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Robin Hood's Dell (Bishop's Waltham)

Locality
Coordinates 50.9589, -1.2047
Adm. div. Hampshire
Vicinity N outskirts of Bishop's Waltham; N of Butts Farm Lane, E of Chalky Lane, S of Beechen Copse
Type Natural feature
Interest Robin Hood name
Status Defunct
First Record 1871
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Site of Robin Hood's Dell, Bishop's Waltham
Site of Robin Hood's Dell, Bishop's Waltham. The scarred area near the centre would have been at the eastern end of the roughly kidney-shaped dell which extended about four times as far to the west / Google Maps Street View.

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2018-10-22. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2018-10-29.

"Robin Hood's Dell" was the name of a small wooded area on the northern outskirts of Bishop's Waltham, north of Butt's Farm Lane, east of Chalky Lane, and south of Beechen Copse. While the latter area is still wooded, there are no longer any trees at the site of the dell. A scarred area near the centre of the Google satellite image shown on this page would have been at or near the east end of the dell, which extended towards the west, covering a kidney-shaped area about four times as wide as the scarred area. Judging from early 20th century O.S. maps, the immediate surroundings of the dell were also covered in trees at that time. About 130 metres to the southwest, near Butt's Farm, was a Butt's Dell. Some fifty metres NW of Robin Hood's Dell was a chalk pit. It seems possible that if there was a depression in the ground, as the term "dell" would suggest, this may have been the result of chalk extraction.

According to Thomas Hookham – see 1790 allusion below – "Some years ago a party of the inhabitants of this town [sc. Bishop's Waltham] retired to a recluse dell in the forest, from whence they issued forth during the night; and, their numbers rendering them formidable, committed depredations in the neighbourhood, killing deer, sheep, &c. for their subsistence". According to some, he further tells us, these people "asserted that they were the descendants of Robin Hood". The small Robin Hood's Dell just north of Bishop's Waltham could only conceivably have served as the headquarters of a large band of malefactors (or hungry and desperate people) if the area was then much more densely forested than today. On the other hand, if it was not the dell where they hid, it must have been named Robin Hood's Dell in humorous commemoration of this dramatic episode of local history. The dell is included in all the O.S. maps listed below, but a Google search yields nothing of more recent date, so the place-name must be considered defunct. Since we cannot be certain that the late 18th century allusions refer to the locality north of Bishop's Waltham, an O.S. map dated 1871 currently is the earliest reference known to IRHB.

Allusions

1790 - Hookham, Thomas - Tour of the Isle of Wight

The town of Bishop's Waltham is a small, disagreeable, ill-paved, inconvenient spot, and possessed of no one requisite to make it otherwise. It received the name of Bishop's Waltham, from its being formerly a palace of the bishop of Winchester. [Vol. I, p. 106:]

 Some years ago a party of the inhabitants of this town retired to a recluse dell in the forest, from whence they issued forth during the night; and, their numbers rendering them formidable, committed depredations in the neighbourhood, killing deer, sheep, &c. for their subsistence. As they chiefly made their appearance in thenight [sic], they were named the Waltham Blacks. The place of their residence was a recess, inaccessible by any other way than a subterranean passage. They dressed like foresters; the cross-bow was their weapon; and some say they asserted that they were the descendants of Robin Hood; certain however it is, that they lived, like him, by plunder. In this licentious state they remained a considerable time; and at last were dispersed by the activity of the neighbouring gentlemen.

 We left Bishop's Waltham without regret, and crossed the forest of Wykeham [...][1]

1792 - Anonymous - Account of the Bishop's Abbey at Waltham

Waltham, called also Bishop's Waltham, is a small, disagreeable, and ill-paved market-town, situated at the distance of eight miles from Winchester and sixty-five from London. A palace of the bishops of Winchester, once situated here, gave it the name of Bishop's Waltham. [...] The pensive mind that is fond to explore the remains of desolated grandeur, or to meditate in awful retrospect on the folly of ancient superstition, may here find ample room for reflection. The lover of legal antiquities, the historian of ancient regulations, may likewise find Bishop's Waltham an object of attention; for to the history of this place must we trace the origin of that celebrated act of parliament, entitled 'The Black Act,' of which sir William Blackstone gives this account: 'The statute 9 George I, commonly called 'The Waltham Black Act,' was occasioned by the devastations committed near Waltham, in Hampshire, by persons in disguise, or with their faces blacked, who seem to have resembled the Roberdsmen, or followers of Robert Hood, that, in the reign of Richard the first, committed great outrages on the borders of England and Scotland*.'—It seems. that many years ago, a party of the inhabitants of this town retired to a recluse dell in the New Forest, whence they issued forth in the night; and, their numbers rendering them formidable, they committed great depredations in the neighbourhood, killing deer, sheep, &c. for their subsistence. As they commonly made their appearance in the night, and were disguised, moreover, as abovementioned, they were called 'The Waltham Blacks.' The place of their retreat was a recess, accessible only by a subterranean passage. They dressed like foresters; the cross-bow was their weapon; and it is asserted, that they called themselves the descendants of Robin Hood. In this licentious state they remained, a considerable time, till, at last they were dispersed by the activity of the neighbouring gentlemen, and have not since infested the country.[2]

Gazetteers

Maps

Background

Also see

Notes