Description: Mellifont Abbey, Boundary Walls and Gate Piers
Date Listed: 22 November 1966
English Heritage Building ID: 268182
OS Grid Reference: ST5181845816
OS Grid Coordinates: 351818, 145816
Latitude/Longitude: 51.2095, -2.6911
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1925/21/169 HIGH STREET
22-NOV-66 (South side)
MELLIFONT ABBEY, BOUNDARY WALLS AND GA
(Formerly listed as:
Former rectory, currently a residential home. Mid- to late-C18 with earlier origins. The house probably stands on or close to the site of the medieval rectory, and is believed to incorporate parts of that building's fabric as well as possible elements of the medieval church house. Much of the site of the former pleasure ground to the south-west of the house has been built over and is thus not of interest.
MATERIALS: The building is built of lias stone rubble and brick, with brick dressings and with Doulting stone quoins, under lead and slate roofs with brick stacks.
PLAN: A multi-phase building comprising principally of late-medieval and C18 ranges on an ancient site. The principal range, with its west-facing façade, probably incorporates C13 to C17 material and was substantially extended in the C18 when it was refashioned in the Gothick style, This range fronts an irregular conglomeration of ranges including a south-east wing of late-C14 or C15 date, which is considered to represent part of the former high-status rectory house; the current kitchen block to the rear which is set at an oblique angle to the rest of the building and is probably C18 or C19; and an C18 stair block, also to the rear of the main range. Further alterations and additions were carried out in the early C19 and the second half of the C20. The C20 additions are not of interest.
EXTERIOR: The principal (west) range is in a Gothic Revival style and incorporates considerable C13, C14 and C15 re-used freestone detail. It is of two storeys, 4:1:3 bays, with a crenellated and moulded parapet and brick stringcourses. The sash windows with exposed sash boxes are set in two-centred arched openings with brick surrounds and keys. Three of the windows are blank and infilled with brick; the left bay on the ground floor has C20 French windows with a laced Gothick fanlight. Above the heads of the first-floor windows are C13 medieval carved freestone busts and corbels of uncertain provenance. The façade is dominated by a three-stage, embattled central tower or porch constructed in a chequerboard pattern with alternating advancing and receding brickwork. It has diagonal buttresses and openings to each face of the ground floor with rusticated surrounds and carved heads as keys. The entrance doorway is Strawberry Hill Gothic with a half-glazed door, sidelights and elaborate ogee-arched fanlight. To the first floor of the tower is a re-used freestone oriel of four-lights with leaded lights, a lower decorative frieze and an ornamental cornice. To the third stage is an arcade of late-C13 medieval spandrel sections featuring mermaids and monkeys playing musical instruments, an C18 oculus, and two pedimented niches with brick surrounds.
The right return has an opening to the ground floor with a late-C20 French door with a laced head surviving over, and there are tripartite-barred sash windows to the upper floor; the central window to the first floor is set within a pointed-arch opening. To the right is a canted bay of three storeys. It was added in the C19 and is built of brick with a brick string and coping. The coursed stone rubble walling beyond (east) forms part of the south elevation of the south-east wing. It is lit by C18 or C19 timber casements, including one whose opening has been reduced. The eastern end of this wing is obscured by a two-storey extension that was added in the 1980s and is not of interest. Attached to the east corner of the modern addition is a single-storey block (currently the kitchen) that is aligned north-west to south-east; a different alignment to the rest of the house. It has uncoursed stone rubble walls and is of two phases. There are window and door openings of various styles and dates, including simple brick arches (blocked) in the west and south walls. The battlemented parapet and stringcourse c
ontinue along the north side of the principal range. The north elevation includes a staircase block bay to the left-hand end which is lit by two C18 timber laced oculi in brick surrounds with leaded lights, and a sash window has been inserted beneath the lower of the two. To the right, at first floor, is a window set within a two-centred arch surround of brick matching others on the west front, with a further oculus above.
INTERIOR: The medieval south-east wing has a narrow footprint and has been sub-divided into bedrooms. There is a blocked lancet window in the north wall which is only visible within the range. The roof has two arch-braced collared trusses that are both open and the cambered collars are chamfered. It comprises three bays and the end bays have been truncated by an inserted stack at the east end and the stone rubble rear wall of the main range to the west. The roof of the current kitchen block to the north-east, bounding the present churchyard, includes two re-used smoke-blackened trusses, probably re-used from a high-status building.
The house retains fittings of a high quality, including rich, decorative plasterwork to a number of rooms. The entrance hall in the west front has a shaped ceiling and cornice with egg-and-dart decoration and a pendant frieze, and Gothick door cases with applied cherub faces and crocketed pinnacles to the jambs. The panelled doors leading off the hallway and the soffits of the arched windows in the two ground-floor reception rooms also feature fine cusped motifs. The dado rail, cornice and ceiling decoration in the dining room are particularly finely detailed with Gothic arcading and cusping. Unfortunately original fireplaces do not survive in the reception rooms. The principal stairway has a ramped handrail and encompasses chinoiserie in the form of fretwork balustrading, and a matching fretwork frieze at the top of the staircase. The vaulted ceiling above is lit by an octagonal lantern which has applied decoration to the panels. A lift has been inserted within the stairwell. The quality of the fittings to several of the first-floor rooms in front range, including several Gothick door surrounds and a decorative cornice (hidden above a suspended ceiling), suggest that these rooms were originally a large drawing room, that has since been sub-divided, and an antechamber. A further fine doorcase with cusped pinnacles survives beyond. Other panelled doors are covered with flush fire proofs boards. Most of the other upstairs rooms have plain cornicing or no decoration. Some of the plasterwork detailing appears to date from the early to mid-C19, and contrasts with other plasterwork that stylistically is attributed to the mid- to late C18. Examples of the later work probably include the cherub's heads, which appear to be applied to the doorframes in the hallway, and possibly some of the Gothic-arched motifs at the top of the stairway. At the north end of the range is a plainer, rear staircase. The attic floor retains some plank doors with L-shaped and strap hinges, respectively. The accessible attic bays at the north end of the principal range have exposed queen post trusses with lead flats, possibly replacing a ridged roof.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: The house is bounded on three sides by contemporary and later high stone rubble and brick walls and is approached via a pair of C20 wrought-iron gates on earlier gate piers with brick lacings and moulded caps. There is a Gothick doorway with brick jambs and a plank door in the east boundary wall, providing access into the churchyard.
HISTORY: From at least the eleventh century and until the Reformation, the manor of Wookey was held by the Bishops of Wells and an episcopal manor house (Grade II* listed Court Farm qv) was built adjacent to Mellifont Abbey in the C13. An ecclesiastical peculiar (outside the jurisdiction of the bishop of the diocese) was created at Wookey in the form of rectorial lands, initially for the dean of Wells and then re-assigned to the sub-dean of the Cathedral for the upkeep of his post which, unlike the rest of the Episcopal manor, pertained until 1847. The sub-deans were also the rectors of St Matthew's Church in the village, and a rectory house (parts of which survive within Mellifont Abbey) was built to the north-west of the church. In 1548 the rectory house was leased to the Godwyn family and was described in a terrier of 1634 as containing 'a hall, a parlour, a kitchen, a buttery, a scullery, a pantry, and a brewhouse, with chambers over them one storey high'. The rectory also had a house in the churchyard, containing 'a hall a kychen and a loft over that under one ruffe' (1557 Survey of the Manor). It is likely that this building is what probably became known as the old church house and which was subsequently said to have been incorporated into the main fabric of the rectory house as appurtenances to Mellifont Abbey.
The rectory was extended substantially in the C18 as a country house when it was leased to the Peirs family, who, like the Godwyns before them, had held high posts in the diocese. The house was re-fashioned in a medieval, Gothick idiom. William Ekins Peirs, son of William Peirs, the MP for Wells (who was also included in the lease), inherited the lease to the rectory house from his uncle, Thomas Peirs, in 1753; and the lease to the adjacent manor house in 1758. Following his death in 1765 these interests were passed to his sister Lady Elizabeth Montague Bertie. Recent documentary research (2010) into the history of Mellifont Abbey has sought to demonstrate that the Gothic Revival work was carried out in two phases: in circa 1753-65 and during the 1770s. A description of the house in 1783, as a 'late new-built MANSION-HOUSE at Wookey' may imply that a great deal of rebuilding and improvement had recently taken place. Furthermore an analysis of the building's fabric suggests that the lower two storeys of the tower and the restyling of the façade of the principal range were not carried out at the same date, and that the third storey of the tower may have been added in conjunction with the restyling of the façade. A sequence of contrasting walling materials at high level in the southern part of the rear (east) elevation of the principal range may possibly represent further evidence for two phases of C18 aggrandisement, although the Reverend William Phelps, writing from Mellifont Abbey in 1836, was of the opinion that the C18 aggrandisement dated from circa 1730.
A pleasure ground was laid out to the south-west by 1794. Shortly after this date, in circa 1800, the house was re-named Mellifont Abbey, possibly after the abbey of the same name in County Louth, Ireland. For much of the C19 and C20 the rectory house was leased to various individuals including, from 1817 to 1824, the Reverend William Phelps who undertook cosmetic improvements to the reception areas and added some accommodation. Shortly after the Second World War the house was converted to a residential nursing home.
Charles L Eastlake, A History of the Gothic Revival (1970)
John H Winstone, Mellifont Abbey, Wookey, Somerset. An Assessment for Planning Purposes
English Heritage, Mellifont Abbey, Wookey, Someset (2010), unpub.
REASON FOR DECISION:
Mellifont Abbey, a mid-C18 house with earlier origins is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Evolution: it illustrates a history that dates back to at least the C14; the surviving medieval elements and the C18 work, which is a skilful example of the Gothick style, combine to create a synthesis of different periods
* Architectural interest: the C18 remodelling contributes to the more than special interest of the building; the idiosyncratic, exuberant facade of the principal range is a notable and well-preserved example of C18 gentrification in the Gothick style, possessing its own character as a fashionable re-working of an earlier dwelling
* Interiors: the principal rooms are richly adorned with mid- to late-C18 and early-C19 decorative plasterwork, doors and door furniture of particularly high-quality craftsmanship
* Sculptural interest: the medieval architectural fragments incorporated in the tower are especially fine and some, particularly the spandrels, are of more than special interest in the corpus of C13 English sculpture
* Historic interest: one of the key buildings, along with the Grade I listed church and the Grade II* Court Farm, that reflects the importance of Wookey as a settlement from the Anglo-Saxon period onwards
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.