Vicars’ Close, in Wells- Somerset, is the oldest purely residential street in Europe and the most complete example of a Medieval Close in the UK.
With all its original buildings surviving intact- it comprises numerous Grade I listed buildings, including 27 residences- one per vicar- (originally 44), but some were combined following the Reformation when vicars were allowed to marry to accommodate growing families.
Vicars’ Close was built over 650 years ago by Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury, who founded a college for the Vicars Choral in 1348. Bishop Ralph wanted to house the vicars to protect the young clerks- keep them away from women and provide them with communal facilities including a dining hall (Vicars’ Hall).
The historian & travel writer John Julius Norwich calls it:
“that rarest of survivals, a planned street of the mid-14th century.”
It is connected at its southern end to Wells Cathedral by way of a walkway over Chain Gate. All of the properties have been subject to alteration from the mid-15th Century, including the addition of the iconic chimneys and extensions to the rear of the properties and front gardens were later added giving it the appearance of a street.
Today, the Close remains a living community and occupants still include all men of the Vicars Choral (now 12 members), plus the Organists and Vergers who are part of the lifeblood of the Cathedral.