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Bishops Palace, Wiveliscombe

2019 AGM of Somerset Record Society

05/09/2019

The next Annual General Meeting of the Somerset Record Society will be held on Saturday 12th October 2019 at Wiveliscombe Community Centre from 2pm, at which Bob Croft will talk about the history of Wiveliscombe and Robert Dunning will speak about his research of Bishop Drokensford.  William Hancock, Hon Sec of the Somerset Record Society, has offered these pictures and introductory details to whet our appetites.

A detailed description of the bishops palace is to be found here. It was built or rebuilt by John de Drokensford, bishop of Bath and Wells (1302-1329) (shield, pictured right).  A suggested date for the original stone and thatch construction is shortly after 1256 when a Royal Charter of King Henry II dated to that year conferred on the then bishop of Bath and Wells the privilege of free warren in his lordships of Wiveliscombe and Bishop’s Lydeard.  The grant conferred exemption from the law by which all game, especially the meat of deer (venison), was held to be property of the sovereign.   It seems unlikely that the bishop would  have gone to the length of obtaining a licence to hunt game without at the same time providing both himself and his retinue with a lodging that befitted that office and catered for such a pastime.  Court records reveal that the bishop had rabbits (coneys) in a pasture called ‘Coneyger’ and  there was a stew to store live fish.

Outside on the North side of the churchyard at St Andrews, Wiveliscombe is the ancient medieval churchyard cross, pictured left in 1911.  The much weathered figure on its West face is thought to be that of a bishop of Bath and Wells (Wifela’s Combe, A History of the Parish of Wiveliscombe, F. Hancock  Barnicott & Pearce 1911 p143).  

Below the churchyard on the South Eastern side, is the site of the bishops manor house of which all that remains in Palace Gardens is the fourteenth century entrance gateway, main picture above.  The north arch is intact.  The south arch has been rebuilt in fourteenth century brick.


Wiveliscombe was one of a number of places where the bishops had a residence before King Henry VIII.  “During the middle ages, Wells held nine houses in Somerset, one in Hampshire, and a fine residence in London…...Bishop Drokensford…developed Wiveliscombe but only the sandstone entry arch of the gateway stands, minus the upper storey and with rebuilt side units” (Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300–1500: Volume 3, Southern England (Anthony Emery, Cambridge University Press, 9 March 2006 …p673).

There is an effigy of Bishop John de Drokensford at the entrance to the south-east transept of Wells Cathedral, (pictured, left).  

The head, pictured right, is resting on a thick cushion and wearing a pilia pastoralia (bishop’s cap), the whole body with feet resting on a tawny lion.  His shield is emblazoned on the spandrels: quarterly or (gold) and azure (blue) four swans heads, couped and addorsed and counter-charged.  (Appendix to John de Drokensford, Bishop of Bath and Wells, Norman G Brett-James :Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society 1933 New Series vol XI Part  ii p167.)

It was by Drokensford’s patronage that his dean, John Godelee was supported in the great work of building the Central Tower at Wells Cathedral, with the consequent need for the unique scissor arches.  Drokensford’s tomb is thought to have been made of Dundry stone by a Bristol atelier in his lifetime  (An Account of Medieval Figure Sculpture in England, Edward S Pryor and Arthur Gardner Cambridge at the University Press (1912).



The Somerset Record Society (Registered charity 310292) exists to make record sources for the study of Somerset history available in printed form.  The society has been preserving, promoting   and making accessible the written heritage of the county of Somerset since 1866 and has issued over 97 volumes.  They have been heavily used and widely cited by scholars, and sets are maintained in major libraries all over the world.   Earlier this year the Society published Volume 98 ‘Handlist of Somerset Probate Inventories and Administrators’ Accounts, 1482-1924’.

 

Currently the Society is working on a number of volumes for future publication.  These volumes will cover subjects including remedies and recipes, The commonplace Book of John Walker, manorial court rolls of West Somerset, a Somerset petition 1641 and an Elizabethan survey.

 

Copies of a selection of volumes will be available for purchase at the AGM.