CUCKOO BUSH, near Gotham, tradition says, was planted or set to commemorate a trick which the inhabitants of Gotham put upon King John. The tale is told thus King John, passing through this place towards Nottingham, intending to go over the meadows, was prevented by the villagers, they apprehending that the ground over which a king passed was for ever after to become a public road. The king, incensed at their proceedings, sent from his court soon after some of his servants, to inquire of them the reason of their incivility and ill-treatment, that he might punish them by way of fine, or some other way he might judge most proper. The villagers, hearing of the approach of the king's servants, thought of an expedient to turn away his Majesty's displeasure from them. When the messengers arrived at Gotham, they found some of the inhabitants engaged in endeavouring to drown an eel in a pool of water; some were employed in dragging carts upon a large barn, to shade the wood from the sun; others were tumbling their cheeses down a bill, that they might find their way to Nottingham for sale; and some were employed in hedging in a cuckoo which had perched upon an old bush which stood where the present one now stands; in short, they were all employed in some foolish way or other which convinced the king's servants that it was a village of fools, whence arose the old adage, "The wise men," or "The fools of Gotham."
The words of an humble poet may be here applicable--
"Tell me no more of Gotham fools,
Or of their eels in little pools,
Which they were told were drowning;
Nor of their carts drawn up on high,
When King John's men were standing by,
To keep a wood from browning.
"Nor of their cheese shoved down the hill,
Nor of a cuckoo sitting still,
While it they hedged round;
Such tales of them have long been told,
By prating boobies, young and old,
In drunken circles crowned.
"The fools are those who thither go
To see the cuckoo bush, I trow,
The wood, the barn, and pools;
For such are seen both here and there,
And passed by without a sneer
By all but errant fools"
1 Blount's Tenures of Land, edited by W. Carew Hazlitt, p. 133. London, 1874.