The Haunts of Robin Hood (1)


Robin Hood was an outlaw. Misinformation, misconception, rumour and legend put him in many places at many times. However it is certain that some of his exploits took place in Yorkshire.

Great controversy has raged between Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire on the location of Robin Hood's exploits. Today most people would say that Sherwood Forest was the site but to present this as historical evidence is clearly absurd.

To see a map of the area click the link below

Map of the Region

The answer is either that Robin was active in both areas or that there was more than one Robin Hood. It is important to clarify what is meant by the term "forest" as used in the ballads where two are named, Sherwood and Barnsdale. In medieval times the name "forest" could apply to a royal hunting park, or chase, an area subject to strict laws, or it could apply to a large area of land in which woods and heathland could be found. Sherwood was the former, Barnsdale the latter. Created at the time of the Norman Conquest the royal forests provided hunting, game and timber for the king and his followers. Like the undesignated area of forest the park could include open glades, cultivated land, pastures, villages and wasteland, but the laws protecting the venison and vert(trees) were both arbitrary and harsh with savage penalties against law-breakers.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports

...William set aside a vast deer preserve and imposed laws concerning it, so whosoever slew a hart or hind was to be blinded. He forbade the killing of boars, even as the killing of harts, for he loved the tall deer as if he had been their father .... The rich complained, and the poor lamented, but he was so stern that he cared not though all might hate him...

There is an early record of King Richard I chasing a hart out of Sherwood into Barnsdale, which shows the close proximity of the two areas and suggests that it was quite possible for Robin to have operated in both counties.

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Sherwood Forest

The forest of Sherwood was, at this time, a terror to the Normans; it was the habitation of the last bands of armed Saxons who, still defying the Conquest, voluntarily persisted in living out of the law of descendents of foreigners. Everywhere hunted, pursued, tracked like wild beasts, it was here along that, owing to the nature of the country, they had been able to maintain themselves in numbers and under a sort of military organisation, which gave them a character more respectable than the vulgar highwayman.

M. Thierry - History of the Conquest of England by the Normans

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Barnsdale Forest.

"... the woodi and famose forest of Barnsdale,where
they say Robyn Hudde lived like an outlaw."

Leyland, Itinery

"My dwelling is in this woode," sayes Robin
"By thee I set right naught
I am Robin Hood of Barnsdale
Whom thou so long hast saught."

Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, v. 36

So Robin declares himself in this confrontation with Guy of Gisborne leaving little room for doubt as to which area Robin considers his homeland. Some have tried to prove that Robin meant Brinsdale or Bryunsdale outside Nottingham, Barnetvale outside London or Bransdale in North Yorkshire, but extensive research refutes these ideas. Apart from the numerous mentions of Barnsdale in the ballads and historical documents (or Bernysdale as it is sometimes spelt) there is supporting evidence to be found in the specific place names mentioned also, such as Wentbridge and the Saylis.

Barnsdale Forest was an extensive tract of country in the southern part of the West Riding of Yorkshire. It covered thirty square miles, some six miles from north to south, bounded by the River Askern on the cast and Badsworth on the west. On a modern map, the area can be traced about eight miles north-west of Doncaster, along the A1, the former Great North Road. The medieval crossing place over the River Went at Wentbridge, has been bypassed by a modern flyover. The Sayles (or Saylis of the Geste) is in this valley. Wentbridge is spoken of by Little John, in Robin Hood and the Potter, where he says," 'Y met hem bot a Wentbreg,' seyde Lytyll John". Many of the other Yorkshire connections, such as Wakefield, Kirklees and St Mary's Abbey, York, add substance to the likelihood that Barnsdale, and not Sherwood, was the principal haunt of Robin and his followers.

Many of the earliest historical records speak of Robin in connection with Barnsdale, including Andrew of Wyntoun's document which describes Robin and Little John as being outlaws in "Ingilwode and Bernysdale", Inglewood was in Cumbria. The Sloane Manuscript says "... they haunted about Barnsdale Forest, Plumpton Park and other such places".