The home of the most recent Bishop of Bath and Wells (Peter Price, who retired in mid 2013) and many of his predecessors was at The Bishop’s Palace in Wells. But on 3 December the Church Commissioners (who are responsible for housing diocesan bishops) announced that new living arrangements were to be made for the next bishop, Peter Hancock, who has yet to take up his post.
Statement from Church Commissioners on living arrangements for Bishop of Bath & Wells
03 December 2013
Andrew Brown, Secretary to the Church Commissioners said:
“After discussion at its meeting on 28th November the Board of Governors took the decision to provide new housing for the Bishop of Bath and Wells to enable him to carry out his ministry and mission in a more sustainable way. The Bishop will continue to work and worship at the Palace and share the office with the Bishop of Taunton. The decision to move the bishop’s home will mean he can live in more privacy as the Palace and gardens will remain open to the public. We are currently looking at an alternative residence near to Wells. The Church Commissioners support for bishops is based on making their living and working arrangements conducive to effective ministry and mission both in their diocese and the Church as a whole. The daily working life of the Palace will continue including the use of the Chapel alongside the work of the Trust running the Palace as a visitor attraction.”
The Palace website explains on its news page that “Whilst the Palace is well-known and prides itself on having the Bishop of Bath and Wells reside on site it has not always been so, for eight centuries bishops have had irregular relationships with the Palace. It is only since the mid-1850s that the Palace has been much more of a home to Bishops of Bath and Wells and over time the office function in the Palace has become more important.” [Scroll down to 20 December and 5 December for more details.]
The Commissioners’ decision has proved very controversial.
The Diocese has expressed its opposition to the Commissioners’ decision.
Diocese expresses opposition to Church Commissioner’s Palace decision
Friday 24th January 2014
Statement from the Bishop of Taunton and senior staff of the Diocese of Bath & Wells re: Bishop of Bath & Wells accommodation.
“The Diocese wishes to express publicly its opposition to the Church Commissioners’ decision that the next Bishop of Bath & Wells will not live at the Bishop’s Palace in Wells.
Despite ample time and opportunity, the Church Commissioners have failed to undertake effective consultation at a local level. Instead they have taken a unilateral decision which has, sadly, cast a shadow over the announcement of our next Bishop.
Based on the scarce information made available to us by the Commissioners, the Diocese cannot support their decision. If there is a persuasive case for the move, it has yet to be made.
We call upon the Church Commissioners to allow the next Bishop of Bath & Wells to begin his new role in residence at the Palace whilst a full and proper consultation about the long-term plans for the Bishop’s residence and office arrangements takes place.”
Rt Revd Peter Maurice, Bishop of Taunton
The Ven Nicola Sullivan, Archdeacon of Wells
The Ven John Reed, Archdeacon of Taunton
The Ven Andy Piggott, Archdeacon of Bath
Revd Preb Stephen Lynas, Bishop’s Chaplain
Preb Dr Catherine Wright, Dean of Women Clergy
Nick Denison, Diocesan Secretary
Harry Musselwhite, Chair of the Board of Finance
Press reports include these.
BBC Tessa Munt MP questions Bishop of Bath and Wells’ palace move [8 January]
Diocese of Bath and Wells ‘cannot support’ bishop’s palace move [25 January]
Bishop of Taunton calls for talks on palace move [28 January]
John Bingham The Telegraph Palace coup: Church in open rebellion over decision to downsize bishop to country pile [26 January]
Ruth Gledhill The Times Church buys back rectory after Bishop’s Palace is declared unfit [29 January – behind a paywall, but the first couple of paragraphs are visible as a taster.]
Daily Mail Inside the £1million country home for the Bishop who turned-down a palace because he wanted ‘a bit more privacy’ [23 January]
Sophie Jane Evans Bishop banned from living in his palace will be moved to £900,000 rectory that the church is buying back after declaring it ‘unsuitable’ and selling it … for £750,000 [29 January]
David Keen blogs in favour of the Commissioners’ decision: Is the Bishop of Bath and Wells a person, or a tourist attraction?