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.
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 became a popular folk hero because of his generosity to the poor and down-trodden peasants, and his hatred of the Sheriff and his verderers who enforced the oppressive forest laws, made him their champion. Some chroniclers date his exploits as taking place during the reign of Edward II, but other versions say the king was Richard I, the Lionheart.
All versions of the Robin Hood story give the same account of his death. As he grew older and became ill, he went with Little John to Kirklees Priory near Huddersfield, to be treated by his aunt, the Prioress, but a certain Sir Roger de Doncaster persuaded her to murder her nephew and the Prioress slowly bled Robin to death. With the last of his strength he blew his horn and Little John came to his aid, but too late.
A mound in Kirklees Park, within bow-shot of the house, can still be seen and is said to be his last resting place. Little John’s grave can be seen in Hathersage churchyard in Derbyshire.