Vicars’ Close: the oldest residential street in Europe that also features an optical illusion.
Vicars’ Close, in Wells, Somerset, England, is claimed to be the oldest purely residential street with original buildings still intact in Europe.
The first houses on this attractive street, close to Wells Cathedral in Somerset, England, were built during the mid 14th century, while the street was completed about a century later.
The area was initially used to house a group of chantry priests.
During the 12th century, the group of clergy who served the cathedral were responsible for chanting the divine service eight times a day and were known as the Vicars Choral.
Even though changes and improvements have been made over the years, the properties are still essentially the same as they were centuries ago. Almost all of the 27 houses (originally 44) was built to house the Vicars Choral and it has since been continuously inhabited by their successors.
The street derived from a significant land grant by the canon of Wells Cathedral, Walter de Hulle, and the chantry priests were supported by the rents from tenants who lived on the land.
The road is a 140 meters long roadway with paved stone down its center. An optical illusion created by the space between the two rows of houses makes the street look longer when standing near the main entrance, and considerably shorter when viewed from the other end.
At the end of the street is the Vicars’ Hall which housed several communal and administrative offices relating to the Vicars Choral. The Vicars’ Hall was completed in 1348 and included also a communal dining room and treasury of the Vicars Choral.
There was also a room associated with the collection of rents used to support the clergy.
To put the age of this street into context, at the beginning of its construction Henry IV was on the throne, and he was the first king of England to speak English rather than Norman French.
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