It is unknown when Wells first had a corporate civic body. During the medieval and early Tudor periods, the town was governed by a Master and the free burgesses (or Commonalty or Common Council). The charter of King John in 1201 recognised Wells as a free borough or city and is of fundamental importance to the establishment of its civil liberties and customs. It survives as a precious reminder of how this particular mid-Somerset town achieved its independence notwithstanding its bishops, who for over four centuries shaped and controlled it as feudal lords.
In 1589, Wells was granted its great charter of incorporation by Queen Elizabeth I, and the Corporation was constituted. It comprised a mayor, 7 other masters (from the 7 main guilds of the borough), and 16 capital burgesses or councillors: 24 in all.
Nowadays Wells City Council has a mayor, who is elected each year by the Council rather than by the people of Wells, and 16 councillors, who are elected every four years.
The photograph shows Wells City Council outside the Town Hall on Coronation Day, 1911. The councillors and most officers are sporting civic insignia, except that some are holding top hats rather than bicorn hats. The Mayor sits in the centre of the front row, wearing his chain of office, and the Town Clerk is to his left on the central row. The two Sergeants-at-Mace are standing behind the Mayor, the Town Crier is at the right-hand end of the middle row, and the man who is third from the left on the back row is the intriguingly named Inspector of Nuisances
Wells City Council outside the Town Hall on Coronation Day, 1911
© Wells City Archives