Walt Disney’s Lincolnshire connection

Walt Disney

American theme park influencer Walt Disney’s birthday has been celebrated this weekend, and a small corner of Lincolnshire possibly had more reasons than most to join in.

Disney was born on 5 December 1901 and died on 15 December 1966, but his distant ancestry is shrouded in something of a mystery.

A small village in the English county of Lincolnshire goes by the name of Norton Disney, and the possibility of Walt descending from this corner of the world has long captured local imagination.

The Disney name is an Anglicised version of the Norman-French d’Isigny. People with this name arrived in the British Isles with the Normans in the 11th century.

Disneys were reportedly settled in this corner of Lincolnshire by the turn of the 14th century and as they rose to local power, the parish soon incorporated their name.

But there is possibly more than just coincidence in both Walt and a Lincolnshire village of about 200 people sharing this rather unusual name.

At least five people bearing the Disney name are buried in Norton Disney’s churchyard, but can anyone be certain they are Walt’s descendants?

During the mid 1990s, historian Jon Winter had established that the Lincolnshire Disneys had been largely forced out of England by the 1600s.

His research found that they initially moved to Ireland, before some returned to France and others went on to the Americas.

Winter affirms that among those headed across the Atlantic included Walt’s great-grandfather.

But even the might of the Disney corporation today has been unable to conclusively prove Walt’s ancestry dating back beyond more than a couple of centuries.

And while we will never know just how sure Walt himself was of his distant roots, in 1949 he did travel to Norton Disney to try and find out.

Just like many of the rides Walt Disney inspired, it seems that the mystery of his ancestry was too tantalising to ignore.

And for the locals at least, his visit is a connection that can be held dear.