Robinhood Butts (Wiltshire)
|Interest||Robin Hood name|
By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2017-01-02. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2019-04-05.
The authors of the English Place-Name Society volume on Wiltshire, published 1939, note "Robinhood butts" as a field or minor name occurring already in 1649:
butte, ME (n) is fairly common in the plural form as in Buttes (1220), Shorte and Longe buttes (1289), Brode-, Letelbuttes (1393). It usually has reference to strips of land abutting on a boundary, often at right angles to the other ridges in the field, but in such a name as Robinhood butts (1649), it clearly has reference to the village archery butts.
Unfortunately there is no hint where "Robinhood butts" were located, and no source is cited. Moreover, I doubt very much whether this place-name "clearly has reference to the village archery butts". As illustrated by the lack of localisation and source attribution of this reference, the English Place-Name Society, established in 1923, often treated field and minor names somewhat stepmotherly in the first decades of its existence. It seems unlikely that the writers of the Wiltshire volume should have taken the time to establish the location of the localities to which field-names referred, when this category of names was to be dealt with in such a cursory manner in the printed work. Until evidence to the contrary is presented, I assume the writer in this case did not know where Robinhood Butts were located and so could not decide, based on knowledge of the lay of the land, that this had in fact been a genuine archery grounds. As far as I am aware, all other localities named Robin Hood's Butts (or similar) are ancient mounds or, more rarely, natural hills. and Wiltshire, the county in which Stonehenge is situated, is practically littered with them. I believe the name would also in this instance have been explained as referring to a tumulus, if the volume on Wiltshire place-names had been published at a later date, when much more data had been assembled and digested.
With so many tumuli to choose from in Wiltshire it is probably foolhardy to attempt to localise Robinhood Butts. The best suggestion I can come up with is the locality otherwise known as Wood's Butts, a circular clump of trees immediately east of Robin Hood Ball. The latter was also known as Robin Wood Ball, and Wood's Butts may similarly have been a variant of Hood's Butts, but this is of course pure speculation. We do know, however, that there is a tendency for Robin Hood-related place-names to cluster, and the presence of Robin Hood Ball in the immediate vicinity therefore makes Wood's Butts a slightly better candidate than other tumuli in Wiltshire.
- Not included in Dobson, R.B., ed.; Taylor, J., ed. Rymes of Robyn Hood: an Introduction to the English Outlaw (London, 1976), pp. 293-311.
- Gover, J.E.B.; Mawer, Allen; Stenton, F.M. The Place-Names of Wiltshire (English Place-Name Society, vol. XVI) (Cambridge, 1939), p. 425.
- Gover, J.E.B.; Mawer, Allen; Stenton, F.M. The Place-Names of Wiltshire (English Place-Name Society, vol. XVI) (Cambridge, 1939), p. 426. Italic and bold type as used there.
- English Place-Name Society (University of Nottingham).
- This is also noted on the Society's website: EPNS: The Survey of English Place-Names.
- See Places named Robin Hood's Butts.
- See list of English place-name clusters.