When Walt Disney visited a tiny Lincolnshire village in 1949 in the hope of tracing his ancestry, he encountered more than he could have dreamed of.
There in Norton Disney’s 1,000-year-old parish church was the tomb of his reputed ancestor, the 14th-century nobleman Sir William d’Isney – complete with a family crest.
It was that crest which was added to Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland in California on Walt’s orders in 1965, and since 2006 has featured in the opening titles of every Disney film.
But everyday parts of Norton Disney’s fabric might also have inspired classic Disney films too.
A list of ‘incumbents of Norton Disney’ stretching back to 1223 hangs in the village’s St Peter’s Church and might have been echoed in the opening titles of the 1973 classic version of Robin Hood, where the pages of a similarly-styled book turn to tell the background story.
As for Norton Disney’s pub – which Walt enjoyed a game of darts in – might it have been the inspiration for Gaston’s tavern in the 1991 production Beauty and the Beast?
Meanwhile, the nearby Somerton Castle – which was the home of the d’Isney family in the 14th century – looks eerily similar to the King’s Castle in the original 1950 production of Cinderella, along with its sequels.
And the stone gargoyles on the exterior of St Peter’s Church could be compared to Victor, Hugo, and Laverne in the 1996 adaptation of the Hunchback of Notre Dam.
The stone gargoyles on the exterior of St Peter’s Church could be compared to Victor, Hugo, and Laverne, the gargoyles in the 1996 adaptation of the Hunchback of Notre Dam
Accompanied by his wife and children, Walt visited Norton Disney while in the UK to supervise the filming of Treasure Island.
A film of his day-long visit shows the family greeting the then vicar at St Peter’s Church, posing next to road signs and wandering around the tiny settlement.
Speaking to MailOnline yesterday, 94-year-old Norton Disney resident Hilda Kinnersley recalled the moment she took part in a game of darts with Walt, when he walked into the village pub, which is now called the St Vincent Arms but was then the Green Man.
Grandmother Ms Kinnersley, who lives on the appropriately named Disney Close, said: ‘This good-looking man came in the pub with my brother and his daughters.
‘Then he bought us all a drink
‘We were all playing darts when he came in, so he had a game of darts. And his daughters had a game of darts.
‘He came to talk to me. I used to know all of his films, look at them all.
‘My daughter took her two daughters to Disneyland and they like Beauty and the Beast.
‘They were all my favourites, I loved them all,’ she added.
A list of ‘incumbents of Norton Disney’ stretching back to 1223 hangs in the village’s St Peter’s Church and might have been echoed in the opening titles of the 1973 classic version of Robin Hood, where the pages of a similarly-styled book turn to tell the background story
St Peter’s church where ancestors of Walt Disney are buried baring the coat of arms which inspired Walt
A flag bearing the crest is seen fluttering at the top of Sleeping Beauty’s castle in the short clip
Walt Disney’s visit to his ancestor’s tomb was documented in the popular London Illustrated magazine
Disney visited the Green Man pub, which was then called the St Vincent Arms. There he played darts with Ms Kinnersley and other locals
Gaston’s tavern in Beauty and the Beast could be compared to the Green Man pub, which was visited by Walt Disney
The nearby Somerton Castle – which was the home of the d’Isney family in the 14th century – looks eerily similar to the King’s Castle in the original 1950 production of Cinderella, along with its sequels
London Illustrated magazine dedicated two pages to the businessman’s visit, the highlight of which was his discovery at St Peter’s Church.
There he saw d’Isney’s crest, which showed three lions facing left – the symbol of Normandy.
The d’Isneys had come from France to England with William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Their name then changed over the centuries, first to d’Isgny and then to D’Iseny, before finally becoming Disney in around the 13th or 14th centuries.
With its population of just over 240, the Lincolnshire village of Norton Disney is not often used to publicity. It has just one pub, a historic church and a village hall, so its residents are accustomed to a quiet life
Speaking to MailOnline this week, 94-year-old Norton Disney resident Hilda Kinnersley recalled the moment she took part in a game of darts with Walt, when he walked into the village pub, which is now called the St Vincent Arms but was then the Green Man
The tomb of Sir William d’Isney, whose family had come to England from France with William the Conqueror
Speaking from St Peter’s Church, which dates back to the 11th century, historian and Disney expert Sebastien Durand told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme yesterday: ‘This is the oldest place in England where you can find a trace of Disney, of Walt Disney’s history and his family tree and even his coat of arms.’
He added that there is a ’99 per cent’ possibility that Disney’s name originates with from the French family memorialised in St Peter’s Church.
Local historian Richard Parker, 61, the secretary of the Norton Disney History and Archaeology Group, expanded on the De Isgnys’ connection to the area, as well as their role in quelling the Lincolnshire Rebellion of 1470.
‘This is in the place in England with the longest association with the name Disney but it’s not the only place,’ he told MailOnline.
‘It’s well known by locals.
‘The family acquired lands nearby and there’s tombs there. Next door in a parish called Ulessby there is a piece of land as Dis Ney Land. That’s the first Disneyland.
In the Tudor times the Disney’s were involved in putting down the Lincolnshire Rebellion. Pictured: A view of Somerton
Pictured: Somerton Castle; Temple Bruer, Lincolnshire, 1857
‘You’d thought Disneyland was in Florida in America, but it’s not. It’s in a rural piece of Lincolnshire 700 years ago. It’s official.
‘Back in the Tudor times the d’Isenys were involved in putting down the Lincolnshire Rebellion.’
‘They moved to Somerton Castle and it was in ruins. They rebuilt it and there’s a Disney wing in the southwest part.
‘This is the first Disney castle, and it has turrets as well.’
Stan Underwood, who works at St Peter’s as a bell ringer, looks after the cartoons that were drawn to celebrate both the 50th anniversary of Mickey Mouse and the 100th anniversary of Disney.
Showing off the older cartoon, Mr Underwood, 83, said: ‘This smaller one has been in the bell tower since 1978.
The 11th-century St Peter’s Church, which was visited by Walt Disney in 1949
An image from London Illustrated’s feature on Walt’s visit, showing how he looked at signatures of members of the original Disney family, written more than 500 years ago
Walt Disney is seen standing near a road sign and with his daughters during his family’s visit
A cartoon that was produced by a Disney illustrator to mark the 100th anniversary of the firm’s founding
Stan Underwood, who works at St Peter’s as a bell ringer, looks after the cartoons that were drawn to celebrate both the 50th anniversary of Mickey Mouse and the 100th anniversary of Disney
‘It was a done by a bell ringer for the 50th anniversary of not the foundation of Disney but for Mickey Mouse.
‘Disney recently saw that and decided to make a surprise presentation of this.’
Speaking of the newly-produced sketch, he added: ‘It looks good, they’ve captured the sign well. This was done by a current cartoonist from Disney.
‘We have to make sure that they don’t get stolen.’
Roy Husemeyer, 77, owns the old Rectory where Walt and his family were seen visiting in 1949, when it was the home of the village’s vicar, Reverend RK Roper.
He also owns an original copy of the London Illustrated feature documenting the family’s visit.
‘When we came here from Grantham there were cuttings from the magazine in the pub, framed and hanging on the wall.
Walt Disney is seen with his wife Lillian in the 1950s. The couple were married for more than 40 years
Walt Disney is seen with his wife Lillian and daughters Sharon and Diana
The crest also features at Disneyland theme parks around the world. Above: On Sleeping Beauty’s castle in California
‘About five or so years later the pub went into decline as so many do and the pictures disappeared but I don’t know where they are.
‘I heard from someone that in Chesterfield there was a one-man business who sold on copies of articles from publications.
‘I’m a sucker for these sorts of things so I wrote to him.
‘It cost me £18, that was it. It was a publication that I had never heard of.
‘By that stage Walt Disney was a millionaire with every facility that he wanted at hand.’
He added: ‘The church, the history, the d’Isneys, the proper Disneys, are just a fascinating story.’