THE SITE OF ROBIN HOOD’S GRAVE
By W. B. Crump, M.A.
In Mr. J.W. Walker’s recent exhaustive paper on "Robin Hood Identified" one statement in the ballads is passed over without elucidation. The Sloane MS., e.g. (quoted on p. 37) states: "and she buryed him under a greate stone by the hy waye’s syde." Again the ballad quoted on p. 39 describes his grave as "Close by the highway side."
Where was this medieval highway? It certainly is not represented by the modern road between Mirfield and Elland which runs in the valley near the River Calder and is at some considerable distance from Robin Hood’s grave on the hill-side. The answer is given in a note written for me by the late George Hepworth, a well-known architect and surveyor of Brighouse. When I came across it about a year after Mr. Walker's paper was published I sent it to Mr. Walker who desired me to make use of it and clear up the problem. So I now quote the major part of the "Notes."
NOTES ON THE ROAD CALLED "ELLAND AND OBELISK TURNPIKE ROAD."
By Geo. Hepworth — Feb. 18th, 1923.
"An ancient highway formerly led from the Obelisk called "Dumb Steeple" (probably a corruption of "Doomed Steeple," the bounds of sanctuary of Kirklees Nunnery) and skirted along the brow of the hill past the site of the Roman encampment and Robin Hood's grave, and continued along through that part of the wood called the "Terrace" until it reached the old Entrance Lodge, near the village of Clifton. Passing the front of the Lodge, the road then turned to the right, and went across what is known by the name "Wood Fullans," and joined the lane called "Bleak Law Lane" about a furlong above the group of cottages known as "Bleak Law"...
"This ancient highway was shut up and discontinued as a public road, being rendered useless after the making of the Elland and Obelisk Turnpike Road, which was constructed in the year 1815. The land occupied by the old road became the sole property of, and rested in Sir George Armytage, Bart., the owner of the adjoining grounds. The track of this ancient road may still be traced on the spot, and is shown on the Ordnance Map of the district (6 inch Ord. maps Nos. 246 and 231 published in 1854)."
"Reference is no doubt made to this road in the Sloane MS. on the death of Robin Hood, where the prioress after "letting him bleed to death, buryed him under a great stone by the by-wayes syde." A few comments and additional facts may be given with advantage. The highway in question, called on the six-inch map, "Nun Bank Lane" entered the estate of Kirklees at the Obelisk or Dumb Steeple, which still stands at what is now a busy road junction midway between Cooper Bridge (over the Calder) and the "Three Nuns." It was always unfenced and therefore in mediaeval times it would be little more than a riding track or cart road whose course might vary as it ascended the slope. Probably it was only stabilised and its surface improved when John Armytage (or his son John) made it the approach to his newly-built Kirklees Hall and erected what is now the Old Lodge and wrought-iron gates at the entrance to his park. Either before or soon after the year 1600. A little beyond this point the highway passes the pinfold and enters the village of Clifton. Hepworth’s lane to the right leading to Bleak Law may be disregarded for the real continuation of this highway is straight on along the village street until at the far or west end it enters the ancient Leeds and Elland highway less than a mile above Brighouse.
To return to Robin Hood’s grave. Its distance from Nun Bank Lane, as measured on the six inch map is 66 yards as compared with 166 yards down to the turnpike road. A grave at a distance of only three chains from the highway may be reasonably regarded as near it. Especially is this so in comparison with the Gatehouse which is nearly half a mile from the highway. It is quite natural for the ballads to describe the site of Robin Hood's grave as "nigh the hye waye's syde." In the large map of the County of York by Thomas Jefferys (the first to show either the grave or the highway) "Robin Hood's Grave" is drawn so prominently on plate XII (dated 1771) that it touches the highway.