Issue 54, May 1988
Not many people know this. During the siege of Sebastopol in 1854 the glorious 13th Foot, the Somersets, captured several of the abominable enemy’s cannon. One was brought home to Somerset and stood in the Market Place in Wells until World War II when it was commandeered, according to a Wells Museum Society member taking 50p a time from Sunday morning visitors, ‘as part of the general collection of ironmongery’ for the nuts and bolts of the War Effort.
The cannon stood next to the water fountain, a chintzy ornament heavily restored in recent years and adorned with a concrete block displaying its new name: ‘Rotary Wishing Well’. On quiet Sunday mornings the town boys fish for pocket money in a street-wise version of the ecclesiastical culling of coinage enacted in matinée a few yards away.
In 1797 the fountain replaced an altogether grander Gothic-style conduit, which in its turn had replaced the original erected by Thomas Bekynton, Bishop of Bath & Wells 1443-65. To the bishop the people of Wells owe the source of water in the Market Place and the streams running down the High Street. Not many people know this: those streams were not always there, always a nuisance to be negotiated when shopping.
In these days of water boards, reservoirs, pipes and pressured supply it may be difficult to understand how great a boon to Wells was the bishop’s gift of providing water for all from St Andrew’s Wells, a spring in the palace gardens.
Bishop Bekynton was buried in Wells Cathedral and his macabre tomb is now a tourist attraction but not many people know this: the bottom line of the water deal was the promise of the citizens of Wells ti undertaken a yearly pilgrimage to his grave and there pray for his soul, in perpetuum.
What we want to know, we visitors paying 50p to get into the museum and tossing small change into the wishing well to keep the lads in lollies, is when did the Mayor and Corporation last keep their end of the bargain with the bishop, eh?