Barnsdale and Sherwood

Robin Hood has been associated with two different regions from an early date; Barnsdale in South Yorkshire, and Sherwood in Nottinghamshire. ‘Robin Hood in Barnesdale Stood’ was quoted by a judge in the court of Common Pleas in 1429. ‘Robin Hood in Sherwood stood’ was written in a Lincoln cathedral manuscript in about 1410. In the fifteenth century Robin  was more often associated with Barnsdale than Sherwood, although the two regions are less than forty miles apart. In Robin Hood and the Monk the outlaws adventures are confined to Sherwood and Nottingham. Robin Hood and the Potter names Wentbridge (Went breg)  in the Barnsdale region and Nottingham. In Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, the action takes place in  Barnsdale, and the sheriff is slain when he tries to flee to Nottingham. The Gest names Barnsdale and Nottingham, but of the early ballads, only Robin Hood and the Monk mentions Sherwood. The sheriff of Nottingham intrudes into Barnsdale where he has no jurisdiction, and both he and the outlaws travel between the two regions at lightening speed, which leads to the possibility that there was one cycle of tales that placed Robin in Barnsdale and another that placed him in Sherwood. Over time these may have become joined together, resulting in a confused scenario. On the other hand, the two regions may have been included in the original tales, to appeal to a wider audience, without any regard for accuracy.

Barnsdale or Bernysdale was known as a region between Pontefract and Doncaster, a lightly wooded area that was not officially a forest, but it was a place of ambush in the fourteenth century. All of the following are within this region. The Sayles (Saylis) is mentioned in the Gest, and Wentbridge (Went breg) is mentioned in Robin Hood and the Potter. To the south of Wentbridge, on the western side of the A1, is the Church at Skelbrooke, believed to be on the site of the chapel alluded to by Robin in the closing verses of the Gest, and near the A1 in Skelbrooke Park, there once stood Bishop’s Tree, where according to tradition, Robin intercepted the Bishop of Hereford and made him dance in his boots. To the north of Bishop’s Tree is the probable location of where once stood the Stone of Robert Hode, recorded in a Monk Bretton charter of 1422, and on the eastern side of the A1 to the south, is Robin Hood’s Well.  The Gest and Robin Hoode his Death, both name Kirklees (Kyrkesly, Churchlees) twenty miles west of Barnsdale, as the place of Robin’s death and burial. (see Robin Hood’s Grave) There is a third locality in the Gest, northern Lancashire and Bowland.

Sherwood Forest occupied about one hundred thousand acres of central Nottinghamshire in 1609, and for at least the four centuries previous. Shaped like a lop-sided hourglass, it was over twenty miles long and eight miles wide. The location of the forest was closely related to the acidic soils, which covered a belt of sandstone running north to south down the centre and west of the county. In early times this great area embraced at least a fifth of the whole shire, and it was known in various documents as the forest of Nottingham (Anct. Forest Proc. Chan. No. 3, A.D. 1218; No. 24, A. D. 1232), but the equivalent term of Sherwood soon became the more usual expression. The earlier form was usually Shirewode or Shirwode; the name possibly originated from the fact that a considerable length of the forest bound was also the bound between the two shires of Derby and Nottingham. The name (as Sciryuda) appears as early as 958 (Early Yorkshire Charters, ed. W. Farrer, I, 1914, p.11). Many of its boundaries were formed by rivers: the Trent to the south, the Meden to the north, the Leen to the south-west and the Doverbeck to the south-east. The Crown had large land holdings in the forest, concentrated within Bestwood Park, Clipstone Park, Nottingham Castle and Park, Birklands and Bilhaugh; however it was the monarch’s right to administer the forest law over the whole area. The early thirteenth century saw a long dispute between Henry III and the major landowners of Nottinghamshire over the course of Sherwood’s boundary, and from then until the 1660’s it was regularly perambulated to maintain the geographical details of its extent. The large area of Nottinghamshire that was once Sherwood Forest is now a scattering of woodland, heathland and field. The Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve near Edwinstowe is a haven for ancient oaks and attracts thousands of visitors each year.