Wise Men of Gotham
by Ellen Castelow
Who were the Wise Men of Gotham, and were they really wise?
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 were in 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.
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.
King John on a hunt
The villagers had perpetrated some very strange happenings to greet the king’s men.
The best known folly that the villagers carried out involved a cuckoo. They appeared to be so captivated by the cuckoo’s song that they decided to trap it as it sat in a bush. This they did by building a fence round the bush. As there was no roof, the bird simply flew away!
The story is kept alive today as the local pub is called the Cuckoo Bush Inn, to be found near Cuckoo Bush Hill, Nottinghamshire.
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.
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 in to 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.