Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Bishops Palace, Wells and Newark Castle

Last weekend was a busy one and I took itinerant storytelling to new extremes, by telling at both the Bishops Palace in Wells, Somerset and Newark Castle in Nottinghamshire on two successive days. It was six hundred miles of telling and traveling in all.

The Medieval Gatehouses
The Cathedral gate to the left, the Palace gate to the right
Click on Images to make larger

Wells Bishop's Palace is like no other Cathedral complex I've ever been before, which is probably because of the moat that still surrounds the Palace.

The second defensive gate which passes over the moat

Its that moat which not only gives you a real sense of the past, but also gives the whole of the Palace a real sense of peace and isolation. Its ironic that I was telling there to draw in visitors, but there was just a little bit of me that wanted to keep it all to myself; the way it was when I was setting up.

The Medieval Moat

The back of the Palace

Obviously many of the Bishops who lived in the Palace adapted the building and rebuilt them to suit changing tastes and all put their individual stamp on the place - Men like Bishop Beckynton who built the late medieval well house and topped it off with a sculpture of his favourite hunting dog. The importance of the residence can be seen in the fact that the gate leading to the Palace from the market is larger and more ornate than the corresponding gate leading to the Cathedral.

'Inside' the the remains of the great hall

My tent 'inside' the great hall

As new buildings were added older ones went out of use like the great hall which has now been given back to nature. My storytelling tent was pitched inside the remains of the great hall with a lone spiral staircase tower sticking out the ground immediately behind my tent and in front of me the remains of its huge walls, windows and first floor fire places that now hang in the air; now mere scars that hint at this buildings once lavish past.

Remains of the defensive moat wall

That said this building was not just about beauty, because many of the structures are still dominated by crenelations (battlements) and we should not forget that the medieval Bishops who dwelt here were landed magnates in their own right. Noble men who often imposed great burdens on the commoners and sometimes felt their wrath. In my home City of Norwich the Cathedral was sacked by the citizens in the thirteenth century and during Cade's Rebellion in 1450 the Bishop of Salisbury, Ayscough was murdered by the mob. At Wells it was Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury who was awarded a 'licence to crenelate' in 1329 and other defences included a portcullis in the inner gatehouse and also 'murder holes' used for casting down rocks and boiling water on attackers. Its a fact that many Bishop's Palaces and Cathedrals complexes were built with defense in mind, which says a lot about the medieval religious hierarchy.

The rebuilt well house
With Bishop Beckynton's favourite hunting hound on top

Looking into the well house

My tent inside the great hall with spiral staircase tower behind

The swarm (Look closely!)

That said I'm not going to overstate the defensive nature of the Bishops Palace. With its meandering moat of clear crisp water is really is a place of beauty and I recently came across a medieval poem which confirms that people long, long ago had a the same love of nature we do today....

Green turf amid silent trees and soft light airs

And a spring of running water in the grass
They freshen a jaded mind, they give me back to myself
They make me abide in myself
12th century French poem, Marbod of Rennes, Meditation Among Trees

I couldn't have put it better myself!

Thanks to Helen for booking me and Debbie and all the very friendly staff and volunteers who dealt so ably with a swarm of bees that engulfed my tent for a while and also looked after me so well.

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