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Wiveliscombe Bishops Palace

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;

In the civil parish of Wiveliscombe.
In the historic county of Somerset.
Modern Authority of Somerset.
1974 county of Somerset.
Medieval County of Somerset.

OS Map Grid Reference: ST08322762
Latitude 51.04060° Longitude -3.30904°

Wiveliscombe Bishops Palace has been described as a certain Palace.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

This is a Grade 2 listed building protected by law*.


Bishops Palace built, or rebuilt, shortly after 1256 by John de Drokensford, adjoining the cemetery at Wiveliscombe. By the C18 it in was ruins and a workhouse erected in 1735 occupied part of the site (Collinson). All that remains in situ is part of the gatehouse. The N arch is intact and the S arch has been rebuilt in C14 brick (Listing report). (PastScape)

The episcopal registers indicate that the residence went through phases of popularity. Many of the medieval bishops used Wiveliscombe, sometimes for long periods. Ralph of Shrewsbury appears to have stayed entirely at Wiveliscombe between 3rd November 1361 and his death on 14th August 1363. There is no evidence that Bishop Harewell (1366-86) ever stayed at Wiveliscombe, but his successor Ralph Erghum (1388-1400) was there fairly regularly during the last five years of his life. Bishop Henry Bowet (1401-7) may never have been to Wiveliscombe. Bishop Nicholas Bubwith (1407-24) seems to have preferred Wookey and Banwell, although one document in his register was signed at Wiveliscombe. Bishops John Stafford (1425-43) and Robert Stillington (1466-91) appear to have spent little time there, although Bishop Thomas Bekynton (1443-1466) visited occasionally. In the mid-sixteenth century, the episcopal manor house at Wiveliscombe seems to have experienced something of a revival. In Bishop William Knight's register (1541-7) the proportion of documents signed by the Bishop that include the date and place is small, but of the thirty-two entries which fulfil these criteria, seventeen were dated at Wiveliscombe and the bishop died at the manor house on 29th September 1547. Little of the medieval residence remains; the fourteenth century entrance gateway is the most obvious survival. Parts of the surrounding cottages may incorporate components of the gatehouse and it is possible that masonry from the palace has been reused in the older buildings in the immediate vicinity. More of the palace survived in the late eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries. Collinson stated that during the late eighteenth century "the palace of Wiveliscombe is now in ruins and a workhouse erected in the year 1735 occupies part of the site of the ancient edifice." See PRN 28210 for the workhouse. There are three drawings by John Buckler in the library of the Somerset Archaeology Society which illustrate (a) the gateway and part of the structure around it, (b) a carved architectural fragment and (c) a ruined cottage. This collection is titled "Gateway and Remains of the Bishop's Palace at Wiveliscombe" and is dated 1837. The structure surrounding the gateway is of a uniform height just above the arch, it has no roof and weeds are growing along the top of the wall. It therefore seems likely that at this date, what remained of the former gatehouse was in use only as a store or animal house, perhaps with wooden partitions and shelters inserted. To identify the location of the lower picture the 1841 tithe map for Wiveliscombe can be used. The most likely situation of the ruined thatched cottage would appear to be centred on building 249, described in the apportionment as a dwelling house, which together with plot 250 made up "Part of Palace and Moors." Although the building is described as a dwelling with no mention of it being in ruins, this particular set of buildings and walls form the only complex in the vicinity of the Palace which matches the layout of buildings depicted by Buckler. In the tithe apportionment, the building to the right of the ruined cottage is described as "Stable, Coach House, Yard and Garden," along with the adjacent plot and building. The building just visible behind the ruined part of the cottage would be the mill house, if this identification were correct. The buildings in the foreground of this nineteenth century illustration could perhaps depict surviving remnants of the episcopal manor house, although it is not clear how these structures would have fitted into the manor house complex. They might have been service buildings. The precinct of Wiveliscombe Palace appears to have encompassed plots on the tithe map called "the site of the poor house and garden, ruins of the Palace," (247), "stable, coach house, yard and garden" (248), "dwelling house" (249), "Palace fruit garden" (250), "part of Palace garden" (251) and "Cater's Close (part of Palace)" (2394). It is possible that the site of the mill to the south was also included. Another plot with a potentially indicative field name on the tithe map is number 2399, called "First Court Gardens." This is not far to the east of the site of the manor house and might have been part of the episcopal demesne. In 1883, the remains of the manor house were described as being "represented by some walls, just sufficiently good to be roofed in and used as a wood house or garden storage... Fifty-five years ago much more was to be seen, the building being then thatched." The structure described may be the thatched cottage drawn by Buckler in 1837, and had evidently degenerated over the last half century. This same source adds "Fifty years ago the kitchen was in existence and the north wall now fast falling into ruins, stood at three times its present height with gothic windows through its whole height." Exactly where the medieval kitchen and north wall (of the hall?) stood is not clear. If these remains had been standing when John Buckler came to Wiveliscombe in 1837 it seems likely he would have painted these interesting medieval structures, so they may have been destroyed shortly before this date. They are not obvious on the 1841 tithe map. (Somerset HER–ref Payne, 2003)
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:53

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