Posted: 12.06.19 at 17:09 by Tim Lethaby
Think of Wells and what comes to mind? The cathedral? The Bishop’s Palace? Maybe even Hot Fuzz?
However, the city is now becoming famous for its white feathered friends on the palace moat – the swans.
The two new Bishop’s Palace swans, Grace and Gabriel, have become quite the celebrities since arriving earlier this year, and it is the job of Moira Anderson, the palace’s office administrator, to feed them and attempt to train them in the tradition of them ringing the bell to be fed.
As Moira explains, this has not been an easy task: “Despite our best efforts, Gabriel just is not interested – he leaves the work to Grace.
“Luckily, after a few days of training with us ringing the bell and then feeding her, she grasped the idea and now is doing it more often.”
Swans have been recorded on the moat since the mid-1800s where the local paper reports a group of “wanton boys” being cruel to the swans on the moat.
The novel trick of the swans ringing the bell started in the late 1800s. The daughter of the Bishop of Bath and Wells started training them to ring a bell at the palace to make sure they got their food.
It is unsure whether it was the daughter of Bishop Hervey or Bishop Auckland who started the tradition as new evidence has come to light to suggest that it could have been either of them – or just of likely, both.
I met Moira for a coffee at the palace last week to talk about her intriguing role and to also see the swans in action.
So, do you think they performed perfectly for the occasion? Of course not – Grace was enjoying the sun on the moat bank, while Gabriel rightly stayed sat atop their four eggs, which Moira hopes will hatch into cygnets in mid-July.
South Wales Animal Rescue found the two perfect swans for the palace, once they no longer had their previous incumbents Bryn and Wyn, in Droitwich of all places.
Moira said: “The pair settled in really well, though, and were doing their swan love dance on just their second day here, hence the cygnets on the way.”
Moira says Grace and Gabriel are a lot calmer than Bryn and Wyn, though she is not sure how old they are.
“They are definitely a younger pair, but Gabriel is still about five feet tall when he stands up fully,” she said.
The palace employs more than 30 people and is helped by more than 220 volunteers, but Moira says her role is unique.
“I sort out group bookings, do administration on membership, and also get to work with swans – it’s amazing,” she said.
With the various film and TV film crews who visit the palace, Moira has met a number of famous faces from Aidan Turner (“I’m not actually a huge fan of Poldark, I’m afraid to say!”) to Clare from Steps, but she says the biggest celebrity at the palace remains Maisie the cat.
She said: “Maisie has been known to stop play on the croquet lawn, and she even has her own line in the budget spreadsheet!”
So, it does seem that Moira’s job is unique and is it clear from hearing her talk about it, that she truly loves what she does.
“I have been here eight years, and it’s great,” she said. “I mean, who else gets to walk across a drawbridge every day going to their office?”