Highlights of Bishop’s Palace

Bishop’s Palace dates back to early 13th century, when the first Bishop of Bath and Wells – Bishop Jocelin Trotman – received permission to build a residence near the cathedral. I decided to visit the palace, after attending the morning service at Wells cathedral and exploring the area around the cathedral.

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Since there was some time before the palace opened for visitors, I decided to walk around the moat area. What caught my attention first was the sleeping pigeons on the branches of a tree. IMG_1104.JPG

As I walked further along the moat, I came upon the famous swans of the palace. Since a Bishop’s daughter had taught the swans to ring the bell for food in 1870, a tradition of training the resident swans to ring the bell has been followed. I came upon this little herd gliding by. They didn’t ring the bell during my walk though. Visitors interested in feeding the swans, or other birds, can purchase bird food from the palace shop.

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The view of the cathedral and the palace from a garden near the moat was lovely, despite the heavy clouds in the sky.

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I was back at the gatehouse at 10am and was the first visitor of the day. From one end of the croquet lawn, there was a lovely view of the main entrance of the palace as well as the entrance to the chapel.

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I decided to leave the interior of the palace for last and turned towards the ruins of the Great Hall, through which I stepped into the south lawn.

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Walking through the lawn, I reached the ramparts and climbed up the steps. I had read that the Glastonbury Tor could be seen from the ramparts. Perhaps because it was a cloudy day, I could not see the Tor, though I thought I had spotted the hill in the distance. The land behind the palace had been the Bishop’s deer park in the past.

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I walked across the length of the rampart and climbed down to the formal gardens behind the palace.

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Walking past the gardens, I came to a little wooden bridge that crossed the moat and led to the most important part of the city.

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I took one of the paths curving around the well pool, which gave the city its name, and whose water fed the moat around the palace.

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After walking around the garden of reflection, I decided to explore the interior of the palace. I first visited the lovely little chapel.

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After spending some time in the quiet chapel, I made my way to the entrance porch of the palace and entered the entrance hall. One of the Bishops had a habit of dining with 12 poor men and women at the table at the centre. While the entrance hall is part of the original 13th century construction, the fireplace near the table is a later addition.

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Through a door at the end of the hall, I entered the Undercroft, which had also been part of the original medieval palace.  It is now available for hire for events.

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Climbing up the Jacobean stairs, I came upon the long gallery which had the portraits of the different Bishops of Wells. The long gallery led to the drawing room, where there were some objects on exhibit. I found the Abbots chair and the Glastonbury chair of interest. According to the information sheet by the oak chair, the Glastonbury chair was a term used to refer to wooden chairs in the 19th century. However, this particular Glastonbury chair was made for John Thorne, who was a monk and a treasurer at Glastonbury abbey during the dissolution and who was subsequently executed at Glastonbury Tor in 1539.

The room next to the drawing room is currently used as a conference room and during my visit, had an art exhibition going on. Both rooms together used to be the great hall.

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The last room open for visitors on this floor was the solar, which had an art installation of an angel during my visit.

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I walked back down the steps and lingered by the croquet lawn, for my last snaps of the palace, before I left Wells.

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What feature of the Wells Bishop’s palace fascinates you the most?

[Linking this post to City Tripping #68 and Wanderful Wednesday]

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A Tour of No 11 Residence

My former office had been down Bagatalle Road, so I used to come to this road daily for seven years. Yet, I had not visited the No 11 Residence. A home turned into a museum. Ever since I learnt that Seema Malakaya had been designed by Geoffrey Bawa, I started paying attention to other places he had worked on. I finally decided this week it was time to visit his home, which has been turned into a museum managed by the Geoffrey Bawa Trust.

Geoffrey Bawa (1919 – 2003), for those who haven’t heard of him, was Sri Lanka’s renowned architect. He had studied to be a lawyer in England, following his father’s footsteps, but realized when he returned to Sri Lanka that it was not what he wanted to do. He eventually discovered his passion and became an architect towards his late 30s.

No 11 was his home in Colombo, a place he re-modelled after purchasing four row houses at the end of the lane. The house museum is available for public viewing by appointment. Since the management has taken a lot of effort to maintain the house exactly as it had been during Bawa’s time, the curator is quite sensitive about viewers not touching any objects, which can be a bit difficult if traveling with kids.

When I arrived for my tour, I was led to a waiting hall next to the former home office of Geoffrey Bawa, where there were around ten others waiting for the tour to start. I was given my invoice for the tour as well as a brochure on the house. The curator then started the tour with a short documentary, which focused on the remodeling of the No 11 residence undertaken by Geoffrey Bawa.

Following the documentary screening, we took the stairs to the terrace. Towards the latter part of his life, when it became too difficult for Bawa to walk up the stairs, a lift had been installed in the house.IMG_2813.JPG

The rooftop terrace had been one of Geoffrey Bawa’s favourite places to sit in the evenings.

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We walked down the stairs, passing the floor with the guest suite. The guest suite is now rented out to anyone wishing to stay at the house. It was not part of the viewing tour though. So, we made our way back down to the ground floor and walked towards Geoffrey Bawa’s living area. While no photography was allowed inside the living area, we were allowed to take photos along the corridor.

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One of his trademark design was the use of corners, allowing for natural light to filter through and green trees and ponds to cool the spaces.

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This corner of the house led to his private apartment and the curator mentioned that the pillars were Chettinad style pillars.

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The corner opposite the Chettinad pillars had a couple of chairs designed by Geoffrey Bawa. The curator said that it was part of the furniture collection he designed for Bentota Beach hotel, his first hotel design in Sri Lanka.

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His private area was the most fascinating part of the house and the best part of it too, as it gave a better glimpse of the person than the rest of the house had done. It had a sitting room, dining room and a bedroom, each of which had lovely ponds and trees in their corners or views of a tree across the room. What was lovely about this space was that it was filled with personal stuff, his books and his collections from his travels.

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Geoffrey Bawa’s reading space (c) Geoffrey Bawa Trust, with permission from the manager of No 11

Before Geoffrey Bawa became an architect, he had spent considerable time traveling around the world in the 1940s/ 50s and was most taken with his time in Italy. Apparently, he had liked the Lake Garda region, particularly the gardens, so much so that he had planned to buy property there. However, due to some legal obstacles, he had not been able to do so and when he returned to Sri Lanka, his brother had encouraged him to buy a country estate in Bentota and create his own tropical version of Lake Garda. Geoffrey Bawa’s first landscape gardening project revealed his passion and he decided to pursue a path in architecture, returning to study in England. His first work, Lunuganga, is considered his masterpiece. I have been long meaning to visit the place and hopefully, will do so this year.

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The tour ended at the entrance, where Geoffrey Bawa’s old Rolls Royce was parked. The batik painting covering the wall was by Bawa’s friend and artist, Ena de Silva.

The tour was a fascinating insight into the home and living space of Geoffrey Bawa.

[I am linking this post to Faraway Files #17 and The Weekly Postcard]

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Special Six: Taunton Museum Highlights

During my recent holiday in England, I visited the Museum of Somerset with my sister. The museum, which is located within the 12th century Taunton castle, had a lovely collection of exhibits about life in the Somerset region from prehistoric to present day.

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The castle, designated as an ancient monument, has an interesting history from its 12th century beginnings to its decline in the 16th century, its role in the siege of Taunton in 1644/45 and as the site of the hangings of 144 of Monmouth’s supporters, following the Monmouth rebellion in 1685.

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View from an older section of the castle

The reconstructed castle has several interesting galleries on display. While I enjoyed the different sections in the museum, the following six are the exhibits that I enjoyed most.

(1) The tree of Somerset

The sculpture greets you as you enter the ground floor gallery of the museum. The 175 year old Somerset oak tree on Quantock hills was originally felled to be made into beams. However, it was created into an artwork by Simon O’Rourke, reflecting some of the stories and objects to be found at the Museum of Somerset.

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(2) Plesiosaur fossil

The Plesiosaur fossil is displayed in the Great Hall of the castle museum. Discovered by a Somerset fisherman, this fossil of a Plesiosaur was the first complete skeleton to be found in Britain for more than a century. The marine reptile thrived during the Jurassic period but became extinct about 66 million years ago.

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(3) The Low Ham Mosaic

The floor mosaic was found in the bath block of a 4th century Low Ham Roman villa. The mosaic floor, which tells the story of Vigil’s Dido and Aeneas, is considered to be one of the most famous objects surviving Roman Britain.

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(4) Frome Hoard

The Frome hoard was discovered in 2010 and is the largest hoard of coins ever found in a single container in Britain. The 160 Kg hoard is thought to have been buried in the 3rd century at Witham friary near Frome.

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(5) The Shapwick Canoe:

The canoe was made from an oak tree trunk felled in 350 BC and was found in 1906, preserved in peat.

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(6) Wild Art: Nature Re-Imagined, an exhibition by the Neal brothers

During my visit to the museum, there was a lovely exhibition of photography, sculpture and paintings by the Neal brothers. The brothers’ art career stemmed from their inspiring childhood explorations of the Somerset countryside.

There is much to discover about the history of the region, at the Museum of Somerset.

Have you visited Taunton and its castle museum? What is your favourite exhibit, from your own visit, or from my special six?

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[I am linking this post to City Tripping #62]

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