A book exploring the legend’s local roots went viral after it was launched by Sensoria, Sheffield Hallam University’s Culture and Creativity Research Institute and Loxley Primary School last month as part of their ongoing campaign to celebrate the folk hero’s links to Sheffield and South Yorkshire.
Reclaiming Robin Hood: Folklore & South Yorkshire’s Infamous Outlaw reignited an age-old debate about the origins of the legend and prompted some jesting between Sheffield and Nottingham, which has long claimed him as their own figure through tourism.
Ron Clayton, Sheffield-based historian and member of the campaign group, said the ‘jousting match’ between the two cities has been rumbling on for years and MPs on either side of the debate even had a tradition of arguing about it in Parliament some years ago.
He said: “We are not trying to take anything away from Nottingham. All we are trying to do is fit Loxley, South Yorkshire and indeed Yorkshire into the picture…
“I would say to Nottingham: you’ve got your share of him and we’ve got our share of him. We don’t want to fight over it. At the end of the day we are two great English cities and we are quite proud of this geezer and it’s a great story. Whether he existed or not is totally irrelevant, it’s a great story and I’m so chuffed about the book with its local connections.”
The book’s chapters – written by local experts including Dr David Clarke, associate professor at Sheffield Hallam University and co-founder of the Centre for Contemporary Legend, and
Dan Eaton, who found what is believed to be the exact birthplace of Robin Hood behind Loxley Primary School where he teaches – explores the South Yorkshire tales, trails and traditions behind the legend.
As well as the book, the campaign has so far seen an outdoor screening in Loxley valley woodland and the release of a location-based app marking key Robin Hood, who is also known as Robin of Loxley, spots around the region.
Future plans include an Outlaw’s Picnic in May, a statue of young Robin Hood in Loxley and a trail with silver arrow plaques marking spots highlighted on the app.
Mr Clayton said: “It’s something to pass on to future generations. It’s alright having these Marvel superheroes who wear their underpants in front of their trousers and all this nonsense and video games but this is something that goes back four hundred years, it’s part of our culture and I’m sure children will be excited about this – that’s why it’s so very exciting. He’s our hero, an S6 lad made good.”
What was Nottingham’s response?
Media coverage of the book spread across regional and national newspapers, radio stations and even news websites in Sweden and Belgium with some encouraging the ‘feud’ between the two cities.
The Daily Star even had a photoshopped image of Robin Hood wearing a flat cap on its front page with the caption: “Ow do, Robin.”
Among those weighing in on the debate was the current sheriff of Nottingham, Merlita Bryan, who had some strong words for Sheffield.
She said: “Robin Hood is as much from Sheffield as Jarvis Cocker is from Nottingham. Everyone knows his arch-rival wasn’t the sheriff of Sheffield.
“We get it – Yorkshire wants a piece of the legendary action … but really everyone knows that he was from Nottingham.”
Brendan Clarke-Smith, Conservative MP for Bassetlaw, shared a story questioning whether Robin Hood was a Yorkshireman on Facebook with the caption: “No he wasn’t. Bugger off!”
Many others picked sides among the comments on social media including one Twitter user who suggested making it an annual Boxing Day tradition for Sheffield and Nottingham to fight over the legend.
Dr Clarke reiterated to the press that the group was not trying to battle with Nottingham and that Robin Hood, if he was real and alive today, would be laughing at the reaction. He also pointed out that the boundaries we know now would not have existed in the time Robin Hood was said to have lived.
He said: “It shouldn’t be taken too seriously. All we’re saying is, there is a lot of evidence that someone who called themselves Robin Hood was born in Sheffield, not necessarily the Robin Hood, because there is no such thing as the Robin Hood.
“Why is that such a big deal? All we’re doing is examining the evidence, we’re not stealing something from Nottingham. But the fact that people are getting so hot under the collar about it, even now, 800 years after this person is supposed to have lived and died, suggests it does actually mean something to people.”
What are Sheffield’s links to Robin Hood and why has the story endured so long?
Stories about Robin Hood have been told throughout the world in countless plays, books, films and other mediums for hundreds of years.
Like most storytelling, it has evolved over time and various places now stake claim to the folk hero including Wakefield and Kirklees.
But the earliest known documents and ballads locate his birthplace as Little Haggas Croft, in Loxley, and his stomping ground as the forests and woodlands of Barnsdale and South Yorkshire.
Dr Clarke said: “The story that Robin was born at Loxley can be traced back in documentary evidence and oral tradition to the early 17th century. The moniker ‘Robin of Loxley’ has since become part of popular culture.
“Sheffield could make so much more of its status as the birthplace of one of England’s greatest folk heroes. But at the moment there is nothing for tourists to visit or see. We are working with Sensoria to bring Robin home.”
Speaking on why the story has endured so long, Mr Clayton said: “It’s good over evil. Everybody loves a rebel, I suppose I’m a rebel myself. Sheffield is a radical city, it looks unkindly on authority – that’s why it kicks off. We are bloody minded, it’s part of the Yorkshire character.
“I remember one guy telling me there was a knock on his door one day and there was a Canadian academic standing there in Lincoln green and he had come across here – it’s universal…
“It’s struck a chord with people … It’s amazing how it’s stirred people’s imagination.
“Like a lot of things with Robin Hood, you can’t be precise about it but it is a phenomenon and Sheffield has certainly caused a few ripples but we don’t want a blood feud with Nottingham.”
The book is available to buy online from www.sensoria.org.uk/sensoria-shop/