Robin Hood is a small settlement near Rothwell, south of Leeds, close to where the M62 crosses the mighty M1.
Every schoolchild is familiar with the tales of Robin Hood, a legend so strong it must be based on fact. The home in the greenwood, the big-hearted outlaws who robbed the rich to help the poor before it was institutionalised, the longbows, the clothes of Lincoln green, Friar Tuck, Little John, the fragrant Maid Marion, the evil sheriff, the drinking, the ballads, the male bonding. Merrie England when men were men and women were grateful.
Increasingly research shows that Robin operated in south Yorkshire, to the north of the present Sherwood Forest (see Michael Wood, In Search of England, Penguin, 2000). The most likely location is Barnsdale, on the Great North Road, south of Ferrybridge between Wakefield and Doncaster. There had been Hoods there for centuries. One likely candidate for the source of the legends is the outlaw Robert Hood, referred to in the court rolls of the York assizes in the early 13th century as a ‘fugitive’. There may even be some connection with the Yorkshire risings against foreign clerics during the winter of 1231-2 when messengers from the Pope were attacked (and in one case killed), captured and ransomed.
A well in Barnsdale, near Burghwallis, has been known as Robin Hood’s Well since the reign of Henry VIII. Here Robin is said to have ridiculed and robbed the Bishop of Hereford. An unusual stone structure by Vanburgh was erected there by the Earl of Carlisle. The well was regularly visited in coaching days and the nearby Robin Hood Inn claimed to have Robin’s three pint leather bottle. The well structure had to be moved when the A1 was widened.
A site in Kirklees Park claims to be Robin Hood’s Grave. The story goes that, bleeding to death, Robin shot his last arrow 600 yards and asked to be buried where it landed. A wall with railings was later erected around the grave after pieces, believed to have magical powers, were chipped off the gravestone by locals. In the wall is a mock medieval inscription dating from the 17th century which translates as:
Lies Robert Earl of Huntingdon
Never was there an archer so good
And people called him Robin Hood
Such outlaws as he and his men
Will England never see again.
He never made it to the coast. Robin Hood’s Bay, on the Yorkshire coast, is said to be so-called because the outlaw kept a boat there in which to escape should the need arise.