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The Wise Men of Gotham – The story behind the real Nottinghamshire village of Gotham

Tijana Radeska
Gotham
Gotham

Gotham is now a friendly village popular with families, but a few hundred years ago its residents had a reputation for “madness”.

At 2014, the Gotham sign had been stolen three times in four years by Batman fans

At 2014, the Gotham sign had been stolen three times in four years by Batman fans. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Wise is perhaps not the correct word to use … a better description would appear to be ‘The clever and cunning men of Gotham’. It seems that in the 13th century King John decided to build a hunting lodge in the Nottinghamshire village of Gotham. The men of the village were not pleased as it would mean giving up a considerable part of their land. The men had a dilemma, should they object strongly to the king’s officials, or try to persuade them that it would be better if the king hunted elsewhere. It was decided that the king would not be influenced by an objection, so they opted to deter the king by feigning madness instead.

Cuckoo Bush Mound is the alleged site for the tale of the Wise Men of Gotham's attempt at fencing in the cuckoo, but is actually a Neolithic burial mound. It is about three thousand years old and was excavated in 1847

Cuckoo Bush Mound is the alleged site for the tale of the Wise Men of Gotham’s attempt at fencing in the cuckoo but is actually a Neolithic burial mound. It is about three thousand years old and was excavated in 1847. Wikipedia/Public Domain

When the king’s messengers rode into the village they were met by some bizarre sights, so much so that they quickly returned to the king to warn him to go elsewhere as Gotham was filled with madmen. Madness was believed at the time to be highly contagious, and when King John’s knights saw the villagers behaving as if insane, the knights swiftly withdrew and the King’s road was re-routed to avoid the village. One of the mad deeds seen by the knights was a group of villagers fencing off a small tree to keep a cuckoo captive from the Sheriff of Nottingham. The trick worked, leading to the saying: “There are more fools pass through Gotham than remain in it.” Villagers were also dubbed the Wise Men of Gotham. One of the three pubs in the village is known as the “Cuckoo Bush Inn”.

The Cuckoo Bush Inn

The Cuckoo Bush Inn, By Andy Jamieson

Other antics include a man who apparently saw the moon’s reflection disappear from the village pond as his horse was drinking from it. Declaring that his horse had swallowed it he promptly picked up his sword and chopped the horse in two to release the moon. Just then the cloud which had been obscuring the moon moved and miraculously it reappeared in the night sky.

Winter in Gotham

Winter in Gotham By Alan Murray-Rust

When an eel ate all the fish in the village fishpond, the villagers took great pains to capture it and when they eventually did, they threw it back into the water to drown it; The village blacksmith solved the problem of a wasps nest in the thatch of his roof by setting fire to it. A little extreme perhaps… the smithy burnt to the ground!
The logic also appeared a little hazy when a farmer rode into the village and explained that he was holding the two bushels of wheat as they were too heavy for his horse carry.

Needless to say, neither King John nor his men ever returned to Gotham.

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