms of James I, flanked by the Prince of Wales escutcheon and the arms of the Elector Palatine. Sir Edward Phelips, the builder of Montacute House, was closely associated with the Stuart royal family and paid for a masque written in celebration of Elizabeth’s marriage in 1613.
and her son, one of my favourites, the dashing and scholarly Prince Rupert…A portrait you’ll agree absolutely full of character ‘by an unknown artist’.Now this which I like also for its character is by Joshua Reynolds but in this case of an unknown sitter!Outside the weather was still sweltering…so off we went to Lyme Regis…it could well be called a genteel watering hole, and whereas I dislike gravel beaches, the pebbles on this beach are lovely although, as my research reveals, imported!some very quirky houses right on the front…and some nice looking pubs which I like to see……On our last day we decided to return to Wells as we had liked it so much and visit the Cathedral this time. We parked near Waitrose and had a lovely walk in again.It’s a pity we didn’t have time to visit St Cuthbert’s as it is often mistaken for the cathedral and a very impressive Grade I church….We visited the cathedral first for a general look around…and then for an hour’s guided tour. Here the famous West front of course…… and here the cloisters..and the unique scissor arches………. The scissor arches, which often visitors believe to be later, modern additions were constructed from 1338-48 as an engineering solution to a very real problem. By 1313 a high tower topped by a lead covered wooden spire had been constructed but as the foundations were not stable large cracks began to appear in the tower structure. In fear of a total collapse, several attempts at internal strengthening and buttressing were made, until the famous ‘scissor arches’ were put in place by master mason William Joy as a final solution.The Stations of The Cross around the nave were beautiful, but it seems very Catholic?
“The Stations of the Cross is a very old devotion; it may well originate in the desire of Christians to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and be in the place where Jesus went to his death. Most Catholic churches nowadays will have ‘stations’ (the name means ‘stopping-places’), in the form of fourteen pictures or sculptures or engravings, or sometimes simple crosses, to allow Christians to pause (‘stop’) and enter reflectively into those last moments of Jesus’s journey of love, and to pray by imagining themselves in Jerusalem with him. Over the centuries the number and format of this devotion has changed a good deal, but it has had its present form since the 15th Century.”
Interesting monuments as you would expect….here Bishop Still..The Georgians in their desire to show ecstasy in the translation to Heaven often sculpted extremely sexy figures……dating from 1703 this figure is supposed to be Bishop Stiller’s mourning daughter looking up at urns containing her two dead parents, who were killed when a chimney stack collapsed on them….These well-worn steps are probably some of the most famous there are…often called the ‘sea of steps’…….They lead to the chapter house…an amazing piece of architecture…Intricate sculpture had developed considerably since the early Gothic period and the Chapter House is a triumph of the decorated style. Delicate ball-flower surrounds each window arch and the vault bosses have beautiful leaf designs. Seats round the outer walls give places to more than forty prebendaries or canons, to meet together and discuss the affairs of the cathedral……. Legal proceedings were also carried out from time to time. Each seat is marked with headstops under the canopies and in all the corners there are humorous and mischievous faces…..here one sticking out his tongue at the Dean’s place directly opposite….‘The Jesse Window at Wells Cathedral is one of the most splendid examples of 14th century stained glass in Europe. It dates from about 1340 and, considering its age, is still remarkably intact. Fortunately, the window has survived the vicissitudes of time and British history (narrowly escaping destruction during the English Civil War) and so what we see today is basically how medieval glaziers designed and created it and how our ancestors viewed it before us.’The Choir is as one might expect splendid….and we managed to squeeze in a brief look around the Library with its chained books..The tour guide we had was very knowledgeable about architecture, giving us an easily understandable explanation of the move in the cathedral from Gothic or ‘French Style’ through Decorated to Perpendicular. Great to have a good guide….now outside I was anxious to see Vicar’s Close. Vicars’ Close was built over 650 years ago to house the Vicars Choral and it has since been continuously inhabited by their successors. Vicars’ Close is unique; physically connected to Wells Cathedral and the most complete example of a medieval Close in the UK. It embodies an internationally renowned musical heritage. A privilege to see it…On the way back to the car we passed through a couple of streets filled with Georgian architecture….and by chance the memorial to Harry PatchThe inscription says it all…….Somerset is a very large county with a lot going for it, but we saw some of the very best during our visit…..