Robin Hood's Well (Knutsford)

From International Robin Hood Bibliography
Locality
Coordinate 53.3048, -2.3722
Adm. div. Cheshire
Vicinity In Knutsford, Nether Knutsford Ward, near the NE end of Malt Street
Type Natural feature
Interest Robin Hood name
Status Defunct
First Record 1847
Loading map...
The site of Robin Hood's Well.
The well was situated near Knutsford Gym, probably where the parking lot now is / Google Earth Street View.

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2017-01-19. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2021-02-12. Includes information kindly provided by an anonymous contributor.

A no longer existing Robin Hood's Well in Knutsford is first mentioned in 1847 and figures on maps published in 1882 and 1899. It was probably named after Robin Hood, a race horse belonging to a Matthew Miller.

Henry Green in his Knutsford (see 1859 allusion below), tells us that over the well, presumably as an inscription or on a signboard, was the motto 'If Robin Hood be not at home | Stop and take a drink with little John'. Just beside the well was an enclosed mound and a stone on which the words 'Alas! poor Bob!' were engraved. On making enquiries, Green learned that the Robin Hood in question was a race horse which lay buried under the mound and that 'little John's drink' was strong ale rather than pure water. Perhaps unknown to Green, the motto over the well was a variant of a piece of verse that was inscribed near the entrances to some 19th century public houses named after Robin Hood and/or Little John.[1] He does not mention the Robin Hood's Cottage that was situated very close to the well and mound, but this seems an odd name for a 19th century Robin Hood pub, and it is in any case not easy to see why the motto of a nearby pub should be found over the well, so while there is no reason to think that the Cottage was a pub, perhaps the strong ale was contained in a bottle deposited by the well or mound as a last gift to a dearly beloved horse who had perhaps been known to enjoy a pint or two after a succesful day at the races? Homo sapiens is not the only life form that can develop a taste for alcohol.

In a recent pamphlet on the history and topography of the Moor, a park in Knutsford, Joan Leach and others list Robin Hood's Well in Malt Street as being in existence by 1847.[2] They cite no source, but on finding that the tithe award for Nether Knutsford – that of the four wards of Knutsford in which the well was situated – dates from the same year, we expected to find the well included in it. However, no mention of the well is found there,[3] and not so surprisingly, one also looks in vain for it in the tithe award for Over Knutsford, dating from the same year.[4]

Robin Hood's Well seems to be mentioned in the English Place-Name Society's volume on Cheshire, but unfortunately whitout any details.[5] The only contemporary sources to give any indication of its location are the 6" O.S. map of the area published in 1882 and a revised issue from 1899 (see Maps below). Robin Hood's Cottage is included on all those of the maps listed below that are available online, which unfortunately do not include the two earliest 25" maps, dating from 1877 and 1898. The Cottage seems to have been a roughly T-shaped building indicated on the north side of the east end of Malt Street. However, on later maps, 'Robin Hood's Cottage' appears next to a house situated on the south-west corner of Malt Street and Moorside. The label 'Robin Hood's Well' on the 6" O.S. map from 1882 is most naturally taken as referring to a small ring next to the T-shaped building. On the only later map to include the well, the revision published in 1899, the label 'Robin Hood's Well' could be taken to refer to a point on the old Market Place, a few tens of metres west-southwest of its location on the 1877 map. However, rather than being a correction, this appears on balance to be due to a lack of space on the revised map for the label in the position where it appears on the earlier map. Thus in this case the earliest map should be trusted. In opting for this location on the north side of the east end of Malt Street, IRHB is in agreement with Joan Leach et al, with Knutsford Methodist Church, which on its website mentions the well in a discussion of its first chapel which was situated in this neighbourhood, and with our anonymous correspondent who writes:

The location of the well appears to be under the southeast corner of the Knutsford gym, I've walked by this point numerous times but I have never seen any signs of the well or mound (or indeed the cottage), I'd suggest that all have been removed during building/car park construction.[6]

Robin Hood's Well may have been a natural spring or a dug well with some kind of cover or well-house; in view of the inscription, some kind of structure seems likely. According to Joan Leach et al, the owner of the race horse was named Matthew Miller and his 'initials can still be seen on a building in the street', i.e. Malt Street. They add that '[t]here was a racecourse on the Heath for some 300 years'.[7] This, we may add, was situated immediately west of King Edward Road.[8] As for Matthew Miller's initials, the only house on Malt Street on which a plaque can be seen in the photos taken by Google's Street View car is that on the southwest corner of Malt Street and Moreside. The partially defaced inscription cannot be read in the photo. A Matthew Miller figures several times in equestrian contexts in Cheshire newspapers from 1816 to 27,[9] but there is no mention there of his 'Robin Hood'. The name 'Robin Hood's Well' must be considered defunct since the feature to which it applied no longer exists.

Allusions

1859 - Green, Henry - Knutsford

 The name Robin Hood's Well, a locality near the Moor, suggests that the great outlaw and freebooter of Sherwood Forest had wandered to our town; we read the motto over the well,

"If Robin Hood be not at home,
Stop and take a drink with little John;"

[p. 131:] and we imagine his favourite attendant must have been concealed close at hand. But, alas! for our antiquarian excitement; just by is a neatly enclosed mound, and a stone engraved with the words, "Alas! poor Bob!" We enquire what it all means, and learn, almost to our vexation, that Robin Hood was the name of a race-horse buried under the mound, and that little John's drink was not the pure element—"that best of liquors," but like Friar Tuck's,—a flagon of strong ale.[10]

Gazetteers

MS sources

  • 1847 tithe award for the Township of Nether Knutsford in the Parish of Nether Knutsford, Piece 5, sub-piece 227, at The Genealogist
  • accompanying map, Piece 5, sub-piece 227, sub-image 001, at The Genealogist
  • 1847 tithe award for the Township of Over Knutsford in the Parish of Nether Knutsford, Piece 5, sub-piece 228, at The Genealogist
  • accompanying map, Piece 5, sub-piece 228, sub-image 001, at The Genealogist.

Printed and digital sources

Maps

Background

Also see

Notes

  1. See the page Come and drink with Robin Hood.
  2. Leach, Joan; Friends of the Moor. A History of the Moor, Knutsford ([s.l.]: [s.n.], [c. 2009]), p. 8.
  3. 1847 tithe award for the Township of Nether Knutsford in the Parish of Nether Knutsford, Piece 5, sub-piece 227, at The Genealogist (£); accompanying map: Piece 5, sub-piece 227, sub-image 001, at The Genealogist (£).
  4. 1847 tithe award for the Township of Over Knutsford in the Parish of Nether Knutsford, Piece 5, sub-piece 227, at The Genealogist (£); accompanying map: Piece 5, sub-piece 228, sub-image 001, at The Genealogist (£).
  5. Dodgson, John McN.; Rumble, Alexander R. The Place-Names of Cheshire, pts. I-V (English Place-Name Society, vols. XLIV-XLVIII, LIV, LXXIV) (Cambridge, 1970-72; [s.l.], 1981; Nottingham, 1997), vol. V, pt. 1:ii, p. 419, may refer to this locality.
  6. Leach, Joan; Friends of the Moor. A History of the Moor, Knutsford ([s.l.]: [s.n.], [c. 2009]), p. 17; Knutsford Methodist Church: the First Chapel; mail to IRHB, dated 14 Jan. 2021.
  7. Leach, Joan; Friends of the Moor. A History of the Moor, Knutsford ([s.l.]: [s.n.], [c. 2009]), p. 17.
  8. See plots #167a, 'Part of Race Course Meadow'; #168, 'Field by Race Course'; and #182, 'Race Course field', in the 1847 tithe award for the Township of Nether Knutsford in the Parish of Nether Knutsford, Piece 5, sub-piece 227, images 011, 010, 007, and 001, at The Genealogist (£); accompanying map: Piece 5, sub-piece 227, sub-image 001, at The Genealogist (£).
  9. Newspaper Archive: search for the exact phrase 'Matthew Miller', 1 Jan. 1700–31 Dec. 1859 (£). Search carried out on 17 Jan. 2021.
  10. Green, Henry. Knutsford, its Traditions and History: with Reminiscences, Anecdotes, and Notices of the Neighbourhood (London; Macclesfield; Knutsford, 1859), pp. 130-31.