Bush, Clinton may share a 'dumb' ancestral home

FOREIGN CLOSEUP

October 15, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

LONDON -- The people of Gotham, in Nottinghamshire, have been told their little village is the ancestral home of George Bush and maybe Bill Clinton, too.

If this remarkable historical coincidence is true, this would make Gotham even more celebrated than it already is.

Gotham is ancient; it is mentioned in the "Domesday Book," the 1086 survey ordered by William the Conquerer. It was part of the territory of the fictional outlaw of Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood.

It was also known in English folklore as home to a people of breathtaking stupidity.

Not today's residents, of course. Their intelligence is evident in their reluctance to fully embrace the assertions of a television producer about the origins of the two American politicians.

"The villagers are highly amused," said the Rev. David Gorick, vicar at St. Lawrence's Church. "They're taking it with a pinch of salt."

The local post office has been getting calls, he said.

"Some London firm that caters to American tourists inquired whether they could run tours up here -- to Nottingham for Robin Hood, then Gotham for George Bush. Asked us if we could do anything for Ross Perot."

The man who started it all was Alexander Moody, of Misha Television, a firm that makes videos and films.

He recently brought a crew to Gotham and started telling everybody about the two famous sons of Gotham. He asked them what they thought about it. Not much, was the usual reply.

He insisted his research was thorough. "We looked at everything from parish records to local historians; we checked immigration and ships' passenger lists."

George Bush's ancestors, he said, went under the name St. Andrews. The family lived in Gotham from about 1200 to 1625.

Mr. Clinton, for whom the case "is much more speculative," descended from a family named Blythe, said Mr. Moody.

Mr. Gorick supports Mr. Moody a little more than half way.

"There are monuments on the church wall to the last members of the St. Andrews family. They are quite posh," he said, adding that the last male member of the family died about 400 years ago.

"But its been established that a fella named Bush left Messing, in Essex, with the Puritans, in about 1636. He was married into the St. Andrews line," said the vicar.

About Mr. Clinton, Mr. Gorick is more tentative.

"I understand the name of Clinton is an adopted name. But the original name of his family was Blythe," said the vicar. (Mr. Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe, but took the name of his stepfather.)

"There were Blythes in Gotham in the 14th century. It's not watertight, but it seems very likely his ancestors were in that original family, in Nottinghamshire, if not Gotham."

Gotham is no Gotham City. Nor is it what you'd call picturesque. It has a few thousand people, a thatched house here and there, four pubs, a butcher shop, a newsstand and a garage.

"It's a working village," is the way Mr. Gorick describes it, adding, a little defensively, "not yuppified."

Over at the Cuckoo Bush, the Irish owner, Brian (in Hibernian self-effacement, he declined to give his last name), said he wasn't at all sure about this Bush-Clinton stuff, "but if any of the two lads arrive we'd certainly buy them a drink."

Brian, though a relative newcomer to Gotham, is keenly aware that, in a way, he is the keeper of the village legend. It is referred to in the name of his pub.

Back in the 13th century, during the reign of King John, the monarch had a practice of traveling around the countryside, stopping at this village or that, and the locals had to foot the bill for feeding and housing the royal entourage.

Once when the king's men arrived in Gotham they came upon the villagers building a wooden fence around a bush with a cuckoo in it.

Asked why, they told the king's men they were trying to prevent the cuckoo from flying south, and thereby keeping the summer in Gotham.

When the king got word there were people in his kingdom dim enough to think they could kidnap one of the seasons, he decided they were too stupid to merit a visit.

The Gothamites have enjoyed this reputation for fox-like stupidity ever since.

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