Wollaton Hall - History and Facts | History Hit

Wollaton Hall

Nottingham, England, United Kingdom

A classic prodigy house, Wollaton Hall in Nottingham is a spectacular Elizabethan mansion built in the 1580s for Sir Francis Willoughby. It now houses the Nottingham Natural History Museum and was described as ‘the architectural sensation of its age.’

Amy Irvine

09 Mar 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Wollaton Hall

Wollaton Hall is a jaw-dropping Elizabethan mansion of spectacular proportions. One of the country’s finest Grade I listed Elizabethan buildings, it was described as ‘the architectural sensation of its age.’ It is also the largest dedicated Natural History Museum in the county.

History of Wollaton Hall

Designed by Robert Smythson and built from Ancaster stone from Lincolnshire for 16th century industrialist Sir Francis Willoughby and his family in the 1580s, Wollaton Hall is a classic ‘prodigy house’ – a term for ostentatious palatial-style homes built by courtiers and described as ‘noble palaces of an awesome scale’.

Cassandra Willoughby, Duchess of Chandos recorded in 1702 that the master masons and some of the statues were brought from Italy, including the decorative gondola mooring rings carved in stone on the exterior walls. There are also obvious French and Dutch influences. The window tracery of the upper floors in the central block and the general busyness of the decoration look back to the Middle Ages, and have also been described as “fantasy-Gothic“.

Wollaton Hall was unused for about four decades before 1687, following a fire in 1642, and then re-occupied. Further re-modelling was carried out by Jeffry Wyattville in 1801, a prominent garden and architectural designer who worked on Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.

In 1881, the house was still owned by the head of the Willoughby family but had begun to be let out to tenants and became vacant later that year. Wollaton Hall was bought by Nottingham Council in 1925, and since 1926 has been home to Nottingham’s Natural History Museum, housing 750,000 objects; from fossils to ‘spirit’ jars.

Wollaton Hall today

The hall re-opened in April 2007 after a two-year refurbishment. Admission to Wollaton Hall is free although paid guided tours of the prospect room and the kitchens are available.

The Natural History Museum is packed full of incredible sights including fossils, birds, mammals, reptiles, fish, bugs and creepy-crawlies as well as their famous Africa Gallery.

On-site there is also the Nottingham Industrial Museum, the Steam Engine House and the Yard Gallery. Grade II listed Wollaton Hall Park’s formal gardens and the small walled botanic garden aren’t open all the time but if they are open on your visit, don’t miss them and the two herds of beautiful deer.

In 2011, key scenes from the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises were filmed outside Wollaton Hall – featuring as Wayne Manor – and is 5 miles north of Gotham, Nottinghamshire, through which Gotham City indirectly got its name.

Getting to Wollaton Hall

Wollaton Hall is 3 miles west of Nottingham city centre. Follow the brown signs from the A52 or the A6514, or from the M1 take J25 and follow the signs.

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