Vicars’ Close, adjoining Wells Cathedral, is believed to be the most complete example of a medieval Close in the UK. This significant landmark was designed to provide communal accommodation for the Vicars Choral, who sang daily worship within the Cathedral. This centuries-old tradition continues today and is a unique and much valued part of life at Wells Cathedral.
The houses of the close were built in the 14th century under direction from Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury and the iconic chimneys were added in the 15th century. Originally 42 houses were built (one per vicar), but some were combined following the Reformation when vicars were allowed to marry. Today, the Close comprises 27 residences, a chapel, library, treasury and muniment room. There is also a dining hall connected to the Cathedral by a covered walkway, the Chain Gate Bridge.
Reflecting the Close’s significance, all its buildings are Grade I listed. The current occupants still include all twelve men of the Vicars Choral, plus the organists and virgers. Vicars Choral have remained at the heart of life at Wells Cathedral since the 1100s and are now recognised as a world-class choir.
Vicars’ Close Heritage Programme
A recent inspection revealed the pressing need for an extensive programme of conservation works involving every single property in Vicars’ Close. As a result, the Chapter of Wells Cathedral have agreed to embark upon a major programme which presents an unprecedented opportunity to secure the integrity of and access to a unique heritage asset for future generations.
It is anticipated that this programme may take up to a decade to complete and cost in the region of £9million. As well as the extensive conservation works to the fabric of the buildings the programme will also involve a wide range of activities that will focus on three main themes. More details of this ambitious programme can be found here.