Robin Hood’s Grave, Kirklees Park (Part Three)

Okay, this entry doesn’t actually contain any new information but that’s because all such material can be found in my recently published book “Grave Concerns: The Follies and Folklore of Robin Hood’s Final Resting Place”! This is doubtless an act of shameless self-promotion on my part but in these days of dwindling marketing budgets, what else is a poor author to do? Plus, if I can’t hawk a book I’ve written on my own blog, where else can I? I hope, however, that many regular readers of this site will find the tome extremely informative and as such, I pray nobody will mind me bringing it to their attention. To purchase a copy, please click here or on the cover image further down the page.

According to a review in Northern Earth Magazine Issue 129, “Kai Roberts unravels a highly tangled skein of fact, folklore, paraphenomena, assumption, reinterpretation, vampirism, ego and propertarianism to seek a single unified theory of Robin Hood’s supposed resting-place in West Yorkshire. It makes for an entertaining read, all backed up by thorough research and organisation of the material”.

And from the March 2012 issue of Valley Life: “Folklore enthusiasts will find much that enlightens and informs in a carefully researched book that examines every fact and fantasy connected with Robin Hood’s death. A little light reading it certainly is not but the reader who persists will, at the close of the last page, be able to claim an encyclopaedic knowledge of a British icon that still intrigues and enthrals to this day.”

Below, you’ll find a chapter breakdown, whilst here’s the blurb from the back cover:

“In the modern era, the narrative of Robin Hood’s death is increasingly one of the least familiar aspects of the outlaw’s legend. It is all too commonly assumed that as Robin Hood is a legendary hero in the vein of King Arthur, there must be numerous sites that claim to be his final resting place. Yet this is not the case. Kirklees Priory in West Yorkshire is the only place that has been repeatedly associated with the outlaw’s grave, in terms of both documentary sources and material remains, over several hundred years.

Studying Kirklees and the various legends to have grown up around it allows us an insight into the reciprocal relationship between people and place. Of particular interest is the extent to which the state of Robin Hood’s grave in the modern era and all the associated disputes have determined the interpretation of the paranormal phenomena witnessed in the vicinity of the site today. In this regard, it is a study in modern myth-making.”

Chapter One

A detailed examination of the narrative of Robin’s death from the earliest medieval ballads to romanticised Victorian sources, observing variations and continuity especially regarding the role of Kirklees Priory and the legendary location of the outlaw’s grave.

Chapter Two

A history of Kirklees Park from its earliest occupation during the Iron Age and Romano-British period, through the life of Kirklees Priory during the Middle Ages, the estate’s subsequent possession by generations of the Armytage baronetcy and its sale in recent years.

Chapter Three

A history of the monument known as “Robin Hood’s Grave”, endeavouring to show that whilst its origins may be shrouded in mystery it is far more than an 18th Century folly and interrogating the reliability of much of what has been written about the site since the 1600s.

Chapter Four

A discussion of how the narrative of Robin’s death and the material presence of a “grave” at Kirklees has been used to support arguments for the outlaw’s historical existence (or otherwise) over the centuries, including some comments on the character’s mythic aspects.

Chapter Five

A history of public interest in the site of Robin Hood’s Grave, from the Armytage’s early exploitation of the site to their disinterest in the late 20th Century and refusal to permit access, resulting in the controversial campaign of the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society.

Chapter Six

A digression chronicling the events at Highgate Cemetery in the early 1970s, in order to provide a valuable comparison with later occurrences at Robin Hood’s Grave and introduce readers to the colourful characters of Bishop Sean Manchester and David Farrant.

Chapter Seven

A study of the reputed paranormal activity around Robin Hood’s Grave, from 17th Century folklore to the range of contemporary reports, with reference to the involvement of the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society and the site’s role in the decades-old Manchester/Farrant feud.

Chapter Eight

An examination of the psychogeogaphical landscape of which Robin Hood’s Grave has become an important part, encompassing Castle Hill, Hartshead Church, the Three Nuns pub, the Brontë family, holy wells, Luddites, dragons, ghosts and a brief history of ley-lines.

Chapter Nine

A survey of folklore pertaining to Robin Hood elsewhere in the Calder Valley, with particular reference to its connection with sites of topographic or prehistoric significance, introducing a tentative hypothesis regarding what this might tell us about the monument at Kirklees.

Chapter Ten

An analysis of the sociological, psychological and folkloric processes which have influenced perceptions of Robin Hood’s Grave, introducing the reader to concepts such as fakelore, legend-tripping and ostension, and the roles they have played in the site’s curious history.

Finally, the acknowledgements were omitted from the book in error. They are published below until such as time as they can be included in a future edition.

For information and advice: Paul Bennett, Anna Best, John Billingsley, Calderdale Libraries, Jon Downes, Corinna Downes, David Farrant, Catherine Fearnley, Barbara Green, Michael Hartley, Anthony Hogg, Gareth J. Medway, Bishop Sean Manchester, Andy Roberts, Paul Weatherhead and West Yorkshire Archive Service.

For moral support and good sense: Jim Firth, Mark Firth, Tom Firth, Patrick Green, Mark Howells, Helen Roberts, Pat & Derek Roberts, Phil Roper, Samantha Rule and Quentin Whitaker.

The Greetland Altar

In 1597, two workmen by the names of Thomas Miles and Thomas Halliwell dug up a Roman altar behind a house called Thick Hollins (now identified as Bank Top Farm) in Greetland. It was recorded by William Camden in the 1600 edition of his monumental topographical work Britannia, in which he memorably writes “At Greetland in the toppe of an hill whereunto there is no ascent but of one side, was digged up this votive altar.” A contemporary account by John Hanson, an officer of the Manor of Wakefield mentions further “diverse” finds nearby but does not elaborate.

Following its discovery, the altar was kept by local justice of the peace, Sir John Savile, at nearby Bradley Hall for no great length of time, before somehow making its way into the collection of a Cambridgeshire antiquary around 1600 so that by 1732, it was recorded standing neglected in the church at Cunnington in that county. It was subsequently donated to Trinity College at the University of Cambridge and stood in the vestibule of its library until it was moved to its present home at the University’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology during the 1960s.

An inscription upon the altar, written in abbreviated Latin as was the custom, reads “To the goddess Victoria Brigantia and to the Deities of the two Emperors, Titus Aurelius Aurelianus gave and dedicated this altar for himself and his family, while he himself was mater of the sacred rites in the third consulship of Antonius and the second of Geta.” This dates the altar to some time between 205 and 208 AD and represents a rare instance of Geta’s name surviving on a monument, for in 212 AD he was murdered by his brother and co-emperor Caracalla and all references to him were effaced.

It is one of only eight altars dedicated to the goddess Brigantia known in Britain, three of which also come from West Yorkshire and the other four from Hadrian’s Wall. Brigantia was the tutelary mother goddess of the Brigantes tribe, the Celtic Britons who occupied most of northern England during the Romano-British period. It was also the name given to their kingdom. Hence, it is certain that the goddess Brigantia would have been the primary deity worshipped by native inhabitants of the Lower Calder Valley during that period, and probably representative of a tradition extending back into the Iron Age.

Although no direct traditions concerning the goddess have survived, here she is associated with the Roman goddess of victory, Victoria, according to a custom known as “interpretario romana”, whereby local deities were incorporated into the Roman pantheon in order to assist the integration of the Empire with native populaces. This suggests a warlike aspect. Elsewhere, however, she is associated with Minerva, indicating she also fulfilled a pastoral and artistic role. It is thought she was also a northern English manifestation of the goddess Brigid, whose legends have survived in later Celtic sources from Ireland.

The discovery of the altar at Greetland has led some commentators to speculate that the area might have been the site of the lost Roman station of Cambodunum. The outpost is mentioned in the Antonine Itinerary, a register of over two hundred roads in the Roman Empire dating from the early 3rd Century AD, as located between Manchester and Tadcaster, although the distances given are erroneous, leaving its precise location mysterious. Some believed it was the fort at Slack, above Huddersfield some three miles south of Greetland, but recent excavations have shown that site had been abandoned by 125 AD.

In his 1732 work, Britannia Romana, John Horsley writes “Such altars as these, I think, are never found but where a Roman settlement has been… The Roman station of Cambodunum… has been upon that rivulet which runs by Greetland bridge into the Calder.” However, Dr. John Watson in his seminal 1775 work The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax disagrees, saying that he has searched the area thoroughly and failed to find any further trace of Roman remains. As Watson was a curate at nearby Ripponden, he would surely have had much opportunity for such investigations.

The controversy has continued to rage over the centuries and it has still not been settled. That successive excavations at Bank Top have failed to uncover any Roman finds indicative of a habitation is frequently cited as evidence against the theory. However, as the historian Donald Haigh points out, Horsley suggests that Cambodunum would’ve stood in the valley below Bank Top at the confluence of the Black Brook with the River Calder, as the junction of valleys near water sources was favoured for such sites, rather than on the hilltop itself. However, at present, no excavation has ever tested this theory.

Published in: on June 11, 2010 at 18:53  Comments (11)  
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Robin Hood’s Grave, Kirklees Park (Part Two)

STOP PRESS: My book “Grave Concerns: The Follies and Folklore of Robin Hood’s Final Resting Place” has now been published by CFZ Press. It examines the history and legend surrounding Robin Hood’s grave at Kirklees in great depth. More information can be found here and the book can be purchased by clicking here.

Link to Part One

Located in the dense woodland of Kirklees Park, the site of Robin Hood’s Grave has always been a locus of superstition and myth. Whilst in recent years, the stories have become more lurid, the earliest tales recall some of the most venerable traditions of British folklore. In his 1730 work, The Ancient and Modern History of the Famous City of York, Thomas Gent claims that in years gone by the gravestone was removed by one of the local gentry for use as the hearthstone in his manor. However, on the morning following its installation it was discovered “turned aside,” something that occurred on three successive occasions until it was returned to its original position. Meanwhile, the reason the stone was enclosed by railings in the late 18th Century was to deter navvies working in the area from taking chippings from the stone, which they believed worked as a cure for toothache.

Such stories are very similar to those attached to numerous prehistoric standing stones and other megalithic sites across Western Europe, leading some to speculate that the original stone of Robin Hood’s Grave may have been a much earlier monolith which was adapted to a new tradition. This process is not uncommon in the Calderdale region, where a number of ancient geomantic sites have become associated with the outlaw, who is sometimes regarded by folklorists as a medieval folk-memory of a pre-Christian deity. One such example is Robin Hood’s Penny Stone, a rocking stone at the centre of a lost stone circle near Wainstalls, that local folklore holds was thrown there by Robin from across the valley. He is often portrayed as a giant of enormous strength in legends of the region, which supports the notion that older pagan legends have been transposed into his name.

The first published hint of a long-standing local belief in darker supernatural forces around the grave comes from Land of Lost Content: The Luddite Revolt by Robert Reid, in which the author writes: “The Armytage family lived over the brow of the hill on a splendid site once occupied by Cistercian nuns. It was called Kirklees. There was more than an insularity which set the mansion apart. There was a mystery about it which local people only reluctantly tried to penetrate. The mystery was helped physically by the thick shroud of trees that surrounded the place and was sustained by local tales of ghosts of prioresses and nuns and or the death of Robin Hood whose grave is so imperturbably marked as lying within Kirklees grounds in spite of any facts which might suggest to the contrary.” This has become a much quoted passage and appears to have greatly influenced subsequent belief attached to the site.

A number of local stories concerning apparent paranormal activity in the area have been collected over the years. One of the earliest oral recollections dates to 1923 when John Hill, a tenant farmer living in the gatehouse where Robin is supposed to have died, returned from a nearby pub one night and reports to have seen a shadowy figure wielding a bow in the upstairs window. In another account, local musician Roger Williams claims to have been walking through the woods near the grave when he encountered the apparition of a woman with mad, staring eyes on two occasions in 1963 and 1972. Then there is the testimony of journalists Judith Broadbent and Sue Ellis who visited the grave to write a feature for Yorkshire Life. Whilst there, Broadbent experienced the sensation of being pulled to the ground and immediately afterwards, Ellis was seized by a mysterious paralysis which lasted for weeks.

However, things get much murkier when the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society enters the equation. The Society was founded in 1984 by local resident Barbara Green and over the years they have tirelessly campaigned for access to the grave, much to the chagrin of landowner Lady Armytage. Facing repeated obstruction in their reasonable desire to visit the site, its members were forced to engage in trespass and whilst this was a last resort, the parallels with Robin’s own behaviour in the face of aristocratic opposition were not lost on them. In this correspondence there is a hint of a phenomenon academic folklorists have dubbed ostension, whereby an individual closely associates themselves with a legend, often to the extent of re-enacting its narrative. The Society’s attempts to promote the grave increasingly became a crusade against class privilege and the ensuing lack of diplomacy on both sides served to muddy the waters further.

The majority of supernatural activity recorded at the grave in the past two decades comes from Barbara Green herself and other members of her organisation. As president of the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society, she would already have been well acquainted with the rumours surrounding the grave and quite probably the passage from Land of Lost Content. Moreover, not only have many of her visits been illicit and in the dead of night, but Green is also a believer in the paranormal. It’s not too disingenuous to suggest that these facts may have coloured her perception of the site and her claims must be treated accordingly. One such example is her account of a night in April 1990 when she was holding a vigil at the grave, only to be overcome by a profound sense of dread and see a red-headed man accompanied by a black shape amongst the trees, which she speculates may have been the spirits of the Prioress and her lover, Red Roger of Doncaster.

However, Green’s experiences look positively sensible when compared to the assertions of Reverend Sean Manchester and the case of the Kirklees Vampire. Manchester is an ordained priest and an alleged descendant of Lord Byron, but perhaps he is more notorious as the United Kingdom’s most prominent and apparently entirely sincere vampire hunter. He rose to tabloid fame in the early 1970s during the infamous Highgate Vampire hysteria and his feud with rival investigator David Farrant which was at the centre of those events persists today. It seems Manchester had already identified Robin Hood’s Grave as a potential source of vampiric activity, arguing that both the outlaw and his murderer could be candidates for the undead. The former because he had been buried in unhallowed ground and the latter due to the means by which she’d dispatched her troublesome cousin.

It is therefore hardly surprising that when Manchester made his visit to the grave – coincidentally also in April 1990 – he claims to have found all the signs of a vampire infestation. These included occult symbols scrawled on the gatehouse; the mutilated carcass of a goat in the woods, seemingly drained of blood; and claw marks in the earth around the grave itself. Whilst they were at the grave, Manchester writes that he and his fellow “researchers” heard a terrifying wailing sound and one of his companions claimed to have seen the spectre of a darkly-clad woman who suddenly turned into a crimson-eyed demon. The self-styled vampire hunter then proceeded to drive back these forces of darkness, bearing his crucifix aloft and intoning “Behold the Light!”, dousing the area around the grave with holy water before they left. His account of the incident can be found in his Vampire Hunter’s Handbook.

Barbara Green invited Manchester to act as the patron of the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society, a role he held until the two fell out over Green’s refusal to expel a member who Manchester believed to be a Satanist. In what was surely a calculated snub, when Green relaunched the Society in recent years, Manchester’s arch-enemy David Farrant had taken over the role of patron. Since this time, Manchester has attempted to discredit Green (and naturally, Farrant) at every opportunity, even going to the extent of denying that he had ever propagated the myth of the Kirklees Vampire, despite that chapter in his book. Meanwhile, Green is satisfied that all paranormal activity at the grave has ceased since an exorcism performed there with Farrant and others on 20th April 2005. One suspects, however, that the centuries-old reputation of the site and the internecine squabbles of its would-be protectors will not be laid to rest so easily.

The Dumb Steeple, Cooper Bridge

Situated by the side of a busy junction at Cooper Bridge, where the A62 between Huddersfield and Liversedge bisects the A644 between Brighouse and Mirfield, the Dumb Steeple is a millstone grit column, approximately fifteen feet high, topped by a ball-shaped finial. It originally stood at the centre of the crossroads but was moved to its current location when the traffic grew too heavy in the 1980s.

Some 19th Century antiquarians such as J. Horsfall Turner fancifully argued that the name “dumb steeple” represents a corruption of the phrase “doom steeple”, so called because it once marked the boundary of Kirkless Priory, within which “doomed” men could claim sanctuary. Anybody who managed to reach it would be safe from the law for forty days after which they could choose to surrender themselves to the secular authorities for trial or be exiled from the country, never to return on pain of death.

An connected but equally unlikely explanation for the name is that it could be a corruption of the Latin phrase Domini Stapulus, meaning the Lord’s Steeple. However, the theory that it marked an ecclesiastic boundary is not universally accepted, as there is no evidence that Kirklees Priory was ever accorded sanctuary rights.

The monument itself only dates from the 18th Century (although it may have been a replacement for an earlier structure) and the most prosaic suggestion is simply that it was once a boundary marker, delineating the convergence of the parishes of Clifton, Mirfield and Hartshead. It seems that prior to the 19th Century it was referred to simply as the Obelisk, lending its name to the Elland & Obelisk Turnpike Road, constructed in 1815 and a now demolished house nearby, Obelisk Grove.

It is recorded that a common local reply to anybody who asked why it was called the Dumb Steeple was “Because it says nowt!” This supports the rather more probable  suggestion that it is called dumb because it lacks what you would expect to find in most steeples–namely a bell. A similar play-on-words may be behind the best known tradition attached to the obelisk: that either the whole column or just its finial revolves three times when it hears the bells of Hartshead church strike midnight. The joke is that because it cannot “hear” anything, these miraculous revolutions are never actually performed.

Arguably the most fanciful, and the most difficult to prove theory concerning the obelisk’s origin, is that the 18th Century structure replaced a much older standing stone or menhir which could’ve stood there since prehistoric times. The theory was mooted by Harry Speight in an article for the Yorkshire Weekly Post on the ground that other such ancient monoliths in the West Riding are colloquially referred to as Dumb Steeples, although further evidence of such nomenclature is difficult to find.

It has also been suggested that it may have been dubbed Dumb Man’s Steeple by local folk following the disastrous Luddite rally which took place there in 1812, described below. The name certainly doesn’t seem to have been used until after this event.

On the night of 11th April 1812, the Dumb Steeple was used as the meeting place of a contingent of Luddites who were gathering to march to Cartwright Mill at Rawfolds near Cleckheaton to attack the new cropping machines which they believed were a threat to local employment at a time when life was already hard due to the privations inflicted by the Napoleonic Wars. These events were subsequently dramatised by Charlotte Brontë in her novel Shirley, based on the diaries of her father Patrick Brontë who was the vicar at St. Peter’s Church, Hartshead at the time.

Doubtless the massed Luddites would’ve made a fearsome bunch. There were up to 150 men present, many with their faces blackened and carrying weapons such as hammers or muskets. It is little surprise, therefore, that one of their number lost his nerve and fled the scene just before the contingent began their march across Hartshead Moor towards their target.

The man who ran was a youth by the name of Rayner and his house was situated near St. Matthew’s Church at Rastrick. He must have been an exceptionally athletic individual, because he is alleged to have left the assembly at the Dumb Steeple at 11:40pm and have made it back just in time to hear the clock at St. Matthew’s strike midnight. As this occurred, the sexton was just leaving for the night and both men counted thirteen chimes, remarking on it to each other.

This could be interpreted as a sign of ill-omen portending the disaster which was about to befall the Luddites at Rawfolds or as the sexton said at the time, simply that the Brighouse clockmaker Old Skelton – who had been working on the mechanism earlier in the day – had failed to set it correctly. Nonetheless, this chance meeting and the singular event of the thirteen chimes was to prove instrumental in deciding Rayner’s future.

The Luddite attack on Cartwright Mill went ahead as planned. However, the mill-owner had been expecting them due to a build-up of smaller incidents in the prior weeks and weapons being stolen around the district. Consequently, the mob found the mill fortified and defended by armed workers and militiamen. They was driven back and at least two Luddites were so badly injured in the skirmish that they died of their wounds in the Star Inn at Roberttown.

Many others were forced to hide out in the aftermath, for fearing that the insurrection could spread, local authorities led by Huddersfield’s Squire Radcliffe were determined to purge the district of Luddism and saw the attack on Cartwright Mill as the perfect opportunity to do so. Consequently, a number of those involved were rounded up and after a trial in York where they stood accused of trying to demolish the mill, fourteen men were sent to the gallows at York Castle on 16th January 1813.

It is said that Rayner was named by those arrested as also having been present at the rally and so he too was brought up before the court. However, he informed the judge that he had been in Rastrick at the strike of midnight on the night of the attack. The sexton was called to corroborate his story, and even the clockmaker Old Skelton to offer expert testimony that the clock would indeed have struck thirteen that night as Rayner claimed. The judge was already aware that the Luddites had moved from the Dumb Steeple at 11:45pm and concluded that no man could have travelled between Cooper Bridge and Rastrick in that time.

His conclusion makes you wonder if Rayner’s remarkable fitness really had really allowed him to cover a distance of two to three miles in between fifteen and twenty minutes, thus unwittingly saving his life, or whether the story had been manufactured with the sympathetic sexton to give him a convincing and watertight alibi.

Robin Hood’s Grave, Kirklees Park (Part One)

STOP PRESS: My book “Grave Concerns: The Follies and Folklore of Robin Hood’s Final Resting Place” has now been published by CFZ Press. It examines the history and legend surrounding Robin Hood’s grave at Kirklees in great depth. More information can be found here and the book can be purchased by clicking here.

Sited in a hollow between Hartshead Moor and the River Calder and adjacent to the M62 yet seemingly entirely isolated from the clamour of modern life, Kirklees Park is a delightfully rural oasis amidst the jumble of housing and industry crammed into this tract of the Calder Valley. The Park is the estate of Kirklees Hall, constructed in 1610 and home to the Armytage family until the death of Sir John in 1983 when it was sold and after many unsuccessful ventures along with much legal wrangling, finally converted into residential apartments in 1999. His widow Lady Armytage continued living on the estate until her death in 2008, in a grotesquely inappropriate modern bungalow which still sits like a carbuncle amidst the meadows and ancient buildings.

The site was originally a Roman encampment but it is in the medieval period that its history really begins. The name Kirklees (the Park still stands in Calderdale despite lending its title to a more nebulous neighbouring municipality) derives from the Old English words “kirk” and “lees” meaning “church by the clearing”. The Priory was founded on the site by Reyner le Flemyng, a local lord of the manor, in 1135 and housed between eight and twenty nuns until like all such institutions it was abandoned in 1539 at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It was to supply the priory that a farm was originally built on the site and it is primarily as a farm that the estate is still worked today. However, elements of its ecclesiastic history can still be seen, including the 14th Century grave of the prioress Elizabeth de Staynton and the early 16th Century timber-frame gatehouse.

However, even in its heyday, the Priory was not always the most sanctified environment. In 1315, the Archbishop of York heard that “There are scandalous reports in circulation about the nuns of Kirklees, and especially about Elizabeth de Hopton, Alice de Raggede, and Joan de Heton, that they did admit both clergy and laymen too often into the secret places of the monastery, and have private talks with them, from which there is a suspicion of sin, and great scandal arises.” And indeed, over the centuries, Kirklees Park has repeatedly been the focus of suspicion and scandal, with a great deal of that controversy centred on its most famous and yet perversely neglected asset, the site of Robin Hood’s Grave, a place forbidden to visitors for half a century now at least and so still a source of great intrigue.

The story of the death of legendary outlaw Robin Hood is found in the 15th Century ballad A Gest of Robyn Hode and Robin Hode His Death, part of the fragmentary 17th Century Percy Folio. These sources tell how in his dotage Robin travels from his habitual haunt of Sherwood to Kirklees Priory – where the prioress is his cousin – to be bled, a common medieval procedure for the treatment of all manner of ailments, accompanied by his faithful comrade Little John (who one of the ballads asserts Robin had originally met at “Clifton-under-Calder”). On the road they are stopped by an old hag by some black water who curses Robin, although the details of the curse are obscure because the manuscript is damaged at this point, but it is nonetheless a classic mythological harbinger of the tragedy about to unfold.

Upon their arrival at Kirklees, Robin is installed in the gatehouse, the only part of Priory in which a man could’ve been received and the bleeding goes ahead. However, his cousin the Prioress and her lover Red Roger of Doncaster conspire against the outlaw for reasons which are never entirely made clear and proceed to drain his blood to such an extent that his life ebbs away. With the assistance of Little John, Robin makes it to the gatehouse window and with the last of his strength fires an arrow, commanding that he should be buried where the arrow falls. He also commands John not to harm any of the inhabitants of the Priory and so following the death of his master, Little John leaves Kirklees with a curse which some have claimed still blights the area today.

The first record of an actual gravestone at Kirklees purporting to be that of Robin Hood can be found in Grafton’s Chronicle of 1569 which describes a stone beside the highway engraved with the name Robert Hood amongst others. Then, in the 1607 edition of his seminal topography Britannia, William Camden mentions that Kirklees is known for Robin’s tomb. Camden obtained his information from local antiquarian John Saville, whose family briefly owned Kirklees before the Armytages. A sketch of the grave made by the Pontefract historian Nathaniel Johnston in 1665 supports Grafton’s descriptions of the grave (although it may have been later embellished by William Stukeley). These sources suggest that the gravestone seen today is not the original marker, the only remaining evidence of which may be the large eroded fragment of sandstone which lies on the floor of the modern enclosure.

Instead, the current gravestone bears the epitaph “Here beneath this little stone / Lays Robert Earl of Huntingdon / Never was an archer so good as he / And people called him Robin Hood / Such outlaws as he and his men / Will England never see again” It is dated “24 kalends of December 1247.” There are two substantial problems with this inscription. Firstly, the date given does not exist in the Roman calendar and secondly, the inscription is rendered in a pseudo-archaic version of Old English which is certainly a later invention. An epitaph of these words is mentioned by Thomas Gale, the Dean of York between 1697 and 1702 but from the style of the script it seems the gravestone is even later than that, probably added when the walling – complete with pillars and finials – was constructed in the late 18th Century.

The current grave stands on unhallowed ground 660 yards uphill from the priory gatehouse, a distance which expert archers insist could not have been covered by an arrow, even shot by a longbow. Moreover, it is reported that Sir Samuel Armytage excavated the grave in the 18th Century to a depth of three feet but found no evidence of human remains or even that the earth had ever previously been disturbed. Whether these factors count as evidence against the burial of Robin Hood at the site, however, is a matter of perspective. Some will maintain that the grave has simply been moved and the outlaw’s remains now lie unmarked somewhere else in the vicinity. Others will maintain that Robin Hood never existed to be buried in the first place. Meanwhile, wise men will point out that it does not matter whether or not he is buried there, but that successive generations have believed it to be the case and as a result the site has become a locus of myth and legend.

Yet whilst the site was certainly once well-known – Kirkless Park appears as “Nunwood” in Charlotte Brontë’s novel Shirley where it is described as a “one of Robin Hood’s haunts” – and it was an attraction at fairs held by Sir John Armytage in the early to mid 20th Century, in the last couple of decades it has become the centre of a storm over access. Kirklees Park is still a private estate and for many years following her husband’s death, Lady Armytage refused to allow people to visit it, despite the indefatigable efforts of the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society. Moreover, it is claimed that Lady Armytage actively suppressed any mention of the grave in tourist literature or the media and more fancifully that MI5 were involved in a conspiracy to prevent mention of Robin Hood’s Yorkshire connections damaging the Nottinghamshire tourist industry!

Following the death of Lady Armytage in 2008, it is possible this situation may change and indeed, in her later years Calderdale Council had managed to negotiate a number of open-days every year. Still, the grave today is in a sorry state, overgrown by the surrounding vegetation, the railings and pillars fallen down. It remains a local rite of passage to sneak over the wall into the estate in the dead of night and seek the grave amongst the tenebrous woodland. Indeed, whilst a site of such socio-historical importance should certainly be easily accessible to the public, there is an argument to say it’s the very mystique this lack of admittance has engendered which has contributed to the substantial body of folklore that has built up around the site in recent years and which will be discussed in the second part of this article.

Link to Part Two

Asa Farrar Stone, Rastrick

New Dick is an old packhorse route which runs from the top of Toothill Bank to Clough Lane at Fixby and whilst it now comes to a dead end, bisected by the M62, it was once part of the main road between Wakefield and Manchester. The presence of a large and sturdily-constructed well attests to its former status. Nearby the well, the legend “Asa Farrar : Oct. 2nd 1859” is inscribed on one of the stones in a stile.

Local rumour once held that Farrar had been a highwayman who used to waylay travellers pausing at the well. However, whilst there is no definitive evidence that Farrar was not a highwayman, the actual story of how his name comes to be carved into that stone is arguably much stranger.

The 1851 census records that Farrar was a weaver’s son living at Oaks Green who by the age of 23, for reasons we will never know, was already tired of life and so carved his name into the stile as a memorial before attempting to hang himself from an adjacent tree. He had effectively tried to chisel his own epitaph and for years afterwards local people believed that the stone actually marked his grave and would not pass the site after dark for fear of meeting Farrar’s restless spirit.

However, Farrar was unsuccessful in his  suicide attempt but clearly the impulse plagued him throughout his life, for on 26th June 1908–by which time he’d reached the grand old age of 72 and was living in Elland–he tried once again. Three times, in fact; twice by hanging and once by a self-inflicted wound with a razor, but these attempts also proved fruitless.