Robin Hood's Well (Fountains Abbey)

From International Robin Hood Bibliography
Coordinate 54.109795, -1.578145
Adm. div. West Riding of Yorkshire
Vicinity Fountains Abbey, c. 75 m SE of the Abbot's House
Type Monument
Interest Robin Hood name
Status Extant
First Record 1734
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Robin Hood's Well.
Robin Hood's Well at Fountains Abbey / Matthew Hillier.
Robin Hood's Well at Fountains Abbey / Thomas R. Macquoid, no later than 1883.

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2013-07-22. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2021-05-30. Photo: Matthew Hillier.

Fountains Abbey is the home of the "Curtal Friar" and the scene of the main action of the ballad of Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar (Version A in MS of c. 1650, version B first printed 1663). Within or very close to the abbey grounds are two places named after Robin Hood: Robin Hood's Wood and Robin Hood's Well. The covering of the latter is built into a slope in Robin Hood's Wood at the southern boundary of the abbey grounds. Dobson & Taylor refer to it as the "well now associated with Friar Tuck's combat with, and ducking of, Robin Hood".[1] It may have been named Robin Hood's Well to commemorate the said combat, though we have no evidence of this, but it should be stressed that the water into which Robin Hood was ducked in the ballad was not the trickle from this little well but the Skell which runs by (and once ran under) the abbey.

The well-spring and the name Robin Hood's Well date back at least to 1734,[2] and underground lead piping is said to have been found leading from the site of the well to the abbey, which if correct is a clear indication that the well existed in medieval times. However, according to notes found among the Walbran papers at York Minster Library[3] the present well cover is of somewhat more recent construction, for it was built, with stones from the ruins of Fountains Abbey, after Walter Scott visited the site and suggested to the owner of the Studley Roger estate, Elizabeth Sophia Lawrence, that she let a well covering or well house construct. Scott apparently wrote a short poem for use as an inscription (see Allusion 1832 below), but there is no indication it was ever displayed at the site. Mrs Lawrence, who inherited the estate in 1808, died in 1845; Walter Scott died in 1832, so his visit would have taken place some time in the period 1808-32. It does not appear to be mentioned in any of Scott's letters[4] or in J. G. Lockhart's ten volume biography of Scott,[5] but of course this does not necessarily mean it never happened. The construction of such a well house in this period would have been quite in keeping with the contemporary craze for follies[6] among well-heeled landowners. The well covering "is built of coursed squared gritstone and comprises a round chamfered arch approximately 2 metres high under a hood-mould with spiral stops, and short flanking walls protecting a spring in a rock-cut recess".[7] A much more detailed technical description of the structure can be found at the National Trust's website.[8] Note that the lines attributed to Walter Scott have also been cited as applying to Robin Hood's Well at Fountains Earth, an upland pasture area that was owned by Fountains Abbey but is located more than 12 km west of the abbey ruins.


1832 - Scott, Walter - Inscription for Robin Hood's Well

Beside this crystal font of old
Cooled his flushed brow an outlaw bold
His bow was slackened while he drank,
His quiver rested on the bank,
Giving brief pause of doubt and fear
To feudal lords and forest deer.
Long since the date — but village sires
Still sing his feats by Christmas fires,
And still old England's free-born mood
Stirs at the name of Robin Hood.[9]

1851 - Walbran, John Richard - Guide to Ripon, Fountains Abbey

Now, all attention is naturally centered in the abbey, and fortunately, there is nothing intervening to distract the eye. We begin, immediately, to hasten down a precipice, arched, [p. 89:] deeply and picturesquely, in the woods; and, on arriving at the path by the side of the stream, will perhaps scarcely glance the diversity of scenes which the union of the dense woods with their liquid mirror presents.

Yet awhile may fancy beguile us with merry visions of the past. On this glade — doubt who can — the "Curtal Friar" of Fountains encountered Robin Hood, whom, as the old ballad goes, he at length threw into the Skell, and so grievously belaboured, that Robin, for once, turned coward, and called in the aid of his fifty stalwart yeomen; also that then the Friar, who

"Had kept Fountain-dale,
Seven long years and more,"

was brought to his senses and a truce. Before we reach the abbey, we shall be reduced to halt on a shady knoll; and, while reclining by the crystal Well that still bears the Outlaw's name, may chant the "Rime of Robin Hood" in one of the sweetest spots associated with his name.

Tradition points to the figures of a large bow and arrow and hound, graven on the north-east angle of the Lady Chapel, as a record of this dire affray. They bear no affinity to the symbols used by the masons; but have, I fancy, induced the report, mentioned in Ritson, that Robin's bow and arrow were preserved at Fountains Abbey.[10]




Brief mention

Also see