The Wollaton Gnomes was a classic anomalous encounter. On the 23 September 1979 – 44 years ago today – a half-dozen primary school children went for an evening walk in Wollaton Hall Park in Nottingham (in the English Midlands). A number of these children were then chased by thirty gnomes in small cars!

It’s a fascinating incident not least because it is so well documented. We have an interview transcript of the children recorded less than 48 hours after the sighting and two pictures drawn by witnesses. There were newspaper reports with interviews: a couple of the kids even got on the TV on John Craven’s Newsround. Later a report was written by the Fairy Investigation Society.

On the 44th anniversary of this famous run in with the impossible, British folklore historian Simon Young unpicks the Wollaton encounter, and puts it in a broader context: an overlooked rash of gnome sightings in the area. Had Nottinghamshire’s Generation X read too many Noddy books? Is this a case of Midland social contagion? Or were there really supernatural gnome drivers among the trees in Wollaton Hall Park?


Dr Simon Young is a British folklore historian based in Italy. He has written extensively on the nineteenth-century supernatural. His book The Boggart (from Exeter University Press) and The Nail in the Skull and Other Victorian Urban Legends (from Mississippi University Press) are both due out in 2022. He is the editor of Exeter New Approaches to Legends, Folklore and Popular Legends and teaches history at University of Virginia’s Siena Campus (CET). Over the years he has run courses on the History of Christianity, Italian Food History, Italian Media History, Contemporary Italian History, the Second World War in Italy and Italian Renaissance History.

Your host for this event will be the writer Edward Parnell, author of Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country. Edward lives in Norfolk and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. He is the recipient of an Escalator Award from the National Centre for Writing and a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. Ghostland(William Collins, 2019), a work of narrative non-fiction, is a moving exploration of what has haunted our writers and artists – as well as the author’s own haunted past; it was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley 2020 prize, an award given to a literary autobiography of excellence. Edward’s first novel The Listeners (2014), won the Rethink New Novels Prize. For further info see:

Don’t worry if you can’t make it live on the night – the event will be recorded for ticket-holders and a link sent out valid for the next two weeks for you to watch at your leisure.

[Image generated by, before being adapted.]

Date: 23 September 2023. Time: 8pm – 9.30pm (London time)

£5 – £10 & by donation