Wells Voice Newsletter June 2021

Last year a robin nested in my garden shed - a common enough occurrence and replicated in countless forms and places every springtime. Each garden, so they say, has its very own robin and each garden has its own robin story. Whether you are grubbing around or out for a walk it is a bird that seems to stop you short and command attention. Leafing through an old Victorian set of bird books by the Reverend F.O. Morris published in 1860, I came across anecdotes and reports on robins sent in to Morris by his friends and fellow naturalists from which the following are drawn.

Mr. Jesse gives an account of a robin building its nest in a myrtle bush which had its place in the front hall of a large house in Hampshire. This did not prove popular among the residents and instructions were given for its removal. Undeterred, the bird eyed up a cornice in the drawing room and started building there, thus bringing more disapproval and objection. Again the offending nest was disposed of. Even for a third time this pair were not going to be easily thwarted and soon discovered a brand new gentleman's shoe on a shelf in the same room. Here nest construction was permitted to continue, until of course the shoe would be required for use when the nest was carefully transposed to an old shoe lined with oak leaves and placed in position. Truce was declared, harmony restored, windows left ajar, eggs hatched and young raised. The old domesticated birds became very friendly with the owners. 

The same correspondent gives an account of a friend in Surrey in 1850 who was due to relocate to Worthing. A waggon was loaded but since there was a delay in departure it was housed in an open barn. While it was there, a pair of robins nested in the straw and hatched their eggs just at the moment when the removal began towards the south coast. As the waggon trundled down the highways one robin stuck tight to the brood and belted off into the hedgerows and back to the nest to feed the hungry mouths. And back again home as the driver took care not to disturb this welfare, a distance of over 100 miles.

Now a bit of history: William IV had part of the mizzen mast from the Victory standing in his garden when he lived in Bushy Park in London. As history this bit of timber was significant, enhanced by the story that Nelson himself was standing next to it when mortally wounded. Added to this is the hole left by a shot passing straight through the mast. Finally as a fly on extra in the drama along comes a robin and builds a nest and rears its young in the middle of Nelson's mizzen mast. Eventually the mast was brought indoors and ended up in the Armoury at Windsor Castle. A modern postscript to this anecdote is a very recent report that this mast is now on display at HMS Victory Portsmouth.

All this underlines the fact that gardens are now open and the Gardening Club will be starting to visit local ones and each others gardens too!  Pip