Wollaton Hall is a country house standing on a small but prominent hill in Wollaton, Nottingham, England. Wollaton Park is the area of parkland that the stately house stands in. The house itself is a natural history museum, with other museums in the out-buildings. The surrounding land is regularly used for large scale outdoor events such as rock concerts and festivals.
In 2011, key scenes from the blockbuster Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, were filmed there. The hall will feature as the latest Wayne Manor.
Wollaton Hall was built between 1580 and 1588 for Sir Francis Willoughby and is believed to be designed by the Elizabethan architect, Robert Smythson, who was the architect of Hardwick Hall. The style is Elizabethan with early Jacobean elements. The floor plan has been said to derive from Serlio’s drawing (in Book III of his Five Books of Architecture) of Giuliano da Majano’s Villa Poggio Reale near Naples of the late fifteenth century, with elevations derived from Hans Vredeman de Vries. The architectural historian Mark Girouard has suggested that the design is in fact derived from Nikolaus de Lyra’s reconstruction, and Josephus’s description, of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, with a more direct inspiration being the mid-sixteenth century Mount Edgcumbe in Cornwall, which Smythson knew. The building is of Ancaster stone from Lincolnshire, and is said to have been paid for with coal from the Wollaton pits owned by Willoughby. Cassandra Willoughby, Duchess of Chandos recorded in 1702 that the master masons, and some of the statuary, were brought from Italy. The decorative but ludicrous gondola mooring rings carved in stone on the exterior walls offer some evidence of this, as do other architectural features. There are also obvious French and Dutch influences.
The building consists of a high central hall, surrounded by four towers. Unfortunately, a fire caused damage to Smythson’s interior decoration of some of the ground floor rooms, but little structural damage occurred. Remodelling was carried out by Wyattville in 1801 and continued intermittently until the 1830s.
The gallery of the main hall contains Nottinghamshire’s oldest pipe organ, thought to date from the end of the seventeenth century, possibly by the builder Gerard Smith. It is still blown by hand. Paintings on the ceilings and one wall are attributed to Verrio or his assistant Laguerre. Directly over the main hall is a ‘prospect room’, from which there are extensive views of the Park. Beneath the hall are many cellars and passages, and a well and associated reservoir tank, in which some accounts report that an admiral of the Willoughby family took a daily bath.
The Willoughbys were noted for the number of explorers they produced, most famously Sir Hugh Willoughby who died in the Arctic in 1554 attempting a North East passage to Cathay. Willoughby’s Land is named after him.
In 1881, the house was still owned by the head of the Willoughby family, Digby Willoughby, 9th Baron Middleton, but by then it was "too near the smoke and busy activity of a large manufacturing town… now only removed from the borough by a narrow slip of country", so that the previous head of the family, Henry Willoughby, 8th Baron Middleton, had begun to let the house to tenants and in 1881 it was vacant.
The hall reopened in April 2007 after being closed for refurbishment. The prospect room at the top of the house, and the kitchens in the basement, were opened up for the public to visit, though this must be done on one of the escorted tours. The latter can be booked on the day, last about an hour, and a small charge is made.
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