Saturday, 21 December 2013


Legends are an integral part of our heritage, and many stories are told
which very likely have some basis on fact.

Robin  Hood



One of our greatest legendary figures is Robin Hood.   Many stories are told about this man said to have been born Earl of Huntingdon in the middle ages.  He was outlawed by King John and his sworn enemy was the Sheriff of Nottingham.  He and his band of Merrie Men frequented the area around Sherwood Forest, where they frequently robbed the rich and gave to the poor.  Their main meeting place was said to be at the Major Oak in the forest   The area surrounding Barnsdale near Doncaster in South Yorkshire was once a part of this densely wooded area and a favourite haunt of the notorious outlaw.  At Burgwallis on the modern A1 road there is a well,  covered by a very fine stone shelter.  The story goes that Robin captured the Bishop of Hereford at this spot and made him dance around a tree until he was exhausted and then relieved him of the £300 he was carrying.  The well marks the spot and has been known as Robin Hood’s Well  since the time of Henry V111 at least.   The present edifice was erected by the Earl of Carlisle and attributed to Vanburgh.   It was moved from the north side of Skell Brook to its present position when the road was widened.   The Robin Hood Inn, which once stood nearby, displayed a three pint leather bottle, said to have belonged to Robin Hood.

To perpetuate the legend, it is said that Robin Hood died at a nunnery near Kirklees Hall in West Yorkshire, where he was being cared for by a cousin who was prioress there.  It is claimed that he was buried in Kirklees Park, where a stone marked his grave.  It has allegedly been noted by antiquarians that the following inscription appeared on the stone :

‘ Hear undernead dis latil stean

Laiz Robert Earl of Huntingdon

Nea arcer ver as hie so geud

An pipl kauld im Robin Hood

Sick utlaz as hi an iz men

Vil England nivr si agen

Obit 24 Kal Dekembris, 1247. '



The Major Oak

  © Copyright John Palmer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.


Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]
I am grateful to John Palmer for the use of his Geograph photograph.



 Robin Hood's Well




Little  John


Robin Hood’s trusty lieutenant was known as Little John, and he is reputed to have hailed from Hathersage in Derbyshire.   A huge grave in the churchyard at Hathersage is claimed to be that of this man, having died in a nearby cottage.   In 1847, the occupant of the cottage, Jenny Shard, a woman of 70, who had had the story from her father and which had been handed down in the family, remembered the grave being opened by Captain James Shuttleworth, when a thigh bone 32ins long had been found, indicating that it was of a very big man.   Added to the story is the fact that there was at one time in the church a long bow and cap, said to have belonged to Little John.   At some stage they were taken away for safe keeping? By the local squire and their present whereabouts are not known.

Little John's grave

The  legendary  highwayman


In the graveyard of the former St George’s Church in George Street, York, is a grave which is reputed to be that of the legendary highwayman, Dick Turpin.  The renovated gravestone reads :

John Palmer,  otherwise  Richard Turpin

The notorious highwayman and horse stealer.

Executed at Tyburn, April 17th 1739

And buried in St George’s churchyard.

Although Tyburn was the name of the London gallows it may well have been a common name used for any gallows, because Turpin was almost certainly hanged on York Knavesmire.   

Dick Turpin was born at The Bell Inn (now The Rose and Crown) at Hempstead in Essex in 1705 and during his lifetime he was a cattle and horse thief, a smuggler and a highwayman.  He was finally arrested at The Green Dragon Inn at Welton, East Yorkshire in 1739 for poaching, under the alias of John Palmer.  Whilst in custody at York Castle, Turpin is said to have written a letter to his brother and a schoolmaster who recognised the writing, informed the authorities.   Turpin was then charged with a variety of offences and was subsequently hanged. 

It was Harrison Ainsworth, in his 1834 novel Rookwood, who wrongly attributed the famous ride from London to York, to Turpin and his horse Black Bess.   That event actually took place some thirty years before Turpin was born and was in fact performed by Swift Nick Nevison, another famous highwayman.   The fact is that Turpin was just a common thief and not the romantic character portrayed.

Dick Turpin's grave


King Arthur
The intriguing Arthurian legend is well documented and events of that period have long been argued about.   One of the most popular episodes is that of The Knights of the Round Table.    The alleged Round Table  can be seen in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle in Hampshire, where it has hung on the wall since about 1463.  The table was round in order to avoid rivalry for precedence, 18 feet in diameter it weighs more than a ton.

Although now dated much later than King Arthurs's time the mystique of this table still remains.  It was probably created around 1290 by Edward 1 to celebrate the betrothal of one of his daughter's.
In the early years of King Henry VIII’s reign the table was painted with the Tudor Rose at its centre and is thought to portray Henry as King Arthur on his throne, surrounded by 24 places for his Knights of the Round Table.

The round table, Great Hall, Winchester Castle
Is this King Arthur's original round table? No. There probably never was one. But because of a revival of interest in the Arthurian legends in the late 13th century, Edward 1st had this constructed about 1280 (carbon dating of the wood confirms this date). It was probably built in the Great Hall, of 121 pieces of oak from seven oak trees, weighing one ton, four hundred weight. The twelve legs, plus the 13th central leg are missing.
In the early part of Henry 8th's reign, about 1510, a revival of interest in Arthur caused Henry to have this painted. His father, Henry 7th, was anxious to establish his true right to the throne after the Wars of the Roses so links to Saxons and Britons were found. Henry 7ths first son was named Arthur, but after he died Henry 8th inherited the throne. To impress Charles 5th of Spain, his great European rival linked to Charlemagne, Henry had the table painted, with the Tudor rose in the centre and the names of the 24 knights of the round table around the outside. And is that Arthur's portrait at the top? No, it is a likeness of a young Henry 8th. 16th century spin.
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   © Copyright Graham Horn and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
I am grateful to Graham Horn for the use of his Geograph photograph and text.

There is also a strong legend (also applied to different places) that King Arthur and his Knights lay sleeping in a chamber beneath Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire.  There is a local tale that Richmond man, Potter Thompson, stumbled upon a cave under the castle where came upon the sleeping Knights.  As he touched the sword Escaliber, the Knights started to wake up and Potter fled in fear.  Unfortunately he was unable to find the cave when he later returned with witnesses.

Richmond Castle

Bosherton Lakes on the Stackpole Estate in South Wales is said to be the spot where the dying King Arthur’s disposed of his sword Escaliber.

Bosherton Lakes
The  drummer  boy


It has always been thought that there is an underground passage connecting Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire, with Easby Abbey just one mile away on the Banks of the River Swale.   The story goes that towards the end of the 18th century, soldiers at the castle found the entrance to the tunnel under the keep.   It was so small that they had to use a small regimental drummer by to gain access.  He was told to follow the tunnel, beating his drum as he went, to enable the soldiers to follow the route from above.   Apparently the plan was successful in that the drum was clearly heard for half a mile in the direction of Easby Abbey, but then ceased and the drummer boy was never seen again.    The supposed tunnel has never been found, but  The Drummer Boy Stone marks the exact sport where the drumming was said to have ceased near to Easby Wood on the east bank of Swale.

The Drummer Boy stone

Lady Godiva
Lady Godiva was an Anglo-Saxon noble woman, the wife of Leofric, the Earl of Mercia. According to legend Lady Godiva took pity on the people of Coventry who were suffering heavily from her husband’s oppressive taxation, and despite her constant appeals for clemency, he refused to submit. At last, weary of her entreaties, the Earl said that he would grant her request if she would strip and ride naked through the streets of Coventry. The lady took him at his word and after issuing a proclamation that all people should stay indoors and shutter their windows, she rode through the town clothed only in her long hair. Apparently only one man called Tom disobeyed the proclamation and bore a hole in his shutter – ‘Peeping Tom’ was said to have been struck blind. A fine statue of Lady Godiva on her horse can be seen in the centre of Coventry in Broadgate.

 Lady Godiva

The  Mermaid


Inside the church of St Senora in the tiny village of Zennor in Cornwall, is a bench end carving of a Mermaid.   Local legend has it that one Mathew Trewhella, the local squire’s son, who was a tenor in the church choir, became bewitched by a mermaid.  He was so enchanted with her that he threw himself into the sea to be with her.   His body was never found and it was assumed that he had drowned.   Many years later, some fishermen saw their friend with a fishes tail, swimming in the sea with the mermaid and several young merboys and mergirls.  It is said that on a stormy night his voice can be heard singing beneath the sea.

The Mermaid bench




           Sour Plums


Two foxes and a plum tree is the basis of the arms and motto of Galashiels in the Scottish Borders. This strange motto probably derives from an incident which occurred in 1337 when a group of English soldiers stopped to gather wild plums growing near the joining of the Rivers Tweed and Gala. They were so engrossed that they were surprised and slain by a party of Scots soldiers. This curious motto is known as ‘Sour Plums’ referring to the fact that the plums probably ended up tasting sour to the luckless English raiders.


Little  Jack  Horner


Nursery rhymes are very much part of our heritage and usually derive from some historical fact.  

Mells is a very attractive village situated some 3 miles west of Frome in Somerset.  It has an unusually large number of listed buildings making most of the village a conservation area.   Although there is no public access to Mells Manor, tantalising views of this fine house can be seen from various vantage points.  Formerly belonging to Glastonbury Abbey, the manor was acquired in 1543 by one John Horner, following the dissolution of the Abbey in 1539. 

 Horner had been closely involved in the management of Glastonbury’s estates and his speedy acquisition of Mells Manor is thought to give rise to the nursery rhyme Little Jack Horner.    The story goes that, wishing to placate Henry V111, the Abbot of Glastonbury sent him a pie containing the deeds of Mells Manor.  The emissary was indeed Thomas Horner who ‘put in his thumb’  and pulled out the deeds!  Quite a plum.  The property stayed in the possession of the Horner family until recent times.


Mells Manor

Rock a bye baby


In the 1700’2 a family called Kenny or Kenyon lived in Shining Cliff Woods near to Ambergate in Derbyshire where Luke Kenny worked as a charcoal burner. It is said that Luke and his wife Betty actually lived in a huge yew tree reputed to be 2000 years old where they formed a house within the tree with a turf roof. Here they brought up eight children. A bough of the tree was hollowed out as a cradle and legend has it that this gave rise to the nursery rhyme ‘Rock a bye baby.’ Part of the yew tree still remains and is known as the Betty Kenny tree.


Shining Cliff Woods

The Little People


A lovely sign can be seen on the hills overlooking The Lakes of Killarney in Ireland
Leprechaun crossing’.

Willy Howe
Willy Howe is a Neolithic round barrow at Wold Newton in The East Riding of Yorkshire which, at  36 metres in length and 7 metres high, is one of the largest in Britain.  Local legend says that it is the haunt of fairies.   Apparently back in the reign of Henry 1, a local man heard sweet enchanting music emanating from the barrow and then through a door in the hillside, he saw a fabulous banqueting hall where fairies were drinking and feasting.  He was offered a drink, snatched the goblet and fled.  The goblet was of worthless fairy gold and, it is said, was presented to the King. This tale has been handed down from a monk, William of Newburgh who was born at Bridlington in 1136 and who was later Canon of Newburgh Priory.



No comments: