It’s said that Vicar’s Close has been continuously inhabited for well over 650 years. The oldest residential street in Europe (which has been purely used for that purpose) can be found in the sleepy little cathedral city of Wells, an English settlement nestled in the foothills of the Mendips. Many also claim that Vicar’s Close may well be the only remaining complete medieval street in Europe…
Wells: A tiny city where big budget films are never far away
Should you wish to escape the hustle and bustle of modern day life and spend a long weekend somewhere where markets are held on a weekly basis and the historic roads remain cobbled, then a getaway to Wells is a must. Highlights of Wells include the medieval Bishop’s Palace and wander around Wells Cathedral (which comes complete with its very own 14th-century clock).
Charming and picturesque, Vicar’s close is situated close to the adjacent magnificent cathedral which cements Wells’ city status. Wandering through the city feels akin to stepping back in time, and indeed many more modern movies where film directors have been looking for a more vintage feel have been filmed here.
In recent times, Hot Fuzz, The Huntsman: A Winter’s Tale, Doctor Who, Poldark, the White Princess, and Wolf Hall have all been filmed in the tiny city. And, that’s just to name a few of the big budget blockbusters! The cobbled lane of Vicar’s Close was selected as the filming location for a 1972 film adaptation of the Canterbury Tales.
Vicar’s Close, Wells: A step back into the Middle Ages
Construction of Vicar’s Close began in the 14th-century under the jurisdiction of Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury. The land was acquired from Walter de Hulle, a canon of the cathedral who wished to dedicate land to the cathedral for the purpose of housing chantry priests.
Once home to 44 residences, today many of these have been knocked through so that 27 now can be found on the street. Over the centuries, fire and disrepair have meant that a unified roof has been added to the dwellings, as have chimney extensions, leading to a rather unusual appearance.
All original buildings are intact and, over the years, have been inhabited by various members of the Vicar’s Choral. The ‘Vicar’s Choral’ name derives from the fact that during the 12th-century, the clerical assistants would chant divine services in the nearby cathedral up to eight times a day.
Buildings of note on the street include a chapel, a library, and the Vicar’s Hall (a building which housed a communal dining area and treasury). Today, the buildings are still used as homes for students as well as various members of the cathedral; vicars, bellringers, etc.
How to visit Vicar’s Close Wells & the best time to go
For those looking for the most ‘instagrammable location in Wells,’ a visit to the oldest residential street in Europe is an absolute must. Best seen in the early morning so as to capture the street in the golden hour without the crowds (which inevitably flock to the area during the daytime in high peak season), Vicar’s Close is free to visit.
The cobbled street can be found adjacent to the cathedral and should you choose to visit the city by car, parking can be found a little outside the historic city centre. If you’re planning on a little road trip tour of South West England, then it’s worth noting that Wells is only around a three hours drive from London. Nearby locations and attractions of interest include the caves of Cheddar Gorge, the bustling city of Bristol, and the beautiful Roman city of Bath.