Writer charmed by the swans of Wells
HV Morton was a pioneering journalist and travel writer who famous for his books on the Holy Land and his writings for the Daily Express and Evening Standard.
He achieved worldwide fame for his newspaper reports on the opening of the tomb of Tutenkhaman by Howard Carter.
In 1933 he wrote "Glastonbury: the Jerusalem of England" and while visiting the area to research his book he paid a visit to Wells and wrote a piece for the Daily Express about the swans of Wells which was reprinted in the Wells Journal in May 1931:
"What a thrill there is in Wells. How can I describe to you the whisper of the water that runs in the gutters musically tinkling past the steps of the old houses?
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"It is genuinely medieval with no self-consciousness and no abasement to the tourist.
"Behind the stout wall which runs around the cathedral is something you will see nowhere else in England – an inhabited medieval castle complete with fortifications and moat.
"In this marvellous place lives the Bishop of Bath and Wells.
"I sat on the grass beside the moat watching his Lordship's ducks and swans.
"They have hatched the most delightful fluffy families. I saw a swan swim up and ring the bell of the gatehouse. I rubbed my eyes. Was this a fairy tale?
"I looked at the white bird half expecting he might turn into a prince in white satin breeches. He did it again!
"He took up the string that lay in the water and pulled it!
"A bell beneath the window of the gatehouse tinkled, the window opened, a crust of bread flew through the air and hit the swan on the head.
"He worried it under the water, summoned his family to him, rang the bell again and more food arrived.
"I walked over the drawbridge and took the brass knocker in my hand. A small postern opened.
"'Whenever the swans are hungry they ring the bell,' explained a girl.
"'We never disappoint them. We keep a tray of food always ready to throw out when they ask for it. They teach the cygnets to ring too!'
"I returned to the grass of the moat watching again as the birds rang for food.
"The cathedral bells chimed a quarter. The sun was mellow over the ancient walls. I could see the fortifications of the Bishop's Palace bending around the bastions fitted with sentry walks and slits for bowman. What a place to live in."
The intense charm of this piece of writing and the astonishment with which Mr Morton writes on seeing the swans of Wells, from a man who was there at the opening of the tomb of Tutenkhaman, one of the wonders of the age, makes a Wellensian more appreciate one of the wonders of Wells.