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Somerset Historic Environment Record


Site Name: The Music School and attached walls (Formerly Listed as: CATHEDRAL GREEN (North side) Library of Theological College), Cathedral Green (north side), Wells
Civil Parish: Wells
PRN 16421Evaluation (1995), the Old Archdeaconry, Wells
Grid Ref: ST 5511 4594 (ST 54 NE)
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Image: Image of HER 20321 - Photo by Somerset County Council (25 August 1981)
  HER 20321 - Photo by Somerset County Council (25 August 1981)

Public access:

The public accessibility of this site is unknown or has not been checked. Please ask locally and do not visit without permission. [Information last updated on 21 May 2003]


Former house of the Archdeacon of Wells, now music school. Largely rebuilt by Archdeacon Holes c1450-70, possibly retaining some C13 work, extensively restored 1886 by Edmund Buckle. Local stone roughly squared and coursed, with ashlar chimney stacks, slate roof.

PLAN: a large full-height hall, cross passage to the left, and rooms on 2 floors and attic left, with staircase turret front, left.

EXTERIOR: front elevation of 6 bays. Plinth, parapet string and battlemented parapet, corner turrets with conical roofs and crocketed finials. Perpendicular-traceried windows with cinquefoil cusping; bay 1 has 3-light windows to two levels, the lower having a segmental relieving arch over, the upper has a transom and a flat label mould; bay 2 an octagonal plan projection with hipped roof, with small windows at lower level; bay 3 is a projecting porch almost as far as bay 2, with large elliptical C19 arch framing a 2-light window and a pointed arched doorway, ornamented battlemented parapet, above which is a 3-light transomd window with flat label, and in roof a C19 dormer with pitched roof; bay 4 has a projecting solar window with chamfered corners, not to full height, with pair of 2-light transomd windows with arched heads on south face, and single 2-light windows to SW, SE and east faces under battlemented parapet; bays 5 and 6 have later 2-light windows with transoms and a different tracery pattern, with relieving arches and no labels. In the south-east corner are jamb and part of the arch of an earlier door.

West gable has three 4-centred blocked arches at low level, an offset at eaves level, and in the gable a circular window divided into 5 parts by C19 tracery, with a trefoil cusped window above.

The north elevation modified by a lean-to house at rear, but has 2-light arched traceried window to east bay and deeper transomd windows for the next two bays.

INTERIOR: the main entrance cross-passage has 2 transverse beams with chamfers to run-out stops. To the right the hall, entered through a pair of fielded-panel doors, has an 8-bay arch-braced collar roof with chamfered purlins and 4 ranges of broad chamfered wind-braces, in X-form, to a diagonal ridge, with flat rafters, boarded, on a brattished plate over open cusped lights and a further brattished lower member, with a deep carved inscribed frieze. Near the east end on north side a cusped recess apparently of C13 date. At the E end is a plain wall with oculus, and a gallery on scrolled brackets, returned to the N side, with a series of thin turned balusters to arches in groups of 5, and a deep handrail. At the W end is a gallery with a free-standing spiral stair and similar balustrade. At the ground floor level is a C19 stone fireplace with frieze and mantelshelf, on octagonal pilasters. The frieze inscription reads: 'Omnis Scriba doctus in regno coelorum similis est homini patrifamilias gui profert de thesauro suo nova et veta .... Sacerdotis custodient licentiam et legem reguirent ex die eius quia angelus Domini exercitum est MDCCCXL'. This may replace the 'monkish verses' said to have been here in 1680. The rooms at the far side of the cross-passage are mainly in late C19 detail, but the attic storey still retains heavy principals and purlins of earlier date.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: attached to the SW corner a short length of tall wall with coping and gateway to the west, having plain square ashlar piers with simple plinth and pyramid caps, with C20 timber gates, then enclosing front area, with quadrant curve on SW corner, a wall approximately im high with pitched roll-top ashlar coping, with gap opposite porch, continued to a matching gateway at the east end against the Vicars' Hall (qv), with a tall return all northwards back to the SE corner of the building, adding to the setting of this building and to the street scene of the Cathedral Green.

HISTORICAL NOTE: the building remained a house when Polydore Vergil, author of "Historia Anglia" was forced to surrender it to the Crown in 1555. In the late C18 it became a brewery, but after the 1886 restoration it served for 90 years as the Library to the now defunct Wells Theological College, and in 1955 came to the Cathedral School. (Buildings of England: Pevsner N: North Somerset and Bristol: London: 1958-: 319; Bailey 5: Canonical Houses of Wells: Gloucester: 1982-: 123) {1}

Library of Theological College (formerly listed as Theological Library) Cathedral Green (North side), Wells.

Originally the Archdeaconry. Early C14 fabric but external features now mainly C19 Gothic except polygonal angle turrets with blind panelling. Some C18 sashes. Important interior features including open timber roof with collar beams, long arch braces, 2 tiers of wind braces. It is said that Polydore Virgil wrote his Historia Anglica" here. All listed building in Cathedral Green form an important group, dominated on the east by the Cathedral itself and on the north by the Old Deanery and associated buildings.

The Old Archdeaconry is one of a considerable number of pre-Reformation Cathedral buildings to have survived within the area of Wells Liberty (see PRN 16420 for more details).

A approximate history of use is as follows;

1400s - Great hall, it includes some early fourteenth century fabric, possible evn late thirteenth century. It was an importanyt Canonical House, the Archdeaconry.

1555 - The building was forfeited by the church when the archdeacon Polydore Vergil fell foul of Henry VIII (it is likely that much of Vergil's Anglicae Historiae libri XXVI was written here).

1800 - The building is used as an assembly room and brewery.

1896 - The Theological College purchased the building. Extensive repairs were made with much new stone (creating a Victorian fašade with oriel window and stairway turret). It bacame the library, lecture room and common room of Wells Theological College.

1971 - The Theological College transferred to Sailsbury, and the building becomes the Music School and Concwert Hall of the Cathedral School. {3}

Originally the Archdeaconry and is similar to the the Deanery south range. The S side was sashed in the C18, and the Hall was horizontally subdivided. Victorian adaptationhave spoilt the outer appearance completely and only the two turrets survive. Internally the timber roof is again visible, with collar-beams, long arched braces, and four tiers of wind-braces arranged in two ogee-crosses above each other. {4}

English Heritage Listed Building Number: 483308. First Listed on 12/11/1953. English Heritage Unified Designation System Asset Number: 1382905 {5}


1 Statutory List - Forty-third List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic interest: District of Mendip (Somerset) (31/5/2000) Location: HER collections.
2 Superseded entry in Statutory List - Fifth list of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. City of Wells (Somerset). (13/9/1972)
3 Detailed records - Anon The Old Archdeaconry, Wells: Documentary Evaluation of the Site Unpublished Ferguson Mann Architects report (1995): Report in HER files
4 Mention - Pevsner, N. Buildings of England: North Somerset and Bristol (1958), 319
5 Data transfer - Listed Buildings database, English Heritage. Record ID: 483308 (2005)

Record created in November 1997

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