© Mr John H. Sparkes
1-13 VICARS' CLOSE (east side)
WELLS, MENDIP, SOMERSET
Mr John H. Sparkes
01 August 2007
12 November 1953
Date of last amendment:
12 November 1953
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ST5445 VICARS' CLOSE
662-1/7/332 (East side)
12/11/53 Nos.1-13 (Consecutive)
Terrace of 13 houses, originally 21. From c1360, for Bishop
Ralph of Shrewsbury, the chimney shafts renewed in C15,
probably for Bishop Bekynton, and various rear extensions of
C16, C17 and C18; considerable refenestration and replacement
of doors in C18 and early C19. Major restoration 1976 to 1983,
recorded on a plaque on boundary wall (qv) near S end.
Rough squared local rubble, Doulting ashlar dressings and
chimney shafts, slate to front roof slopes, pantile generally
PLAN: each house originally had a ground-floor hall approx 6m
x 4m, with projecting winder stair to rear leading to upper
hall of the same size, both with fireplace in front wall. Each
property had a rear door through a squint opening to a small
enclosed yard, and possibly a latrine under the staircase. All
subject to alteration from C15, when some houses knocked
through and made into larger dwellings. Few plans remain
unchanged, and there have been various combinations and
additions-some interiors and layouts are described below.
EXTERIOR: 2 storeys, some attics, variously 2 or 4 bays, but
Nos 10 and 11 in three bays, mainly 12-pane sashes, many with
early C18 bars. No.9 also has an early 2-light casement with
leading at first floor in an adapted opening, and two 16-pane
sashes at ground floor. No.13 has 1 and 2-light stone mullion
and transom casements with cusping, and plain square casements
to the first floor. Doors are 4- or 6-panel, some with
transom-lights. There are various remains of flush surrounds
to former door and window openings, and a moulded stone eaves
course is interrupted by the external stacks, 21 in all, which
have square lower sections carrying octagonal shafts with an
open fretted capping. Each stack has 2 square stone panels
with heraldic shields.
INTERIORS: the following were inspected:
No.1: formerly a larger property, extending through to St
Andrew Street, but now with continuous party wall between two
parts (No.1, St Andrew Street qv). Narrow entrance hall to
right, single room left, rear wing and inserted kitchen at
ground floor. The front room has, in its rear wall, a deep
embrasure and rere arch to the blocked former casement, a deep
niche with cinquefoil head to spandrel, and a blocked
4-centred arch to the former doorway, all these with
structural stonework exposed. There is a lateral beam with
small chamfer. A deep plastered arch gives to the early rear
range, and under the staircase is an early plank door to a
space with a square stone pier with broad corbelled capital
built in to the party division.
The straight-flight stair, with winders to the upper landing,
has a late C18 chinoiserie balustrade. At first floor the
front room has a C17 three-plank door opening from the rear
wall to a former stair well, now floored, with an external
The roof space is floored, but not accessible, and has 2 bays
of complete framing with 2 purlins, arch-braced principals,
and wind-bracing, but no brattished plate-usual in the roofs
to Vicars' Close-is visible. Also all members, unusually, are
unpainted and untreated.
No.5: this property is in two occupations, split horizontally,
and the upper floor only was inspected. The central open well
C18 stair has slender turned balusters and moulded handrail,
but the landing return is in chinoiserie. Above the landing in
the S wall is a built-in beam on 3 brackets. At first floor,
right, the large room has 2 early C18 twelve-pane sashes, with
much early glass, and a C19 fireplace in the party wall. In
the rear wall is the embrasure, rere-arch, and upper part of
the original cusped 2-light casement; to its right is a wide
segmental arch in rough voussoirs and to a deep intrados, to a
small rear wing, with 8-pane sash and shutters to the gable
wall. The other front room has a 4-compartment ceiling with
small moulded bead divisions, a 6-panel fielded door, and, in
the rear wall, a pair of narrow panelled doors with central
H-hinges (but hung as a single door). At second-floor level
the front bedrooms have wind-bracing and 2 purlins in the
front slope, to a brattished plate.
No.6: in 2 floors and attic, with entrance hall to the right,
large early rear wing and narrow infill kitchen at ground
floor. The main ground-floor room has a chamfered-stopped
lateral beam, and C20 fireplace; in its rear wall, on the
kitchen side, is the former door opening to skew passage, with
a further narrow slit low, left.
The rear room has some C18 dado panelling, a very large boxed
lateral beam carrying 2 smaller chamfered beams from the rear
wall; a pair of steel casement doors gives to the garden.
The entrance hall has some dado panelling, and a straight
stair with winders turned to the landing; the painted
balustrade has stick balusters and a slender turned newel.
The large first-floor front room has a 4-compartment ceiling
with moulded beams, and a fine large central carved boss; the
C17 cupboard doors and 2-panel fielded entrance door are
The smaller room, over the stair, has a fine unpainted
panel-and-muntin screen, with muntins at approx 500mm centres,
A large rear room has an unusual late C16 or early C17 ceiling
with a series of 7 parallel panels divided by narrow moulded
beads, and with a form of wide herring-bone 'strutting'; this
is partly cut across by a later partition to form a
A steep wooden upper stair is enclosed in part by a section of
panel-and-muntin screen, and by wide planks set horizontally
The attics have the original roof structure, with arch-braced
principals, purlins, wind-bracing and brattished plates: the
trusses have carpenters' numbering marks, some bracing has
been removed in the rear slope to insert a C20 window. The
rear wing has a heavy braced-collar roof in 2 bays; the peaked
collars are swept up to the principals on the upper edge.
No.9: combines 2 former units; a central passage has a main
room each side, that to the right at a lower level, straight
staircase, and deep C16 rear wing to the right.
Ground floor right has 2 chamfered beams, a stone fireplace
with decorative keystone in the front wall, and in the rear an
original 2-light transomd window with cusping in an embrasure.
The left room has a lateral chamfered and stopped beam, in the
rear wall a 2-light transomd window to straight head in a
peaked rere-arch, a deep arched niche with cinquefoil head,
and a former chamfered stone doorway into a square niche.
The rear kitchen has a C17 beam with chamfers and bar stops.
At the foot of the staircase is a very heavy cambered or
peaked beam, and the straight-flight painted C18 staircase has
3 turned balusters per tread to scrolled treads, and a
The stair winds to the upper landing. First floor right is
ceiled, with an eared C18 fire surround, and the left room is
open to the original 2-bay roof with 2 arch-braced trusses and
wind-bracing; in the front wall is a stone fireplace with
basket-arch lintel, and there is a single early light in the
rear wall. One bay above the staircase also has wind-bracing.
The rear room at first floor, entered through a stone
4-centred doorway, has moulded beams in 2 compartments, but
originally there were 4, a 2-light cusped casement, and 2
early blacksmith's iron casements in the end gable wall with
small-scale diagonal leading.
This rear wall also has, off-centre, a moulded stone 4-centred
fireplace with, centred above but unrelated, a C15 or C16
stone moulded mantel-shelf with remains of paintwork.
The landing approach has, in the N wall, a C16 stone 4-light
casement with 4-centred heads.
The upper stair is entered by a 2-plank C17 door on straps. At
second floor the wing has a cambered-collar roof with 2
purlins, and a small lancet in the gable wall.
No.13: this is also a combination of 2 properties, and has
part of the upper floor separated as 13A, with an approach
from the Liberty, to the rear. A 2-storey range return, facing
down the Close, was added later.
Plan: a central passage with principal room each side, but
staircase laterally across the rear, also further rooms to the
left, backing on The Liberty and running across at ground
floor under No.13A.
There are 2 gabled wings to a central courtyard. Ground floor
right has a deep but narrow lateral beam, a wide recess to
elliptical head to the rear, and shutters to front windows;
the fireplace is C20.
The room to the left is panelled throughout with C18 fielded
panels, in 2 ranges, above and below a dado rail, with a fine
moulded and dentilled cornice.
There is an C18 fire surround in the N wall, and central boxed
beam. Each ceiling compartment has a quatrefoil plaster motif
and stylised leaves and flower-heads.
To the rear, left, is a C17 plank door, with unusually wide
central plank, and the kitchen, to the right, has a C17 plank
door and a large lateral beam.
The stair, with bottom winders, has stick balusters and turned
First floor right has a moulded and painted cornice or beam to
4 sides, with 2 modelled brackets, and a small C19 fireplace
in the front wall; the windows are shuttered and panelled.
The room to the left has a peaked stone rere-arch; between
these rooms is a small bedroom, and a small wooden staircase
to the attic.
Rear left has a wall in painted fielded panelling
incorporating 2 large 12-pane sashes to the E; to the N is an
C18 fireplace with similar panelling above.
Above the kitchen wing is a large room with a 3-light wooden
ovolo-mould casement to the N, and a C20 window opposite.
There is a small iron Art Nouveau fire surround, and, high up
to the left, a small square decorated C17 cupboard door.
The attic, above the front range, partly accessible, has 3
bays of original roofing, but modified, with collars removed,
and some evidence for wind-bracing.
The S-facing room in the upper floor of 13A, is late C19, with
a 2-bay arch-braced collar roof; in the E wall is the formerly
external stack and a blocked 2-light casement. There is a
bolection-mould fireplace in the N wall.
HISTORICAL NOTE: this is the E half of a double row of houses
(qv Nos 14-27) enclosing a street nearly 140m long, which
slopes down gently from the N, and is narrower at the upper
than the lower end.
Rodwell (in Colchester, op cit) has shown that the stacks are
part of the original C14 layout, and that the roof structure,
much of which remains, was of one date; the continuous eaves
line, interrupted by the stacks, follows the slope of the
street, and there is a raised coping to each of the original
The houses were provided for the Vicars Choral, and many still
serve this purpose, although from 1840 until c1970 the Wells
Theological College occupied the properties.
This is an outstanding early planned street, in which the
overall form of the buildings remains substantially unchanged.
(Colchester LS: Wells Cathedral: A History: Shepton Mallet:
1982-: 212-226; The Buildings of England: Pevsner N: North
Somerset and Bristol: London: 1958-: 319; Pugin AWN: The
History and Antiquity of the Vicars' Close, Wells: London: