Monday, 13 July 2009

Somerset: Wells and Chard

Wells is a small cathedral city and civil parish in the Mendip district of Somerset, England, on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills.
The name Wells derives from the three wells dedicated to Saint Andrew, one in the market place and two within the grounds of the Bishop's Palace and cathedral. During the Middle Ages these wells were thought to have curative powers. The Wells city arms show an ash tree surrounded by three wells, with the Latin motto Hoc fonte derivata copia (the fullness that springs from this well).
Although the population, recorded in the 2001 census, is only 10,406, it has had city status since 1205. This was confirmed and formalised by Queen Elizabeth II by letters patent issued under the Great Seal dated April 1, 1974. It is the smallest city in England, thoughSt Davids in Wales is the smallest city in the UK.


Vicar's Close facing the Cathedral

The City was a Roman settlement but only became an important centre under the Saxons when King Ine of Wessex founded a minster church in 704. Two hundred years later, this became the seat of the local Bishop; but by 1091, this had been removed to Bath. This caused severe arguments between the canons of Wells and the monks of Bath until the bishopric was renamed as the 'Diocese of Bath & Wells', to be elected by both religious houses. Wells became a borough some time before 1160 when Bishop Robert granted its first charter. Fairs were granted to the City before 1160.
Wells was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Welle, from the Old English wiells, which was not listed as a town but included four manors with a population of 132 which implies a population of 500-600. Earlier names for the settlement have been identified which include Fontanetum in a charter of 725 granted by King Ina to Glastonbury, and Fontuculi. Tydeston has also been recorded although this may relate to a hill settlement to the south east of Wells. Tidesput or Tithesput furlang relates to the area east of the Bishops garden in 1245. An established market had been created in Wells by 1136, and it remained under episcopal control until its city charter from Elizabeth I in 1589.

English Civil War
During the English Civil War, Parliamentarian troops used the Cathedral to stable their horses and damaged much of the ornate sculpture by using it for firing practice. William Penn stayed in Wells shortly before leaving for America, spending a night at The Crown Inn. Here he was briefly arrested for addressing a large crowd in the market place, but released on the intervention of the Bishop of Bath & Wells.

The main street. The cathedral is seen.

Monmouth Rebellion and the Bloody Assizes
During the Monmouth Rebellion the rebel army attacked the Cathedral in an outburst against the Established Church and damaged the West front. Lead from the roof was used to make bullets, windows broken, the organ smashed and their horses stabled in the nave. Wells was the final location of the Bloody Assizes on September 23, 1685. In a makeshift court lasting only one day, over 500 men were tried and the majority sentenced to death.

PoW camps
During World War II, Stoberry Park in Wells was the location of a Prisoner of War camp, housing Italian prisoners from the Western Desert Campaign, and later German prisoners after the Battle of Normandy. Penleigh Camp on the Wookey Hole Road was a German working camp.


The west front of Wells Cathedral

Wells Cathedral is the cathedral of the Church of England Diocese of Bath and Wells. Parts date back to the 10th century. It is known for its fine fan vaulted ceilings, Lady Chapel and windows, and the scissor arches which support the central tower. Together with the Bishop's Palace (still used by the Bishop of Bath and Wells) Wells has been an ecclesiastical City of importance for hundreds of years. The cathedral is a grade I listed building.
The cathedral is notable for:
the west front – said to be the finest collection of statuary in Europe, containing 356 individual figures carved from the cathedral's warm, yellow Doulting stone. the east end of the nave – an unusual scissored arch design of striking beauty, which saved the cathedral's central tower from collapse. In 1338, the original construction was found to be weakening underneath the tower (the West side had sunk 100 mm (4 inches). About 1340, the Master Mason, William Joy, implemented his ingenious solution of the inverted arch to redistribute the weight on the foundations by 10% from west to east. the Chapter House – at the top of a flight of stone stairs, leading out from the north transept. It is an octagonal building with a fan-vaulted ceiling. It is here that the business of running the cathedral is still conducted by the members of the Chapter, the cathedral's ruling body. Wells Cathedral clock is famous for its 24 hour astronomical dial and set of jousting knights that perform every quarter hour. the heaviest ring of 10 bells in the world. The tenor bell weighs just over 56 CWT (6,272 lb, 2,844 kg

Chard is a town and civil parish in the county Somerset, England, situated on the A30 road near the Devon border, 15 miles (24 km) south west of Yeovil. The parish has a population of approximately 12,000 and, at an altitude of 121 metres (397 ft), is the highest town in Somerset and also the southernmost. Administratively Chard forms part of the district of South Somerset.
The suburbs include: Crimchard, Furnham, Glynswood, and Old Town

The name of the town was Cerden in 1065 and Cerdre in the Domesday Book of 1086. This is derived from the Old English word ceart which means a rough common, overgrown with gorse, bracken or broom.
Snowdon Hill Quarry on the western outskirts of the town is a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the rock exposures through the Upper Greensand and Chalk which contain fossil crustaceans which are both unique and exceptionally well-preserved and support study of palaeontology in Britain.
Chard was the original headquarters of Cerdic, the first King of Wessex. It is considered by some scholars that Cerdic was the basis of the legend of King Arthur & the Knights of the Round Table and that Camelot was in the vicinity of Chard.
Before the Norman Conquest Chard was held by the Bishop of Wells.
The town's first charter was from King John and another from the bishop in 1234, which delimited the town and laid out burgage holdings in one acre lots at a rent of twelve pence per year.
Most of the town was destroyed by fire in 1577. After this time the town was largely rebuilt including Waterloo House and Manor Court House in Fore Street which were built as a house and courtroom, and have now been converted into shops and offices.
Further damage to the town took place during the English Civil War with both sides plundering its resources, particularly in 1644 when Charles I spent a week in the town.
A 1663 will by Richard Harvey of Exeter established Almshouses known as Harvey's Hospital. These were rebuilt in 1870 largely of stone from previous building.
In 1685 Chard was one of the towns in which Judge Jeffreys held some of the Bloody Assizes after the failure of the Monmouth Rebellion in which 160 men from Chard joined the forces of the Duke of Monmouth. The subsequent hangings took place on Snowden Hill to the west of the town.
There was a fulling mill in the town by 1394 for the textile industry. After 1820 this expanded with the town becoming a centre for lace manufacture lead by manufacturers who fled from the Luddite resistance they had faced in the English Midlands. Bowden's Old Lace Factory and the Gifford Fox factory are examples of the sites constructed. The Guildhall was built as a Corn Exchange and Guildhall in 1834 and is now the Town Hall.
Chard claims to be the birthplace of powered flight, as it was here in 1848 that the Victorian aeronautical pioneer John Stringfellow (1799-1883) first demonstrated that engine-powered flight was possible through his work on the Aerial Steam Carriage.
James Gillingham (1839–1924) from Chard pioneered the development of articulated artificial limbs when he produced a prosthesis for a man who lost his arm in a cannon accident in 1863. Chard Museum has a display of Gillingham's work.
Chard is a key point on the Taunton Stop Line, a World War II defensive line consisting of pillboxes and anti-tank obstacles, which runs from Axminster north to the Somerset coast near Highbridge.

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