Rough Low Tor (Buxton)
|Near 53.27109, -1.937757 ?
|S of Combs, SE of White Hall
By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2019-02-21. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2021-02-13.
According to William Marriott's Antiquities of Lyme and its Vicinity, published 1810 (see Allusions below), there was a local tradition that Robin Hood had shot an arrow from Chinley Churn to a locality named 'Rough Low Tor'. The latter place-name is no longer current, but it would have referred to a hill somewhere north of Buxton and south of Combs in the High Peak.
The spot where the arrow landed was marked by a monument consisting of two large stones (see illustration in image gallery below). The latter sat in a field which in 1810 was known as 'Hurst Piece'. Here is Marriott's description of the locality and the stones:
These are of a very singular and ancient fashion. They consist of two short flat stones, placed with their flat sides towards the north. The most northerly one is broken down almost to nothing. The southerly is perfect, and something in the form of a half S reversed. Its narrow front to the west is distinctly marked with two indentures from one extremity to the other; one of which is particularly visible. They have no base, but stick like wedges in the ground. The larger one is [p. 10:] to all appearances perfect, and on one side has a triangular projection.
He later describes the hills and rocks near this place in so much detail that a reader with first-hand knowledge of the area could probably identify the spot.
For the alleged connection between this monument and others in the High Peak, see High Peak place-name cluster.
Two brothers, upon the estate of Disley, are lately successively deceased. The last, the youngest, stated to the author, that his brother, whose age was nearly eighty years, had taken him when a boy, to the stones upon Park's Moor, and told him always to remember, that they were put up in memory of two brothers who died of the plague in Lyme Handley: which malady overspread that valley towards the close of the seventeenth century.
This account, however, seems foreign to the purpose, because coinciding memorials are erected where the plague never came. The mortality from the plague is, moreover, denoted by common gravestones over the bodies in the adjoining fields, which will be noticed in their place. And other and very applicable traditions are in the memory of older people still in being.
One of these states, that he has heard say, "When there were kings in England, each of them knew his own land by the stones upon these hills."
These persons as well as the less informed of the rustics in the neighbourhood concur, too, in calling them by a more recent title, Robin Hood's stones. Those in Lyme, or Park's [p. 19:] Moor, are most generally named his Bow Stones. At other times they are confounded with the rest, and pass by the name of his Picking Stones. Both these names are analogous, so as to establish between them some implied connection. The epithet of the bow signifies, that the Sherwood archer took his post at Park's Moor, and shot from thence to Whaley Moor, a distance rectilinearly of a mile and a half; from thence to Chinley the same; and from Chinley two ways, to Ludworth and Rough Low Tor, three miles: and that the first station, and each succeeding place, where an arrow fell, were designated by the location of stones. The other term implies, that this man of might picked or threw the identical stones themselves through the air from one mountain to the other. Those upon Rough Low excited his double industry, for after picking them to the summit of the mountain, he picked them to the bottom. The duplicate of the pillars refers, say the traditionists, to the alliance of Hood with Little John, the corresponding proportions of size being preserved in them. In Bow Stones, too, they shew an indenture, which the arrow made on its return from the Rough Low. By this confession, however, the stones must have pre-existed before the affair of the archery.
The agreement of the vulgar in credulity and formation of gross narrations is one, amongst better arguments, for their progressions from a common diverging stock. The dawn of the human race opens in all places with magnifying fictions of its own powers. The bards of the east had their giants, able to [p. 20:] pile Ossa upon Pelion. The natives of the western hemisphere indulge in similar reveries. Letters of an American Lady. The occurrence of this principle met Dr. Johnson in the detached regions of Caledonia. "For natural curiosities, I was shewn only two great masses of stone, which lie loose upon the ground; one on the top of a hill, and the other at a small distance from the bottom. They certainly were never put into their places by human strength or skill. All nations have a tradition, that their earliest ancestors were giants, and these stones are said to have been thrown up and down by a giant and his mistress." Tour to the Heb: article, Cast of Col. These coincidences will account for the instrumentality of Robin Hood, exhibited as making sallies of his strength in the distribution of these not very trivial masses.
The actuating motive of this fable is incidental, as we have seen, to the early practice of all people, a pride of possessing names in their annals, which shall surpass the rest of the world in great performances; and which sometimes even dares to arrogate an almost creative prerogative. The marvellous, however, thus represented, is always and certainly reducible into the memorable; conferring upon works of art in particular, when narrated of them, a title to some sure antiquity and latent fame.
If any fidelity is then to be found under the mask of this fiction, it must be from the other branch of it, which represents these monuments as Hood's shooting butts. And, indeed, conjectures may be founded upon this view of the case, [p. 21:] if not demonstrable by certificate, at least satisfactory in comprehension.
Of the implements by which objects at a distance could formerly be annoyed, Dr. Robertson observes, "the bow and arrow is [sic] the most early invention. This weapon is in the hands of people, whose advances in improvement are extremely inconsiderable, and is familiar to the inhabitants of every quarter of the globe." The use of this, like all other instruments, is capable of being brought to high perfection by constant habit, even in the most unscientific hands. The same writer quotes Mr. Ellis, concerning its prowess in the hands of the Esquimaux Indians. "Their greatest ingenuity is shewn in the structure of their bows, &c., &c.; and, as they practice from their youth, they shoot with very great dexterity." Through the three remaining continents of the world, likewise, the Roman "Sagitarii", light troops of the army carrying this weapon, uniformly found it in the hands of the native races, to whom it had been transmitted from the earliest time.
The annals of the British armouries partake of this analogy. St. Pierre, in his poem of the Arcadia, which conveys the sense of all classical and gothic commentators upon the manners of the early nations, existing upon both sides of the Frelum Britannicum, thus describes a discharge of missile implements from a column of the Britons, in an attack upon the Gauls near the Seine.—"Des Nuées de Dards, de flêches, de cailloux et de balles de plomb:" "Clouds of darts, arrows, [p. 22:] stones, and bullets of lead." The nature of things, not less than the testimony of the gothic writers, who first broke the pause in our history, which succeeded the luminous age of Julian literature, assures us, that no improvement in arts could have exploded the use of this missile, at the respective periods of the Pictish, Saxon, or Danish wars. If all, or some of these antagonists, should then hereafter appear to have entered the lists with the ever-embroiled natives upon these mountains, the tradition of Hood may be a misapplication and corruption of ancient battles, said in days of yore to have been decided here by the bow; but since lost and incorporated amongst the stories of the Sherwood hero, which have been received with such avidity by the vulgar. Armies were placed upon the opposing hills; and, if they could not shoot from one to another, they might make them, each at a time, the field of contest.
Another, and equally feasible interpretation remains to be added; which, whilst it furnished more immediate grounds for the feat attributed to Hood, leaves the prior statement to remain with unquestionable though far more remote authority.
The two extremities of the counties of Derbyshire and Cheshire, conjoining in this chain of hills, form parts of the Forests of Macclesfield and High Peak. These are adjoining royalties; and different demesnes in them will hereafter be shewn to have been dismembered by grants to merit, or by sales for money. But some mode of definition would be necessary, for the purpose of setting bounds to the quantity [p. 23:] of land alienated. The mesuration of ancient times was taken, it is well known, from ordinary processes of nature. The plough, which opened its furrow for agriculture, by an easy transition, was used to draw a circuit in so much time, as the boundary of so much property. Innumerable abbies held their donatives by this prescription in the monkish times, whence the term of ox-gangs of land, and others similar. A process so unwieldy it was the province of genius to alter, as circumstances required: and here, where the ground is nothing but acclivities and declivities, it might be very conveniently commuted for a plan, not more vague in application, and equally dictated by the common exercises of the age,—the flight of an arrow. To excel in this weapon was the indispensible sphere of foresters, above any of the other martial implements. Supreme estimation was paid to it; insomuch that, where the more recent lords of manors have selected the heriots, accruing to them on the decease of those who owed them suit and service, from goods and chattels of a more pacific and negotiable nature, as a sum of money, a horse, a cow, or a clock; their warlike predecessors required less valuable, but more characteristic articles. Of this we have proof by deeds, occurrent in the precincts of the royalty of Macclesfield. In Leycesters' Antiq: Ces: is contained a charter from Robert de Blundeville, the then earl of Chester, to his barons, granted about the year 1218; and most probably extorted as an indulgence to secure their fidelity, and make their vassals willing partisans, in the feudal divisions which marked the [p. 24:] latter end of the minority of Henry III. By virtue of this Sir Robert de Stokeport, making that vil situate in the north eastern extremity of Macclesfield forest, a free borough, amongst other provisions enacts—"Item cum burgensis moriatur hæres ejus nullum aliud relevium dabit mihi nisi ejusmodi arma gladium arcum vel lanceam." This is expressed in Mr .Watson's translation thus: "Also when a burgessdies, [sic] his heir shall give me no other relief but such weapons as these, a sword and a bow, or a lance." Memoirs of the ancient earls of Warren and Surrey. And more immediately in the district of Upland, contiguous to the position of the Bow Stones, the curved yew and pointed box are declared to be the express and single instruments of discipline in the place. Mr. Watson quotes from the Baronagium Cestriæ, that Richard de Vernon, a descendant of the daughter of Sir Robert de Stokeport "held Marphul and Wibresleghe by the free service of the forest of Macclesfield, and that he should come at the king's summons, with the same arms by which he kept his jurisdiction, viz., with bow and arrows. Is it then any outrage to the sense, upon the testimony of this simple declaration (without adducing other latent ones) explanatory of the armed state of the place at a term, it may be corespondent, and not possibly more than fifty years previous to the great event, the battle of Crecy, which caused the dismemberment of the large portion of the forest, on which the Bow Stones stand, as a reward to the conspicuous bravery of the ancestor of the present possessors, if it be supposed that the [p. 25:] boon was to be determined by the passage of an arrow from place to place, of which the Bow Stones were the first limit and station? This seems to receive confirmation from an oral account, out of the common way, that the proper name of the monument is Bow-String Stones, because, that at them the reputed hero first strung his bow for the execution of his task. He, who had to cast the lot for his possessions in this mode, would not fail to seek the archer of greatest prowess; and such an one, fired with the honour of the occasion, and imprest with the value at stake, would pant to step forward into these lists of space. That the age of this prince of foresters can be fixed so as to allow of his identity in person, is not likely nor important; for the specification of a manor by his strength of arm would give any operator a title to equal fame; and he would deservedly pass in vulgar applause for the Robin Hood of the neighbourhood.
And without ranging to the Nottinghamshire forest, the surrounding tract may expect to have been his home and origin. The bow-men of England were her pride, and the dread of other nations. The flower of them were from Cheshire; which title is often applied to that species of troops by way of eminence. Richard II is said to have surrounded his parliament, Anno 1397, with the most terrific force, which he could think likely to intimidate it into compliance with his wishes of giving sentence against the duke of Gloucester,--4000 Cheshire archers. And from what cause could the perfection of these palatines arise, but from the peculiarities of their local circum- [p. 26:] stances? Such is the geography of their county, as will soon pass in review, that they must have invited a very protracted warfare to their confines in all cases, whether intestinal or invasive. When the constant alert, to which they had been trained from the cradle of their times, was relaxed by the establishment of domestic harmony, then their ardour was revived, and their manæuvres perfected, by the calls of the chase, and the destruction of four-footed and winged game. Hence the Cheshire men owed their discipline to the forest laws, which were a rigorous and well executed system for the government of tracts of that description, and which must have been applicable to the greatest part of their county, since the forests of Macclesfield and Delamere nearly joined, perhaps more than to the general martial code of the nation, and the dangerous position they occupied in it. Some of the gallant foresters then in the district of the Bow Stones, and not unlikely one from the ranks of those, who had found their way from the glades of Lyme Handley to the plains of Piccardy, as companions of the martial Perkin in the service of their prince and country, and had witnessed his exploits, might draw the string which gave a reward to his merit: of whose real name no further vestige now remains, than of the arrow, which he directed through the closing air.
What the real distance too was, which this instrument overcame at a time, admits only of conjecture. The stones, which are its reputed admeasurement, seem to surpass all credibility. The longest shot in the celebrated ancient butts [p. 27:] at Frodsham was sixteen roods. Pennant. At this distance, however, the arrow was no doubt meant to tell. In the present instance the fall of it, when spent to the uttermost, was all that was required. But allowing all justifiable latitude for this admission, the distance from one of these monuments to another still exceeds any power that can be imputed to archery. Allowing then the above recited use to have been made of the Park's Moor stone, it must fall equally with the others under the general and remote solution; which appears to be the truth of their origin. They are the memorials of the movements and warfare of ancient armies. Of this no plea for doubt will remain, when actual encampments, and numerous and far continued lines of embankment, together with barrows, or ancient receptacles of the dead, of very large dimensions, shall be shewn to remain upon their very sites, and in the adjoining places.
- Not included in Dobson, R. B., ed.; Taylor, J., ed. Rymes of Robyn Hood: an Introduction to the English Outlaw (London, 1976), pp. 293-311.
- Marriott, William. The Antiquities of Lyme and its Vicinity (Stockport, 1810), pp. 9-10, 18-27, 46-47, 288.
- 25" O.S. map Derbyshire XIV.12 (c. 1879; surveyed c. 1878). No copy in NLS
- 25" O.S. map Derbyshire XIV.12 (1898; rev. 1897) (georeferenced)
- 25" O.S. map Derbyshire XIV.12 (1898; rev. 1897)
- 25" O.S. map Derbyshire XIV.12 (1922; rev. 1919)
- 6" O.S. map Derbyshire XIV.SE (1882; surveyed 1878-79)
- 6" O.S. map Derbyshire XIV.SE (1899; rev. 1897) (georeferenced)
- 6" O.S. map Derbyshire XIV.SE (1899; rev. 1897)
- 6" O.S. map Derbyshire XIV (1923; rev. 1897-1919)
- 6" O.S. map Derbyshire XIV.SE (1923; rev. 1919)
- 6" O.S. map Derbyshire XIV.SE (c. 1946; rev. 1938).
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Marriott, William. Antiquities of Lyme and its Vicinity (1810), plate facing p. 8.