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 had by then completed Longleat, and was to go on to design Hardwick Hall. The general plan of Wollaton is comparable to these, and was widely adopted for other houses, but the exuberent decoration of Wollaton is distinctive, and it is possible that Willoughby played some part in creating it. The style is an advanced Elizabethan with early Jacobean elements. 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; the labourers were also paid this way. Cassandra Willoughby, Duchess of Chandos recorded in 1702 that the master masons, and some of the statuary, were brought from Italy. The decorative gondola mooring rings carved in stone on the exterior walls offer some evidence of this, as do other architectural features.
The house was unused for about four decades before 1687, following a fire in 1642, and then re-occupied and given the first of several campaigns of re-modelling of the interiors. Paintings on the ceilings of the two main staircases and round the walls of one are attributed to Sir James Thornhill and perhaps also Laguerre, carried out around 1700. Re-modelling was carried out by Wyattville in 1801 and continued intermittently until the 1830s. The hall remains essentially in its original Elizabethan state, with a "fake hammerbeam" wood ceiling, in fact supported by horizontal beams above, but given large and un-needed hammerbeans for decoration. The gallery of the main hall contains Nottinghamshire's oldest pipe organ, thought to date from the end of the 17th century, possibly by the builder Gerard Smith. It is still blown by hand. 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.
After major refurbishment in 2007, access to the Hall has been greatly improved with the addition of a platform lift for wheelchair users at the entrance and an internal lift to all floors. Also included was the addition of an excellent changing place facility at the Visitor Centre. Manual wheelchair users may need some assistance within the courtyard area by the Visitor Centre as there is quite a steep incline to the cafe and shop. There are excellent hard surfaced paths within the park and around the lake however please note these have long steep gradients to and from the Visitor Centre. There are three designated toilets on site. One (LHT) in the Hall, one (RHT) adjacent to the Visitor Centre and one with right and left lateral transfer plus a hoist and changing place. Assistance dogs welcome. Wheelchair loan/hire (one manual chair). Hearing loop. Special access to exhibits for the visually impaired (tactile map at the visitor centre and audio and braille guides for the Hall). Wheelchair access to interactive exhibits.
Since Wollaton Hall opened to the public in 1926, it has been home to the city’s natural history museum. On display are some of the best items from the three quarters of a million specimens that make up its zoology, geology, and botany collections. Natural Connections Gallery. This gallery explores the relationship between the natural world and ourselves. One of the central themes in the gallery is extinction, and a number of extinct and near-extinct species are on display. These include a passenger pigeon and a flightless parrot from New Zealand – the kakapo. Recent additions to the gallery include the extraordinary duck-billed platypus, a giant anteater and a rare maned sloth. Other popular exhibits include an orangutan skeleton, a hippo skull and a Humboldt penguin, together with many other mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, insects, and fossils. Bird Gallery. Recreated in the style of a 1930s natural history museum display, this gallery contains taxidermied Victorian birds and game heads, alongside more contemporary specimens. Many of the birds were collected in Ethiopia and Sudan by the 19th century Nottinghamshire explorer Mansfield Parkyns. These include one of the first two specimens of the shoebill, or whale-billed stork, brought back to Europe in 1850. Other exhibits include a pelican, a bird-of-paradise, and a red kite.
Spectacular butterflies, moths, beetles and bugs from around the world are on display in the Insect Gallery. Focusing on the biology and life-cycle of insects, this gallery also includes a section on social insects including a Caribbean cloud forest diorama showing some of the birds and mammals that depend upon termite colonies for food and nest sites. Live insects are also featured – these include stick insects from Borneo and Papua New Guinea, and a colony of Madagascan hissing cockroaches. Mineral Gallery. This gallery showcases some of the 5,000 specimens that make up the rock and mineral collection. It includes some the original Nottingham Naturalists’ Society collection and fine displays of classic minerals from the North of England (early 20th century) and Cornwall and Devon (19th century). You can also get up close to some giant ammonites – fossilised coiled shells of ancient squid-like sea creatures.
Africa Gallery. The Nottingham Natural History Museum’s famous gorilla and giraffe specimens can be seen here, together with a splendid cheetah – the fastest land mammal. The gallery also features a walk-through waterhole scene complete with zebras, leopards, hyenas, antelopes, warthogs, ostriches, a porcupine and even a fruit bat. An interactive panel enables visitors to hear the sounds made by some of the better-known African animals. The Hall museum can be accessed via the access lift and there is an internal lift that runs between the 3 floors of the museum.
Nottingham Industrial Museum is located in the 17th century stables block of Wollaton Hall. The museum has displays relating to five areas of Nottingham industry: Textiles, Transport, Communications, Mining and Steam, each portraying Nottingham’s rich industrial heritage. Transport gallery This gallery is dominated by the two carriages dating back to the late 17th century. Down the right side of the gallery is the railway display. The name plates from GWR Hall class locomotive Wollaton Hall and LMS City Class locomotive City of Nottingham catch your attention and the cases underneath have items from the days of the Great Central Railway and the imposing Victoria Station. Along the far wall is the collection of locally made motorcycles. A number of the bikes are non production models such as the ‘Dream’ with its big square four cylinder block. The small ‘flat tank’ Campion bike, made in Nottingham in 1921, this 500c.c. bike is probably one of the last Campion motor cycles made. The collection of cycles covers a lot of the range produced by the world renounced Raleigh Company founded by Frank Bowden in the 1880’s in Raleigh Street. The display includes cycles from the 1950’s when quality and quantity of production were both at a high level. They also have one of a small batch of cycles made for world sprint champion Reg Harris who won medals at the 1948 Olympic games before turning professional and being World Champion in 1949,1950,1951 and 1954. Textile Gallery. Nottingham had a long established reputation as a textile producer in general and lace maker in particular. Lace had been imported since Elizabethan times but it was not until mass produced cotton lace started to be made towards the end of the 18th century that lace became more affordable. There are three examples of hand knitting frames for producing woollen, knitted goods.
Communications includes a collection of telephones and other telecommunications material, donated by Plessey Co. (latterly Siemens) at Beeston. This has been built upon to create a strong collection of post-war material. The outside display is dominated by the large wooden Ginn Wheel. This horse ginn was removed from a local collery and had been used for bringing coal to the surface in mines with short pit shafts. The Steam Gallery contains the impressive Basford Beam Engine. This is one of a pair of engines built in 1858 by R. W. Hawthorn in Newcastle upon Tyne. It was installed at Basford Pumping Station. They steam on Sundays. Because the museum is located in a listed building, it has not been possible to link the two sections of the museum (which are at different levels) with a wheelchair ramp. While the main part of the museum is all on a single floor, with no steps, disabled access to the communications gallery, which is at the top of several steps, is via a separate entrance. Please ask the reception desk volunteer(s) to open the entrance. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Wollaton Hall, Gardens & Deer Park, Wollaton Park, Wollaton Nottingham, NG8 2AE
Transport: Nottingham (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 30 and 35 stop close by.
Opening Times Hall & Park: Daily 10:00 to 17:00
Opening Times Museum of Life: Saturdays, Sundays, Bank Holidays 10:00 to 16:00
Opening Times Industrial Museum: Saturdays, Sundays, Bank Holidays 11:00 to 17:00
Tickets Hall & Park: Free
Tickets Tours: Adults £5.00; Children (5 - 16)/Concessions £4.00
Tickets Industrial Museum: Adults £2.00; Children (5 - 16)/Concessions £1.00
Tickets Industrial Museum Steam Sundays: Adults £4.00; Children (5 - 16)/Concessions £2.00
Tel: 0115 8763100