Wells Cathedral School

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Wells Cathedral School
Motto Esto Quod Es
("Be what you are")
Established c. AD 909
Type Independent day and boarding
Cathedral foundation school
Religion Church of England
Head Elizabeth Cairncross
Chairman of the Governors John Clarke
Location The Liberty
Coordinates: 51°12′49″N 2°38′37″W / 51.2135°N 2.6436°W / 51.2135; -2.6436
DfE number 933/6029
Students 700
Gender Co-educational
Ages 3–18
Houses Two lower, seven upper
Colours Navy, Gold
Publication The Wellensian
Patron Prince Charles
Website www.wells-cathedral-school.com

Wells Cathedral School is a co-educational independent school located in Wells, Somerset, England. The school is one of the five established musical schools for school-age children in the United Kingdom, along with Chetham's School of Music, the Yehudi Menuhin School, the Purcell School and St. Mary's Music School, Edinburgh. The head, Elizabeth Cairncross, is a member of the Headmasters' Conference.


With links to a school founded in AD 909,[1] Wells is one of the oldest extant schools in the world. The school admitted girls in 1969 and has over 700 pupils aged between 3 and 18. The school has a musical emphasis and specialises in combining high-level musical tuition with a general academic education, as well as sports.

Situated within the city of Wells, the school's boarding houses line the northern parts of the city and the music school retains close links with Wells Cathedral. The Vicar's Chapel and Library in Vicars' Close was built c1424-1430. The lower floor was a chapel, with a spiral stair leading up to the library.[2] It is now used by the School.[3]

De Salis House and De Salis Cottage were built in the late 14th century.[4] The Rib was built in the 15th century and is a Grade II* listed building.[5] Cedars House was built in 1758 for Charles Tudway, the Member of Parliament for Wells and now forms part of the school.[6] Claver Morris House was built as a canonical house in 1669 by Dr Claver Morris,[7] while Plumptre dates from 1737 and was built for Dr Francis White.[8] No.11 The Liberty was built as a Canonical house in the mid 18th century and it now forms part of Wells Cathedral Junior School.[9] No 23 The Liberty was built in 1819 for the Chapter Clerk, William Parfitt,[10] and the 15th century Polydor House formerly belonged to the organists.[11]

Cedars House

The red brick Cedars Cottage, which was built as a coachman's cottage the former stables and coach house were built in the mid to late 18th century,[12] around the same time as Mullins.[13] Ritchie House was built a little later around the end of the 18th century or the beginning of the 19th.[14] Ritchie Hall became part of the school on its rebuilding in 1884 but incorporates part of a 12th-century Canon's Barn,[15] while St andrew's Lodge was built in 1713 as part of a charity school.[16]

Wells Cathedral School is supposed to be the fifth oldest independent school in the country. It cannot be proven, however, that the school has existed continually since the date of its supposed foundation in the tenth century, and there was certainly a hiatus during the 1880s, after which it was refounded.

The current headmistress is Elizabeth Cairncross[17] with Dr Andy Kemp as deputy head, and Mark Stringer is director of music.

The Royal Family holds links with the school, many of the buildings being opened by Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother on 6 July 1979.[18] Queen Elizabeth II visited the school during her Silver Jubilee tour in 1977. The Countess of Wessex visited Wells on 18 October 2007 and has done so several times subsequently.[19]

In 1969 it was among the first independent schools in the country to become coeducational when the junior school admitted girls. The following year, girls were admitted to the senior school and it became fully coeducational.

In 2005, the school was one of fifty independent schools to be found guilty of operating a price-fixing cartel, discovered by The Times, under which schools had made fee increases or decreases concurrently, thus minimising competition.[20] Each school was required to pay a nominal penalty of £10,000 and all agreed to make ex-gratia payments totalling £3 million into a trust designed to benefit pupils who attended the schools during the period in respect of which fee information was shared. The discovery by The Times was made shortly after new Office of Fair Trading directives prohibiting such sharing of information a directive not clearly communicated according to the schools concerned, a fact omitted by many tabloids.[21]


Red brick building with small tower to the left of the arched doorway and bay window to the right.
The Music School

Distinguished musicians visit the school to give masterclasses. The music school has several main practice areas and caters for specialist, special provision and general musicians. The school comprises pre-prep, junior school, lower school, and upper school, including a sixth form.

The Music School was formerly the house of the Archdeacon of Wells. It was rebuilt by Archdeacon Andrew Holes between 1450 and 1470, possibly retaining some 13th century work and further restoration was undertaken by Edmund Buckle in 1886. It is a Grade II* listed building.[22]

The school's connection with the cathedral offers a range of opportunities. There is a school service every Sunday evening and Monday morning in the cathedral, as well as music concerts. Chapel, chamber and cathedral choir rehearsals and performances are performed in both the cathedral and the Music School. Government funding of £3.5 million was obtained in 2008 to build a new concert hall and classrooms at Cedars Hall.[23]

School houses[edit]

Boys' houses
  • De Salis (lower school boarders) (navy tie with thin diagonal blue, yellow and white stripes)
  • Mills (lower school day) (navy tie with thin diagonal white stripes) - house no longer used, however the tie remains for lower school boys
  • Cedars (upper school) (navy tie with green emblems)
  • Ritchie (upper school) (navy tie with red emblems)
  • Shrewsbury (upper school) (navy tie with blue emblems)
Girls' houses
  • Claver-Morris (lower school boarders)
  • Mary Mitchell (lower school day) - house no longer in use
  • Edwards (upper school)
  • Haversham (upper school)
  • Plumptre (upper school)
  • Canon Grange (upper school)
Competitive houses (lower school)
  • Carter
  • Lewis
Competitive houses (Junior School)
  • Drake
  • Livingstone
  • Nelson
  • Scott
The nave and strainer arches of Wells Cathedral, c.1890

Notable alumni[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Colchester, L.S.; Quilter, David Tudway; Quilter, Alan (1985). A History of Wells Cathedral School. Wells Cathedral School. 
  2. ^ "The Vicars' Chapel Vicars Close, Wells". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 2009-01-13. 
  3. ^ Bush, Robin (1994). Somerset: The complete guide. Wimborne, Dorset: Dovecote Press. pp. 221–222. ISBN 1-874336-26-1. 
  4. ^ "De Salis House and De Salis Cottage". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  5. ^ "The Rib". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  6. ^ "The Cedars". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  7. ^ "Claver Morris House". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  8. ^ "Plumptre". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  9. ^ "No.11 The Liberty". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  10. ^ "No 23 The Liberty". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  11. ^ "Polydor House". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  12. ^ "Cedars Cottage and former stables, coach house and allied buildings around". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  13. ^ "Mullins". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  14. ^ "Ritchie House". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  15. ^ "Ritchie Hall". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  16. ^ "St Andrew's Lodge". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  17. ^ "Head – Elizabeth Cairncross". Wells Cathedral School. Retrieved 27 June 2012. 
  18. ^ "History of Wells Cathedral Choir School". Of Choristers – ancient and modern. Retrieved 2007-10-04. 
  19. ^ "HRH The Countess of Wessex visits Trust". Wells Cathedral School. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  20. ^ Halpin, Tony (2005-11-10). "Independent schools face huge fines over cartel to fix fees". The Times (London). 
  21. ^ The Office of Fair Trading: OFT names further trustees as part of the independent schools settlement
  22. ^ "The Music School and attached walls". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  23. ^ "£3.5m boost to concert hall bid". This is Somerset. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  24. ^ "Patricia Noall". Wells Cathedral School. Retrieved 27 June 2012. 
  25. ^ "Michael Eavis". Bristol University. Retrieved 2009-09-06. 
  26. ^ "Victoria Lyon — Violin". Escala Group. Retrieved 2009-09-06. 
  27. ^ "Kris Marshall". BBC. Retrieved 2009-09-06. 
  28. ^ "Cricket at Wells Cathedral School". Schools Cricket Online. Retrieved 2009-09-06. 
  29. ^ "Bruce Parry Profile". Eden. UKTV. Retrieved 2009-09-06. 
  30. ^ "David Poore — biography". Retrieved 2009-06-10. 
  31. ^ "Turle, James". Musical Biographies. Grande Musica. Retrieved 2009-09-06. 
  32. ^ "Old Wellensian [1991] – Richard Jacques". Retrieved 27 June 2012. 

External links[edit]