A glossary of words used in the neighbourhood of Sheffield/Robin Hood

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THE PLACE WHERE 'ROBIN HOOD' WAS BORN.

Under the word Haggas in the glossary will be found the following extract from Harrison's Survey, a manuscript which, as I have said on a previous page, is dated 1637:—

'Imprimis Great Haggus croft (pasture) near Robin Hood's Bower and is
invironed with Loxley Firth and containeth 1a. 2r. 27ip. Item, little Haggas
croft (pasture) wherein is the foundacion of an house or cottage where Robin Hood
was born; this piece is compassed about with Loxley Firth and containeth
00a. 2r. 13ip.'

Under the title of ' Robin Hood's Bower ' in the glossary is an extract from an old account showing that it was once the custom to set up such ' bowers ' as a part of the ceremonies attending a country feast or merrymaking. No English scholar would now be bold enough to assert that such a person as 'Robin Hood' ever existed in the flesh. Robin Hood, or Robin Wood, is as mythical a personage as any of the ancient heroes of romance and song,[1] and the statement of Harrison, therefore, that a man who bore this name was born in Bradfield is to be received as a piece of popular fiction existing in that village exactly two hundred and fifty years ago. Many places have claimed to be the birthplace of this hero of the woods, as many cities have claimed to be the birthplace of Homer. I confess to some surprise at seeing such a statement in so formal a document as a survey of land, written at such a respectable distance of time. It cannot have been the invention of the surveyor himself. He must have heard it from the lips of men who then occupied that secluded village, and probably the belief had long been current that some man of prowess had once inhabited these wilds, had stolen the king's deer, and accomplished feats of bravery and generosity. I remember, when riding on a coach in Scotland, hearing the coachman, as we passed by a ruined cottage, say: 'Gentlemen, this is one of the houses where Rob Roy was born.' And here we have learnt on a much earlier authority that Bradfield was one of the places where 'Robin Hood' was born.

A tradition of this kind, however, is not to be regarded as of no importance. For the people of Bradfield it doubtless once had a full significance. The tradition may have been the dim remembrance of the exploits of some forgotten hero. It is certain that, before the dawn of written history, men had settled in considerable numbers in this place. If the great tracts of moorland would only furnish a scanty subsistence for cattle, there was grass land, however coarse, which required no clearing, and which nature had left in readiness for the plough and for pasturage. Flint arrowheads are still abundantly found in Bradfield. Yet there is no flint found in this district. The field-names speak, if sometimes mysteriously yet with no uncertain sound, of men whose history has not been written, but who have left some few traces on the soil of the mode of life which they led. The great earthwork known as Bailey Hill, originally, in my opinion, a burial mound, and afterwards doubtless the place of the old folk-moot, or village assembly, and the scene of many a religious rite, is a lasting witness of the degree of civilization to which the men of this district had attained before the coming of the invaders of whom history has left some record. If such a place were settled early, if it contained a considerable number of men who practised the arts of husbandry, and who lived in some degree of rude comfort, we may be sure that it would not escape the rapacious eyes of those daring adventurers who came here from the north-west of Europe. Probably the Norse invader robbed or made slaves of the old inhabitants. At all events he established in Bradfield, as has been already shown, the birelaws of his own country.

It must, however, be said that the contests or rivalries of the early inhabitants of this country and their invaders seem too remote to have been the origin of the fine ballad literature and of the stories which have gathered round the name of 'Robin Hood.' We must look to a later time for the fuller development of the minstrelsy which, amongst all half-civilised men, takes for its theme the hero of the battle or the chase. And we must look for our hero 'Robin Hood,' not in the Scandinavian warrior who quaffed wine from the skull of his enemy, but in the bold and gentle archer of the woods, whose chiefest fault—the crime of deer-stealing—was counted almost for a virtue by the people. Amongst all the acts which have been regarded as crimes in the eye of that power which compels the weak to obey the strong the offence of poaching has always been regarded with leniency, if not with favour. The firths or enclosed woods of Bradfield, the great deer park in the valley of Rivelin, with its once magnificent timber—these and the deeper and wilder fastnesses of this ancient abode of man were a fitting home for a hero-archer such as Eigil was. How is it that the ballads tell us that 'Robin Hood' was born at Locksley in Nottinghamshire? There is no such town as Locksley in that county. Ritson appears to have relied on a modern ballad which he printed, entitled 'Robin Hood's Birth, Breeding, Valour, and Marriage.' This ballad con- tains the stanza:—

In Locksly town, in merry Nottinghamshire,—
In merry, sweet Locksly town,
There bold Robin Hood he was born and was bred,—
Bold Robin of famous renown.

The lines are evidently a modern fabrication of very late date. In this book of the surveyor, John Harrison, we have a statement which is certainly much older than this so-called ballad, and which, rightly or wrongly, fixes the birthplace of the hero-archer 'Robin Hood' at Loxley in Bradfield.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. The tales about ' Robin Hood ' were long ago believed to be fables. Withals, in his Diet., ed. 1616, p. 580, has ' Siculae nugae, gerrae, Robinhoodes tales.' Sicula nugas means Sicilian nonsense, trifles, stuff, fables.