Wednesday, 20 November 2013


The swan’s bell


A small bell, with a rope hanging from it, hangs below the gatehouse window of the Bishop’s Palace in Wells, Somerset.   Swans on the moat actually ring this bell when they want to be fed!    This custom goes back to 1869 when the then Bishop’s daughter taught the swans to ring the bell.

Swan bell



The duck tree


In 1601 a duck flew into a tree outside the Devonshire Arms in the tiny village of Sheldon in Derbyshire and disappeared – or so the story goes.  Apparently, when the tree was felled many years later and sawn into planks, the outline of a duck could plainly be seen in the wood.

The Drunken Duck


Formerly the Barngate Inn near to the village of Outgate just north of Hawkshead in Cumbria, The Drunken Duck Inn obviously has a story to tell.   Apparently a Victorian landlady found her six ducks lying ‘dead’ outside and she started to pluck them ready for the oven.  However,. She soon found that they were not dead – they were drunk!   It seems that a barrel of beer in the cellar had leaked into the duck’s feeding ditch!   The distraught lady, it is said, knitted woollen jackets for the ducks until their feathers grew again!

 The Drunken Duck

Walking Geese
Lowick is situated south of Lake Coniston in The Lake District around the A5084 road. A story is told of an early 'cottage industry' where a Lowick family had no land but enjoyed common rights to breed geese. When the geese were ready for market they had their feet tarred and were then 'walked' some 20 miles to the Martinmas Fair at Kendal.When the geese were sold, the family returned home laden with whalebone which they made into corsets for re-sale. A very enterprising family.
Lowick from coach window
The humble turkey
Boynton Hall in the tiny wolds village of Boynton in East Yorkshire, is the ancestral home of the Strickland family.  William Strickland travelled to the Americas in the mid 1500’s and when he returned to England he brought with him the humble turkey which he had discovered on his travels in the new world.  Needless to say, he became a very rich man and in 1550 he was granted a crest for a family coat of arms – ‘ A turkey in its proper pride, beaked, membered, sable coated and wattled gules.’ 
In the village church at Boynton, Strickland family memorials are surmounted by turkeys and indeed the lecturn is a turkey carved in wood.
 The humble turkey

The robin’s nests
A robin, perched on a plaque at the side of the altar in the church at Wimbourne-St-Giles in Dorset, recalls a series of curious events.   The plaque reads :
Here while the respond to the arcade of AD 1887 was building, a robin nested.
Again during the building of a new arcade after the fire of 1908.”
Apparently the first family of robins nested near the altar during roof repairs in 1887.  Robins were sacred birds with the blood of Christ on their breasts and their arrival was a good omen.   When the fledglings had left the nest, the nest was put into a jar and built into the wall with an account of the event.    Amazingly 20 years later, when the church was badly damaged by fire, a pair of robins again nested in the same spot.  Once again the nest was built into the wall and it was then that the details of the first nest were revealed.
Wimborne St Giles church

The cuckoo bush


One may wonder at the origins of The Cuckoo Bush Inn in the village of Gotham in Nottinghamshire.   It actually relates to the 16th century ‘ Merrie Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham,’  which relates the tales of a crazy group who built a hedge around a cuckoo in a bush to keep it and spring all the year round.  They also tried to drown an eel, put a cart on top of a barn to protect the roof from the sun and burned down a forge to get rid of a wasps nest.  Although referred to as ‘mad men’, their antics may have been designed to deter King John from building a hunting lodge in the middle of such a crazy village!


The cuckoo legend


Years ago the people of Marsden, a small Pennine town near Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, also had trouble with a cuckoo!   They were aware that its arrival heralded spring and sunshine, so they tried to prolong its stay by building a wall round it!  Unfortunately the wall wasn’t high enough – ‘ It were nobbut one course too low!’  And so the cuckoo legend was started and is now celebrated on Cuckoo Day in Marsden at the end of April.   This is when the inhabitants of the town let their hair down with a cuckoo walk, cuckoo quiz, cuckoo parade and a cuckoo ball.

Polly the parrot
Arlington Court in Devon belonged to the Chichester family for over 500 years and the house and estate was bequeathed to the National Trust by Miss Rosalie Chichester on her death in 1949 – she had lived there for 84 years.   For 46 years, Miss Chichester’s constant companion  was her pet parrot Polly, who was allowed to fly freely in the White Drawing Room where Miss Chichester spent much of her time.   When Polly died she was buried in the grounds where a memorial stone marks her grave.   It reads :
An Amazon parrot
Died April 24th 1919
Having lived at
Arlington Court
For 46 years.
Polly's grave 

The Lyver Bird
The bird on the Liverpool coat of arms is certainly a mythical bird and it is a bit of a mystery how it got its name – the Lyver Bird.   It is said that the artist intended it to be an eagle but managed to get it quite wrong.   A closer look at the bird shows it has something in its beak – maybe seaweed – laver being any edible seaweed.   Some say that is how the bird and the city got its name.

The Lyver Bird


Seagulls are very much part of the British seaside scene and mostly nest on nearby cliff faces.   However in recent years many of these birds have preferred to build their nests on buildings, much to the consternation of the occupants, presenting an ongoing environmental problem.

Kittiwake Colony
A colony of Kittiwakes nest on bridge and building ledges on the Tyneside quay at Newcastle and Gateshead and are now a unique attraction but also somewhat of a pest due to extensive droppings.  It is the most inland breeding colony anywhere in the world.

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