A town began around an abbey in the 8th century. The building of the famous cathedral there from the late 12th century gives Wells the right to be called a city – it is the smallest city in England with only about 10,000 inhabitants. It is also the administrative centre of one of the biggest sees in England as the Bishop of Wells is also the Bishop of Bath, the diocesan boundaries being about the same as the traditional county of Somerset.
The cathedral is a wonder of medieval architecture and its precincts, which include the original medieval bishop's palace with a moat watered by the springs, extensive grounds, and an enclosed street – the “Vicars’ Close” – which is the oldest extant medieval street in Europe, are the biggest ecclesiastical grounds in the country. The town itself is small, usually covered in tourists, has a fine and oft-used market-square, with a pub – “The Crown” – from which William Penn preached in 1685.