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Wells City Galleries

Wells is England’s smallest city. Its features have been dictated by the famous springs which give it its name, its location between the Mendip Hills to the north and east, and Somerset’s peatlands to the south and west. Its character has been shaped by the way its residents have lived and worked.

The two Wells Galleries on the first floor and the display in the Foyer on the ground floor consider the city through the lives and work of Wells people.

In the first gallery discover how the origins of the city lie in three Royal Charters, including  the King John charter of 1201 which recognised the town as a Free Borough and granted the holding of markets and an annual fair.

Listen to medieval music which was scratched onto slates, see Thomasine White tell the story of a notorious puritan libel case of 1607, and learn about Bishop Bekyngton’s gift of clean water to the people of Wells.


Pottery and other finds excavated from the garden reveal much about who lived in the building before it became a museum, and artefacts from the city’s almshouse, workhouse and mental hospital tell of the city’s long involvement with social care.

Displays in the second gallery chart the national and international factors which increasingly affected the lives of the people of Wells: the huge expansion of trade and commerce during the 18th century; the technological and industrial changes of the 19th century; and the two world wars of the 20th century.

Find out about local turnpike roads and explore the city’s railway connections through the life of railwayman Bob Fry. Hilda Southwood tells us that, with the advent of photography, many portraits and scenes were recorded by Phillips City Photographic Studio. The displays include artefacts from the specialist light industries which chose to relocate here, including the first tape recorder for the domestic market made by Scophony.


Learn how various wars affected the people of Wells.


See the very first swan taught to ring a bell for food at the Bishop's Palace, and the amazing miniature Halliday antique shop. 

The first floor galleries may not be accessible to visitors with limited mobility but the display in the Foyer on the ground floor covers the same themes.

These displays were created in 2023 with support from the late Jean Imray, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Wells City Archives, and the many volunteers who freely contributed their skills and time.

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