Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Finding a manor house under the lawn

Recently there have been reports online about the discovery during building work of the foundations of the episcopal manor house at Wiveliscombe in west Somerset. Despite the reports it should not be described as a palace - a bishop’s palace adjoins his cathedral. Medieval bishops had a number of additional residences across their diocese ( or in some cases in other dioceses ) and would use them in their Visitations or for recreation. There is a history of its use by the Bishops of Bath and Wells in the later medieval period and also of what is documented of the remains at Wiveliscombe Bishops Palace (The Gatehouse Record).  I note that the now rebuilt church in Wiveliscombe is dedicated to St Andrew, the patron of the cathedral in Wells.

The Wiveliscombe manor house finally disappeared in the eighteenth century, leaving only a part of the gatehouse, and the specific location of the residence was lost until the digging of new foundations revealed fourteenth century work. 

There are reports about the discovery from The Times at Retired banker finds ancient palace in his garden and from Life Science Essentials at Medieval bishop's palace unearthed in England

I can appreciate, just about, the reluctance to undertake a full excavation by the archaeologists, and the feelings of the owner with his plans thrown awry. Nonetheless it is a pity the site will not be investigated yet awhile. From my own researches I can think of a sizeable number of largely or entirely uninvestigated episcopal manor house sites across the medieval dioceses of York and Lincoln that one would dearly love to know more about. Some are now grassland, others recognisable but still working farms. Other dioceses must have similar sites.

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