Places named Robin Hood's Butts

From International Robin Hood Bibliography
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An archer has just scored a bull's eye during target practice. Notice the shape of the butts / Luttrell Psalter; Public Domain.

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Places named Robin Hood's Butts or similar. Click cluster marker for locality markers. Click locality marker for link to page. Historical county boundary coordinates provided by the Historic Counties Trust.
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Robin Hood's Butt (Askerton)¤1598|Robinhood Butts (Wiltshire)¤1649|Robin Hood's Butts (Combridge)¤1658|Robin Hood's Butts (Ravenscar)¤1682|Robin Hood's Butts (All Stretton)¤1701|Robin Hood Butts (Clapham)¤1738|Robin Hood's Butts (Brow Moor)¤1772|Robin Hood's Butt (Elford)¤1798|Robin Hood's Butt (Wigginton)¤1798|Robin Hood's Butts (Canon Pyon) (1)¤1802|Robin Hood's Butts (Canon Pyon) (2)¤1802|Robin Hood's Butts (Weaverham) (1)¤1839|Robin Hood's Butts (Weaverham) (2)¤1839|Robin Hood's Butts (Weaverham) (3)¤1839|Robin Hood's Butts (Weaverham) (4)¤1839|Robin Hood's Butts (Danby Low Moor)¤1856|Robin Hood's Butts (Gerrick Moor) (1)¤1856|Robin Hood's Butts (Gerrick Moor) (2)¤1856|Robin Hood's Butts (Gerrick Moor) (3)¤1856|Robin Hood's Butt (Furze Hill)¤1872|

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2013-07-11. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2022-05-27.

Some twenty examples of ancient burial mounds or hillocks named 'Robin Hood's Butts' are known, with a concentration in the north and the southwest of England. It has been suggested, with special reference to such mounds on Danby Low Moor and Gerrick Moor in North Yorkshire, that Robin Hood's Butts may in fact owe their name to their having been used as archery butts.[1] They would have been targets in what is known as hoyle-shooting. According to a classic work on longbow archery:[2]

Hoyle is an old North-country word, signifying a small eminence as a mole-hill, and the like; which, when of sufficient prominence, may be made a mark to shoot at. In this kind of shooting there is generally a leader, who fixes on the objects to be aimed at; and it is frequently practised after butt or target-shooting, on the road home, either for mere amusement, or to determine a game, when both sides have left off equal.
That the phenomenon was thus sufficiently common to have a name, and be included among the recognized types of longbow shooting, perhaps supports this explanation for the name 'Robin Hood's Butts'. However, it is possible that this passage reflects a folk-etymology rather than actual practice. It assumes that 'hoyle' is a variant of 'how' or 'howe', meaning 'hill', 'hillock' or an artificial mound.[3] While this may seem plausible enough, it must be noted that the OED knows the word 'hoyle' only as an archery term for '[a] mark made use of by archers when shooting at rovers'[4] (i.e. free-range shooting at impromptu targets), and gives no etymology. It is hard to believe that hillocks named 'Robin Hood's Butts generally owe their name to their having been used as archery targets. In particular, the remote Robin Hood's Butts high on the North Yorkshire moors seem unlikely to have often attracted a throng of archers on their way home from a day at the archery range. The name is much more likely due to the general similarity of such mounds to late medieval (and early modern) archery butts. These were typically small mounds of turf (and perhaps earth or sand). Burial mounds would have been the more reminiscent of archery butts when, as was (is) often the case, two (or a few) mounds were situated close to each other, for as can be seen in the detail of the Luttrell Psalter shown to the right, an archery range normally had one butt at either end, hence the term 'a pair of butts'.[5] Incidentally, this circumstance explains why the entire archery grounds were often referred to as 'the butts'.[6] For this, see further the page on Lydd festivals.

During the 17th to 19th centuries if not earlier, Robin Hood was occasionally endowed with superhuman powers and/or mythical qualities. This is seen, for instance, in the etiological myth about the Standing Stone at Sowerby which Robin Hood was said to have thrown from a nearby hill when digging with his spade. While it is possible such myths may have become attached to some of the places named Robin Hood's Butts, I doubt if these place-names originated in myths of origin. From the late 13th to the late 16th century, most English males of suitable age were required by law to practice regularly at the archery butts,[7] which were constructed and kept – more or less well – in repair at the cost of the local community. Expenses on construction, maintenance and repair of butts figure often in churchwardens' and chamberlains' accounts from the 15th to the 17th century.[8] Archery grounds must have been about as common in the late Middle Ages and Early Tudor period as football fields are now. When people named ancient mounds after archery butts, a very common type of earthwork at the time, they were hardly being deep or mythical as 19th century 'mythologists' or 21st century New Age-inspired folklore enthusiasts might like to believe, nor were they necessarily trying to amuse their children. They simply noted a general similarity between ancient burial mounds – about whose origin they can in general have had little idea – and the typically smaller, more recent earthworks at archery ranges, and once the idea that a specific burial mound resembled an archery butt had arisen, it was a small step to associate it with Robin Hood, the archer par excellence. This explanation of the origin of the name would still be valid in cases where it came to be applied to an ancient mound after firearms had replaced bows as weapons for war or hunting, since butts were (and are) still used for target practice with firearms and so would still have been a well-known artificial feature of the landscape.

The noun 'butt' in the sense '[a] mark for archery practice; properly a mound or other erection on which the target is set up [...,] [h]ence in mod. use a mound or embankment in front of which the targets are placed for artillery, musketry, or rifle practice' is first recorded, according to OED, in a source written no later than 1400. The next quotation cited is from c. 1440. The noun 'butt' in the sense '[a] hillock, mound' is first recorded in 1693.[9]

As for prehistoric mounds as such, one could probably do worse than quote this entry from an early 20th century dictionary on the dialect of the North Riding of Yorkshire:

HOUE, HOWE, HOW, sb. (C.) 1. A tumulus or sepulchral barrow. (D. Hoj.) 2. A natural mound or hill. 1. There are thousands of these on the N.R. Moors; they are of great antiquity. The larger of these houes, especially when on prominent heights and sky-lines have names. They often contain under a cairn of stones a chamber (locally called a YUNE) built of flat, or flag-stones; these contain evidences of cremated human remains with at times earthenware vessels, implements, ornaments, arms, flint arrow-heads, &c. In the smaller houes the traces of human remains have generally disappeared, and also all signs of cremation. A few bronze instruments have been found, stone hammers, jet ornaments, and a great many PANNIKINS, as the earthenware vessels are called. Most of the large houes have been rifled; a great many by so-called antiquarians, and their permanent interest spoiled. In the very large houes there is often evidence of repeated interments. Among the chief desecrators of these moor graves in my time were the late Canon Greenwell and Canon Atkinson; they both made notable finds but acquired no very definite information as to the people who made use of these methods of interment. [...] A BASIN HOUE is a houe which has been rifled or quarried for road [p. 64:] 'metal', and is therefore depressed, having lost its summit. [...][10]

The noun 'butt' was also often applied to ridges between the furrows in a field or to irregularly shaped pieces of arable land. Occasionally,as is the case with the four plots in Weaverham, Cheshire, referred to as 'Robin Hood's Butts', we have no clear indication that there was a mound or hillock within each plot, and the place-name element 'butt' may in such cases refer to the irregular shape of each plot. However, it is noteworthy that in these cases we have a pair of such plots in close proximity, which argues in favour of the analogy with an archery range and hence suggests that 'butt' referred to a mound or hillock.


20 localities named 'Robin Hood's Butts'. The location of Robinhood Butts (Wiltshire) is not known. A few from the southwest of England do not yet have pages on IRHB.



Brief mention

Also see


  1. Midgley – A Yorkshire One-Name Study: Places which carry the name Robin Hood.
  2. The Archery Library: The Archer's Guide: Chapter VI, 'The different Kinds of Shooting'.
  3. OED, how | howe, n.2; MED, hough n.(1).
  4. OED, hoyle, n1. (1614-1845).
  5. Axon, William E. A. 'Archery in Manchester in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries', Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, vol. XVIII (1900), pp. 61-69, see pp. 65, 66, 68.
  6. OED2, s.n. butt n.4, 2. a. Fergusson, James; Dickinson, W. Croft, annot.; Credland, Arthur G., annot. '"A Pair of Butts" and Additional Notes', Journal of the Society of Archer-Antiquaries, vol. 63 (2020), pp. 62-68.
  7. See for instance Anonymous, ed. 'Four Acts concerning Archery', Journal of the Society of Archer-Antiquaries, vol. 6 (1963), pp. 16-17; Ellis, Jim. 'Archery and Social Memory in Sixteenth-Century London', Huntington Library Quarterly, vol. 79 (2016), pp. 21-40; see pp. 25-26; Woodcock, Matthew. 'Shooting for England: Configuring the Book and the Bow in Roger Ascham's "Toxophilus"', The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 41 (2010), pp. 1017-1038; see pp. 1027-31.
  8. See for instance entries covering the period from 1428/29 to 1483/84 in the chamberlains' accounts of Lydd (Kent) in Finn, Arthur, ed.; Hussey, Arthur, transl. & transcr.; Hardy, M.M., transl. & transcr. Records of Lydd (Ashford, Kent, 1911), pp. 19, 27 (bis), 76, 86, 117, 134, 150, 155, 163 (bis), 175, 189 (for the year 1459, at least eight entries relating to the butts), 203, 316. For a couple of examples from Berkshire parishes, see Anonymous. 'Costs of the Butts', Journal of the Society of Archer-Antiquaries, vol. 2 (1959), p. 47. Also see Mactaggart, P. 'Hertfordshire Butts', Journal of the Society of Archer-Antiquaries, vol. 5 (1962), pp. 34-36. Hays, Rosalind Conklin, ed.; McGee, C.E., ed.; Joyce, Sally L., ed.; Newlyn, Evelyn S., ed. Dorset [and] Cornwall (Records of Early English Drama) ([Turnhout, Belgium]; Toronto; Buffalo, N.Y., 1999, p. 153; Axon, William E. A. 'Archery in Manchester in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries', Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, vol. XVIII (1900), pp. 61-69, for Manchester 1560-1686; Cornish, Robert, ed. Kilmington Church Wardens' Accounts, MDLVV–MDCVII (Exeter, 1901), pp. 18 (1563-64), 77 (1591-92), 83 (1594); Garry, Francis N. A., transcr.; Garry, A. G., transcr.; Stubbs, William, introd. The Churchwardens' Accounts of the Parish of St. Mary's, Reading, Berks, 1550–1662 (Reading, 1893), pp. 43 (1565-66), 133 (1622-23), 137 (1624-25).
  9. OED, butt, n.4, II. 2. a; butt, n.5 (£).
  10. Pease, Alfred Edward, compil.; Fairfax-Blakeborough, John, annot. A Dictionary of the Dialect of the North Riding of Yorkshire (Whitby: Horne & Son, 1928), pp. 63-64.