Ashburton festivals

From International Robin Hood Bibliography
Locality Ashburton
Vicinity On SSE edge of Dartmoor
Coordinate 50.513808, -3.751318
Adm. div. Devon
Began 1526/27
Ended 1541/42
Events Keeping of players' clothing; new tunic made for Robin Hood; tunics bought for Robin Hood and his followers.

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Ashburton street view. West Street / Mike Crowe, 3 Feb. 2004, Wikimedia Commons.

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2015-08-22. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2021-01-07.


...Et de xvj d solucione pro custodia pannorum lusorum/ Et de iij s
x d solutis pro noua tunica pro Robyn Whode facta hoc anno ...

[REED translation:]
...And (they seek allowance) of 16 d in payment for the keeping of
the players' clothing. And of 3 s 10 d paid for a new tunic for Robin
made this year[1]

...Et de xix s xj d solutis pro empcione tunicarum pro Roberti
cum eis adherentibus hoc anno ...

[REED translation:]
... And (they seek allowance) of 19 s 11 d paid for the buying of tunics
for Robert Hood and those followers this year...[2]

Source notes

Non-bracketed ellipses as in Wasson (1986).
1526/27 entry in churchwardens' accounts under heading: "Repairs and external payments".
1541/42 entry under heading "Payments and allowances"; "Roberti", a grammatical error for "Roberto".
Fiscal year: May 6 to May 5.
Wasson, p. xxv, notes the relative abundance of Robin Hood entries in Devon records, but warns against assuming the events in question were all of a dramatic nature, noting that the chief tasks of the persons elected Robin Hood and Little John were to collect money for the parish and frequently to serve as ale wardens; in most cases the records are not explicit as to the nature of the events.

IRHB comments

A practically complete series of churchwardens' accounts survives from St Andrew's, Ashburton, for the period 1479–1580.[3] Accounts are missing only for the years 1480-82. In addition to the two Robin Hood-related items, the accounts for the period 1487/88 to 1563/64 include entries relating to unspecified players, players on Corpus Christi Day (Thursday after Trinity Sunday) and at Christmas.[4] Yet arguably the most interesting aspect of these records, apart from the Robin Hood-related entries, is the relatively plentiful and detailed information they provide on Ashburton's church ale, which was held almost every year in the period 1479-1580 and was apparently last held in 1622.[5] There is no direct evidence to connect the Robin Hood performances or entertainments with the church ales, but closer analysis of the evidence has led me to believe that the Robin Hood performances, whatever their exact nature, probably took place in connection with the church ale held every year at Whitsuntide.

The church ale was one of the chief sources of income to the parish of St Andrew's; the first mention of it occurs under 1479/80, where an item refers to 'a brewing of ale sold'.[6] Occasionally, as in 1482/83 and 1483/84,[7] four men were in charge of brewing and selling the ale, but normally it was handled by two men who were referred to as ale wardens or drawers of the ale. In 1554/55, the "drawers of the ale" were assisted by a "clark".[8] From 1505/06 on, ale wardens were lent 40 s. to cover their expenses, a practice referred to in 1561/62 as "the old usuage and custome"[9] In 1482/83, a house next to the church was bought for the use of the parish,[10] and in subsequent years the ale was brewed and consumed in the "church house".[11] When not in communal use, the church house with its brewing and cooking utensils was hired out to parishioners.[12]

Hanham notes that brewing and selling the ale may have been onerous chores. In 1501/02, Thomas Cole had to pay 10d. to the parish chest "because he did not assist the Ale Wardens in brewing [...] when he was elected". In 1560/61, two men were fined for refusing to draw the ale, but replacements were found and the feast took place as usual. One parishioner refused to perform this duty in 1565/66, others did so in 1567, 1576/77 and 1578/79. In 1521/22, John Dolbeare, Jr., paid 20s. "for discharging him from [...] selling church ale during his life", while in 1555/56 Alexander Frynd paid 20s. "for his discharge during his lifetime from selling the aforesaid parish ale." Similar exemptions were paid for by two Ashburton men in 1556/57 and by yet another in 1576/77[13] These refusals to serve occurred during the decades before and after the Reformation. Is it not likely that at least some of those who refused to "draw the ale" did so from religious motivations? In 1559 it was decided that none of "the 8 Men", in modern terms members of the parish council, could refuse to draw the ale unless he had already performed as ale drawer. It was also agreed that no man be chosen ale drawer without the consent of the Eight Men.[14] There were no church ales from 1549/50, when church images and the tabernacle were taken down, to 1552/53, but in 1553/54, when the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary began, the customary ale was reintroduced.[15]

Three entries show that the church ale took place at Whitsuntide. In 1570/71, the usual 40s. were lent to "Harry Ayscott and Thomas Bullock [...] being Whitson wardens", while it is clear from another entry that they were in fact the ale wardens for that year. In 1570/71, John Wythecomb and William Patye are described as "wardens le ale draers", and 20s. is received "from the said wardens at the Feast of 'Pethecost' according to custom".[16] Again under 1570 occurs this significant entry:

Item hitt is agreed by the 8 Men & whole parysshe that none shall brewe ale [byer or sydar added later] to sell wythyn the towne & parysshe wythyn 3 weykes of Wytsondaye for hynderynge of the churche ale, uppon le forfayture of 6s.8d. to the use of the churche.[17]

The purchase of a new tunic for Robin Hood in 1526/27 probably indicates that an existing one was now in need of replacement and that the Robin Hood event was thus no novelty at Ashburton, but of course we cannot be certain of this. However, that there is a similar purchase in 1541/42 does seem to indicate a measure of continuity. What is missing from the accounts is any indication that the Robin Hood activities themselves brought in any profits. The accounts contain more or less regular entries of sums received from, or owed by, the "stores" of various social guilds. Some, like the Young Men's Torches and the Young Countrymen,[18] sound by their names like fraternities whose members might have shown enthusiasm for Robin Hood, but we have no indication that they were involved in the Robin Hood entertainments. That expenses but no profits from these entertainments (events, performances etc.) figure in the accounts suggests that they occurred as part of some larger event that did bring in a profit. Entries of profits from "le play ale" in 1487/88 and "profit on ale called the playerryn ale" in 1490/91[19] are the only notices we have of ales other than the Whistuntide church ale. The latter, a mainstay of parish economy, was clearly a major event at Ashburton, and as David Wiles notes, "parish accounts [...] consistently associate gatherings of Robin Hood with Whistuntide".[20] Perhaps Robin Hood was introduced as an added attraction that brought more visitors to the annual Whitsuntide church ale? Live music in modern pubs serves a similar purpose today.

Lists and gazetteers

MS sources

Printed sources

Studies and criticism

Brief mention


Also see


  1. Wasson, John M., ed. Devon. (Records of Early English Drama) (Toronto; Buffalo; London, ©1986), pp. 21, 333.
  2. Wasson (1986), pp. 25, 335.
  3. Hanham, Alison, ed. Churchwardens' Accounts of Ashburton, 1479-1580 edited with an introduction by Alison Hanham (Devon and Cornwall Record Society, New series, vol. 15) (Torquay, 1970)
  4. Wasson (1986), pp. 17-30, 330-38.
  5. Wasson (1986), p. lxii, and Hanham (1970a), passim. For the church ale in 1622, see Wasson (1986), pp. 297-98.
  6. Hanham (1970), pp. viii, 1. Words or passages in italics are her translations from Latin (or editorial comments).
  7. Hanham (1970), pp. 2, 3.
  8. Hanham (1970), p. 131.
  9. Hanham (1970), pp. 34, 146-47, and see pp. viii, 46, 136, 138, 140-41, 143, 162, 166-67.
  10. Hanham (1970), pp. 2, 4, 9, and see p. viii.
  11. See Hanham (1970), e.g. p. 14 (1489/90).
  12. Hanham (1970), p. viii.
  13. Hanham (1970), pp. 29, 67, 132, 135, 145, 156, 158, 180, 182, 187.
  14. Hanham (1970), p. 193.
  15. Hanham (1970), p. 123-28, 130, and see p. ix.
  16. Hanham (1970), pp. 162-63, 166-67.
  17. Hanham (1970), p. 194.
  18. Hanham (1970), pp. 72, 75.
  19. Hanham (1970), pp. 10, 15. There are entries relating to players on Corpus Christi Day, at Christmas and Epiphany, but when ale is mentioned in connection with them, it occurs under expenses, for it was ale given in reward or as a treat to the players; see Hanham (1970), pp. xi, 1, 19, 27, 34, 55, 82-83, 89, 93, 95, 97, 100, 102, 106-107, 109-111, 113, 121, 132, 138, 140. Also see Wasson (1986), pp. 17-30, 330-38.
  20. Wiles, David. The Early Plays of Robin Hood (Cambridge, 1981), p. 4.