On a recent day out walking around Chatsworth House in Derbyshire I decided to head to Hathersage. It was a sunny Sunday and the streets were brimming with day-trippers, yet my Sat Nav took me away from the main street and up to a church raised up onto a hill. While passing the church to reach the rear car park I could see the cemetery was small so I knew it would not take long to find the grave of Little John.
I suppose some people only visit the church to see this headstone that looks over a man who history purports to be seven feet long. While sitting in the car having a coffee and listening to Van Morrison I could see a sign pointing to Little John’s grave. Here I am at the elongated grave of the elongated Little John who was a legendary fellow outlaw of Robin Hood. In films Robin Hood he’s pitched either as a peasant or a nobleman who spurned his birth right to defend the poor and oppressed. In both versions Little John is always Robin's second-in-command of the “Merry Men.”
Whether this group of “steal from the rich give to the poor” band of well-meaning thieves who lived in forests is inconclusive but hundreds of books, dramas and films have been written about them.
So is Little John really buried here? He was associated with the town of Hathersage where this grave lies in a quiet churchyard up a hill away from the town. The headstone is more modern but there’s also an older one (too weathered to read.) In 1784 Captain James Shuttleworth exhumed the thigh bone of a man who once stood more than 7 feet tall – clarifying that the occupant was a “giant of a man”.
I’d grown up thinking Robin Hood and his band of merry men lived in the confines of the Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire. I was in Hathersage in Derbyshire. Later on at home I read it was likely that Robin Hood or “Robin of Locksley” was a peasant from Loxley which is eight miles from Hathersage and five hundred years ago Sherwood Forest once stretched from the Hathersage / Sheffield area down to Nottingham.
Little John was said to be the only Merry Man present at Robin’s death. Robin had been deceived and poisoned by the abbess of Kirklees Priory. Knowing he was dying he fired a bow for the final time and asked John to bury him where “the last arrow” fell (now an overgrown grave at Kirklees Priory.)
I was going to wander into the church itself as the doors were open but it was a Bank Holiday weekend and there would probably be a Coffee Morning on or someone selling homemade jam (I’ve found these homemade jams always need to be poured than spread) so I didn’t bother going in. The church dated back to 1381 (an older church occupied the site 200 years hundred earlier and inside lay the tomb of Robert who fought at the Battle of Agincourt.
I had a stroll around the cemetery and found a newer section of grave. I found two the joint graves of brothers who died in the war at just 21. You just have to do a hearty salute don’t you?
At the rear of the church, the only bit of red…
The grave of the brothers who both died aged 21…