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The "Lost Treasures" of Robin Hood!

Mysterious tales and missing artefacts are "the stuff that legends are made of!" Strange events and puzzling disappearances all help add an element of intrigue that ensures any legendary folklore lives on - so BOB WHITE takes a closer look at some of the "lost treasures" surrounding Nottingham's outlaw hero, Robin Hood.

One of the most mystifying occurrences relates to the ballad in which Robin kills the Fifteen Foresters who refused to pay him the wager that he won fairly with his archery skills and the last verse states:
"They carried these foresters into fair Nottingham, as many there did know; They digged them graves in their church-yard and they buried them all in a row".

Then, according to the author and historian Joseph Ritson, the following extract appeared in the "The Star" (probably a Sheffield newspaper) on April 23rd 1796: "A few days ago, as some labourers were digging in a garden at Fox-lane, near Nottingham, they discovered six human skeletons entire, deposited in regular order side by side, supposed to be part of the fifteen foresters that were killed by Robin Hood." The news story goes on to say that the garden stood on the site of an ancient church that had been dedicated to St. Michael and had been totally demolished in the Reformation ,so no doubt the bones had been properly buried in the churchyard. The proprietor of the garden ordered the pit where the bodies were found to be filled up, "being unwilling to disturb the relics of humanity and the ashes of the dead!" The original site of St. Michael's church and its graveyard secrets have never since been discovered.

The location of St Anne's Well in the Wells Road in Nottingham's St. Ann's district is also the site of another buried "treasure" connected to the Robin Hood legend. Known over the centuries as "Robynhode's Well" - this holy well was linked to a charitable hermitage run by the Brothers of Lazarus, who were associated with the Knights Templar. Its spring water was believed to have substantial healing properties and an additional attraction was a selection of artefacts, including Robin Hood's bow, cap, chair, arrows, boots and bottle. During the 17th and 18th centuries, it was one of the most popular tourist attractions in England and remained so until 1825, when it had its liquor licence withdrawn and the Robin Hood artefacts were sold at auction to Lionel Raynor, a famous actor on the London stage. Before moving to America, he was said to have offered the items to the British Museum but they can find no record. A tea room operated on the site until 1855 and when the buildings at the well site were subsequently demolished, the town council commissioned a gothic style ornamental monument to mark the spot but in 1887 it was taken down by the Great Northern Railway to accommodate the 30ft deep foundations of an essential bridge. In 1987, local historian David Greenwood sank a shaft behind "The Gardeners" public house which had been built at the site and confirmed that the well was still there, saying "It's a treasure trove waiting for the next person with the nerve and the money to fully excavate it."

Another local story that claims to have located Robin Hood's Hideout is highlighted in actor Sir Bernard Miles 1979 book about the outlaw hero. In the epilogue, he refers to an incident in the 1820's when, somewhere near Bolsover in Derbyshire, two pitmen were sinking a shaft for a new coalmine when the earth alongside them fell away revealing a yawning gap through which there was a fireplace full of wood ash, cooking pots and utensils, blacksmiths tools and a storeroom with sacks and barrels. Against one wall was a rack of bows, broadswords and quivers full of arrows and at the end of one of the galleries was a tiny chapel with a cross still on the altar. The miners then found a skeleton wrapped in an old woollen habit, lying at the base of a flat wall with one hand holding a crucifix and the other a chisel. A long list of names was roughly scratched on the cavern wall and painfully scored at the bottom was, "I was the last – Michael Tuck." The skeleton was supposedly Friar Tuck's who appeared to have just managed to crawl there and scratch these few words before he collapsed and died. As the two miners climbed out of the shaft they had cut, to tell the world about what they had found, it triggered a huge rock fall that totally buried everything under hundreds of tons of stone and the story of their amazing discovery became just another local legend! However, Sir Bernard claimed that Robin's cave is still there, only a little way below the ground, close to one of the worked-out pits and that "one fine day it will be found again!"

For many years, local historian and Robin Hood enthusiast, Jim Lees, worked tirelessly to prove that the legendary outlaw was born in Nottingham and believed that a lost ancient manuscript was the missing link in the quest. The authentic, historical document was said to record a court appearance by Robert de Kyme, a nobleman born in what is now known as Bilborough and actually referred to him as Robin Hood. Mr Lees stated that the ancient court record was the most conclusive piece of evidence in existence that proved that "Robin Hood was real, that he was a local man and that Robin Hood was only a nickname." He said that Robert de Kyme was well documented in local archives and he was 99% certain that de Kyme and Robin Hood were one and the same, as their lives ran virtually parallel. The missing document was believed to be in the possession of a former research scholar who had previously been at the University of Nottingham and who they only knew as a Mr. McJohnson. Having failed on numerous occasions to track down the elusive academic - with the technological birth of the internet, Mr Lees enlisted the help of his nephew, Robert Henshaw and put out a global appeal to try to make contact with Mr. McJohnson and hopefully trace the whereabouts of the vital document that he believed held the key to historically proving that Robin Hood really had existed and was born in Nottingham. However, the task proved to be the proverbial "needle in a haystack" and to-date, neither Mr. McJohnson, or the ancient manuscript have ever come to light!

Local tradition has it that Little John's Cottage was once situated on Peafield Lane, between Mansfield Woodhouse and Edwinstowe, near the site of the old Roman Road but its precise location cannot be authenticated. Mockingly called Little John because of his tall, heavy stature, he was in fact John Nailer (Naylor), a nail maker originally called John of the Little. After Robin Hood's death at Kirklees Abbey in Yorkshire, Little John returned to the village of Cromwell, near Newark where he was said to have been given lands by Alan-a-Dale. His grave however, is in Hathersage in Derbyshire in the churchyard of St Michael's and All Angel's but his trusty Longbow is another of those "lost treasures" of the Robin Hood legend that seems to have disappeared! The 6' 7" bow was made of spliced yew, tipped with horn and needed a pull of 160 pounds to draw it. Originally brought to Cannon Hall, near Barnsley in 1729 it apparently hung on display there until the late 1960's, when on the death of the last owner of the hall, a Mrs Elizabeth Frazer it was given to the Wakefield Museum. However, Mrs. Frazer's son later took it to a manor house in Scotland where he died in 2004 and the current whereabouts of the bow remain a mystery.

When, in 2009, author Richard Maynard published his book "Wolfstrike: the Chronicles of Robyn Hode" he added another twist to the legend by claiming in the appendix that his story was based on a bundle of old manuscripts written by a Friar John in 1320, that had been discovered at a Derbyshire building site in 1948, buried beneath a coffin in an abandoned family crypt. They apparently came into Maynard's possession through an inheritance from his great uncle and he undertook the translation of the original text by trying to balance the integrity of the Friar's words with a modernised dialogue. The result was an intriguing version of the Robin Hood story that leaves the reader to decide the authenticity of the author's claims - or if it was just another clever marketing ploy?

The plain facts are that the entire Robin Hood legend is riddled with confusion - as artefacts and stories appear in a scattering of locations all around the region and far beyond. There are villages of Loxley or Locksley in Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire and an abundance of wells, woods, caves, stones, hiding places and lookouts etc. that bear Robin Hood's name stretching from Robin Hood's Bay, near Whitby to Robin Hoode Walke down in Richmond Park, Surrey? In July, 1992, the infamous Sunday Sport newspaper even claimed that Robin's body had been found buried in his beloved Sherwood Forest – supposedly clutching Maid Marian's knickers!

Everyone loves a mystery - and, from the historically significant to the weird and bizarre, a miscellany of "lost treasures", intriguing tales, strange events and places continually weave their colourful strands into the rich tapestry of Robin Hood folklore, breathing new life into the traditional stories that all help ensure that the legend lives on !