As a boy I was brought up on tales of Robin Hood and his merry men, as were my children and now, with a new series on the small screen, my children's children. We also lived for ten years in a small Yorkshire village near to Wentbridge called Little Smeaton, hence my interest in the Yorkshire connections to Robin Hood.
Robin, a nobleman, so the later stories say, was stripped of his lands and outlawed by Prince / King John, escaped into the green woods of Sherwood Forest. There along with, Little John, Will scarlet, Allan a Dale, Much The Miller, Friar Tuck and of course Maid Marion, stole from the rich to give to the poor. The rich in this case consisted mainly of prince John's tax collectors and various rich officials of a wealthy church. Since the Sheriff of Nottingham, who was based in Nottingham castle, was charged with the collection of the taxes he became Robin's archenemy.
That very roughly is the basis of the Robin Hood stories I grew up with. But while the stories were all centred on Nottingham and Sherwood there is now a growing body of experts that believe he was a Yorkshireman. As witnessed by the naming of Doncaster, Sheffield airport, Robin Hood Airport, much to the Chagrin of the good folks of Nottingham.
The earliest known mention of Robin Hood was nearly six and a half centuries ago. In 1377 there was a reference to him in a poem attributed to William Langland. The poem, “The vision of William concerning Piers Plowman" contains the following two lines.
I kan noght parfity my paternoster as the preest it syngth,
but I kan rymes of Robyn Hood and Randolf Erl of Chestre.
I do not know my paternoster perfectly as the priest sings it,
but I know the Rhymes of Robin Hood and Randolf, Earl of Chester.
In those days the majority of the population could not read or write, so a lot of the local history was verbal and passed on by the wandering minstrels. Since the tales of Robin Hood feature in many of those ballads, it is possible that the tales would have been based on the exploits of a real person.
Most of what we know of Robin Hood comes from, The Child Collection. The English and Scottish Popular ballads, collected by Francis James Child in the 1800s
The Lyttle Gest of Robyn Hode is the very first of them and along with the next three ballads place Robin Hood, a Yeoman (Low born freeman) Little John, Will Scarlet and Much the Miller etc, firmly in the Forest of Barnsdale. The forest was in Yorkshire the adjoining county to Nottingham and covered the area between Doncaster and Wentbridge. (Wentbridge was sometimes known as Barnsdale).
The village of Wentbridge is the only place in Yorkshire to boast a blue plaque on the bridge commemorating Robin Hood. Wording from plaque; And walke up to saylis, and so to Watling street, and wayte after some unkuth gest, up chance ye may them mete. The Saylis mentioned has been identified as Sayles Plantation (Now Brockadale nature reserve) and is on one side of the Gorge of the river Went that runs from Wentbridge, past Smeaton Crags, to Little Smeaton / Kirk Smeaton. At the southwest corner of the Kirk Smeaton parish boundary, near to Skellow, lies Robin Hood's well, Because of road widening works, the Skell, a tributary of the river Don, was covered and the well dried up. The stone shelter that surrounded the well however still exists and can be found in a lay-by on the southbound carriageway of the A1 near Skellow, about half a mile north of the junction with the A638.
Close by in the grounds of Skelbrook Park was The Bishops Oak, alas long gone. (The ground where it once stood is still known as The Bishop Tree Root). This was the spot where Robin and his men were said to have captured and held to ransom the Bishop of Hereford. St Mary Magdalene in Barnesdale was where Robin went pray and was said to be the church where he married Marion. Not far from Skellow is Campsall and the church of St Mary Magdalene, the church is very ancient and would have been within the Barnsdale forest.
Wakefield ten miles from Barnsdale was the home of George a Green, the jolly pinder of Wakefield, who was one of Robin's followers. He would have lived in Pinderfields near what is now Pinderfields Hospital.
Wakefield was also, according to the Wakefield rolls, the home of one Robert / Robyn Hood the son of Adam Hood, a forester in the service John de Warenne, he was married to Matilda and lived in a property in Birchill. In the records for 1316 Robert and Matilda paid 25 shillings to purchase a piece land in Birchill. Also, in that year Robert was fined for failing a call to arms in Edward the second's abortive invasion of Scotland two years earlier.
In 1320 Thomas Earl of Lancaster took over Wakefield and began to raise a new army. Robert's name did not appear on the list of defaulters and it is possible that he joined the army of Lancaster. In 1322 there was a five-roomed house on the land in Birchill. In 1323 Lancaster was defeated at Boroughbridge and his supporters outlawed. In that year a list of seized properties included a newly built five roomed building in Birchill. Robert Hood of Wakefield seems to have disappeared from view at this time. Was he outlawed to the greenwood to become Robin Hood of Barnsdale?
Robin's archenemy was the Sheriff of Nottingham and for a period in Edwards reign, the High Sheriff of Nottingham had jurisdiction over Yorkshire. As everyone knows Robin was famed for his prowess with a longbow, which also points to him being around during Edward's reign, since the longbow was not introduced into England until after the reigns of John and King Richard.
The death of Robin Hood. In later years when he was in ill health Robin travelled to Kirklees Priory to be bled, instead he was betrayed and killed by his cousin the Prioress and Sir Rodger Of Doncaster. Just before he died he shot an arrow and asked his friends to bury him wherever the arrow landed.
Kirklees Priory (Between Brighouse and Mirfield) is a ruin although the gatehouse still stands. 600 mtrs beyond the gatehouse they found a gravestone with the partial inscription; Here Lies Robard Hude. The Priory is on private land and for safety reasons there is no public access at this time.
So there we have the Yorkshire Robin Hood, a fugitive yeoman based in Barnsdale, in the reign of Edward the second, who with his band of merry men, led the Sheriff of Nottingham a pretty dance as he robbed the tax gatherers and the rich as they travelled through Barnsdale and very likely Sherwood Forest. (After all both forests, were adjoining).
Fred Watson published his first book, a fantasy adventure novel aimed at the 8-12 age group in November 2006. A grandfather of four, he loves to write for all age groups, has an abiding interest in history and continues on a regular basis to add new stories etc to his website. Footprint Publishing .