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1840 - Orange, James - History and Antiquities of Nottingham (1)

Date 1840
Author Orange, James
Title History and Antiquities of Nottingham
Mentions Robin Hood's Well, Nottingham; Robin Hood; Robin Hood's Chair; Robin Hood's Cap
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The site of Robin Hood's Well.
Robin Hood’s Well c. 1860 / The Paul Nix Collection; used by permission.

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2016-12-11. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2019-04-05.


There is a famous spring of water near Nottingham, which has for many centuries been constituted a bath, and is said to be the second coldest in England; it was anciently called "Robin Hood's well.'" 1409, Henry IV. built a chapel here, which was dedicated to "St. Anne;" however, it appears to have been regarded in all past ages more as a place of merriment than of Christian worship, and the sylvan bowers by which it was surrounded were more frequently the scene of youthful recreations and impassioned love, than of solemn prayer, that we can hardly think the new name of "St. Anne" being given to this well, was more appropriate than its more ancient one of "Robin Hood's well." Indeed public custom, as well as opinion, seems to have denounced the sacrilege, and to have preferred the old patron rather than the new saint; for the chapel did not exist here quite 200 years, and after its destruction, on the same site there was erected a public house. The east end of that quondam chapel is now the east end of the house, and a large fire-place occupies the room where once the altar stood; and higher in the wall (according to Mr. Ellis, watchmaker, of this town, ninety years ago), there was a stone with a date engraved upon it, 1409.

The people who kept this public-house had an old wicker chair, which was called Robin Hood's chair, a bow, and an iron cap; these reliques were affirmed to have been the property of the famous Robin Hood, and were said to have been the means of drawing multitudes from curiosity to the place, and procured the mayor's woodward, who kept the public-house there, a deal of custom, especially at Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide, when husbands and fathers took their spouses and children to enjoy the sports of the seasons; also young men led their sweethearts to mix in the busy throng, and, according to tradition, the fair ones thought themselves slighted by their lovers, if they were not forced to sit down, and then be saluted in Robin Hood's chair.

The following is from an old author quoted by Deering, p. 73:

"At St. Anne's well there is a dwelling-house, serving as an habitation for the woodward of those woods, being an officer of the mayor. This house is likewise a victualling-house, having adjoining to it fair summer-houses, bowers, and arbours, covered by the plashing and interweaving of oak boughs for shades, in which are tables of large oak planks, seated about with banks of earth fleightered, and covered with green sods, like green carsie cushions. There is also a building, containing two fair rooms; an upper and lower one, serving for such as repair thither, to retire in case of rain or bad weather thither do the townsmen resort by an ancient custom beyond memory.

"This well is all summer long much frequented, and there are but few fair days, from March to October, in which some company or other of the town, such as use to consort there, use not to fetch a walk to this well, either to dine or sup, or both, some sending their provision to be dressed; others bespeaking what they will have; and when any people of the town have their friends come to them, they are considered to have given them no welcome, unless they entertain them at this well. Beside, there are many meetings of gentlemen, both from the town and county, making choice of this place, rather than the town, for their rendezvous to recreate themselves at, by reason of the sweetness and openness of the air. Where, besides their artificial, they have the natural music of the woods without charge; in the spring, the nightingale, and in the autumn, the woodlark: a bird whose notes for variety and sweetness, are nothing inferior to the former, which, filled with the voices of other birds, like inward parts in song, serve to double I the melodious harmony of those sweet warbling trebles. Here are, likewise, many venison feasts, and such as feed not the sense of taste, with the flesh thereof when dead, yet may fill their sight with those creatures living, which all summer long are picking up weeds in the corn fields and closes; and in winter, and hard weather, gathering sallads in the gardens of such houses as lie north of the town.

"Among other meetings, I may not omit one royal and remarkable assembly at this place, whereof myself was an eye-witness, which was, that it pleased our late sovereign, king James II., in his return from hunting in this forest, to honour this well with his royal presence, ushered by that noble lord Gilbert, earl of Shrewsbury, and attended by others of the nobility, both of the court and country, when they drank the woodward and his barrels dry."

There is every degree of probability that this was a rendezvous for Robin Hood, and his merry men; its situation (observes the author of "Walks round Nottingham," p. 289), must have been peculiarly adapted for it. Its near approximity to the town, rendered intercourse with it of no great difficulty, and the thickness of the forest in this place, formed a secure barrier against attack; and [p. 370:] when we consider the unquiet times of Richard I. and John, and the strong band which the gallant archer commanded, there can be no great wonder excited at the circumstance of his being able to maintain his ground against every antagonist. Several articles said to have belonged to the outlaw, and which for ages had been exhibited here, were purchased in 1827, by Mr. Raynor, the comedian, and introduced into a melo-drama at one of the London theatres.

In latter days the healing virtues attributed to this spring of water, gave it value in the estimation of the holy mother church, and a building was erected here, called St. Anne's chapel, the priests of which demanded a fee of every one using the water. We visited this place 23rd April, 1839, in company with a friend; it was a lovely morning, and resuscitated nature arising from the langour and death-like faintness of steril winter was assuming her gayest attire, every flower, every leaf, every opening bud of rarer trees, and even the unheeded thorn, sent forth the sweetest aroma, and filled the air with perfume. Arriving at the humble cottage, there were the lofty hills and the lovely valley, but where where the coppice? The well is there, it is a bath, and has a dressing room, both excavated out of the rock; the spring is as strong, and the water as clear as in the days of Henry IV. or bold Robin Hood; but where are the sylvan bowers the umbrageous glens, and all the gay delights and laughing pleasures of woodland scenery? they are gone — and gone for ever.

There is the same cottage called "St. Anne's,'" but it is not the residence of the mayor's woodward now; a widow of the name of Lucy Picard inhabits it, who entertains parties at very moderate charges; there is a very fine large room with board floor, detached from the cottage, in which nearly one hundred people might take tea or dinner. In consequence of sabbath breaking, fights and tumults so often happening, it was found expedient to remove the license in 1825, and there is now nothing intoxicating sold on the premises; there is a delightful garden and pleasure ground, in which the company are allowed to walk, and there are swings for young people to amuse themselves; but the rarest object of attraction is the ingeniously formed maze cut out in the green sward. Hence the party, whether girl or boy, who undertakes to run the Shepherd's Race, must run, or they would fall or tread upon the grassy side, which is to lose the race, and the constant turning and winding about of the path-way awakens the utmost vigilance in the breast of the earnest aspirant of youthful fame. No sight is more pretty or engaging than to behold six or eight [p. 371:] young girls and boys running at the same moment the varying am seemingly interminable windings of the Shepherd's Race.[1]

Source notes

Italics as in printed source. IRHB's brackets.

IRHB comments

For [Charles] Deering and his old source referred to in the text, see 1751 - Deering, Charles - Nottinghamia Vetus et Nova.



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