Little John’s Bow Found

Posted by Robert Fortunaso, 26/7/2023


Little John’s supposed bow has been returned to Cannon Hall, a donation by James Fraser in 2022. James is a descendant of the Spencer-Stanhope family who owned the Hall until the 1950’s. The bow has now been conserved and was on display in the Cannon Hall Museum, but is currently back in storage. The bow has a chequered history interwoven with various families, the full details of which I will present in due course.

Here is a brief summary:

Little John’s bow was recorded as being suspended in Hathersage church, in 1625. Benjamin Ashton, the squire of Hathersage, died in 1725, and his Hathersage estate passed to his sister Christiana Spencer (she had married William Spencer of Cannon Hall near Barnsley in 1715). The bow was removed from Hathersage Church to Cannon Hall by William Spencer or his son John in the eighteenth century, probably after 1729. John’s sister Ann Spencer married Walter Stanhope who assumed the name Spencer-Stanhope and the bow remained at Cannon Hall in the possession of the Spencer-Stanhope family. The house was acquired by the Barnsley Corporation in 1951 and the bow remained on loan for several years at Cannon Hall. Mr J. Spencer-Stanhope left the bow to his daughter, Elizabeth Frazer (she married Lt. Com. later rear Admiral, the Hon George Frazer in 1920). Their son Mr Simon Frazer had the bow at his home in Scotland in 1980.

The bow is in a later case made from mahogany and its dimensions are 30mm h x 40mm d x 2000mm w. A note in the case reads, ‘at Cannon Hall The Celebrated Bow of Little John of Sherwood … measures.. 6ft 7in.’*

* This information was kindly supplied by the Cannon Hall Museum, 21/7/2023.


The above image is taken from Let These Stones Live, Martin F. H. Hulbert, 1981-82. Published for the 7th Centenary of the Christian Church in Hathersage.

Some websites claim that Little John’s bow and cap are on display in Parham House, West Sussex, but this is incorrect. I have received confirmation from Parham House on 25/7/23 that there is no record of either ever having been there. The bow and cap’s association with Parham House possibly originated with Sir Sibbald David Scott’s claim in 1868, that Little John’s helmet and bow were suspended in Hathersage Church until 1784, and that both of these ‘are now in the Parham Collection’. See, The British Army: Its Origin, Progress, and Equipment.