Skip to comments.A Merry Mess: Yorkshire Claims Robin Hood
Posted on 02/22/2004 12:12:52 PM PST by blam
A merry mess: Yorkshire claims Robin Hood
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
NOTTINGHAM, England Not since Mikhail Baryshnikov defected from the Soviet Union has there been such a fuss over a man in tights.
For centuries, Robin Hood, the dashing, chivalrous hero to the oppressed, has been the property of Nottinghamshire in the midlands - land of Sherwood Forest, Nottingham Castle and one nefarious sheriff.
But now, in a brazen grab for bragging rights, Yorkshire, an adjacent county, is laying claim to the 800-year-old legend and demanding, by way of a parliamentary motion, immediate redress.
In a country where legions of historical figures and legends can make or break a city's fortunes - consider Lady Godiva of Coventry, William Shakespeare of Stratford, the Beatles of Liverpool - Yorkshire's claim is a bold attempt at forging a "brand" that appeals to visitors.
David Hinchliffe, a Labor member of Parliament from Wakefield, in South Yorkshire, wants Nottinghamshire to take down signs along the motorway, proclaiming the county "Robin Hood Country."
"We believe very strongly that Robin Hood was a Yorkshireman, and we are aggrieved to read that we are now entering Robin Hood country," he said. "It's very, very serious business. The way things are going, the signs are going to get torn down by angry Yorkshiremen."
In fact, Yorkshire locals contend, Robin Hood, a man no one is sure existed, may have been born smack in the middle of the site of the current Wakefield bus depot. They also point to a bloke called Robert Hode of Wakefield who lived in the 1300's and the fact that Sherwood Forest extended well into Yorkshire in medieval times as further proof of their claims.
The leaders of Nottingham are aghast, if slightly smug, knowing, as they do, that legends and their associations die hard. After all, has anyone ever heard of the Sheriff of Sheffield?
"I don't know why Yorkshire is being so sensitive," said John Hartshorne, the deputy mayor of Nottingham who also doubles as this year's official Sheriff of Nottingham. "They have their icons - Yorkshire pudding, for example. Yorkshire is a very beautiful place, and they could do a lot with that without poaching on our icons."
. In truth, most Robin Hood experts seem to agree that the master archer, a man committed to spreading the wealth, was probably an amalgam of several men who lived during different periods. The legend derives from early ballads and tales, one of the most notable being a ballad, "A Gest of Robyn Hode," which was composed by 1400 and lays the framework for the legend.
"There is nothing defining as to who he was, where he was and when he was," John Heeley, chief executive of the tourism office, Experience Nottingham, said. "He probably did exist. But nobody knows. It isn't really the most important thing, though. He's most importantly a legend."
That said, the Yorkshire incursion has served as a wake-up call to Nottingham. For all these years, the county has failed to exploit its most famous resident as fully as it might. It turns out the man-in-tights image, courtesy of Errol Flynn, is one the people of Nottingham were squeamish to embrace, civic leaders said. It seemed so dated, so 13th century, so embarrassing.
But it is never too late.
"I mean, you have Baker Street in London and Sherlock Holmes," said Bob White, who used to be director of the public relations and tourism office for the Nottingham City Council and is now chairman of the World Wide Robin Hood Society. "I mean he never even lived there."
"We've got something real," he added. "My goodness."
Or as Heeley said, "The value of having a destination-specific legend is just priceless."
Right now, visitors to Nottinghamshire can traipse over to lovely Sherwood Forest, where the Major Oak sits, the very tree where Robin Hood and his Merry Men hid out, the legend goes. The forest holds a yearly Robin Hood festival in the summer.
There is also Nottingham Castle, but all agree it is disappointing, more an Italian palazzo than an English fortress. The real castle burned down ages ago, and it is now essentially a tower surrounded by a pink sandstone mansion that houses an art museum that has nothing to do with the Robin Hood legend.
Out front, there is a statue of Robin Hood, wielding a bow and a plaque.
"It is safe to say that as a visitor attraction, it is underwhelming," Heeley said.
Visitors can also stop nearby at a small, kitschy attraction called The Tales of Robin Hood.
White said he was stunned to discover how many companies capitalize on the Robin Hood name to lure business. Wal-Mart, for one, has run an ad campaign featuring a smiley face with a Robin Hood cap "shooting down" prices.
The debate over how best to capitalize on the legend centers, in part, on how far to "Disneyfy" it, with most people here agreeing that they prefer historical to garish.
There are discussions over what to do with the non-castle, with one local councilman proposing it be knocked down and rebuilt. People here are discussing possible tie-ins with movies and Robin-Hood-inspired weekend breaks. Plans are in motion but not yet revealed.
"Yorkshire is saying to us, in a way, look, you're not doing a lot with it, you know," White said, referring to the Robin Hood legend.
One thing is clear, though, Heeley said, "there are no immediate plans to take down road signs."
Hank Rearden: What man?
Ragnar Danneskjold: Robin Hood.
(Atlas Shrugged: p. 531)
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The Robin Hood stories follow the same line: accomodate the tourists first, history comes second.
Whoops, Wakefield is in West Yorkshire.
Anyway, let's hope Hinchliffe has some success.
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