Tuesday, 12 January 2016

BATMAN: THE NOTTINGHAMSHIRE CONNECTION



The Dark Knight Rises, the final film in the Batman trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan, stars Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, the billionaire CEO of Wayne Enterprises, whose alter ego spends his time out and about fighting crime dressed in a bat suit, in a bid to avenge the brutal murder of his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, when he was a young boy.  The ancestral home of the Wayne family is Wayne Manor, and the exterior of the manor is magnificently depicted in The Dark Knight Rises by the16th century Elizabethan mansion in the suburbs of Nottingham known in real life as Wollaton Hall (the interior scenes were shot at Osterley Park House near London).  In summer 2011 the cast and crew of the film descended on Wollaton Hall along with Bruce Wayne’s Lamborghini Aventador for the exterior shots.  Apparently they left their mark while there: a production truck accidentally backed into an ancient wall and demolished it.   

The Hall was built in the 1580s by Sir Francis Willoughby, and as well as the mansion includes extensive grounds with a deer park and a botanic garden.  The house itself now houses the city’s Natural History Museum, as well as the Industrial Museum, the Yard Gallery and some reconstructed room settings.  Tours of the Hall are available for £5, otherwise admission is free plus parking charges.  Not surprisingly, since the release of the film the Hall has experienced an upturn in visitors, especially foreign tourists.

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Wollaton Hall. Photo by Lee Haywood, via Wikimedia Commons

But Wollaton Hall is not the only place in Nottinghamshire associated with Batman.  There is a village in the county called Gotham which indirectly provided the inspiration for the sprawling metropolis in the Batman stories known as Gotham City, which is generally accepted as representing New Jersey in real life.  The story goes that several centuries ago the Gotham villagers acquired a reputation for madness when King John was due to pass through the village.  According to tradition, any road the King travelled on would become a public highway, so the villagers feigned insanity to deter the King. The antics of the villagers were chronicled in various books including The Merie Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham, published in 1565.  The American author Washington Irving got wind of this story and took to referring to Manhattan as Gotham when writing satirical pieces about New Yorkers, and this eventually led to the writer of the Batman stories adopting the name.

Today, all such tomfoolery has been forgotten and the village is a sleepy little spot 2 miles south of the River Trent surrounded by low wooded hills.  However, the village clings proudly to its past and the link to Batman, and in 2013 a sculpture in the form of a weather vane was unveiled representing some of the legends of Gotham which features Batman climbing up the side.  Inevitably, the connection to the Batman stories, comics and films has had side effects, not all of them good.  In 2014 the village sign was stolen, presumably by a dedicated Batman fan.  Last year, however, the village sought to gain some benefit from its fame by urging Batman fans to help save a Royal British Legion building in the village which had fallen on hard times.  Also last year, Gotham Parish Council arranged for Batman and Robin to turn on the village Christmas lights in a bid to raise enough money for vital repairs to the historic Well House, a focal point for the local community. 

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Gotham Legends weather vane. Photo by Palmiped, via Wikimedia Commons

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