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Old buildings

Old buildings – the birth of the Swan

Many thanks to all those of you who took the time to read my very first blog. It’s flattering to know that old buildings such as me can capture the imagination of a completely different generation (or as trendy marketers might say, “connect with the youth”. In my case this is anyone still registering a pulse…)

As I mentioned before, the current General Manager is trying to find my official birth certificate, but when you’re dealing with someone as ancient as me official records are sketchy. (Very old buildings like to keep their age a secret.) So, while the team here search for the proverbial needle in a haystack, I’d like to recount a story (could be true, my memory isn’t what it used to be…) regarding the origin of my name. The story begins before even I was born and involves a man by the name of John de Villula or John of Tours.

Old buildings – I predict a riot…

Saxon Bath in 1088 was a little feisty. Many people (particularly Robert de Mowbray the Earl of Northumbria, his uncle Geoffrey, and the Duke of Normandy) were very unhappy about the accession to the throne of William Rufus, so they set about burning and pillaging the place. However, the rebellion was short-lived and Rufus was not to be denied. (Robert managed to wangle a pardon from the King, so things didn’t work out too badly for him.)

On assuming the throne one of William’s acts was to appoint our man John de Villula as Bishop of Wells. Bishop John (as he was now called) was subsequently granted Bath Abbey and all its endowments. Unfortunately for John, this wasn’t as grand as it sounded. The uprising had taken a heavy toll and the gift was actually pretty worthless (how much value can you place on a ruined church and devastated assets…) But this gift had another consequence; transferring the bishopric to Bath from Wells. This act raised the rank of Bath church to that of cathedral church, which had significant repercussions for the monks of Bath and the canons of Wells – neither of whom were consulted. V upsetting for those guys!

Old buildings – I’m christened

This scene setting is all very well I hear you cry, but what about my ‘christening’?! Well, Bishop John paid great attention to the numerous pilgrims who visited old buildings like Wells Cathedral. Many would travel from far and wide and were obviously in need of food and a place to rest their weary heads. In Bishop John’s opinion, the lodgings of the day left a great deal to be desired, (no AA inspectors or TripAdvisor reviews to worry about then) and most of the pilgrims had to contend with very poor conditions. His solution? Simple; build a hostelry for them. (You can tell where this is heading I bet.)

In the late Middle Ages, badges worn on clothing were commonplace and the more important the person, the grander the badge. Many of the rich and famous of the day (the noble family of De Bohun, Earls of Hereford and Earls of Essex) all had badges which contained a swan. You can see the magnificent Dunstable Swan (from around 1400) at my dear friend, (I hate to name drop old buildings) The British Museum.

Well, it’s rumoured that Bishop John also had a badge which contained a swan, so new hostelry, badge with swan – put the two together and hey presto! I was born (allegedly).

I’ll be back with another story soon…