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Robin Hood: explore the man and the myth at Wentbridge House

“Yonder comet a prod potter,” seyde Roben,
“That long hayt hantyd this wey;
He was never so corteys a man
On peney of pawage to pay.”

“Y met hem bot at Wentbreg [Wentbridge],” seyde Lytyll John,
“And therefore yeffell mot he the!
Seche thre strokes he me gafe,
Yet by my seydys cleffe they.”

From Robin Hood and the Potter, a 15th-century ballad

Historians have long debated the tales of Robin Hood, famed outlaw, heroic robber of the rich and benefactor to the poor. Was he a real person? Or are the many stories that have grown from 15th century poems, through to 1950s TV shows and Hollywood blockbuster movies, more fiction than fact? Are the tales an amalgam of several different characters retold and recast over time?

Wherever the truth lies in the historical mystery that is Robin Hood, there is no doubt that a good portion of it relates to the adventures of medieval outlaws in and around Wentbridge.

References to the West Yorkshire village appear in some of the earliest Robin Hood ballads, dating from the 1400s. In Robin Hood and the Potter, Robin’s friend and fellow outlaw Little John tells of meeting a potter in Wentbridge, and trying to collect the potter’s road taxes. The potter refuses to pay and beats John with a staff. Some time later, Robin and John come across the potter again, and Robin, after also losing a fight over taxes, befriends the potter and plots an adventure to trick the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Wentbridge House wasn’t around in Robin Hood’s time – the building dates from 1700 – but it’s less than half a mile from where another ballad (A Gest of Robyn Hode) says the outlaw band would stop knights and other wealthy travellers, ‘invite’ them to dinner in the forest, then force them to pay!

These days, no ambush or ransom are required. Modern-day guests choose Wentbridge House to indulge in the relaxed luxury of the hotel and its surrounds, and enjoy its four-star service. With more than a nod to its Robin Hood connection, however, the award-winning country house has refurbished its brasserie. Drawing on the rich colours of the West Yorkshire countryside, the styling is a sumptuous rendition of a romantic Robin Hood tale, with a menu featuring local, seasonal produce to match.

Where can I explore Robin Hood history around Wentbridge?

● Look for the blue plaque on the bridge where the main road through Wentbridge (the B6474) crosses the Went River. Originally, the Great North Road dipped down into the village and it’s thought an area near here (the Sayles) was where Robin Hood’s men would lay in wait for travellers. The A1 is now the main road north and crosses the valley at the Wentbridge Viaduct, which is historically significant in its own right, being the biggest structure of its time in Europe when it opened in 1961.

● The 11th-century Church of St Mary Magdalene in Campsall (five miles south-east of Wentbridge) is thought to be referenced in the ballad A Gest of Robyn Hode. In the tale, Robin Hood has defeated the Sheriff of Nottingham and has been working for the King. He asks for leave to make a pilgrimage to the church. Local legend has it the church was also where Robin Hood was married.

● There are a couple of places of interest in Pontefract (five miles to the north). The historic market town is said to be where Robin Hood first became an outlaw, by joining Thomas of Lancaster’s failed rebellion in 1322. And there has been some suggestion that Robin Hood may have died in Pontefract’s All Saints Church (now in ruins) when the town was known as Kirkby, although more historians put the outlaw’s death at the Kirklees Priory near Huddersfield.

● Robin Hood’s Well might be worth a photo stop. No longer set over a spring, the monument was built in 1710 and moved to its current location, in a layby off the A1 about five miles south of Wentbridge, when the dual carriageway went through. The area may not look like it now, but it was once the centre of the vast Barnsdale Forest. The monument itself has no known links to any real Robin Hood, but the forest was almost certainly his home – and hideaway – for many years.

How do I find Wentbridge House?

Wentbridge House (a hotel, a wedding and event venue, and with two restaurants) is in the West Yorkshire village of Wentbridge, not far from the A1, between Leeds and Doncaster. Click here for contact details and directions.

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