Nottingham’s slightly eccentric natural history museum is housed in this magnificently palatial 16th-century home, which starred as Wayne Manor in the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Built in 1580 for a family of wealthy mine owners, Wollaton Hall was originally conceived as a showy rural estate. Since the industrial revolution, this great house, with its beautifully landscaped park and free range herd of suburban deer, has been slowly enveloped by the expanding city.
Considered one of the finest, ground-breaking pieces of Elizabethan architecture, the house was loosely modeled on a Renaissance villa near Naples, Italy. It was family-owned by the Willoughby family until the 1880s, when the growth of industrial-era Nottingham inspired the Willoughbys to seek a less smoky homestead.
Having been absent for 45 years, the family eventually sold the hall to Nottingham City Council in 1925, and it was promptly adapted to become a natural history museum. Upon discovering that the hall’s grand atrium was just the right height to accommodate a recently acquired stuffed giraffe, the new owners crammed the grand manor with a taxidermic menagerie.
Current exhibits in the once-opulent Elizabethan hall include a functioning beehive, an abundance of fossils, rocks and minerals, a herbarium, and a colony of live giant ants. Taxidermy enthusiasts needn’t despair, as the macabre collection persists. The hall boasts an unlikely taxidermist mockup of an African Savannah watering hole inside an ornate Elizabethan chamber, and a venerable 140-year-old stuffed gorilla called George. George was one of the earliest gorilla specimens to arrive in Europe, and his exaggeratedly aggressive pose has been terrifying the children of Nottingham for generations.
In 2011, Wollaton Hall was used as a filming location, doubling as Wayne Manor in the Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. The grand house is just five miles north of the original Gotham, the Nottinghamshire village that gave its name to the fictional city in the Batman universe. Whether the decision to shoot at Wollaton was as a nod to that local link or simply because the stunning mansion happened to fit the filmmaker’s aesthetic criteria is not certain.
In addition to the natural history museum, the historic house contains a 17th-century pipe organ, and its stables house the city’s Industrial Museum.
Know Before You Go
The Hall, museums and attractive deer park are owned by the City Council and are free to enter. The park is very popular in winter, as the steep slope upon which the house stands is Nottingham's favourite sleigh riding hill.