Daggers drawn in bid to bring Robin Hood ‘home’

Doncaster Museum's Carolyn Dalton with a 14th century dagger.
Doncaster Museum's Carolyn Dalton with a 14th century dagger.
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EVER SINCE history’s most famous outlaw fired his last arrow, the county of Nottinghamshire has laid largest claim to the legend of Robin Hood.

But all that could be about to change, as Yorkshire launches a fresh bid to reclaim history’s most famous outlaw as one of its own.

It has long been thought that the roots of the roguish rebel with a cause are in Sherwood Forest, stomping ground of Robin’s arch-enemy the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Yet the earliest stories put his origins firmly in Barnsdale, on the border between South and West Yorkshire.

And now Doncaster has decided the public has been hoodwinked for long enough.

To mark this year’s St Leger horse racing festival, which brings thousands of tourists to the area, Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery has unveiled an exhibition exploring its links to Robin and his merry men.

Just as the bearded bandit “kept his arrows sharp to fight for what is right”, the town council is also inviting visitors to join the crusade to declare Robin son of Doncaster.

Museum manager Carolyn Dalton said: “Robin Hood’s links to Yorkshire are far stronger historically, the oldest and most detailed stories give details of the north Doncaster and Pontefract area.

“I think over the years Yorkshire hasn’t made much of the connection.

“In terms of where Robin and his men lived, history points to Barnsdale. It’s more than likely that Robin Hood was a Yorkshireman.”

It is not the first time a custody battle between Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire has been fought. In 2004, Doncaster was accused of “jumping on the bandwagon” when it named its airport after the hero who robbed from the rich to feed the poor.

Experts argue Yorkshire boasts more points of historical reference than any other county, including the site where his remains are believed to be buried at Kirklees Priory.

One of the earliest stories of the ‘good outlaw’, The Gest of Robin Hood, is set in Barnsdale Forest, just north of Doncaster in the Skellow and Wentbridge area, near Pontefract.

First written down in the 15th Century, the Gest also mentions a church where Robin later marries Maid Marian, which is thought to be St Mary Magdalene, Campsall.

In another legend, the outlaw ties the Bishop of Hereford to a tree in Barnsdale and robs him. This was said to have taken place in Skelbrooke Park, where a ‘Bishop’s tree’ still stands. The forest is also home to Robin Hood’s Well.

The only early ballad to mention Nottingham, however, is Robin Hood and theMonk and few mention the notorious Sheriff.

Medieval artefacts are on display as part of the exhibition, which opened this week, while the question of whether Doncaster can claim Robin is being put to a visitors’ poll. Ms Dalton is also keen to set up a Robin Hood trail in the area.

Coun Bob Johnson, Doncaster Council’s cabinet member for tourism, said: “Robin Hood’s links to Doncaster and the rest of Yorkshire are perhaps more convincing than Nottingham’s, so I’m hoping the exhibition will be interesting and thought-provoking.”