'Alms' is money given to the poor.
'Almshouses' are accommodation provided for worthy, but poor, churchgoers (most often single people, usually widows or widowers). The funds for their provision were often left by wealthy citizens, and administered by the church.
There are almshouses in other European countries, but the UK has many ancient ones.
I spotted two sets in Wells (there are six altogether). The Bubwith almshouses near St Cuthberts were provided in the 1400s by Nicholas Bubwith. Although much of that set is demolished and replaced by more modern buildings part of the original structure survives, as does a chapel and guildhall.
A further set of almshouses, funded by one Henry Llewellyn and dating from the late 1500s, can be seen on Priest's Row which runs to the north of St Cuthbert's.
Other benefactors enable further almshouses to be built in later years.
Whilst these buildings are well worth seeking out for their architectural design, do remember that they are still people's homes ...don't be intrusive.
Adjacent to the Cathedral, this is claimed to be the oldest complete continuously inhabited medieval street in Europe. Built in 1348 to house the Cathedral choir the street comes complete with a small chapel at the end. The ambience of the whole, set in the context (and shadows) of the cathedral does evoke memories of the English history at its graphic best.
The bishops of Wells has had their palace next to the Cathedral Green for centuries and it is a lovely spot in the city. The interior was closed when we visited but in summer, you can visit the hall left standing and get a better picture of the adjacent ruins. You also have a cafe and bowling lawns inside then. We were left outside, studying the swans who ring the bell when they get hungry (see local tip) and walked around the moat to an area with a playground. All in all a very relaxing area these days. You also see the wells that gave the city its name as they surface here.
The Vicars' Close
Another highlight of historic Wells is the Vicars' Close, notable for being the oldest complete continuously inhabited medieval street in Europe. It was built in the mid 1300s to provide housing for the men of the choir, the cornerstone of the city's long time musical tradition. If it weren't for the occasional toy or plastic chair in the front gardens, you wouldn't know you were in the 21st century as you walk through the close.
Visit the Bishop's Palace
Not so much for the palace itself, for much of what remains is either inaccessible to the public or has been much changed over the centuries, or is ruined......
...but more for the beautiful gardens and the wells themselves. 14 acres of gardens, with wonderful trees (there's an arboretum area as well) and flowerbeds, a crystal-clear moat fed by the crystal-clear springs (the wells) which flow at a rate of 40 gallons per second and the rampant walk, which gives excellent views across the surrounding countryside.
The Bishop's Palace dates from the early 1200s, when Bishop Jocelin (the first bishop of Bath and Wells) received permission from the King to build a residence and deer park next to the cathedral. You still enter the palace through the original hall, almost 800 years old.
The gatehouse entrance (over the moat) dates from 1341.
The original but later (late 1400s) Great Hall fell into ruins after a 16th century bishop sold the lead from its roof (!). Some parts of it were preserved as a sort of romantic 'folly'. The chapel was built at the same time, and is a light and airy space with some interesting carved roof bosses (recently repainted).
A second storey was added in the 1800s.
The Bishop's Palace is well worth its entrance fee..the gardens alone are beautiful (and ideal for a picnic if the weather is right).
Don't forget to look out for the swans (see tip below)!