Robin Hood's Chair (Baildon)

From International Robin Hood Bibliography
Locality
Coordinate 53.8451, -1.7933
Adm. div. West Riding of Yorkshire
Vicinity c. 2 km SW of Baildon
Type Natural feature
Interest Robin Hood name
Status Defunct?
First Record 1851
A.k.a. Robin Hood's Seat; Druids Chair
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Robin Hood's Chair.
Robin Hood's Chair / Photo courtesy Nick Smith, 26 Oct. 2019.

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2016-12-17. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2021-02-12. Photos, field research and additional information courtesy Baildon surveyor Nicholas Smith, his wife, and his mother, Kate Smith.

Robin Hood's Chair, a boulder in Trench Wood, c. 2 km SW of Baildon (West Yorkshire), is first recorded in 1851. The name and whereabouts of the Chair are largely, if not entirely, forgotten in the area.


Author and blogger Kai Roberts describes the Chair as 'an earthfast boulder in which water has worn a natural cavity resembling a seat and where Victorian antiquarians suggested some local shaman or chief once sat'. He further notes that it is also sometimes known as Robin Hood's Seat and, perhaps less helpfully, that it is located 'about halfway down Shipley Glen'.[1] Passing within 50 meters or so of the Chair is the Shipley Glen Tramway, which has taken passengers up and down the glen since 1895.[2] An official publication of Baildon Council has the Chair '[n]ear the top of the tramway',[3] while according to the 1891 allusion cited below, the Chair is located '[a]t the top of Trench Wood, on entering the Glen'. The latter statements are both correct.

IRHB has not (yet) found any example of antiquarians making Robin Hood's Chair the seat of a local shaman or chief. A brief descripion in a paper by Wiliam Glossop (1882) is fairly sober, though one notes perhaps a tendency to prefer humans, rather than time and nature, as 'shapers' of stones:

On some of the rocks in Eldwick Glen are to be found peculiar bowl shaped incisions. I refer especially to a large rock in Trench Wood, near the foot road leading from Saltaire to the Glen. This rock is marked in the Ordnance Map as Robin Hood's Chair. In this rock there is a deep incision of more decided character than the others [in the area]. Nearly at the head of the Glen where the high rocks cease there is all appearance of a perfect Cromlech, but whether this is formed by accident or artifice I cannot say.[4]

A passage probably written by J. Horsfall Turner in Ilkley: Ancient & Modern (1885), a book he wrote together with Robert Collyer, referring to Glossop's paper, mentions 'Robin Hood's Chair in French Wood, near Saltaire, which seems to be a naturally formed seat in the rock'.[5]

Photos of Robin Hood's Chair

In late May of 2019, Baildon surveyor Nicholas Smith contacted IRHB after reading about Robin Hood's Chair on this page and on Kai Roberts's blog. He had come here (and there) looking for information about the 'Druids Chair' that figures in a 1923 photo in his mother's family album, which includes photos that belonged to Nick's grandparents, who owned the Shipley Glen Tramway during the 1920s to 1940s. Nick mailed me a scan of the photo, which his mother, Kate Smith, generously allowed me to put on this page (see Image gallery below). So now for the first time Robin Hood's (and the Druid's) Chair in Shipley Glen could be seen on the web. The photo taken in 1923 shows Nick Smith's grandma Parr (on the left) together with an unidentified girl and middle-aged lady as well as a dog named Jack who found time to (perhaps) smile at the camera and give the girl a kiss on the cheek while he was being photographed. They are all seated on or leaning against Robin Hood's Chair.

In the family album, the photo bears the legend 'Druid's Chair. Shipley Glen 1923', and in fact Nick and Kate Smith had never heard the name 'Robin Hood's Chair'. However, there can be no doubt that the Druid's Chair is identical with that of R. Hood. The stone matches the descriptions cited on this page – note especially the hollow in the centre of the rock created by water – and the connection between Johnnie Gray's 1891 account (see Allusions below) and the name 'Druid's Stone' is clear. Gray does not actually refer to the stone as the 'Druid's Chair', eo nomine, neither does a poem on the pleasures of Baildon Glen published in 1851, though it mentions Robin Hood's Chair as well as the 'old Druid's Pulpit' and 'the Writing Desk too', noting explicitly that these names were traditional (see Allusions below). That the druid had both a Pulpit and a Writing Desk is of course no reason he should not also have a Chair. One may wonder whether they were more deserving of such admiration than any of the other peoples Englishmen can count among their ancestors, but there is no doubt that the Ancient Celts with their wise druids and their mysterious leechcraft were the darlings of 19th century English antiquaries and, as they still are to many New Age devotees. Thus in the mid-19th century, a local clergyman felt convinced that Robin Hood's Cave, discovered on the perimeter of Nottingham's recently constructed 'Rock Cemetery', had been part of an ancient druid temple. Its origin is in fact rather more prosaic.[6]

Perhaps the name 'Druid's Chair' already existed before the mid-19th century, perhaps it crystallized after other prominent stones in Shipley Glen and its immediate vicinity had come to be attributed to 'the Druid'. In all events, Nick notes that the photo is preceded and followed in the album by others taken not far from the tramway tracks, a fact which further supports the identification. Nick has kindly supplied a recent photo of Robin Hood's Chair.

Locating the stone

Despite the mention in a publication by Baildon Council,[3] it seems fairly safe to conclude that both the name and location of the boulder had been largely forgotten locally. Nick Smith, born and bred in the area and still residing there, has a strong interest in Baildon and Shipley Glen local history, and his mother Kate's memory would go back to the late 1930s or early 40s, yet neither had ever heard about the Chair before.

During summer and autumn of 2019, Mr Smith and his wife spent a generous amount of time trying to locate Robin Hood's Chair. In early October, Nick's wife came across another local who thought he knew where it was, and following his directions they found the Chair on October 26. It does indeed sit near the top of Trench Wood, in an area they had visited before, but it was only visible now that the undergrowth was dying back.

Picnicking at Robin Hood's Chair

Nick Smith notes that there were many other attractions on Shipley Glen around the turn of the 20th century and that people are only just starting to take an interest in them. There were large fair­ground rides, aerial runways, Japanese Gardens etc., all on a scale one would not now imagine in a place like Shipley Glen, but in those days tens of thousands used to come and spend a Sunday afternoon. To people in Bradford the Glen was the immediate countryside. Sir Titus Salt's mill and model village, Saltaire,[7] remain at the bottom of the Glen Tramway as memories of that time.[8] Perhaps Robin Hood's Chair could once more become a local attraction?

A local poet named R. West in his Lines written on a Beautiful Glen situated between Bingley and Baildon, published in a pamphlet in 1851, has left us a memento of the time when Shipley Glen was a favourite spot for Sunday outings and picnics and people came from far and near to try the rides or just enjoy the birdsong and fresh air. The pamphlet includes an 'Introduction' dated March 1849, so it may well have been first printed that year. Horsfal Turner in Ancient Bingley (1897) quotes several lines of West's poem, prefixing these comments: 'Eldwick or Shipley Glen had not then been fixed as the name of this favourite pic-nic place. Brackenhall Green was the general local name, but it was then becoming widely renowned'.[9] West's poem includes the earliest mention of Robin Hood's Chair IRHB has found so far. For the quotation, see the allusion below dated 1851.

The Chair in maps and records

The earliest map reference is nearly as old as West's poem, for Robin Hood's Chair is included on a 6" O.S. map of Aireborough, Baildon, Bingley and Shipley published in 1852. It recurs in O.S. maps published as late as 1948 if not later (see Maps below). Nick Smith has confirmed to IRHB that these maps have the Chair in (essentially) the right place, though he believes the true location may be a meter or so east of that indicated on the maps (see map detail with his annotation in image gallery below). He notes that the 'seat' of the chair faces east and that the 'one circular rock sign [on the 25" O.S. maps] is misleading' for 'the whole area is scattered with large rocks and outcrops of rock and the site slopes from north to south quite steeply'. The 'F.P' on the 25" O.S. maps indicates 'a narrow unmade public footpath passing to the top side of the woods'. The Smiths approached Robin Hood's Chair from the path, which is also indicated on the interactive map included on this page (zoom in to see it).[10] The coordinates used for the latter map and cited in the fact box are those of the georeferenced version of the 25" O.S. map (see Maps below). The tithe award for Shipley (1849) does not include Robin Hood's Chair (under any known name),[11] neither does that for Baildon, which does, however, lists two plots named 'Trench Wood'.[12]

Allusions

1851 - West, R - Lines written on a Beautiful Glen

Behold how they flock to the Glen from each village.
Sweet echo resounds from Baildon's high plain.
Here Robin Hood's Chair is hewn out in the rock.
The Larches and Poplars uplift their proud heads.
But O what sweet melodies sound in the wood.
The old Druid's Pulpit is seen in the Glen,
And the Writing Desk too, if tradition be true.
From Bingley and Bradford, and Leeds they resort—
Some have breathed the foul gas in the mill.
Ye Cottingley friends and Wilsden likewise,
And Harden that lies near the Grange,
You may come to the Glen sweet pleasures to find,
And your minds relieve with a change.
And Cullingworth, too, where Odd-fellows unite,
Considered intelligent men,
If you choose, you may roam o'er the sweet fragrant bloom,
You are welcome to visit the Glen.[13]

1891 - Gray, Johnnie - Through Airedale from Goole to Malham (2)

At the top of Trench Wood, on entering the Glen there is a large stone with a bowl-shaped cavity, called from time immemorial Robin Hood's Seat. This designation is, of course, purely mythical, many such curious stones and other remarkable objects in our part of the country being associated in some fanciful way or other with this famous mediaeval outlaw. It may just as well have been the judgment-seat of some Druid priest or chief, or even (if credence may go so far) a holy basin for the retention of water in which leaves of the sacred oak were dipped and borne, as we are told, in processionals to the festal altars.* Similar stones are found elsewhere in our district near Druidical temples.[14]

1912 - Baildon, William Paley - Baildon and the Baildons (1)

Robin Hood's Seat. — "At the top of Trench Wood, on entering the Glen, there is a large stone with a bowl-shaped cavity, called from time immemorial 'Robin Hood's Seat.' This designation is, of course, purely mythical, many such curious stones and other remarkable objects in our part of the country being associated in some fanciful way or other with this famous mediaeval outlaw."2

The cavity in the stone is in my opinion of natural origin and has no traces of human handiwork. The hollow is, I think, a "pot-hole," worn by the action of pebbles in the bed of a river where a circular motion is imparted to the water. Such holes exist in considerable numbers in the bed of the Wharfe near the Strid, and are common in most swiftly-flowing rivers where the bed is rocky. This piece of stone must, if I am right, have been at the bottom of a river in some very remote geological epoch. The whole slope of the hill about this spot is strewn with masses of rock which have rolled down from a higher level; this particular mass got broken in the process, leaving about three-quarters [p. 114:] of the basin intact, which is two feet in diameter and one foot 9 inches deep.[15]

Gazetteers

Maps

Sources

Discussion

Background

Also see

Notes

  1. Old Elmet Dreaming: My Folkloric Influences.
  2. [Shipley Glen Tramway] website.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ashton, Joe, ed.; Lorrain-Smith, Roy, ed.; Taylor, Marian, ed.; Lawson, Mike, ed.; Lawson, Tish, ed. Exploring Baildon: A Guide to Public Spaces (Baildon, Shipley, 2015), p. 20, No. 45.
  4. Glossop, William. 'Ancient British Remains on Baildon Moor', The Bradford Antiquary, vol. I, Part II (1882), pp. 88-89 [+ 1 fold. plate]; see p. 89.
  5. A few pages later the same writer notes with regard to landscape features, and not quite without exaggeration, that '[e]verything remarkable is attributed to Satanic agency, or to Robin Hood'.Collyer, Robert; Turner, J. Horsfall. Ilkley: Ancient & Modern (Otley; Leeds; Idel, Bradford, 1885), pp. LXXX, LXXXII. Italics as in printed source.
  6. Robin Hood Close in Barnsdale was owned by a progressive druidist scholar.
  7. Saltaire Village website.
  8. Most of this is based on emails from Nick Smith to Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 27 May to 5 June, 26 and 27 October 2019.
  9. Turner, J. Horsfall. Ancient Bingley: or, Bingley, its History and Scenery (Bingley, 1897), p. 282.
  10. This mainly based on email correspondence between Nicholas Smith and Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 26-27 Oct. 2019.
  11. 1849 tithe award for Shipley, online at the Genealogist, piece 43, sub-piece 352, Images 423-54 (£).
  12. 1849 tithe award for Baildon, online at the Genealogist, piece 43, sub-piece 027, Image 413, item 587; Image 426, item 550 (£).
  13. Turner, J. Horsfall. Ancient Bingley: or, Bingley, its History and Scenery (Bingley, 1897), p. 282.
  14. Gray, Johnnie. Through Airedale from Goole to Malham (Leeds; Bradford; Skipton; Goole, 1891), p. 150.
  15. Baildon, W. Paley; Baildon, Francis J. Baildon and the Baildons: a History of a Yorkshire Manor and Family ([s.l.]; Bradford and London, [1912-26]), vol. I, pp. 113-14.