Now, ask most people who the most famous person in Nottinghamshire history is, and the vast majority will say ‘Robin Hood’! Laying aside for the moment the fact that the outlaw in question might very well have been a figment of Mediaeval imagination, and those perverse local people who might have answered the question with ‘Brian Clough’ (the charismatic manager of the local football team, Nottingham Forest) or even ‘Torvill & Dean’ (the Olympic Ice Dance champions), it seems certain that Robin Hood belongs in Nottinghamshire. After all, there is Maid Marian Way, one of the principal roads into the city, which curls around the base of Castle Rock on which Nottingham Castle stands (unfortunately a much later structure than the original, although there are some atmospheric cellars and passageways underneath the Castle). There used to be, in my youth, the figure of Robin on bottled beer produced by Home Brewery Ltd. in the city, and distributed locally. Sadly, Home Brewery closed, but a new series of Robin Hood-themed brews is being made by Sherwood Forest Brewery, Old Basford. There is also a very famous bronze statue of Robin drawing his bow, set just to the east of the Castle Rock; the arrow from the bow seems to regularly disappear, usually during a ‘Week One’ student event (Nottingham University, Nottingham Trent University and Castle College are not far away!) Films and television series about the outlaw and his Merry Men abound, with memorable performances in many rôles by numerous actors. Strangely, one film contains both the worst and best performance – ‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’ stars Kevin Costner as a plank of wood, sorry, Robin Hood, and the incomparable Alan Rickman as the utterly evil Sheriff of Nottingham. At the heart of the remnants of Sherwood Forest, near Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire, lies the Major Oak, a supposed ‘hang-out’ of Robin Hood, estimated at between 800 and 1,000 years old! The nearby Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre regularly attracts around 400,000 visitors annually.
That brings us to the core of the problem; Sherwood Forest once lapped up almost to the edge of the city walls, and covered one quarter of the shire. Since the three counties of Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire (Robin wore Lincoln Green, remember) all meet a short distance away from Bawtry in Yorkshire (I lived in the town for a while), it would seem that Yorkshire folk are making a bid to take Robin Hood over! There was outrage in Nottingham, when Peel Holdings p.l.c., the owners of the former RAF Finningley (one of my favourite RAF Stations, and home of the famous RAF Finningley ‘Battle of Britain Airshow’), decided to call the civil airport on the old RAF site, Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield. A strange concoction of a name, but then again, the company renamed Speke Airport – it is now Liverpool John Lennon Airport!
On 28th February, 2007, two famous local actors, Brian Blessed (born in Doncaster) and Sean Bean (born in Sheffield), jointly unveiled a 10 foot high bronze statue of Robin Hood, by sculptor Neale Andrew, on the first floor of the new airport’s terminal building. At this point, although part of the airport runway extends into Nottinghamshire, and the ancient Forest of Barnsdale joined with Sherwood Forest near here, the howls of rage from the good citizens of Nottingham could, I dare say, have been heard in Doncaster.
I should declare an interest at this point; I lived and worked at RAF Finningley for several years, and despite the airport’s desire to have a marketable name, I really think that this is stretching a point (or a bow-string) too far!