Project aims to bring barn back to heart of community life in 130th anniversary year

July 06 2017
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JUNE marked the start of the 130th anniversary of the Wells Recreation Grounds and The Bishop's Barn – the magnificent 15th century barn right in the heart of Wells – being given to the city.

The Bishop's Barn, which is nestled within the Recreation Grounds, was given to the city by Bishop Lord Arthur Hervey in two parts, in 1887 and 1897, as a place for recreation and amusement.

It has a varied history: from a medieval tithe barn storing grain in the 15th century to a 1970s venue for iconic bands such as Status Quo, Supertramp and Slade - housing audiences of up to 1,500; from a site for the quartering of Royalist troops during the Bloody Assizes to a roller skating skating venue in 1910; from an overspill Christmas sorting space for the Post Office in 1955 to its more recent use as venue for weddings, celebrations and community events in the Nineties.

Now, some 600 years after it was first built, plans are underway to bring The Bishop’s Barn back to the heart of community life in Wells.

Project development manager Louise Lappin-Cook said: “The 130th anniversary of the barn being given to the people of Wells marks a unique opportunity to push plans for developing the space forward. Wells Recreation Ground Trustees are committed to improving the barn and making the most of this magical and versatile community space. We are currently in discussions with Heritage Lottery Fund about restoring the barn as well as other funders to explore making improvements to the Recreation Ground site.

"We are delighted to have the support of Historic England, Mendip District Council and Somerset Buildings Preservation Trust in progressing this project. The barn and grounds are of great significance to the local community and it is vital that this space is preserved for generations to come. We are currently exploring means of developing the barn to ensure it provides a versatile community space for exhibitions, performances, workshops and community activity."

The barn was the starting ground for Gordon Poole’s entertainment and speaker agency – as a teenager at Wells Cathedral School he programmed many acts in the barn. Gordon recalled: “All the kit and the bands were on farm trailers which we wheeled in. We ran events every Saturday and most of the groups playing has No1 records.”

Despite its rich cultural history, in recent years the barn has been used less and is in urgent need of repairs and modernisation to bring it back to full use. As part of the consultation process residents are being invited to offer feedback on the use of the site and programme of activities.

A picture of Peace Day in Wells in 1945, with The Bishop's Barn in the background (reproduced from the Wells and Mendip City Archives)

A picture of Peace Day in Wells in 1945, top, with The Bishop's Barn in the background (reproduced from the Wells and Mendip City Archives)

Have your say

You can find out more about the barn by visiting the blog: thebishopsbarn.wordpress.com where you can download a survey https://goo.gl/forms/UtHMCw0UGAvKIU5o2 to input ideas into the development of the Recreation Grounds and Barn.

The group behind the project are keen to hear about your memories of The Bishop’s Barn and use of the grounds. Did you attend some of the Seventies concerts or do you have some old family photos of the barn? You can get in touch via the blog or email thebishopsbarn@gmail.com