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Vicars' Close

Vicars' Close


Many visitors to Wells probably miss a side street called Vicars’ Close. It is all too easy to be transfixed by the magnificent West Front of Wells Cathedral. Vicars’ Close in Wells is an historic street located just a few yards from the Cathedral Green.

Vicars' Close Wells

Vicars’ Close is through this archway by the Cathedral Green


VICARS’ CLOSE residents

The small, picturesque, terraced houses that sit either side of a cobbled street, were originally built to each house a vicar. They were built by Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury and were occupied as early as 1348. (Some say that Vicars’ Close can lay claim to being the only completely medieval street left in England. Others state it’s the oldest continually inhabited residential street in Europe.) Either way, Vicars’ Close is beautifully preserved.

Back in the 14th century there was housing for 42 Vicars – 22 sets of single chambers on the east side and 20 on the west. As you would expect, the houses were very basic and didn’t have a front garden. (A modern day estate agent would probably describe them as ‘Bijou’!)

front gardens are granted

Over the centuries minor concessions have been made. In the 15th century, Bishop Bubwith allowed 19 1/2 feet to be walled off in front of each house to be used as a front garden. In the 1660s some of the houses were allowed to be leased by ‘strangers’. According to ‘The Vicars’ Close’ by Hugh Parnell, 12 of the most decayed houses were allowed to be rented by “persons of good and honest reputation as will covenaunt to rebuild and repair them at their owne proper costs and charges.” ‘Strangers’ have been allowed to inhabit Vicars’ Close ever since.

Vicars Close Wells

Today, Vicars’ Close is made up of 27 houses, a chapel, a library, treasury and muniment room (a storage room for historical documents). A dining hall is connected to the Cathedral by a walkway.


Back in 2016, there was an opportunity to take a peek at Vicar’s Close without visiting Wells as three of the houses appeared in ‘The Great Interior Design Challenge’ on BBC2. The properties underwent makeovers – quite a challenge in Grade I listed buildings!

This incredible street was described by Canon Godwin as, “…the most beautiful of its kind to be seen anywhere in England…” Most visitors today wouldn’t disagree. Indeed, Which? readers named Wells Best Small UK City for a short break‘ in 2022. I’m sure that Vicars’ Close played a significant part.

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