If a guest fails to pass the decanter on to his or her neighbour, it will come to a standstill.
This usually happens because a guest does not notice that the decanter is there, does not realise that they should pass it on or, more rarely, hopes that no one will notice so that they can have a second glass.
Guests waiting further down the table for the decanter to arrive may become impatient. However, it is considered bad form to demand that the decanter be passed on. Instead, the person who is preventing the decanter from continuing its journey round the table is asked politely ‘Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?’ This is a gentle reminder to get the decanter moving again. If the meaning does not sink in, the less subtle alternative ‘Is your passport in order?’ may be used.
The origin of ‘Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?’ is attributed to Henry Bathurst who was Bishop of Norwich from 1805 to 1837. Bishop Bathurst lived to the age of 93 by which time his eyesight was deteriorating and he had developed a tendency to fall asleep at the table towards the end of the meal. As result he often failed to pass on the Port decanters several of which would accumulate by his right elbow to the consternation of those seated further up the table. A bon vivant said to possess a prodigious capacity for wine consumption, he was sometimes suspected of using these frailties to his advantage.
Some authorities claim that that ‘Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?’ originated with John Sheepshanks, who was Bishop of Norwich from 1893 to 1910, and although Bishop Bathurst would seem the most plausible source of the tradition it appears that Bishop Sheepshanks did his best to perpetuate it. A portrait of Bishop Sheepshanks, kindly donated by his grand-daughter, hangs on the wall at Taylor Fladgate’s Quinta de Vargellas as an encouragement to guests to pass the Port.