The Fight For the Robin Hood legend

6:59 minutes ( 6.40 MB)

Background music : Nokturne by Ekho


The Fight for the Robin Hood legend

Robin Hood, he stole from the rich to feed the poor. Almost everybody has heard of Robin Hood, the famous English outlaw, a legend of books, film and TV. They say he lived around 700 years ago, but like most legends, he never really lived.

Does anyone care that the man never existed? That the stories about him and his band of merry men – Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlett and others are as much an invention as the supposed love of his life, Maid Marion, and the fictitious rivalry between him and the Sheriff of Nottingham?

Nobody really minds. Not the thousands of tourists that visit the famous sites of Sherwood Forest, every year, posing in front of the enormous oak tree where Robin and his group of merry men supposedly used to hide out. Or those visitors to Nottingham castle, to the Robin Hood experience, in the same city, or to Robin’s grave nearby.

The tourists are happy, and Nottinghamshire tourist board are happy too. Why wouldn’t they be? With the Robin Hood legend generating millions of pounds worth of income every year? In fact, it’s the main reason why tourists come to Nottingham, to seek out the facts behind the legend, to imagine how it might have been in those romantic times of old. Fighting for a just cause, to help the poor, against the nasty rich people who now seem to have won the battle in modern times.

But all is not well in Robin Hood country, and the Nottinghamshire tourist authority have shown themselves to be very unlike the hero they say is one of them, trying to hold onto all the tourist money in the face of new competition from their poorer neighbour, Yorkshire.

This neighbouring county, in 2004, caused a stir when they renamed an airport, taking the Robin Hood name. This, according to Nottinghamshire, was akin to firing the first arrow. Robin Hood airport, said Nottinghamshire, defrauds the public because it gives tourists the impression that Robin Hood came from and is associated with Yorkshire, instead of Nottinghamshire.

‘Oh really?’ came the reply from Yorkshire. ‘Well, actually, Yorkshire has as many places associated with Robin Hood as Nottinghamshire. Take, for example, Robinhood village, where Robin used to frequently meet his men before poaching. Or Barnsdale, the possible birthplace of Robin according to some stories. And then there’s Loxley, another possible birthplace., and a name much associated with Robin. Tourists can even visit Robin Hood’s grave in Kirklees Hall, symbolising the spot where the dying Robin shot an arrow, asking his trusty friend little John to bury him where the arrow landed.

So, to Nottingham’s dismay, the sleeping giant of Yorkshire seemed to be stirring and looking for ways of diversifying. Although the county has themes more properly considered their own, and has traditionally promoted its natural beauty, wallowing in its gorgeous hills and spectacularly rugged countryside as the main attraction for visitors, it now looked as if in the scramble for a bigger piece of the tourist pie, the county was about to exploit its connections with the legendary hero previously monopolised by Nottinghamshire.

How did Nottinghmashire react? Well, they challenged Yorkshire’s right to exploit their hero, especially after so many years ignoring him. It didn’t matter that Sherwood forest used to extend into Yorkshire too, or that there were so many sites in Yorkshire associated with the legend. This would seriously damage the credibility of Nottinghamshire, and of course, its income from tourism. And Nottinghmashire was not going to stand for it.

The matter went so far that it even reached the Houses of Parliament, and Members of parliament debated the legality of the situation.

Well, that was in 2004. And what has happened since? Well, if you look at the official Yorkshire tourist board’s website, you’ll find no mention of the man in green. And curiously enough, Nottinghamshire’s own tourism website shows a change - they seem to have undergone a transformation in the way they present themselves, edging away from their reliance on Robin Hood and trying to promote an image more in line with the dynamic city of the 21st century, as suggested by a recent marketing report on Robin Hood and Nottingham. However, if you look carefully enough, you will still find links to the legendary figure of Robin. It is still too attractive a legend to be ignored.

And although the Yorkshire vs Nottinghamshire controversy appears to have died down, there may well be another storm brewing within the same county. The Nottinghamshire town of Mansfield has recently boasted that it is home to the real Robin Hood and that an old oak tree in the city used to be the centre of Sherwood forest. It remains to be seen how Nottingham city will respond.

What is clear, though, is the lucrative draw that the Robin Hood legend is. With tourism in Nottinghamshire recently estimated at being worth 1.2 billion pounds a year, knowing that a sizeable percentage of this is due to a fictitious man dressed in green with a longbow and felt hat, who can blame other places for trying to show that they too were home to Robin and his band of merry men.

Links and References:

The Debate over Robin Hood country

Robin Hood society

Robin Hood and history

Nottinghamshire County Council and Robin Hood

BBC Nottingham and Robin Hood

Nottinghamshire Tourism

Millions visit Robin Hood county

Yorkshire Tourist Board

Robin Hood and Yorkshire

Town stakes a claim to Robin Hood