Wells, Somerset

This is one of the places where, although there is no record of his presence, I feel that King Alfred probably would have visited at some point. I excluded many such places from my book (although I included some, like Guildford and Somerton), but I thought it might be good to write a few words about Wells for the blog, especially as I found a few things commemorating King Alfred in the city.

Wells Cathedral, Somerset. Stained glass window showing King Alfred the Great and his son King Edward the Elder
Wells Cathedral, Somerset. Stained glass window showing King Alfred the Great and his son King Edward the Elder

It is said that a church at Wells was created by Ine, King of Wessex, in 705. This would have survived up to about 1175, when work on the current Cathedral is thought to have commenced. Outside the cathedral, near the south transept, a map on an information board shows where the Saxon church would have been in the early and late Saxon periods.

Wells cathedral, Somerset. An information board in the grounds showing the location of the earlier Saxon church
Wells cathedral, Somerset. An information board in the grounds showing the location of the earlier Saxon church
showing the probable location of the altar of the Saxon church at Wells Cathedral, Somerset
Wells cathedral, Somerset. Using the above map, it seems that the altar of the Saxon church would have been near the wooden bench (to the right of the middle of the picture). I have taken the photo down the line of the orientation of the Saxon church.

The parallels with Winchester are striking in that the cathedral is to the side of the Saxon church (although in Winchester it is to the north instead of the south at Wells), and the mis-alignment between the Saxon church and the cathedral is about the same in both cases. Perhaps the cathedrals were built to the side in order to allow people to worship in the earlier building while the new one was being constructed.

Wells cathedral, Somerset. Stained glass window showing King Alfred the Great. St Martin of Tours is shown to the left
Wells cathedral, Somerset. Stained glass window showing King Alfred the Great. St Martin of Tours is shown to the left

There are also striking similarities with the parish church at Crediton, in Devon. Not only did they both become the base of new dioceses after 909 upon the division of the diocese of Sherborne, but they are both also closely associated with wells or springs. It might, however, be that the associations between important religious buildings and such water sources may have been lost in other locations. At Wells, the association has survived in the name of the city, and the well that is thought to have been the inspiration (St Andrew’s well) can still be seen beyond the east end (and slightly to the south) of the cathedral. It lies in the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace, but can also be espied through a hole in the wall in the cathedral’s grounds.

St Andrew's Well seen from a gap in the wall from the grounds of the cathedral
St Andrew’s Well seen from a gap in the wall from the grounds of the cathedral

Although there is no evidence that King Alfred was at Wells, I feel that he would have been present at some time. The church was founded by the Wessex King Ine and was significant enough to become a diocese after 909AD after the enormous diocese of Sherborne was divided. King Alfred is certainly remembered in the cathedral. There are two stained glass windows of him, and a seat cover that recalls his presence at Wedmore. There are more details about King Alfred and Wedmore in this post.

Wells Cathedral, Somerset. Seat cover commemorating King Alfred's presence at Wedmore in 878
Wells Cathedral, Somerset. Seat cover commemorating King Alfred’s presence at Wedmore in 878
Wells, Somerset. A sign of a pub called The King's Head.
This is a sign on a closed pub in Wells. Is it King Alfred, King Ine, or King Arthur (or another king?)

4 Replies to “Wells, Somerset”

  1. Great to find your site!
    Living in Pewsey Wilts where the centre of the village is dominated by the 1930’s statue of King Alfred.
    I have ordered your book & look forward to learning more & also visiting the locations you mention.
    Stuart.

    1. Hi Stuart,
      many thanks for ordering my book. There are many locations to visit. Just in Wiltshire there is the Battle of Ethandun/Edington and the puzzle of the route that he took to get there. There is also Swanborough Tump, not far from Pewsey. I am now enjoying investigating and blogging on places that are associated to King Alfred through legend or where I feel he must have been even there is no good evidence (like Wells). Pewsey is also somewhere that I would like to dig into more deeply at some point, because of the legends associated with him there. I think the statue in Pewsey is a good one.
      Paul

      1. Hi Paul.
        Most people in Pewsey are aware of King Alfred even if only because if the 14th Sept feast (now celebrated as our Carnival).
        I have been to the carved stone at Swanborough Tump, but it would be great to find the actual location of the meeting place (over to you)!
        Pewsey church also has a later stained glass window of Alfred + his jewel & we have an early Anglo Saxon high status cemetary (Black Patch) south of the village but it wad in use a few hundred years before Alfred’s time l think.
        Plenty to research!
        I look forward to learning what you find out.
        Stuart.

        1. Hi Stuart,
          when I investigated Swinbeorg (referred to as this in King Alfred’s will), there was no other candidate that I could find other than Swanborough Tump. This could be the correct place, although I am troubled by the vowel change (swin to swan). This is in my book (p. 138 in the softback; p. 141 in the hardback). Many thanks for telling me about the church window. A closer examination of Pewsey is definitely on my to do list.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *