‘Sheffield needs a hero’ so let’s celebrate Robin Hood

“Robin Hood is a great story - good against evil. Tina Turner says we don’t need another hero but we do, we all need heroes. We need somebody more superhuman than these tin-pot politicians. These idols with feet of clay. We need somebody to look up to,” Ron Clayton, Sheffield historian, said.

Friday, 6th September 2019, 12:32 pm
Circa 1400, A corpulent priest is tormented by a group of men, in one of the legends surrounding the outlaw Robin Hood. It is probably inspired by the ballad 'Robin Hood and the Bishop', with Robin wearing the red hat and wielding a staff. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Mr Clayton, who enthusiastically also calls himself Friar Tuck, has joined the campaign to bring Robin Hood home to Loxley - which is being lead by Sensoria Festival and the Centre for Contemporary Legend based at Sheffield Hallam University.

The group wants to bring some of the joy, community pride, tourism and wealth the legend has brought Nottingham.

Most of us are familiar with how the merry outlaw battled with the Sheriff of Nottingham, roamed Sherwood Forest and regularly sneaked into at Nottingham Castle.

Ron Clayton.

But records dating back more than 500 years ago tell a much more Yorkshire tale and give evidence that Robin Hood was born in Sheffield and had most of his adventures in South Yorkshire.

Dr David Clarke, co-founder of CCL and academic at Sheffield Hallam University, said the first mention of him was in 1377 in a medieval collection of rhymes. Around a century later there was around 38 ballads written about the merry outlaw, the earliest dating around 1450 – all of which refer to his stomping ground as South Yorkshire.

He added: “My whole argument is not that the Robin Hood came from Loxley - it’s impossible to isolate an original one - but there certainly was one here long before Nottingham got in on the act.”

Who was Robin Hood?

Dr Simon Heywood, expert in storytelling at the University of Derby who wrote about Robin Hood in his book South Yorkshire Folk Tales.

Today, he is one of the most popular and important folk heroes in England who inspired countless films, children’s books, plays, poetry, TV shows and comics. There are now various versions of Robin Hood tales but the original stories were quite different to the ones most of us are familiar with now. For example, original ballads say he never ‘stole from the rich and gave to the poor’ but kept the treasure for himself.

Dr Clarke said: “It’s a good story and good stories live on but they never live on in exactly the same way they were told originally. The more they are told the more things change, people add things, they take things away, they put spins on them. Some just disappear and people forget about them and the ones that people identify with live on. That’s why I think Robin Hood has, because he personifies something that is part of people’s identity in this area - they don’t like arrogant, rich people coming in and telling them what to do.”

Dr Simon Heywood, expert in storytelling at the University of Derby, who also wrote about Robin Hood in his book South Yorkshire Folk Tales, 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 stories there are 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.

He added that the original stories were much more gruesome than the character we know now.

David Clarke, academic at Sheffield Hallam

“I think some of the stories in the old ballads, five or six hundred years ago, the Robin Hood there is a very different figure to the one we know nowadays. We think of Robin as being this swashbuckling figure but back then he’s not quite as light-hearted. Some of the stories are very violent and disturbing, he definitely doesn’t mind killing people. But 600 years ago it was more contemporary, it was just the stuff of everyday life.”

What makes Robin a Sheffielder?

As well as his rebellious Sheffield spirit, records say he was born at Little Haggas Croft in Loxley, met Little John in West Yorkshire, robbed carriages along the Great North Road alongside what is now the A1 in Skelbroke, met with Maid Marian under the Trysting Tree in Rotherham, hid out in a cave on Stanage Edge and roamed the forests of Hallamshire.

Dr Clarke said: “In all of the Nottingham versions all this is sort of glossed over. It’s just suddenly he’s in Nottingham with his merry men but how did he get there? Where did he come from?”

Reenactment at the Robin Hood Inn, Little Matlock.

Why now?

Sensoria Festival and CCL said it was about time to bring the legend home. Jo Wingate, of Sensoria, said: “Sensoria is a festival that is very grounded in Sheffield and we’ve always celebrated Sheffield talent.

“This year our theme is myths and legends and we’ve always sort of harboured this feeling of ‘it’s a shame we don’t do more to celebrate Robin Hood of Loxley’ so we thought this year is the year to do it. There are so many on-screen depictions of Robin Hood so it seemed like a natural thing for us as a festival.”

Mr Clayton said there had been a number of attempts to revive the legend in Sheffield in the past including calls for the council to put up a statue and reenactments. He said: “What gets me is the failure of Sheffield, South Yorkshire and Yorkshire to make more of this. Because Nottingham has made a fortune out of it.

“We’ve got some lovely woodland. This is the outdoor city - we’ve got the potential. Over the years we drafted a statue and one of the councillors said it’ll get vandalised - which is a negative attitude.

“When we did the Robin Hood enactments the people at Robin Hood pub (which is now closed) paid for them and people turned up, they brought their kids along with a little bow and arrow and Robin Hood cap. It shows. Give them something to say ‘this is our pride, this is Loxley’. What would be wrong with a little plaque on the village green saying ‘Loxley, the birthplace of Robin Hood’. Nottingham is not ashamed to shout it from the rooftops so should Yorkshire be.

“We’ve got to do something and this is our last chance because we’ve missed so many chances beforehand.”

What’s next?

Both Mr Clayton and Dr Clarke lent their voices to a new audio visual app created for the campaign which highlights the key historical Robin Hood sites in the region. Sensoria said is set to go live this week.

Sensoria Festival hosted two outdoor screenings of the ‘definitive’ film The Adventures of Robin Hood last weekend at Stoneface in Loxley. The group are also putting together an illustrated booklet exploring the legend’s links to the area and there are plans to put down plaques marking the special sites and calls for a statue, similar to the monument that stands outside the entrance to Nottingham Castle. Sensoria are also planning to host an ‘outlaw’s picnic’ next year near Little Haggas Croft.

Mr Clayton said: “Kids these days are into iPods, PlayStations and American superheroes with their underpants on the outside of their trousers but why can’t we go back to our own English heroes and legends? We need to pass this onto them. Because all we’ve got are a few street names. It would be an asset to that valley to have a sculpture.

“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. This city needs everything it can so let’s look to a bit of folklore.”