Vicars’ Close was built over 650 years ago to house the Vicars Choral and it has since been continuously inhabited by their successors. Vicars’ Close is unique; physically connected to Wells Cathedral and the most complete example of a medieval Close in the UK. It embodies an internationally renowned musical heritage.
Over the centuries, Vicars’ Close has played a vibrant part in the architectural, historical and musical landscapes of the UK. The history of Vicars’ Close can be described through three fascinating and interconnected themes:
Vicars’ Close was built by Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury, who founded a college for the Vicars Choral in1348. They deputised for the Canons of the Cathedral in singing daily worship. Bishop Ralph wanted to house the vicars to protect the young clerks, keep them away from women and provide them with communal facilities including a dining hall (Vicars’ Hall). Today, the Close remains a living community and occupants still include all men of the Vicars Choral (now 12 members), plus the Organists and Virgers who are part of the lifeblood of the Cathedral.
Vicars’ Close comprises two rows of lodgings, punctuated at the north end by the Close Chapel and at the south by Vicars’ Hall (which is joined to the main Cathedral by the Chain Gate Bridge). The houses are an early example of collegiate architecture, albeit for singers rather than scholars and originally looked similar to a quadrangle more commonly seen today in places such as Oxford.