Saturday, August 16, 2008

Wells, Somerset

I have lived in houses with mice, watched swallows nest under neighbours’ eaves, and fretted about martens in roof spaces. I’ve found wasps’ nests in attics, heard tales of badgers undermining foundations, and once lived in a house where there was a fox’s earth beneath the garden shed. In a country house I’ve visited, bats (members of a protected species) fluttered around the upper floors, the owners nonchalantly ignoring the daily fly-past.

Animals have a way of colonizing our spaces. We’re not always pleased about this of course. Few of us take kindly to the common furniture beetle or his other timber-destroying cousins. And some owners of buildings go to great lengths to prevent birds landing on ledges and dropping droppings on the masonry. But there are more benign animal visitors to our buildings. Take the bishop’s palace at Wells. Perhaps the most outstanding bishop’s residence in England, it dates from the 13th century, and is surrounded by a set of outer walls from the 14th century that are in turn surrounded by a moat fed by one of the wells of Wells, around the back. This moat is remarkable for its occupants, for swans have lived here for many long generations. The current pair have managed to produce a very healthy family of eight cygnets this year, and they have gathered by the gatehouse bridge because someone, just out of shot, has begun to throw bits of bread into the water for them to eat.

This bounty means that these elegant creatures are not doing what Wells swans are supposed to do. Around the corner there is a metal chain attached to the palace wall, its lower end comfortably within beak’s range. At the other end of the chain is a bell. The swans of Wells know if they ring this bell someone will be summoned, bearing swan-food. Bell ringing. It’s hungry work, as any campanologist will tell you.

The bell-ringer at work


Peter Ashley said...

That film is amazing, thankyou. It reminds me of one of our local pubs where if I ring a big bell on the bar a very pretty girl runs in from the back and pours me out a pint of Abbot.

Philip Wilkinson said...

I was thinking of installing a bell that would ring in the local wine merchant's, but the proprietor has disappeared and the place now seems to have become a doll's hospital. The place is going to the dogs, or the dolls.