Robin Hood's Butt (Wigginton)

From International Robin Hood Bibliography
Locality
Coordinate 52.653134, -1.693965
Adm. div. Staffordshire
Vicinity ? c. 100 m SW of Wigginton; NW of Tamworth
Type Prehistoric site
Interest Robin Hood name
Status Defunct?
First Record 1798
A.k.a. Robin Hood's Shooting Butts
Loading map...
North: Robin Hood's Butt, Elford. South: general area where Robin Hood's Butt, Wigginton, may have been located.
Looking north at Lillingstone Avenue. Robin Hood's Butt was likely situated in this general area, perhaps somewhat to the east of it / Google Earth Street View.

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2020-10-28. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2021-01-07.

According to local historians writing in the late 18th to mid-19th century, a now vanished mound situated southwest of Wigginton and northwest of Tamworth was known as 'Robin Hood's Butt'. This was also an alternative name for the mound now generally known as 'Elford Low', situated on the east side of Tamworth Road (A513), c. 800 m south-southeast of the village of Elford. It was said, during the first half of the 19th century, that Robin Hood used to shoot arrows from one to the other. They were known collectively, therefore, as 'Robin Hood's Shooting Butts'.

Robin Hood's Butts in Elford and Wigginton were first noted by Stebbing Shaw in his History and Antiquities of Staffordshire (1798).[1] Other early local historians were certain that the 'butts' were Roman tumuli (see Allusions below). This is possible but by no means certain. Earthworks of more recent date were often misidentified as Roman or Celtic, and while the 'butt' located southeast of Wigginton can no longer be identified, Elford Low does not appear to be included at PastScape,[2] which may indicate that it is not currently considered archaeologically significant. However, according to William Pitt's Topographical History of Staffordshire (1817), Robert Plot examined the latter 'low' and concluded that it was 'sepulchral'. It was also noted that a farmer living in the immediate vicinity had seen 'the bones of three human skeletons dug out of a gravel-pit, a few years since, near this Low, which seems a conclusive proof that it is the site of some ancient cemetery'.[3] C. F. Palmer (1845) felt that the tradition connecting the two mounds through Robin's shooting arrows from one to the other was of fairly modern origin (see Allusions below). The early O.S. maps listed below all know the northernmost mound as 'Elford Low', not 'Robin Hood's Butt', but they do not seem to include any feature that could tentatively be identified as the other Robin Hood's Butt.

Locating the butt

Stebbing Shaw noted in his History and Antiquities of Staffordshire (1798) that[4]

[o]n the North of Tamworth and South-West Wiginton, in or near a piece of land called The Low Flat, is a remarkable eminence, which now goes by the name of Robin Hood's Butt. There was another a few years ago, but the farmers have carried that quite away.
Perhaps subsequently Robin Hood's Butt in Wigginton was also thus 'carried away', for PastScape notes that it has not been found during field work and 'the names Robin Hood's Butt and Low Flat are not now known locally'.[5] IRHB has found nothing relevant in the tithe award for Wiggington, Cumberford Coton and Hopwas (1846). No tithe award for Tamworth seems to survive, assuming one was ever drawn up.[6] While no exact location has ever been cited, confusion has grown over time:
William Pitt 1817 (see Allusions); Staffordshire Directory (1818);[7] Wikipedia: Wigginton[8]
'South-west of Wigginton, near a piece of land called the Low Flat'.
Wikipedia: Elford[9]
'Elford Lowe, on the summit of a hill, [...] and opposite it, at the distance of a mile, [...] a smaller lowe'.
Tamworth Time Hikes (a blog)[10]
'a mystery, can't find any more info[,] either text or map[-]based[,] anywhere'.

Evidently a folded map which appears as a frontispiece in Charles Palmer's History of Tamworth (1845) does include the locality. Unfortunately this map is not shown unfolded in any of the scans of the book available online and IRHB has not had access to a physical copy. However, PastScape lists the map among its sources and provides an O.S. grid reference, 'SK 208 062', which must be based on it. This translates to the coordinate cited in the info box above and indicated on the interactive map. While the grid reference itself must be approximate, further imprecision is introduced by converting a square to a point, so the coordinate only points to the general area in which the southernmost of the two Robin Hood's Butts was situated according to Palmer. Imperfect as this is, it should form the starting point for any attempt to locate the site. Perhaps someone who knows the area well will take up the challenge? If so, will he find the following bits of information of value? Discussing lands belonging to a local charity, Palmer notes that as of 1818 its properties in the lordship of Wigginton were:

  • The Slang
  • Windmill Close
  • Ball's Close
  • The Biddens
  • Robin Hood's Butt.[11]

The early 25" O.S. maps show a Windmill Farm slightly west of Comberford Road and north of Coton Lane.[12] This is not quite one kilometre west of the coordinate suggested for Robin Hood's Butt at PastScape.

Allusions

1817 - Pitt, William - Topographical History of Staffordshire

Wigginton is a hamlet in the parish of Tamworth, situated about two miles north-west of the Church. It is thus recorded in Domesday: "The King holds Wigetone, consisting of two hides. The arable land is six carucates. There are eight villans, and one servant, and one bordar, and eight burgesses in Tamworde. In all they have six carucates. Here is also a meadow, six furlongs in length and two in breadth. In the time of Edward the Confessor, it was valued at thirty shillings, but at the time of this survey £4."
 South-west of Wigginton, near a piece of land called the Low Flat, is a remarkable eminence, which is called Robin Hood's Butt.[13]

1845 - Palmer, Charles Ferrers - History of Tamworth (1)

 Nor yet, in conclusion, should we neglect to point out those objects in the neighbourhood worthy of the notice of the antiquary. He too, who loves to dwell on scenes of former days, may visit, within the compass of a few miles, spots whose very names echo the voice of ages fled, and bring remembrance of the past. Not far away still stand the mouldering ruins of the earliest convent in these parts, raised by the great monarch Ecgberht as a habitation for his daughter Editha, whom Modwen taught and Lyne and Osythe led. There are also other cloister shades, the walls now changed to a different use, once the recluses’ dwelling. The high mound still marks the battle field where Saxons fought, and the Mercian king was slain by an usurper, who himself, in his turn, was doomed to fall before the expiration of the year. The tombs where Romans sleep may partly yet be seen, known as the butts of Robin Hood, because, as tradition tells, he often there exercised his skill with his merry company. Many other objects of equal interest still remain around the town, to which we cannot particularly allude in this place.[14]

1845 - Palmer, Charles Ferrers - History of Tamworth (2)

 We must now turn our attention from the very general and enlarged view, in which we have been lately compelled to give the history of Tamworth, to subjects of more particular and limited interest. And this course of proceeding we adopt with the greater pleasure, as we enter into a field freer from the dry details, which have demanded our chief consideration, since the period of the conquest. The first point, which will occupy our regard, is one connected with tales and legends, heard with intense interest and gratification in the vernal days of childhood, and remembered with pleasure, when the winter of life has chilled the energy of youth, and hoary made the head. [p. 60:]

 According to the common tradition of the locality, Tamworth and the surrounding neighbourhood were the frequent resort of the famous outlaw, Robin Hood. By the name of his butts, have ever been known the Roman tumuli at Wigginton and Elford. It has been suggested that they might have received this appellation, merely from their being the common archery grounds, where the people practised the noble art, once so highly prized in this kingdom. But, had it been usual for such places to be so named, every town and village would have boasted of its Robin Hood’s butts. There is not the least improbability in his visiting this place, as he so constantly haunted localities within about thirty miles distant. The extensive royal woods around this town would doubtless form a rich field for his adventures. The tale, however, that he was able to shoot from one of these butts to the other seems to have been a modern addition, in order to account for their designation. It was in fact a total impossibility, as the distance is nearly two miles. The longest shot which Robin is recorded to have made, was when he was requested to exhibit his dexterity with the bow by Richard, abbot of Whitby, with whom he and his lieutenant, Little John, went to dine, most probably without waiting for the formality of a special invitation. From the top of the abbey, he and his companion let two arrows fly, which fell, one on either side of a lane, not far from Whitby laths. The distance was about a mile and a quarter; and it must have been very considerably increased by the elevated situation which the shooters occupied, as the abbey stood on the summit of a cliff. This feat occurred in 1188. In memory of the transaction, the abbot caused [p. 61:] two pillars to be erected, where the arrows fell, on each of which was inscribed the name of the shooter.

 We are, indeed, unwilling to lose the connection of Tamworth with the bold rover of the forests. He is the only malefactor, whose memory reflects no disgrace on those places, with which his name is associated. On the contrary, it has attached an almost sacred character to them; for the very crimes of the outlaw were rendered hallowed to succeeding generations. His constant opposition to the tyranny of the Norman lords and his principles of equality endeared him, in the strongest manner, to the Saxons, who formed the great mass of the population. For, according to the old historians, though an arch-robber, he was the gentlest thief that ever lived, and a man of unbounded charity. The opulent and noble he deprived of their wealth, to enrich the poor; and for the oppressed, he frequently obtained the redress, for which they vainly ought elsewhere. He was not destitute of the deep religious temper of those olden times, which influenced every action of life, and, however anomalous it might be thought, gave a peculiar tinge even to the commission of misdeeds themselves. The same source of all the refined feelings, which characterize Christianity, gave him, in common with the rest, that generous and noble disposition towards the tenderer sex, so universal in the days of chivalry, whence it as descended to our times. For, according to the old ballad,

Robin loved our dere Lady;
For doute of dedely synne,
Wolds he never do company harm
That any woman was ynne.

[p. 62:] There has been much dispute respecting the title which Robin Hood is said to have possessed of earl of Huntingdon. His real name is conjectured to have been Robert Fitz-ooth; and the common-people, dropping the Norman Fitz, modified it into Hood. Robin might probably have been an alteration of Roving,–a title most appropriate to him, on account of the unsettled and wandering life which he led. All the ballads concerning him present the marks of changes in orthography, at different periods. If these opinions be correct, he most certainly was connected with the family of Simon de St. Liz, earl of Huntingdon. But in the old legends, he is often styled simply a yeoman. Thus one, entitled "a lytell geste of Robyn hode and his meyne, and of the proude sheryfe of Notyngham" begins

"Lithe and lysten, gentylmen,
That be of fre-bore blode:
I shall you tell of a good yeman,
His name was Robyn hode."

 This circumstance has formed the foundation of one of the greatest objections, which has been urged against his having held the title. A little consideration, however, will remove the difficulty, in a very great measure. A yeoman he might have been; for he does not appear to have possessed any estates. It is probable that the family property was confiscated in his father’s time, in consequence of the rebellion of Robert de Ferrers against Henry II., in 1173. According to the collection, called "Robin Hood’s Garland," he was a native of Loxley, which belonged to the Ferrers’ family. He [p. 63:] could not have assumed the title until the death of John Scott, tenth and last earl of Huntingdon (also of Chester), in 1237. He was, at that time, an old man; and his deeds of renown were almost brought to a close. Hence the ballads relating to exploits which occurred previously to this time might rightly denominate him a yeoman.

 But even supposing that Robin Hood were Fitz-ooth, his right to the earldom of Huntingdon was of a very dubious nature. It would rather descend with the sisters and coheiresses of John Scott, than pass to him. It is not improbable that he might have assumed the title whilst it lay dormant, or it was assigned to him by the people, rather than that he properly possessed it. In fact, without regarding any other point, he was incapable as an outlaw of holding it. But here we are entering so deeply into the wide region of conjecture, that we shall draw this part of our subject to a conclusion.

 Bold Robin died when he must have attained an age of upwards of eighty years. The stone over his humble tomb, near the nunnery of Kirklees, in Yorkshire, still remains. It once bore this inscription, now effaced by time.[15]

Hear, undernead dis latil [sic] stean,
laiz robert, earl of huntingtun;
nea archir ver az hie sae geud,
an pipl kauld im Robin Heud.
sick utlawz as hi an iz men
vil England nivir si agen.
  obiit 24 kal. dekembris, 1247.

Gazetteers

Sources

Maps

Discussion

Background

Nothing relevant found in:

  • Tithe award for Wiggington, including Cumberford Coton and Hopwas (1846); piece 32, sub-piece 233, at the Genealogist.

Also see

Notes

  1. Shaw, Stebbing; et al. The History and Antiquities of Staffordshire, compiled from the Manuscripts of Huntbach, Loxdale, Bishop Lyttelton, and Other Collections of Dr. Wilkes, T. Feilde, &c. &c., Including Erdeswick's Survey of the County, and the Approved Parts of Dr. Plot's Natural History (London, 1798-1801), vol. I, p. 432. Reprinted: Shaw, Stebbing; et al. The History and Antiquities of Staffordshire (Classical County Histories) (East Ardsley, 1976); neither seen, but cf, PastScape: Robin Hoods Butt.
  2. PastScape: Search: Elford.
  3. See fuller quotation on the page on Robin Hood's Butt (Wigginton).
  4. Shaw, Stebbing; et al. The History and Antiquities of Staffordshire, compiled from the Manuscripts of Huntbach, Loxdale, Bishop Lyttelton, and Other Collections of Dr. Wilkes, T. Feilde, &c. &c., Including Erdeswick's Survey of the County, and the Approved Parts of Dr. Plot's Natural History (London, 1798-1801), vol. I, p. 432; not seen but cf. PastScape: Robin Hoods Butt, which despite the absense of quotation marks seems to quote rather than paraphrase Shaw.
  5. PastScape: Robin Hoods Butt.
  6. Tithe award for Wiggington, including Cumberford Coton and Hopwas (1846); piece 32, sub-piece 233, at the Genealogist.
  7. Parson, W., compil.; Bradshaw, T., compil. Staffordshire General & Commercial Directory, presenting an Alphabetical Arrangement of the Names and Residences of the Nobility, Gentry, Merchants, and Inhabitants in General; to which ias added, an Abbreviated History of the Principal Towns and Villages of the County (Manchester etc., [1818]), p. clxxi.
  8. Wikipedia: Wigginton.
  9. Wikipedia: Elford. IRHB's ellipses.
  10. Tamworth Time Hikes: Elford Low (aka Robin Hood's Butt) and beyond. IRHB's brackets.
  11. Palmer, Charles Ferrers. The History of the Town and Castle of Tamworth, in the Counties of Stafford & Warwick (Tamworth; London, 1845), pp. 467-68.
  12. 25" O.S. map Staffordshire LIX.6 (1902; rev. 1900) (georeferenced).
  13. Pitt, William, compil. A Topographical History of Staffordshire: including its Agriculture, Mines and Manufactures; Statistical Tables; and every Species of Information connected with the Local History of the County. With a Succinct Account of the Rise and Progress of the Staffordshire Potteries (Newcastle-under-Lyme; Stafford; Lichfield; Wolverhampton; London, 1817), p. 143.
  14. Palmer, Charles Ferrers. The History of the Town and Castle of Tamworth, in the Counties of Stafford & Warwick (Tamworth; London, 1845), p. 4.
  15. Palmer, Charles Ferrers. The History of the Town and Castle of Tamworth, in the Counties of Stafford & Warwick (Tamworth; London, 1845), pp. 59-64.