David Clarke Researcher Blog: Reclaiming Robin Hood
About the author
Dr David Clarke is Principal Research Fellow in the Communication and Computing Research Centre (CCRC) at Sheffield Hallam University. David’s particular areas of interest are Media Law, Regulation & Ethics, Investigative Journalism, and Contemporary Legend and Folklore. Along with colleagues Diane Rodgers and Andrew Robinson, he established the Centre for Contemporary Legend.
David regularly blogs about Folklore and Journalism.
In this post, David Clarke introduces the Reclaiming Robin Hood project, reports on his collaboration with Sensoria Festival and demonstrates Robin Hood’s strong links to South Yorkshire.
Hallamshire – the old name for Sheffield adopted by the university – is one of the places identified in the medieval legends as Robin’s birthplace. But despite a strong oral tradition in Loxley that can be traced back 500 years the modern city currently has no permanent marker or facilities for those who wish to visit key locations associated with the outlaw.
Sensoria’s theme for 2019-20 is Myths and Legends and this year’s festival kicked off in August with an outdoor screening of what is still considered to be the definitive depiction of the legend on film. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) stars Errol Flynn in all his Lincoln green technicolour glory and Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian. The film calls the outlaw Robin of Loxley and it was fittingly shown to a gathering of local folk in Storrs Wood at Loxley, reputedly the outlaw’s original stomping ground.
The screening was followed by the launch of a locations-based Robin Hood app for which I provide the narration. I was also invited to contribute a chapter to Sensoria’s illustrated booklet on the folk hero’s South Yorkshire links, published in November. Sensoria are planning a Robin Hood-inspired “outlaw’s picnic” at Loxley in May 2020 and are working with local historians to develop a more permanent marker for the local legend at some key spots around Loxley in North Sheffield.
Stories about the outlaw who robbed the rich and gave to the poor have been popular since at least the 14th century. Many people associate Robin and his Merry Men with Sherwood Forest and Nottingham Castle. But the early ballads and other sources locate the stories in the area known as Barnsdale, on the Great North Road between Wakefield and Doncaster, that was notorious for highwaymen during the middle ages.
South Yorkshire’s historic links with the legend were recognised in 2005 when a 10 foot bronze statue of Robin Hood was unveiled by actors Sean Bean and Brian Blessed in the entrance of the Sheffield region’s newest airport, named Doncaster Robin Hood.
Loxley, in Hallamshire was identified as Robin’s birthplace in two historical sources that date from the early 17th century. In a survey of Sheffield Manor for the Duke of Norfolk, John Harrison was shown the foundations of ‘a house or cottage’ at Great Haggas Croft in Loxley where he was told Robin Hood was born. The ruins lay near a place called Robin Hood’s Bower, where villagers played the parts of Robin, Little John and other outlaws in the annual May Day festivities.
The ruins survived into the Georgian era when Joseph Hunter, the historian of Hallamshire, wrote that Loxley Firth had ‘the fairest pretensions to be the Locksley of the old ballad, where was born that redoubtable hero Robin Hood’.
The village of Loxley is nine miles as the crow flies from the North Derbyshire village of Hathersage where the reputed grave of Robin’s faithful lieutenant, Little John, can be found in the churchyard. Little John’s link to Hathersage can be traced back to the 17th century and the village noticeboard refers to ‘many local place names [that] honour the legend’, such as Robin Hood’s Cave on Stanage Edge, Robin Hood’s Stoop on Offerton Moor and the Hood Brook that flows through the village.
As a founding member of the Centre for Contemporary Legend research group, I examine how the legend has evolved and was used to forge regional and national identities during the 19th century in a chapter written for the Folklore Society’s forthcoming edited collection, Folklore and The Nation.
The reclaiming Robin Hood project has been featured in the Sheffield Star and the weekly Sheffield Telegraph and has attracted support from Loxley residents and historians. I was recently interviewed about Robin Hood on BBC Radio Sheffield and Radio Nottingham:
‘Robin is part of our city’s heritage and the moniker “Robin of Loxley” has since become part of popular culture in films and television adaptions of the legend. Sheffield could make so much more of its status as birthplace of one of England’s greatest folk heroes. We are working with Sensoria to bring Robin back home’.
Wadsley-born historian Ron Clayton, who supports the campaign for a statue of Robin Hood in Loxley, said:
‘A community needs some roots. You can build all the apartments and bars you want but at the end of the day it needs some continuity to go forward. The city needs everything it can so let’s look to a bit of folklore’.
Folklorist Dr Simon Heywood, of the University of Derby, wrote about the Robin Hood legend in his book South Yorkshire Folk Tales (2015). He said:
‘The Loxley connection has always been there. Even if you look at the films they always mention Robin of Loxley.
‘If you look back at the early ballads there a lot of Robin Hood stories and places associated with him that aren’t necessarily widely remembered now. People remember Nottingham and Sherwood. It comes and goes in waves, it just happens to be Nottingham’s turn but it doesn’t have to stay that way forever’.
Take the Robin Hood tour on the Sensoria app: https://tinyurl.com/y3f3toyq
Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of SHU, C3RI or the C3RI Impact Blog.