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History Of The Society


Wells Natural History and Archaeological Society (WNHAS) was founded in 1888, and has been closely involved with the museum since its inception.

The history of the Wells & Mendip Museum is intertwined with that of the Wells Natural History and Archaeological Society. The society was founded in 1888 to encourage the practical study of natural history, archaeology and kindred subjects in Wells and the surrounding countryside.


Herbert E. Balch (1869-1958) was one of the first members of WNHAS and it was through his enthusiasm that Wells & Mendip Museum was established in 1894. Balch was born in the city and gained a scholarship to the Blue School in Wells. He left school at 14 and became a messenger boy at Wells post office, working his way up to postmaster. He had wide ranging interests in archaeology, natural history and geology, and was also a keen caver.


Herbert Balch was the museum’s Honorary Curator for sixty years and, along with his friends, he became an authority on local sites and subjects. Balch hoped to inspire generations of Wellensians, as encapsulated in his motto "Search and Learn".

Herbert E. Balch

The first museum collections were housed in the old school room over the west cloister of Wells Cathedral. In 1928 William Wyndham purchased No.8 Cathedral Green, and a charitable trust was set up to run the museum. Three of its six managers were nominated by the society. The museum moved from the cathedral cloister to its present home in 1932.


The important collections preserved and displayed in Wells & Mendip Museum, and the literature housed in the museum library, reflect the wide range of the society’s activities. In 1907, members of the society set up the country’s oldest organisation for the exploration and research of caves.


As a result, the Mendip Hills' underground cave systems became an early focus for the new science of speleology in Britain. The Mendip Hills, with their fascinating geology, natural history, and rich archaeology, is the setting for the society’s work. Members of WNHAS participate in local archaeological excavations and carry out research on historical and environmental subjects.


 A report on WNHAS’s activities is published, free to members, at least every two years.

Wells Natural History and Archaeological Society is an independent registered charity, no. 202936

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