Wells & Mendip Museum was founded in 1893 by Herbert E. Balch, a renowned amateur archaeologist, naturalist and caver. The museum was intended to showcase his extensive collections of historical artefacts and natural specimens.
The museum was formed with the vision of “maintaining a museum for the benefit of the public of the city of Wells and the Mendip area, and advancing the education of the public in the conservation, protection and improvement of the historical and natural environment of the Wells and Mendip area.”
This vision remains at the core of the museum's activities.
We are still guided by our founder's principle to "Search and Learn."
To find out more about Herbert Balch and the history of the museum, please click here.
In 1932 the collections were moved from Wells Cathedral's cloisters to their current home in the former cathedral chancellors' house. The exhibits have since grown to encompass many artefacts of local and national interest in the fields of natural history, archaeology, geology, and social history.
The museum library contains over 10,000 items, from books and pamphlets to original maps and local records. These are available for public use, and the collection is searchable in our online library catalogues here.
Wells City Archives
We also host the Wells City Archives, with a collection of documents stretching as far back as the 12th century. Wells City Council is the custodian of the City Archives, but they are housed in the museum on a long term loan. The archives are available for public use. You will find many hidden gems, from the oldest Wells City Charter of 1174, to a stunning wax seal of King Henry VIII. For further details please visit the Wells City Archives page here.
Wells Natural History & Archaeological Society
Wells & Mendip Museum is intimately linked with the Wells Natural History & Archaeological Society (WNHAS). Herbert Balch was one of the society's original members, and it has been instrumental in the foundation and operation of the museum. The society still runs a busy programme of talks and excursions. For more information, and to join, please visit the society's page here.
The Museum Building
The oldest parts of the museum building date from the 15th century, but most of the areas on view are from the 17th and 18th centuries. Archaeological excavations in the museum's garden, however, have revealed material from as far back as the 11th or early-12th century. This includes a rather characterful stone head, probably from the original Norman cathedral. To discover more about the building, we recommend Gill Pettitt's Wells & Mendip Museum: A Biography, available as a free download here.
Wells & Mendip Museum is an Accredited Museum under the Arts Council Accreditation Scheme.
The museum is also a member of the Association of Independent Museums and a registered charity (no. 200738). As an independent museum we rely on donations, admission charges and the efforts of our volunteers.
If you would like to make a donation or offer your time, please visit the Support Us page here.
Individual contacts can be found on the Contact Us page