The history of Sherwoood Forest

Discover the history of the forest.

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Discover the history of Sherwood Forest.

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The history of Sherwood Forest

The name ‘Sherwood’ was first recorded in 958AD when it was called ‘Sciryuda’ meaning the woodland belonging to the shire. However, evidence of flint tools suggest the area is likely to have been inhabited far earlier by prehistoric hunter-gatherers. During the late Iron Age and Roman periods, human habitation and farming was more common and, by the 9th century, farming communities were making a greater impact on the Sherwood landscape. Many of these communities still exist today. Names ending in ‘by’ like Thoresby, are Scandinavian in origin, ‘thorpe’ as in Gleadthorpe are Danish, and ‘feld’ (field) as in Mansfield, are Roman.

Sherwood Forest

Sherwood Pines, home to our cabins at Sherwood Forest

A Royal Hunting Forest

Sherwood became a royal hunting forest after the Norman invasion of 1066 and was popular with many Norman kings, particularly King John and Edward I. The ruins of King John’s hunting lodge can still be seen near the Nottinghamshire village of Kings Clipstone.

In the 1200s, popularly thought to be the time of Robin Hood (more on him later), Sherwood covered about 100,000 acres, a fifth of the entire county of Nottinghamshire. The main London to York road, the ‘Great North Way’, ran straight through Sherwood, and travellers were often at the mercy of robbers living outside the law. Hence the name ‘outlaw’.

Sandy Heath, Rough Grassland and Royal Deerparks 

However, medieval Sherwood was not, as many imagine, a continuous swathe of dense virgin forest. It comprised birch and oak woodland, interspersed with large areas of open sandy heath and rough grassland. Sherwood also contained three royal deer parks, near Nottingham Castle, Bestwood and Pittance (Clipstone) Park.

Old Scots Pine

Old Scots Pine tree

A Royal Hunting Forest

Sherwood became a royal hunting forest after the Norman invasion of 1066 and was popular with many Norman kings, particularly King John and Edward I. The ruins of King John’s hunting lodge can still be seen near the Nottinghamshire village of Kings Clipstone.

In the 1200s, popularly thought to be the time of Robin Hood (more on him later), Sherwood covered about 100,000 acres, a fifth of the entire county of Nottinghamshire. The main London to York road, the ‘Great North Way’, ran straight through Sherwood, and travellers were often at the mercy of robbers living outside the law. Hence the name ‘outlaw’.

Sandy Heath, Rough Grassland and Royal Deerparks 

However, medieval Sherwood was not, as many imagine, a continuous swathe of dense virgin forest. It comprised birch and oak woodland, interspersed with large areas of open sandy heath and rough grassland. Sherwood also contained three royal deer parks, near Nottingham Castle, Bestwood and Pittance (Clipstone) Park.

Hooded hunter in the forest

Hooded hunter

Managing the Land

Medieval woodland was by no means wild. It was a productive resource that was carefully managed. Landowners got the most value from their woodland by using techniques such as ‘coppicing’ and ‘pollarding’ to produce poles and laths for building. ‘Underwood’ (twigs, brushwood etc) was collected and sold for domestic fuel, and the woodland supported several industries, such as charcoal burning and the stripping of oak bark to use in tanning leather. The autumn crop of acorns produced in oak woodland was used to feed pigs. Cattle, sheep and deer grazed ‘wood pasture’.

Robin Hood – and his Merry Men! 

Tradition tells that Robin Hood was an outlaw who poached the king’s deer in the royal hunting forest of Sherwood and fought with the Sheriff of Nottingham. Stories relate how travellers through the forest provided rich pickings for the gentleman robber and his band of ‘merry men’.

Historians have a problem tracing the origins of Robin Hood. There were no eye-witnesses, no-one wrote about meeting him and there is no account of his deeds. 

Misty mornings in Sherwood Forest

Misty mornings in Sherwood Forest

c.1450 - The six original tales

The earliest written tales indicate that medieval people had a firm idea of what Robin Hood meant to them.

1377 - ‘The Vision of Piers Plowman’, by William Langland

This long poem contains the earliest reference to the existence of the tales of Robin Hood. It includes the line:

‘I do not know my paternoster as the priest sings it. 

But I do know rhymes of Robin Hood and Randolf, earl of Chester.’

This long poem contains the earliest reference to the existence of the tales of Robin Hood. It includes the line:

‘I do not know my paternoster as the priest sings it.  

But I do know rhymes of Robin Hood and Randolf, earl of Chester.’

1225 – Robert Hod, fugitive

In 1225 a man fled from justice in Yorkshire. He was recorded as Robert Hod, fugitive. He reappears in 1227 called “Hobbehod”. Could he be our man - spending his days robbing travellers through Sherwood Forest between Nottingham and Yorkshire?

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