Walt Disney, the founder of the world-famous film studio that bears his name, had a special bond with a tiny village in Lincolnshire, England. The village of Norton Disney, with a population of 242, shares the same surname as the legendary animator and producer, who traced his family roots to the area in 1949.
Norton Disney is honoured in every Disney movie since 2006, as the shooting star that flies around Sleeping Beauty’s castle in the title sequence is a tribute to the village and its coat of arms. The star symbolises the Disney family motto: “Vincit qui patitur”, which means “He conquers who endures”.
Walt Disney’s visit to Norton Disney
Walt Disney was curious about his ancestry and wanted to learn more about his origins. He knew that his great-grandfather was Irish, but he did not know much about his history before that. In the summer of 1949, he was in the UK supervising the filming of a live action Treasure Island, when he decided to make a detour to Norton Disney with his wife and daughters.
He was accompanied by a photographer and a cine camera, and spent an afternoon in the village, posing for photos by the signs, walking down the main road, and inspecting gravestones. He also visited St Peter’s Church, a building that dates back to the 11th Century, where he found traces of his family tree and coat of arms.
The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco has allowed the BBC to show that rare footage as part of Disney’s 100th anniversary celebrations. The video shows Walt Disney’s fascination and joy as he explored his ancestral home.
The history of the Disney family
The Disney family name comes from the Norman-French surname D’Isigny, meaning “from Isigny”, a town in Normandy, France. The first recorded Disney ancestor in England was Robert D’Isigny, who came with William the Conqueror in 1066 and was granted lands in Lincolnshire.
The family settled in Norton Disney and built a castle there, which was later destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces during the English Civil War. The family also owned land in other parts of England and Ireland, where some of their descendants still live today.
Walt Disney’s direct ancestor was Arundel Elias Disney, who was born in Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1801 and emigrated to America in 1834. He settled in New York and later moved to Missouri, where he had a son named Elias, who was Walt’s father.
The legacy of Walt Disney
Walt Disney was born in Chicago in 1901 and grew up in Missouri and Kansas. He developed a passion for drawing and animation, and founded his film studio with his brother Roy in 1923. He created some of the most iconic characters and films in history, such as Mickey Mouse, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Cinderella, and many more.
He also pioneered new technologies and innovations in animation, such as sound, colour, special effects, and live action. He won 22 Oscars and four honorary Oscars for his work, making him the most awarded individual in Academy history.
He also ventured into theme parks, television, and merchandising, creating a global entertainment empire that continues to grow and inspire millions of people today. He died in 1966 at the age of 65, leaving behind a legacy of magic and wonder.
The celebration of Disney’s 100th anniversary
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Walt Disney Company, which has made some of the world’s best-loved movies and shows. The company has planned various events and activities to celebrate this milestone, such as:
- A special exhibition at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, featuring rare artefacts, photos, and videos from Walt’s life and career.
- A series of new releases and remakes of classic Disney films, such as The Little Mermaid, Elemental, Peter Pan & Wendy, Pinocchio, and Cruella.
- A commemorative picture by Disney illustrator Kim Raymond given to the village of Norton Disney as a token of appreciation and friendship.
- A documentary film about Walt Disney’s visit to Norton Disney in 1949, featuring interviews with local residents who met him or witnessed his arrival.
- A new book by Disney historian Sebastian Durand about Walt Disney’s ancestry and connection to Norton Disney.