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The Well House - Cathedral Close

Page updated 12th December 2015

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This pub belongs to, and is run by the Royal Clarence Hotel, to which it is adjacent. It is a popular public house, situated in the heart of the Cathedral Close. Michael Caine, the celebrity chef is responsible for the bar food that is served at lunch time.

The Well House is in fact two premises, 16 and 17 Cathedral Yard. In 1861 no. 16 contained a retired tailor while no. 17 was a boot seller. Nos 16 and 17 were a religious book seller in 1888. As was common then, and now, premises would change use quite frequently. In Kelly's 1897 Directory Charles William Priston was a tailor in no 16. In 1901 Sarah Buttishill is established as a dressmaker while no 17 is a bookshop. Kelly's 1914 Directory lists Haynes Ltd boot and shoe makers and dealers and in 1919 Babbage Gilbert & Co Solicitors. In 1923 it housed Murray's Antiques.

An announcement was made in May 1928 that G and N Hawkswell were to open a high class photographic studio at 16 Cathedral Yard, probably in an upper room.

In February 1934, model ships, including the Cruiser HMS Exeter, made by Ernest Oddy were exhibited at the Well House. The premises had recently come to prominence because of the recent discovery of a well, and a large cavity that contained a Roman bath. Around three sides of the bath was a plinth, probably for tired Roman wives to sit. Pieces of Roman pottery and tiles, coins and some human skeleton remains.

By 1930 and up to the 1980's, the two buildings housed Robert Veitch and Son Ltd, seedsmen and then, it was briefly an estate agent and again, a bookshop. It was in August 1984 that the Well House was opened by the Mayor, Jim Pollitt. The building dates back to the 15th century, with the three top floors added in the 17th century. The wall that defined Cathedral Yard runs through part of the building.

There is a stone stairway leading to a cellar beneath, where can be found the remains of an alleged victim of the Black Death, in a glass case, in an alcove. However, experts think the bones belong to a teenage, Anglo-Saxon. The cellar also contains the remains of St Martin's Well, the source of the name, Well House. Some think it of Roman origin, although the consensus is that it dates back to Norman times.


Tinted red, the position of the Well House in Cathedral Yard.

The Well House Tavern in Cathedral Yard

The Well House Tavern in Cathedral Yard.

The Well House sign after Abode took on the management

The Well House sign after Abode took on the management.

The old sign for the Well House Tavern

The old sign for the Well House Tavern.

Looking up from the bottom of the well

Looking up from the bottom of the well.

The cellar of the Well House Tavern

The cellar of the Well House Tavern.

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