Gotham is a village south of Nottingham and north-east of Kegworth. It was made famous by the stories of the “Wise Men of Gotham“. Folklore has it that to avoid a Royal Highway being built through the village – that they would then be expected to build and maintain – the locals feigned madness. This included fencing off a small tree in order to keep a cuckoo captive from the sheriff of Nottingham. So bear that in mind if you stop off for a pint in Gotham’s The Cuckoo Bush Inn.
It’s a cracking story that pretty much sums up Nottingham’s attitude to authority and unnecessary work. But the real insanity is the ridiculous attitudes towards mental health during the period. Madness was believed to be highly contagious, and so when King John’s knights saw the Cuckoo fiasco, they re-routed to avoid the village. (I hope people opposing the proposed high speed train route are taking note…)
Gotham would go on to gain notoriety as the home of a certain caped crusader. This stems from a reference to New York as ‘Gotham’ in an article by Washington Irving (November 11, 1807) which appeared in an edition of Salmagundi Papers, a periodical which lampooned New York culture and politics.
Gotham derives from Old English gat ‘goat’ and ham ‘home’, literally translating as “homestead where goats are kept”. This is cited by the Joker in Detective Comics #880, when he gives Batman a much needed lesson in etymology, explaining that the word means “a safe place for goats”. The local connection was acknowledged by the DC Universe in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #206 (and again in 52 #27) Typically they mispronounce Gotham in the Batman films but we shouldn’t really be surprised. I’m still in therapy over Russell Crowe’s accent in Robin Hood.
Gotham will feature in some capacity in Dawn of the Unread as it’s a fantastic opportunity to explore the role of the ‘fool’ in local history and literature. Depression, madness, and genius are in many ways variations of the same thing. The only difference is who gets to attribute the label…