Our wonderful libraries and heritage attractions in Nottinghamshire are hosting a multitude of events to keep you occupied this June. Check some of them out below:

Saturday 1st June: Head to Bassetlaw Museum with your historical or archaeological items to be identified and recorded by our fantastic Finds Liaison Officer for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. This event is free, but booking is required. Book your appointment here.

Wednesday 5th June: Launching on Wednesday is a 5-week beginners’ course on family history which will introduce you to the main types of records available for your research. You will discover where to locate family history documents and online information, as well as developing your research skills to help you make sense of what you find. The course costs £36 and sessions will take place at the Retford Library. For more course information and booking details, visit the event page here.

Saturday 8th June: Join King Henry VIII at Southwell Minster for a lively evening where His Majesty will recount the events of his long reign; telling of his wives and his children and will invite you to petition him or question him on any related subject. Tickets cost £17.61 per person and are available online here or through the Cathedral shop (in person or 01636 812933).

Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th June: Sherwood Forest is hosting an amazing War of the Roses re-enactment weekend. Re-enactment groups from both sides will set up their camps across the events green giving you the opportunity to get up close and personal to some real-life living history. There will be medieval cooking, weaving, spinning and armour and weapons on display. Also, with a range of talks, shows and skirmishes available throughout the day, you will be sure to be properly entertained. This event is free admission, but activities vary. For the event itinerary and more information, visit the event page here.

Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th June: Come and see a historical re-enactment of Georgian and Victorian bare knuckle prize fighting and learn all about the sport at the Southwell Workhouse and Infirmary. This event is free (admission to the site still applies) and booking is not required. Visit here for the event information.

Photograph of Southwell Workhouse

Above: Southwell Workhouse.

Tuesday 18th June: Archaeologist and author James Wright will be speaking about his new book Historic Building Myth-busting at Mansfield Central Library. Secret passages linking ancient buildings, spiral staircases giving advantage to right-handed defenders, ship timbers used for building, or blocked doors in churches to keep out the devil, James will explain the development of such myths and the underlying truths behind them. Tickets are £3 per person. Book your place here.

Wednesday 19th June: Join one of the Inspire librarians for a small group session to talk about the history of Nottinghamshire's parish registers and look at some of the fascinating stories they contain at Worksop Library. This event is free. Book your place here.

Wednesday 19th June: Djanogly Gallery, part of the University of Nottingham, is hosting a wonderful talk called ‘Cultural Nexus: Engaging Community through Museums, Archives, Curation, and Repatriation’. The presentation centres on the work of Roshan Mishra (Director of Taragaon Next and a Kathmandu-based visual artist) in the field of museums, archives, curation, and repatriation in Nepal. It examines the importance of these activities, their impact, and community engagement. Roshan will illuminate the dynamic ways these cultural pillars intertwine, fostering understanding, preservation, and a shared connection to our diverse heritage. This talk is free and can also be viewed online. Book your place here.

Thursday 27th June: To mark the 200th anniversary of Byron’s death, the University of Nottingham is providing a lecture on different elements of his life and work. This lecture will include several speakers will present different viewpoints and perspectives on the life and legacy of Lord Byron, followed by a question-and-answer session. Tickets cost £3 per person. Book your place here.

Portrait of Lord Byron

Above: Portrait of Lord Byron. By Thomas Phillips - BBC Your Paintings, Public Domain. 

This wonderful addition comes from our Summer 2009 Newsletter:

‘Three wise men of Gotham

Went to sea in a bowl;

And if the bowl had been stronger,

My song would have been longer’


Around the year 1540, an amusing collection of twenty stories were published entitled ‘Certaine Merry Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham’. This book was written by the mysterious ‘A.B. of Phisicke Doctor’.

The pseudonym A.B. was supposed to represent Andrew Borde, an eminent physician and writer who among other things was famous for his wit. In all probability, this was merely a play by the publishers to make people believe that Borde was indeed the author. Interestingly, Borde never denied involvement in the publication.

In subsequent editions, the word ‘mad’ was changed for ‘wise’ and the tales were born.

Although The Wise Men of Gotham is a collection of stories compiled into a single work, it is highly likely that the tales were not the work of one single author, and that many of the stories, perhaps all, existed before 1540. The wise fools of Gotham are first mentioned in the fifteenth century. They appear in the ‘Towneley Mystery Plays’, and one of the later published tales makes an appearance in a manuscript entitled ‘The Wickirk Play’, written between 1425 and 1450.

The Wise Men of Gotham was such a popular publication that the work continued to be re-published almost unchanged up to the end of the nineteenth century. The tales were even exported to America by Washington Irvine who then bestowed the title of ‘Gotham City’ (a city of fools) on his native New York. This in turn turned developed into the Gotham City of Batman.

Cartoon image of the Gotham Fools

Above: William Wallace Denslow's illustrations for Three Wise Men of Gotham, from a 1901 edition of Mother Goose. Image: Public Domain.

The tales:

There are two popular versions of the tale. In the first, King John was making his way north towards Nottingham. His chosen route would have taken him directly through land owned by the village of Gotham. At that time, it was believed that wherever the king walked, was from that day a royal highway, with public rights of way. Therefore, to avoid the expense of paying for the upkeep of the new King’s Highway, when King John’s heralds arrived in the village, the good folk of Gotham feigned madness. As madness was thought to be contagious, when this news reached the ears of the King, he quickly changed direction to avoid the village of ‘mad men’.

The second version of the story states that King John was actually considering building a hunting lodge near Gotham. In order to prevent the loss of pasture land and the expense of supporting the royal court, the story continues in the same manner as the first, with the result that the King changes his plans and builds his lodge elsewhere.

There is not enough room here to tell all of the twenty stories of the wise men of Gothams’ strange behaviour, but here is our favourite:

The Cheeses That Ran Away…

There was a man of Gotham who filled a sack with cheeses to sell at the market in Nottingham. He carried the sack of his back, and when he became tired he paused along the way to rest.

Eventually he reached the summit of the last hill before he came to Nottingham Bridge. There he rested, and when he rose to continue his journey, a cheese slipped out of the sack and rolled down the hill towards the bridge.

‘Ah! Mr Cheese,’ said the man, ‘so you can run to market alone, can you? I wish I had known that before. It would have saved me the trouble of carrying you. Well, then, if you can go to market alone, so can the other cheeses, and I’ll send them along after you.’ So, he laid down his sack, took out the cheeses, and rolled them all down the hill. As the last one spun down the road, he shouted, ‘I charge you all to meet me at the market-place.’

Some of the cheeses went into one bush, and some went into another bush, but the man did not notice that, and he trudged on cheerfully to the market expecting the cheeses would meet him there.

All day long he loitered about the market. As evening approached, he began to inquire among the other traders if they had seen his cheeses come to the market.

‘Who should bring them?’ asked one of the traders.

‘Nobody,’ replied the man of Gotham, ‘They would bring themselves. They know the way well enough.’

‘Why, then, aren’t they here?’ said the marketman.

‘A plague on them all!’, cried the owner of the cheeses, ‘It has just occurred to me what the trouble is. I did fear, when I saw them start off so fast, that they would run beyond the market, and I’m sure they must now be miles away on the road to York.’ This said, he hired a horse and rode in all haste to York in pursuit of his cheeses.

Photograph of the Gotham village legend wind vane

Above: Gotham Legends wind vane. Image: By John Beniston - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Which Gotham?

The tales Wise Men of Gotham has long been associated with the Gotham of Nottinghamshire. However, there is another Gotham, in Sussex, that also lays claim to the tales. Fortunately, the Sussex Gotham was never a village or even a hamlet. In actuality, it was only a manor in the parish of Hailsham, a fact that any local writer would have been well aware of. Also, early editions of the book actually mention Nottingham market and that the village was on a direct route to York. Furthermore, it clearly states in one of the stories that the villages paid rent to the lordships of Leicester and Chester which is a known historical fact of the Nottinghamshire village.

Nevertheless, it seems that Gotham only became the ‘best known’ village of fools because of the published tales. There are at least 45 other villages in Britain that claim as their own one or more of the Gotham tales. Gotham is unique in that it not only preserves a complete collection of tales but also preserves many of the locations of the stories.

The month of May is promising to be a month full of exciting historic events. Take a list at our list below:

Thursday 2nd May: Opening on Thursday 2nd May, an exhibition on ‘Counter Culture’ showcasing how shopping has evolved since 1849 when John Boot opened his Boots store in Goose Gate, Nottingham. The exhibition uses historic artefacts, architecture, and images to explore the changes to the experiences of the high street. As well as the exhibition, which you can see free of charge at the Djanogly Gallery, there are also a number of gallery tours and special related talks, such as ‘The Story of Boots' 17: Selling Cosmetics to the Post-War Teenager’ on Thursday 9th May. Check out the exhibition and the organised talks here.

Saturday 4th May:  An extended version of Palace Theatre’s ‘Besieged (but never beaten) Tour’ will be taking place in Newark. The tour takes a deep dive in the British Civil War and will take you around some of the 17th century sites, including Newark Castle, while discussing the experiences of the war. The tour runs for 2 ½ hours and includes approximately 3 miles of walking. Tickets cost £10 per person. Book your place here.

Saturday 4th- Monday 6th May: A vintage fun fair will be open at Rufford Abbey between Saturday 4th and Monday 6th May. Enjoy traditional rides from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s over the extended bank holiday weekend. Visit the fair information here.

Thursday 9th May: Take a tour around the Nottinghamshire Archives in which you will get the opportunity to view special and unique items from their collections. As part of the tour, you will also get to visit the Conservation Studio and learn about the techniques used to treat and preserve artefacts of different materials. Tickets cost £3 per person. Book your tickets here.

Saturday 11th - Sunday 12th May: To celebrate National Mills Weekend, head over to Green’s Mill and Science Centre to climb the 19th century windmill and learn 200-year-old methods of turning grain into flour. Entry is free. For more event information visit here.

Wednesday 15th May: At Worksop Library, local historian Adrian Gray will be presenting an in depth look at some of the women of Nottinghamshire who have had a significant impact in challenging the man’s world that they were forced to live in. Tickets cost £3 per person. Book your place here.

Thursday 16th May: Join staff at Nottinghamshire Archives to discover the history of mental health care in Nottinghamshire, from the records of the people who experienced it first-hand. Learn about the reasons for admittance as well as how caring for those suffering from mental health has evolved from asylum to hospitals. Tickets cost £5 per person. Book your place here.

Thursday 16th May: Take a fascinating gallery tour of the ‘Dear Sisters’ exhibition with the Nottinghamshire Feminist Archive Group at the Weston Gallery to learn the about the stories of the items on display. The tour is free, but booking is required. Book your place here.

Friday 18th May: Mansfield Central Library will be hosting an amazing Hands on Heritage Day. Visit local and family history stalls, browse the books for sale, explore pop-up museums, and view old Nottinghamshire photographs, maps and more. You can also get hands-on with fun crafts and activities for all the family including a virtual reality coal mine, traditional circus skills, toys from the past, and amazing archaeology. No booking necessary! For the full event information, visit the event page here.

Friday 18th May – Saturday 19th May: Be taken back to World War 2 at Thoresby Park the weekend of the 18th-19th May. You will get the opportunity to experience life in military camps, see how life on the Homefront was and vehicles that would have graced our roads. You can also buy yourself a treat at the Vintage Village or listen to live 40’s music. Entry is free. Weekend camping is available, book your camping place here.

Tuesday 21st May: Join photographer Neil Pledger for a hands-on workshop on heritage photography. You will learn techniques, specifically tailored to architectural and heritage photography, and head into Mansfield Town Centre to practice what you’ve learnt. This workshop is for ages 16+ and tickets cost £5 per person. You must also bring your own camera or phone. Please wear suitable clothing and footwear for the outdoor part of the workshop, taking weather conditions into account. Book your place here.

Thursday 23rd May: Author, and British Museum exhibition curator, Richard Abdy will be hosting a ‘Legion: Life in the Roman Army’ talk to accompany the current exhibition at the British Museum and the recent book of the same title. Hear about stories of everyday aspects of the army in the heyday of the Roman Empire – from life in a tent to the food soldiers consumed – and explains its hierarchy, roles, equipment and place in a vast multi-ethnic society divided between citizens and subjects. Tickets cost £3 per person (free concessions) and takes place at the Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside Arts. Book your place here.

Friday 24th May: At the University of Nottingham Museum, explore fascinating finds from Nottingham’s caves that show everyday people at work and at leisure with exhibition curator Dr Chris King. This event will allow you to get up-close and personal with some finds from the cave and you will also get the opportunity to handle some of them. There will be two identical talks on 24th May and tickets cost £3 per person (free concessions). Book your place here.

Saturday 25th May: Fancy completing a heritage-based escape room? Nottinghamshire Archives will be hosting an exciting opportunity to explore the heritage of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire by solving puzzles and gathering clues around Nottinghamshire Archives. There will be a time limit to complete the challenge that will test your deductive skills, powers of reasoning and teamwork. Tickets cost £5 per person. There will be four timed events on 25th May. Book your place here, just click on your time-preferred ‘Archives Escaped!’ to book.

Tuesday 28th May: At West Bridgford Library, the ‘Footpads, Kings and Highwaymen’ talk given by Ian Morgan will explore the old Great North Road through Nottinghamshire, which saw scenes of horrific battles, was the haunts of highwaymen, and the sites of murder. Tickets cost £3. Book your place here.

Photograph of Newark Castle

Above: Newark Castle