Wollaton Hall and park in the suburbs of Nottingham is a whole manner of interests rolled into one, A grand Elizabethan mansion built in 1580 – 1588 by Sir Francis Willoughby, it’s a sprawling five-hundred-acre deer park with beautiful tree lined lake, an industrial museum with examples of the local industries and a steam pump that can be seen working on occasions. Wollaton Hall is currently the Nottingham Natural History Museum and has a wide range of educational and interactive natural history displays.
The Hall History
Where to begin is the question. Wollaton Hall was designed by Robert Smythson of Ancaster stone from Lincolnshire and some say funded by profits from the Wollaton coal pits, also owned by Sir Francis Willoughby, contains Nottingham’s oldest pipe organ in the gallery of the main hall. Cassandra Willoughby, Duchess of Chandos had some of the masonry and stone carvings brought from Italy in 1702, such as the gondola mooring rings and other decorative architectural carvings that can be seen adorning the grade 1 listed hall.
Wayne Manor and Gotham
In recent times Wollaton Hall has been used as a filming location for the 2012 Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises,” Wollaton Hall was used as the Wayne Manor, I feel this was a perfect location for Batman’s home since the hall surprisingly has caves beneath it.
The caves and the admirals bath can be toured if you’re interested. Another fact about the relevance of Wollaton Hall being the home of Batman is that Gotham is just 5 miles North of Wollaton hall and is where Gotham City got its name.
Following on from Batman, heroes and legends etc.…there have been many explorers in the Willoughby family but probably the most famous was Sir Hugh Willoughby who attempted the North-East Passage to Cathay in the Arctic and died in 1554 during his attempt.
In 1940 Wollaton Hall opened its doors to well over 1000 soldiers rescued from the Dunkirk beaches, exhausted and in need of respite. Later in March 1944 over 2000 American soldiers arrived at Wollaton park, they lived in a kind of tent city within the grounds, the 82nd Airborne 508 Parachute Infantry Regiment made this their base.
2,056 Gi’s left for Normandy and 1,061 were casualties including 307 killed in action. As you can see Wollaton park has had its many rolls to play in history.
The botanic garden is a small walled garden which is also part of the courtyard and is developed and run by volunteers from the Nottingham branch of the Hardy Plant Society since the early 80’s and funded by plant sales. The main gardens adjacent to Wollaton hall are formal gardens that boasts a beautiful camellia house that has recently been renovated, the steel house is the oldest in Europe and contains some impressive 50-year-old camellias.
Admission to the hall, park and gardens is free, though there is a charge for parking. Throughout the year Wollaton park holds a multitude of events ranging from the Splendor music festival, outdoor cinema evenings, vintage car and motorcycle events, charity runs and dog walks, not forgetting food and drink festivals too!
I love to visit for the pure beauty of the parkland, to watch the deer and squirrels who can be quite entertaining at times. A stroll around the lake is so relaxing and to finish the visit of course a mug of frothy coffee at the café and maybe a batman gift from the gift shop. The gift shop is in the building which used to be home to the Nottinghamshire mounted police horses, now a great place to browse for a gift or an ice-cream, my choice is as always, an ice cream!
To me it’s a haven on my doorstep, somewhere to walk, somewhere to picnic and if I want to, just find a quiet spot to linger with a book and just relax. A visit to the hall itself is always enjoyable especially with the kids and never fails to leave us wanting to return.
Nottingham Industrial Museum
In the stables block of Wollaton Hall is the Nottingham Industrial Museum. This place takes me back to my childhood, it brings back all the lovely memories of visiting with my mum and brother, we’d always had an interest in all things mechanical, trains, steam engines, motorbikes etc.
The local industries on display at the museum range from Lace making and textiles, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, clock making, iron works, printing, railways, motorcycles, bicycles and so much more. Working examples of steam engines full sized and models plus the Basford Beam engine can be seen steaming on the last Sunday of the month. Nottingham industrial museum is run entirely by volunteers and is open on weekends and bank holidays.
Years on from my childhood favourite exhibitions, the steam engines and such, I now find the examples of local industries at Nottingham industrial museum just as interesting as I realize the links within my own family history. My dad, Jerry, worked in the telecommunications industry locally. My mum Joy, worked at the local Boots factory site for some time as did I when I left school, I worked full time at Boots head office until I trained as a sewing machinist making lingerie. My uncle Jimmy was a clock and watch maker in Nottingham.
As you enter through the main entrance of Nottingham industrial Museum and walk to your right you will enter into the transport display, the first and very commanding display is of a 17th century carriage which was once owned by the Baskerville family of South West England. The carriage is probably my favourite piece of the transport display due to its grandeur and pure size, so dominating as you step inside and conjuring the imagination.
The Steam gallery and the giant beam engine are an absolute delight to visit, the Basford beam engine is very impressive even when it’s not in steam, but to see in full working conditions as I said before, visit on the last Sunday of the month, you will absolutely not be disappointed.
The Basford Beam engine was one of a pair built in 1858 in Newcastle Upon Tyne and was installed at Basford pumping station to lift water 110ft from the sandstone below to supply the City of Nottingham with fresh water. The engine was replaced in 1965 and removed to the purpose-built gallery where it can now be viewed in steam once a month.
In the gallery, there is a working telephone exchange where you can make and receive calls to one another and watch the exchange components whir to connect you. I love the old retro telephones there that remind me of the ones we once used, the rotary dials! Remember those?
As well as the giants in the gallery I also love the miniatures, the steam models on display, now running with the use of compressed air due to health and safety, but still such fun to watch them whirring and humming into action. My brother Jeremy used to have a model steam engine, we had so much fun with it as kids, I guess it’s probably in my shed all these years later.
Morse Code Transmitter
we enjoyed using the Morse code transmitter on our visit, what an eye opener, this is a fully working replica of the Morse code transmitter used on the Titanic in 1912 to transmit the distress signal.
This is one of the messages sent. ‘CQD CQD SOS de MGY. Position 41.44N 50.24W. Require immediate assistance. Come at once. We have struck an iceberg. Sinking. We are putting the women off on boats.’
Café in the Courtyard & The Potting Shed
The 17th century courtyard and former stables has a lot to offer including not only another gift shop and visitor centre that sells beautiful gifts, ice-creams and stunning prints of the local wildlife but also the yard gallery which can be hired for exhibitions. The local wildlife exhibition is fascinating and can be accessed through the shop, a lovely little area giving examples of wildlife and educational fact finding. Also in this area is the memorial to the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment with a full roll of honor.
We had popped into the gift shop to buy ice-cream and some duck food. I usually bring some mixed corn or similar for feeding the ducks because bread is quite harmful to ducks and should never be fed to them. I’d forgotten to bring some of my hen’s corn feed along with me but was so glad the shop supplied little pots of duck feed for just £1.
There’s a delicious variety of teas, coffees, cold drinks and foods available at the Café in the Courtyard the choice is yours and location is fabulous.
On another visit we decided to order a pot of earl grey tea for my son, Jonathan, a couple of creamy lattes for my daughter Jemma and myself plus a share sized bag of lemon and chili humus crisps, very flavorsome too I can tell you, just perfect after our wander around the lake, park and gardens. We visited midweek on this occasion but it’s a great spot to visit at any time, especially if you happen to have young ones in tow, you might be ready for a battery recharge after they’ve had fun at the new kids play area.
Another surprise you’ll find hiding away in this quaint courtyard is the Potting Shed, a real gem of a shop not only for gardeners but for those looking for a unique gift. I’ve spotted some lovely gifts here which I’ll be back to purchase very soon. There’s a wide variety of seeds, bedding plants and decorative garden items too. You can’t possibly visit Wollaton Hall and deer park without spending some time here in the courtyard, the Potting Shed has lots to offer including bird nesting boxes, wild bird seed, cards, pots and bulbs.
The Deer Park
Of course there is the deer park itself to explore again.
Through the beautifully kept gardens at the rear and down hill to the lake again, we couldn’t help taking the longer route around the lake, I love the peaceful atmosphere here, then we stopped briefly to watch the majestic stags in the deer park.
Please do make time for a meander through the gardens and a wander, or a jog around the beautiful lake or go deer spotting in the park. Young Kids may want an hour at the play park too just for good measure, so I’d be ready for a full day out and make some amazing memories!
Feeling at ease and totally recharged we headed out of the park, but I can’t wait to return, there’s always more to do here, I’m sure it’s not possible to experience all there is in just one day and one article is not sufficient to tell the whole tale. A Location to relax, to learn and have fun.