Robbed of Robin Hood?
Robin Hood of Wakefield. Doesn't sound quite right does it? But, as fans of the hooded man prepare to enjoy his latest incarnation on BBC TV this Autumn we've been finding out how West Yorkshire might have been robbed of Robin!
Of course, it's been accepted for years, decades...centuries even, that Robin Hood set up home with his band of Merry Men in Sherwood Forest and spent his days battling with the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. Or at least, that's what film after film and TV series after TV series would have us believe. But, thanks to the efforts of a small but dedicated band of Robin Hood fans right here in West Yorkshire, doubts have finally been cast on this version of events. We really could have been robbed on a scale not seen since, well, Robin Hood nicked from the rich to give to the poor!
Research: Catherine and Barbara read-up
The evidence for these claims has been unearthed over the past few years by, among others, Barbara Green who is President of the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society and has written a number of books - including a novel - on the subject. She says there are documents and even old ballads like the 'Geste of Robyn Hood' which suggest Robin - or Robert - was actually a Tyke through and through. According to Barbara, the evidence suggests he was born in Wakefield, lived just south of there in Barnsdale Forest, was made an outlaw after the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, and returned to Kirklees Priory near Cooper Bridge where he died at the hands of the Prioress. Barbara believes this goes some way to prove the stories everybody knows (and many love) aren't quite right: "It's a fairly good theory, though it is still mainly circumstantial. It's the only one that really has any substance to it, because even though you hear a great deal of fuss coming from the Nottingham end of things, I haven't actually figured out who they think Robin Hood actually was. I don't think they have either! They say they think he comes from Nottingham but they haven't really got a candidate."
There's also the small matter of Robin Hood's grave, which is thought to be located on a hillside in Kirklees Woods where the fateful Priory once stood. These days it's private land and Barbara admits the 'grave' as it is today is nothing but an 18th Century folly, but she is convinced this is the place where Robin Hood, THE Robin Hood, is buried. In fact, Barbara's also sure this is where he died at the hands of the Kirklees Prioress who is said to have bled him to death. Barbara says of the grave: "That's really the only substantial connection that exists which is fully connected with Robin Hood...We're not sure about the actual site of the grave on the hillside because it was moved. It could be anywhere on the hillside in the woods, but there is a lot of documentation that shows Robin Hood WAS buried by the old highway which actually runs through Kirklees Woods."
Unfortunately, because the land where both the grave and any remains of the Priory are to be found is private, it's very difficult for Robin Hood devotees to find out more - but this hasn't stopped Barbara Green from continuing her investigations. She says despite many people thinking the West Yorkshire connection is just plain wrong, she believes the 'official' Robin Hood legend does at least have room for the death of the heroic outlaw at Kirklees Priory: "When we first came up with this discovery in the 1980s, suddenly thinking there were a lot of Yorkshire connections with Robin Hood, there was uproar [from Nottingham]: 'You're trying to poach our legend!'. We're not at all! But when I looked into all the research...it does hang together very well with the Nottingham side of things. But there is also the Yorkshire side, plus the fact that we have the grave. So they can say what they want about where he was born, I suppose we'll never prove that for certain, but there's no problem about where he died. It stands to reason that when he was ill or injured he had to go the Priory to be nursed. He can't have been down in Sherwood when he made that journey. He must have been more in the Wakefield area, in Barnsdale Forest. Ten miles in those days was a day's riding for somebody who was ill."
And, though it's strange to think that Robin Hood could have lived and died right here on our doorstep in West Yorkshire, the strangeness doesn't end there. There's a ghostly element to the tale too. Catherine Fearnley, Secretary of the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society, explains: "Certain people have thought that Robin Hood's grave is haunted by a vampire-like figure. Obviously we don't believe in such things, but there is something up there - whether it's a spirit or a ghost...There have been reports of hauntings going back to Victorian times, reports of a figure who we think is the Kirklees Prioress. She bled him to death and this is where I think the 'vampire' connection comes from." Barbara Green adds that some sightings mention a lady in white, which again backs up their view that the 'ghost' could be that of the Kirklees Prioress. It was a Cistercian Priory and Cistercian nuns wore white. Strange stuff indeed!
Robin's Grave (artist's impression)
Sadly, Barbara doesn't have high hopes for the new BBC TV series of Robin Hood. She thinks it's unlikely it will tell the story as she thinks it should be told - West Yorkshire connections and all. In fact, she says the story's never been properly told: "They've always been hopeless really. I never watch them, to tell you the truth, much as I'm interested in Robin Hood. The things I've seen on TV and on film, they just throw things in willy-nilly, they don't really make any effort to do things properly and they ignore Yorkshire. It's just the same old thing, all this running around in Sherwood Forest with the Sheriff of Nottingham. They're a distortion of the legend!"
The suggestion that Robin Hood was no stranger to what we know as West Yorkshire is certainly controversial, but Barbara Green is convinced. She admits that hard evidence is sketchy to find, beyond the fact that the 'grave' on a hillside somewhere outside Huddersfield is most likely that of the famous outlaw. But hard as it might be to believe, it's possible - just possible - that one day we might be watching Robin Of Wakefield on our TVs!
last updated: 10/03/2009 at 16:34