Barnsdale (Exton)

From International Robin Hood Bibliography
Locality
Coordinate 52.670241, -0.667667
Adm. div. Rutland
Vicinity c. 3.3 km SW of Exton
Type Area
Interest Miscellaneous
Status Extant
First Record 1579
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Barnsdale, formerly Bernard's Hill, near Exton, Rutland.
Barnsdale Hall Hotel Country Club / Barnsdale Hall Hotel Country Club. Barnsdale, Nr Oakham, Rutland, [2???]). Photo­graphic post­card / HTN collection.
Though its connection with Robin Hood is tenuous, Barnsdale in Rut­land is an attractive area, especially when the bluebells are in bloom / Steve Fareham, 25 Apr. 2009, Creative Commons, via Geograph.

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2017-05-23. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2021-06-05.

Barnsdale near Exton in Rutland, a locality now largely covered by a large water reservoir known as Rutland Water, does not have any connection with Robin Hood, except the rather tenuous one that it may conceivably have been renamed after the area of the same name near Doncaster, which is one of Robin Hood's chief haunts in the earliest tales.

In his 1994 monograph on Robin Hood, Stephen Knight advanced the remarkable but untenable idea that this Rutland Barnsdale was, if not the original, then at least an earlier scene of the outlaw's adventures or an alternative locale coeval with Barnsdale in South Yorkshire. It is uncertain which of these hypotheses he favoured, but he clearly felt that his discovery of this other Barnsdale was significant. He did not miss the oportunity to criticize 'empiricist historians' – often butts of his criticism – for not having beaten him to it.[1] Unlike Knight, researchers such as Sir James Holt and Barrie Dobson & John Taylor often consulted handbooks and specialist works on English place-names – we empiricists do not like, even inadvertently, to make up our own facts – so most likely at one time or another they looked up the Rutland Barnsdale in what was for half a century the standard one-volume reference work on English place-names, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names, and found that this Barnsdale could hardly be relevant. There Eilert Ekwall cites the form 'Bernardeshull' (1202) and gives the etymology 'Beornheard's hill'.[2]

Given the early forms in which the name of Robin Hood's stamping ground of Barnsdale is recorded in the earliest ballads and other late medieval sources, this etymology clearly disqualifies the Rutland locality now known under that name. The idea was dead in the water. As Knight sometimes showed scant respect for the work of other scholars, it would not perhaps have been uncharacteristic for him to have brushed aside the etymology offered by Ekwall, a leading 20th century specialist on English Place-Names, but it seems more likely that he never consulted the handbook. Ironically, what amounts to proof that Knight was wrong can be found in the English Place Name Society's volume on Rutland which was published in 1994, the same year as his book.[3] Knight evidently also did not consult this. Perhaps it was published after his book was sent to the press. However, as late as 2015 he was still touting the Rutland Barnsdale as Robin Hood's most authentic home.[4] Since Knight's very abundant writings on the topic of Robin Hood seem, in my view unfortunately, to have replaced the more careful works of Holt[5], Dobson & Taylor[6] and their ilk on university curricula, this mistaken and irrelevant notion has been uncritically adopted by others who know no better. Knight's 'discovery' is simply a bit of noise. If it ever did any good it would have been to send a few sightseers to the Exton area.

As historian Sue Howlett notes in a highly recommended miscellany on the area now covered by the Rutland Water reservoir

For modern visitors to Rutland, the name of Barnsdale provides a regular source of confusion. Tourist information draws their attention to the horti­cultural pleasures of Barnsdale Gardens, or to the events, meals or accommodation offered by Barnsdale Lodge Hotel and Barnsdale Hall Hotel. They may follow signs to the impressively landscaped Barnsdale car park on the shores of Rutland Water. From here, on a May evening, they may wander delightedly along the bluebell-lined path through Barnsdale Wood.

And yet, Rutland has no village or parish of Barnsdale. [...][7]

It never had. Stephen Knight's claim, with regard to Barnsdale in Rutland, that 'the name has medieval status'[8] is simply not true. As far as is known, no locality of any description in Rutland was ever known as Barnsdale during the Middle Ages. Instead there was the Bernard's Hill noted by Ekwall. It was or became a park in the now lost sense of an enclosed hunting ground.[9] Barrie Cox notes with regard to its etymology, in the English Place-Name Society's volume on Rutland, that this locality was 'a deer park held by Bernard de Brus in 1280' and that '[h]is predecessors may well have borne the same name'. It is known under the name Bernard's Hill as early as 1201, a form that still held sway in the early 16th century, but from 1579 on another form, or rather another name, appears in the records and maps: Barnsdale.[10] It is instructive to see the evidence set out chronologically:

Year Bernard's Hill Barnsdale
1201 Bernardishill'[11]
1202 Bernardeshull(e)[11]
1202 Barnardeshull'[12]
1207 Bernardshill'[7]
1208 Bernardeshull(e)[11]
1256 Bernardeshull(e)[11]
1263 Bernardeshull(e)[11]
1280 Bernardeshull(e)[11]
1283 Bernardyshill'[7]
1286 Bernardishill'[11]
1294 Bernardeshull(e)[11]
1298 Bernerdishil'[11]
1329 Bernardeshul[7]
1421 Bernardeshilpark[7]
1518-20 Bernardeshell[11]
1518-29 Barnardeshell[13]
1579 Barnesdalep[ar]k[7]
1602 Barnsdale Park[11]
1607 Barnsdale Park[11]
1610 Barinsdale[11]
1634 Barndalle[11]
1695 Barnsdale[11]
1710 Barnsdale Park[11]
c. 1800 Barndale Wood[11]
1806 Barnshill Lodge[11]
1806 Barndale Wood[11]
1806 Barnsdale Hill[11]
1846 Barnsdale Lodge[11]
1943 Godfeed's Barnsdale[14]

This sequence shows that the development Bernard's Hill → Barnsdale took place during the 16th century, it being first documented as late as 1579, while the original form is well attested in the records throughout the preceding centuries. Barnsdale as literary locale of the Robin Hood tradition has been Bern(e)sdale/Barn(e)sdale since 1420, when it first occurs in the surviving sources,[15] at which time it must already have been well established. It never appears in a form suggestive of 'Bernard's Hill'. Barnsdale near Doncaster, on the other hand, appears in records from 1362 on in forms that match those of the name of the literary locale. On the development Bern(es)dale → Barnsdale, see the page From Beornsdale to Barnsdale

In compounds such as 'Bernardeshilpark' (1421) and 'Barnesdalep[ar]k' (1579) one or more medial syllables would be unstressed (except perhaps in very slow and distinct pronunciation), and this would tend to result in loss of distinct vowel quality. The pronunciation in such phonetic contexts of the sequence represented in spelling by e.g. 'ard(e)shil' may well have come close to that of "(e)sdale' in 'Barnesdale'. Perhaps this in turn influenced the pronunciation of 'Bernardeshil' tout court. When the sound sequence had to be represented in writing it was then interpreted as 'Barnsdale'. Although IRHB has found no direct evidence in support of this hypothesis, it would seem likely that such a reinterpretation may have been influenced by writers'/speakers' knowledge of Barnsdale in South Yorkshire through its longstanding association with Robin Hood.

What is quite clear from the evidence is that this development happened long after the South Yorkshire locality had become established as one of Robin Hood's two major stamping grounds, which must have happened by the late 14th century, for the prior of Lochleven, writing in the first quarter of the 15th century, knew the latter as one of the outlaw's haunts.[16] Until Knight can present a slew of early 'Barnsdale'-type forms of the name of the Rutland locality, there is no reason to take seriously his attempt to teleport Robin Hood to Rutland.

This conclusion is not affected by the presence in the area, as early as 1284, of a field (or other minor locality) referred to in the records as 'de la Sale', whose etymology could be either that of 'a hall' or 'sallow' (willow)[17] and which might of course conceivably have been the original of the Sayles figuring in the Gest, for Barnsdale in South Yorkshire also had such a locality. In fact, in addition to the now well-known Sayles Plantation – all but certainly of 19th-century origin – there is a reference to another Sayles in Skelbrooke, at the southern boundary of Barnsdale, dating from as early as 1329.

If one wanted – though this is a dubious proposition – to suggest that Robin Hood's Barnsdale had originally been another locality of that name than that in South Yorkshire, the Barnsdale located between Great Easton and Bringhurst in the southeast of Leicestershire would be a rather better candidate than the locality near Exton. First recorded in 1505, this at least has not been shown to have been called something else in the medieval period.

On another of Knight's forays into Robin Hood toponomy he seems to have ended up on the wrong continent. See the page on Robin Hood's Field (Whitwell).

Gazetteers

Sources

Maps

Discussion

Background

Also see

Notes

  1. Knight, Stephen. Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw (Oxford, UK; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1994), pp. 29-32; and see ibid. pp. 42, 112, 131.
  2. Ekwall, Eilert, compil. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. Fourth edition, reprinted (Oxford, 1977), p. 27, s.n. Barnsdale.
  3. Cox, Barrie. The Place-Names of Rutland (English Place-Name Society, vols. LXVII/LXVIII/LXIX) ([s.l.], 1994).
  4. Cox, Barrie. The Place-Names of Rutland (English Place-Name Society, vols. LXVII/LXVIII/LXIX) ([s.l.], 1994), p. 20, and on Barnsdale also see pp. xv, xxix-xxx, xliv-xlv, lvi, 23. Knight, Stephen; Bernbau, Anke, ser. ed.; Ashton, Gail, ser. ed. Reading Robin Hood: Content, Form and Reception in the Outlaw Myth (Manchester Medieval Literature and Culture) (Manchester, 2015), pp. 45-46.
  5. Holt, J.C. Robin Hood (London, 1982)
  6. Dobson, R. B., ed.; Taylor, J., ed. Rymes of Robyn Hood: an Introduction to the English Outlaw (London, 1976)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Howlett, Sue. 'Barnsdale', in: Ovens, Robert, compil. & ed.; Sleath, Sheila, compil. & ed.; Clough, T.H. McK, ed. The Heritage of Rutland Water. Reprinted with minor corrections (Rutland Local History & Record Society, Rutland Record Series, No. 5) (Oakham, Rutland, 2008), pp. 45-54, p. 45.
  8. Knight, Stephen. Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw (Oxford, UK; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1994), p. 29.
  9. OED. park, n., 1. a.
  10. Cox, Barrie. The Place-Names of Rutland (English Place-Name Society, vols. LXVII/LXVIII/LXIX) ([s.l.], 1994), p. 20; and see p. 18 for the field-name 'Bruselonde' (recorded 1387) believed to have been named after the de Bruse family. Cox's italics in cited passage.
  11. 11.00 11.01 11.02 11.03 11.04 11.05 11.06 11.07 11.08 11.09 11.10 11.11 11.12 11.13 11.14 11.15 11.16 11.17 11.18 11.19 11.20 Cox, Barrie. The Place-Names of Rutland (English Place-Name Society, vols. LXVII/LXVIII/LXIX) ([s.l.], 1994), p. 20.
  12. Cox, Barrie. The Place-Names of Rutland (English Place-Name Society, vols. LXVII/LXVIII/LXIX) ([s.l.], 1994), p. 20. Ekwall, Eilert, compil. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. Fourth edition, reprinted (Oxford, 1977), p. 27, s.n. Barnsdale.
  13. National Archives: Short title: Haryngton v Haryngton. Plaintiffs: Alice, late the wife of John,.... Could this be related to the preceding entry?
  14. Cox, Barrie. The Place-Names of Rutland (English Place-Name Society, vols. LXVII/LXVIII/LXIX) ([s.l.], 1994), p. 23.
  15. See 1420 - Wyntoun, Andrew of - Original Chronicle (1).
  16. See 1420 - Wyntoun, Andrew of - Original Chronicle (1).
  17. Cox, Barrie. The Place-Names of Rutland (English Place-Name Society, vols. LXVII/LXVIII/LXIX) ([s.l.], 1994), p. 24.