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Here We Go Again

Here we go again

As Doncaster makes yet another bid to try to prove that Robin Hood was really a Yorkshireman, their recent claims only re-visit the same old issues! We know full well that, just as in Nottinghamshire, there are numerous places in and around the Yorkshire area with Robin Hood related names and connections. After all, Sherwood Forest once stretched all the way up to Barnsdale and so it is hardly surprising that the outlaw's exploits extended northwards into neighbouring territories!

The plain fact is that it's not just Yorkshire who can point to locations with Robin Hood names! Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Northamptonshire, Cumbria, Cheshire, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Lancashire, London, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Northumberland, Shropshire, Somerset, Surrey, Warwickshire, Westmorland and Wiltshire all have places with a Robin Hood name! North, South, East and West - everywhere seems to want to get in on the act and claim a piece of the action – not forgetting of course the numerous places and locations around the world that are also named with a reference or connection to the Robin Hood legend.

Ironically, although Yorkshire's Kirklees Abbey is the most well known of the supposed Robin Hood gravesites, when the site of the tomb was examined in the Eighteenth Century and excavated to a depth of six feet, absolutely nothing was found!

But never underestimate a Yorkshireman! They're quick to recognise the promotional value of the Robin Hood "brand" and its tourism potential and have made many previous attempts to steal Nottingham's legendary heritage, including a bid by Sheffield to capture the Sheriff of Nottingham at the World Travel Market in Earls Court, London in the 1980's. However, their biggest coup has to have been in the naming of Robin Hood Airport, near Doncaster – a shrewd, commercial move that whipped an obvious marketing opportunity from right under the noses of the Nottinghamshire local authorities!

In my 25 years as Public Relations Officer with Nottingham City Council and, since my retirement, a further 15 years as Chairman of the internet-based World Wide Robin Hood Society, I must have defended Nottingham's claims as the traditional home of the Robin Hood legend hundreds of times! With no indisputable historical evidence available to prove his actual existence, anyone and everyone can come up with a speculative theory, no matter how wild or improbable. So when the claims and counter-claims were coming in thick and fast and semi-plausible assumptions were casting doubts about Nottingham's validity as the home of the world's favourite outlaw, I would simply remind everyone that the traditional stories always refer to Nottingham Castle and the Sheriff of Nottingham! NOT Doncaster Castle or the Sheriff of Sheffield (or wherever else is claiming Robin Hood as its own) .... and that usually kills their argument stone dead!


Robin Hood alongside the Thames!

Robin Hood alongside the Thames!

One of the most unexpected places to claim a Robin Hood connection is the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames! Although it only has a population of about a sixth of the Greater Nottingham conurbation it boasts several significant references to Robin Hood. In fact a note in the minister’s accounts for the year 1541 mentions the existence of a Robyn Hoode Walke in what is now Richmond Park. Even more surprising is the fact that this reference appears a full 150 years before any Robin Hood place name was ever recorded in Sherwood Forest!

Speculation suggests that Robyn Hoode Walke was named in the outlaw’s honour, possibly even by the King himself, for according to local historian, Clive Whichelow, in his booklet “The Local Mystery of Robin Hood”, Richmond Park was a favourite hunting ground of King Henry VIII and the sovereign was also known to be an enthusiastic supporter of the Medieval Games that included the Robin Hood game which featured displays of archery and plays that included the characters of Robin Hood and his men dressed in Lincoln Green and also introduced Maid Marian, Little John and Friar Tuck. The legendary connection appears to have subsequently triggered several local landmarks being given a Robin Hood name and in and around Kingston you can still find a Robin Hood church; a Robin Hood Inn; a Robin Hood School; Hill; Well; Close; and Farm together with a Robin Hood Gate to Richmond Park and a Sherwood Lodge. In the last 2 years, Kingston Museum have also introduced an annual Robin Hood Festival to celebrate the town’s connections with the iconic legend and the event has been a great success.


How Place and Location Names Keep the Robin Hood Legend Alive!

How place and location names keep the Robin Hood  legend alive!

It was veteran Nottingham Post journalist, Emrys Bryson, who astutely remarked that “whenever Robin Hood’s name gets a mention, Nottingham gets a hefty plug - absolutely free!” - and one of the most significant factors that helps to continually keep the legend alive is the wide-spread number of locations and places that incorporate a reference to the outlaw in their name. The extent to which they are dotted all around the globe also indicates just how far the popularity of the Robin Hood tales has spread.

 We probably take for granted the local names that reflect the legend, such as Robin Hood Chase in St Ann’s; Friar Lane and Maid Marian Way in the City Centre and Robin Hood Way in the Meadows. There’s also a Robin Hood Street and a Robin Hood Terrace and outside the city there’s a Robin Hood Avenue in Edwinstowe; Robin Hood Close in Eastwood; Robin Hood Drive in Hucknall; Robin Hood’s Hills at both Oxton and Mansfield and three Robin Hood Roads in Arnold; Annesley Woodhouse and Blidworth respectively!

To further confuse the issue, there is of course Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster; Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Yorkshire coast; a Robin Hood hamlet just off the M6, north of Wigan; another on the M1 near Junction 42 and a Robin Hood End in Essex. There’s even a Robin Hood Crematorium in Solihull, Warwickshire – although we know that is unlikely to be where he ended his life! Or do we? – because although the traditional tales and ballads tend to acknowledge the one at Kirklees Priory as being the most likely, there are three other sites that claim to be the outlaw’s final resting place at Holbeck in North Nottinghamshire; Crosby Ravensworth in Westmorland and one in Loxley churchyard in Warwickshire!

There’s also Robin Hood Gardens in Tower Hamlets, London – which are not actually “gardens” at all but a 1960’s style block of flats that were described as homes spread across “streets in the sky”. Characterised by broad aerial walkways in long concrete blocks, eminent architect Richard Rogers, is currently campaigning with the construction industry to get Robin Hood Gardens listed, citing the scheme as “the most important social housing development from the post-war era in Britain”.

However, although Nottinghamshire claims to be the outlaw’s home county, Yorkshire actually has over twice as many place names and locations connected with the Robin Hood legend (28)and even Derbyshire has only two less than Notts!

But it’s across the Atlantic where the competition really hots-up and in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, there’s a whole estate of Robin Hood related names including King Richard Drive; Scarlett Hill Road and Lincoln Green Place. While down in Alabama, on the Archers Bend estate there’s a Nottingham Drive; a Loxley Lane and a Sherwood Place etc.

In fact, it seems that in America, to have a Robin Hood associated postal address is considered so desirable that it even resulted in the US Post Office putting its foot down when Nottingham Properties of Baltimore, Maryland tried to get the streets of its new town named after characters and places in the Robin Hood legend. They pointed out that it would cause a great deal of confusion because Baltimore already had a Sherwood Forest community with similar names!

On the other side of the world, down in Logan City, in Queensland, Australia, there is a place called Forestdale, which was created over twenty years ago and specifically named after and inspired by the Sherwood Forest legend. All the road names have a Robin Hood connection, including Nottingham Court; Alanadale Court; Lionheart Street; Abbots Place etc. and there’s even a Greenwood Lake!

All that we are talking about in this article are just the straight forward Robin Hood-related postal addresses but if you also include the hundreds of geographical locations (such as Robin Hood’s Bog in Northumberland; Robin Hood’s Leap at Chatsworth House; Robin Hood’s Howl at Kirbymoorside and Robin Hood’s Barrow in Bournemouth etc.) along with the vast list of business and commercial companies, public houses, hotels and restaurants etc. that use the name, then you start to realise the sheer scale and impact of the Robin Hood “brand” and why everyone wants a piece of the action. The very name Robin Hood is instantly recognisable all around the world, a factor that is the essential, “holy grail” of any marketing and publicity campaign and the famous outlaw’s name also brings with it a sense of trust and justice – two key principles at the very heart of the Robin Hood legend. That’s why the extensive research previously carried out with the business and commercial sector, in the UK and overseas, always strongly reflected the belief that in the eyes of the general public, the Robin Hood name stands for a fair and just deal. On the basis of the legend’s wide popularity, companies hoped that by incorporating a Robin Hood reference into their name, by association, such principles might help establish their business to also be seen as credible and trustworthy!

In truth, the examples mentioned here probably barely “scratch the surface” of the actual number of places scattered throughout the UK and around the globe that acknowledge England’s most famous outlaw hero with a reference to the legend in their name. That’s why, in September, the World Wide Robin Hood Society will be launching its “Find Robin Hood!” initiative, to encourage people to let the Society know when they come across any place or establishment etc. that has a name connected to characters and places in the traditional Sherwood Forest tales. Hopefully, the resulting additional data will help establish the true extent and impact of the Robin Hood legend and just how far around the globe the popular story has travelled!

Click here to view the Robin Hood alongside the Thames! article.


Myths and Legends of Sherwood forest

Myths and Legends of Sherwood forest

The popular tales of Robin Hood’s adventures in Sherwood Forest are the heart and soul of the most famous legend in English folklore. However, the Forest also has some interesting myths and legends of its own and BOB WHITE, Chairman of the World Wide Robin Hood Society, takes a closer look at some of the fascinating facts and superstitions that surround Sherwood Forest and its ancient oaks.

Many people wrongly assume that the world famous Major Oak in Sherwood Forest got its name because it was the biggest and most dominant tree in the forest. The truth is that it was actually named after a Major Hayman Rooke, who, on retirement from the army, moved to the area and developed a friendship with the Duke of Portland. He became very interested in the wooded landscape of the Sherwood and Welbeck estates and their spectacular trees and in 1799 he published his “Sketch of the Ancient and Present State of Sherwood Forest”. Upon his death in 1806, as a mark of respect for the interest he had shown, the formerly known Cockpen Tree ( so called because its hollow trunk had been used to rear and keep fighting cocks), was re-named “the Major’s Oak” in Rooke’s honour.

The tree is reputed to have “wintered for over 1000 years” and some claim that its hollow trunk may even have provided shelter for Robin Hood and his men, when hiding from the Sheriff of Nottingham! A pre-First World War travel guide to the Sherwood Forest area states that ”at the height of five feet, the gnarled and weather-beaten trunk measures thirty feet in circumference and its monster branches cover a straight line of two hundred and forty feet – or a circumference of nearly two hundred and seventy yards! The trunk is quite hollow to a height of over fifteen feet, accessed through a fissure and affords standing room for a dozen persons.”In fact one historian of the time recorded that “seven persons had breakfasted together within the space and sixteen had been known to squeeze themselves within the wooden walls.”

Contemporary examination by present day botanists and tree specialists estimate that the Major Oak is most likely to actually be only 800 - 1000 years old – making it little more than an acorn at the time of Robin Hood’s supposed existence! However, just like today, visitors paid no attention to such “spoil sport” findings and Victorian and Edwardian travellers liked nothing better than to wander through Sherwood Forest’s atmospheric woodland glades and re-live the Robin Hood legend in their imagination. These romantic experiences were eloquently recorded by such notable literary figures as the American writer, Washington Irving, author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, who wrote; “As I gazed about me upon those vestiges of once “Merrie Sherwood”, the picturing of my boyish fancy began to rise in my mind and Robin Hood and his men to stand before me. The horn of Robin Hood again seemed to resound through the forest. I saw in this sylvan scenery half huntsmen, half freebooters, trooping across the distant glades or feasting and revelling beneath the trees.”

Local author and historian, William Howitt (born at Heanor in 1792) was also captivated by the splendour of Sherwood Forest and wrote:”A thousand years, ten thousand tempests, lightnings, winds and wintry violence have all flung their utmost force on these trees and there they stand, trunk after trunk, scathed, hollow, grey, gnarled; stretching out their bare, sturdy arms or their mingled foliage and ruin – a life in death. All is grey and old. The ground is grey beneath. The trees are grey with clinging lichens and the heather and ferns that spring up beneath have a character of the past. You stand and look around and in the height of summer all is silent; it is like the fragment of a world worn out and forsaken. These were the trees under which King John pursued the red deer. These were the oaks under which Robin Hood led up his bold band of outlaws. These are the oaks which have stood while king after king have resigned, while countries have flourished and decayed, dynasties have come and gone, while revolution after revolution and war after war have devastated and changed the face of the world. Amid all these vast changes, these mighty forest trees have been growing in grandeur and maturing in age until now, as we behold them they present a spectacle majestic almost beyond conception.”

Several of Sherwood’s ancient oaks have their own legendary tales, such as the Parliament Oak, which was situated about 2 miles from Clipstone. The tree acquired its name after Edward I apparently held a parliament beneath its branches in 1290. King John is also believed to have summoned a council of his barons under this tree to convince them to sanction the immediate execution of 28 Welsh hostages (mostly children) who were imprisoned at Nottingham Castle. In fact, the king personally rode over to Nottingham to see that his brutal command was satisfactorily obeyed, then returned to Clipstone to continue his hunting! Sadly, over the centuries the trunk of this historic tree gradually decayed, leaving the pieces to rot on the forest floor!

Robin Hood’s Larder was the name given to another of Sherwood’s old oaks where tradition claims that the famous outlaw used to hang haunches of venison from its branches. Having survived being set on fire many years ago, its charred and hollow trunk were eventually blown down in a fierce gale in 1962! Half a mile from Welbeck Abbey once stood the Greendale Oak, a giant of a tree with a girth that measured some forty feet around its base and in 1724 a coach road was made through the oak by creating an opening six foot three inches wide and ten foot three inches high. The traditional story says that the “archway” through the tree resulted from an after-dinner bet by Henry, the first Duke of Portland, who boasted that there was a tree in his park through which he could drive a coach and four and in 1727, artist George Vertue made an etching that depicted a carriage of that period, with six horses, being driven through the tree!

Quite apart from the sheer size and age of the ancient oaks of Sherwood Forest, oak trees in general were regarded in forest folklore as traditionally possessing mystical powers of prophecy and healing. The most famous oak ”oracle tree”, known for its ability to foretell the future, grew at Dodona in north-west Greece and was believed to have been sacred to Zeus. Legend says that a branch from the tree was incorporated in the construction of the Argo, the vessel sailed in by Jason and the Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece and warnings from the branch kept the crew safe during their journey.

Ancient beliefs often maintained that trees were inhabited by gods and oaks were known as “thunder-trees”, once sacred to the Norse god, Thor and were thought to protect against lightning and thunderbolts! Anyone sheltering under its branches during a storm was considered to be safe. Oak leaves were also worn to protect against witchcraft and evil and some country superstitions believe that when an oak tree is felled it gives a kind of shriek and groan that may be heard a mile off! To carry an acorn around as a charm helped preserve youthfulness and if an oak was struck by lightning the wood was said to gain additional protective powers, so folk would keep pieces inside their dwellings to prevent their homes suffering from a similar misfortune.