Palace 800 at The Bishop’s Palace, Wells
This year, one of Somerset’s most important historical sites, The Bishop’s Palace in Wells, is celebrating 800 years since construction of the Palace buildings began and from May onwards there will be a whole host of community events to celebrate this octocentennial year.
In 1206 Bishop Jocelyn moved the home of the Bishop of Bath and Glastonbury to Wells and in 1207 was granted land by King John to the South of the Cathedral for a deer park and new palace.
As Jocelyn was occupied by matters of state, went into exile until 1213, and was then embroiled in the first Baron’s Revolt until 1217, the construction of his new Palace is likely to have begun in 1220.
The Palace Trust, which has operated the site since 1969, has planned a year of activities, beginning in May, with a range of events designed to appeal to visitors of all ages and interests.
Events that are confirmed so far are:
May – A new exhibition telling the stories of 800 years of the Palace, from its resident bishops to local and national events that have been played out on the site. This exhibition will be in place for the rest of the year and will comprise new displays throughout the Palace rooms that share stories from each century of the Palace's life.
1st & 2nd May 6:30pm – The Palace Pageant. This will be one of the flagship events of the year’s programme. The Pageant is a dramatised performance of 800 years of history in one evening! A talented troupe of actors will bring to life scenes from the intriguing history of the Palace, telling the stories of the past in new and outrageous ways. Expect music, magic, mystery, movement and mayhem! Performed on the famous Croquet Lawn, against the stunning backdrop of the ruined Great Hall and the facade of the Palace. Visitors will be able to soak up the atmosphere of the site, whilst being entertained by this brand new, specially written piece of outdoor theatre. Tickets will go on sale in early March.
3rd May 3pm - Celebratory Evensong at Wells Cathedral. A service of beautiful music sung by the world famous Wells Cathedral Choir, with prayers and thanksgiving for 800 years of history led by the Dean and Chapter of Wells Cathedral and Bishop Peter Hancock.
13th May 7pm - Talk: The Bishop's Palace, Celebrating 200 million years of history in stone. Acclaimed geologists Doug Robinson, former Bristol University lecturer, and Chris King, former professor at Keele University and recipient of the Geological Society’s ‘Distinguished Service Award’ present a talk about the ancient history of the stones which were used to build The Bishop’s Palace. Expect fascinating facts about the stones of up to 200 million years of age! Part of a programme of events during GeoWeek 2020. Tickets will be available via the Palace website.
13th June 2pm- Glastonbury Male Voice Choir Concert. Glastonbury Male Voice Choir has been drawing in and encouraging local people to sing and develop to the highest standards since it was formed in 1923. Together with their musical director, Tracy Hansford, and pianist, Shelley Prior, the choir will perform a range of music from in the beautiful upper floor of the Palace to celebrate the 800th anniversary. Tickets will be available via the Palace website.
11th July - The Water of Wells - unveiling of new tapestries in the Chapel with Music and a talk
1st August 2pm - Talk: An Episcopal Emporium - Dr Robert Dunning. Local historian and author of many of the definitive books about the history of Somerset and the Diocese of Bath and Wells, Dr Dunning will give a fascinating talk about how former occupants of the Palace created additions to the building to sell themselves, their power and for extra-curricular activities! Tickets will be available via the Palace website.
29th-31st August - Medieval Fair –expect a weekend packed with medieval entertainment and hands-on activities from days gone by. Bowlore Medieval Group will be appearing throughout the weekend with their medieval encampment and their thrilling sword-fighting and archery displays. They’ll also have a selection of medieval armour and helmets to try on, and will be giving sword-fighting and archery lessons. Also on the programme are displays of Medieval Falconry where stunning birds of prey will fly on the South Lawn with explanations from their handler as to how they were used, and by whom, in medieval times. The atmosphere will be enhanced by live music and other entertainment at times throughout the long weekend.
20th September 2pm - Talk: The role of a Bishop and Life at the Palace - Bishop Peter Hancock. Go behind the scenes with real life tales of a Bishop’s life, told by Bishop Peter Hancock, Bishop of Bath and Wells since 2013. Bishop Peter is already well known in the area his brilliance as a raconteur so expect to be entertained by some of the highs and lows of his time in office, and the quirks of living and working in such an unusual and unique historical site. Tickets will be available from the Palace website.
First Sunday of each month (May - Sept) - Geology Tour of the Palace Buildings led by Doug Robinson and Chris King (see 13th May).