|Skelbrooke church in South Yorkshire exhibits a number of finely carved heads which for the most part have been protected from weathering by overhanging building structures. Their finely chiselled and memorable features suggest that they have been drawn from real life, their head dress, where present, is distinctly medieval. Face carvings are a common decoration on churches and masons often used a local person as the model. Are they representations of characters from the Robin Hood tales based upon local characters, perhaps a local family? After a fire in 1870 the church was rededicated as St. Michael's and All Angels and necessitated a rebuild two years later. What we see here may therefore be a recreation of what was already present.
Skelbrooke seen from the Great North Road.
On the morning of the 29th November 1300 King Edward I travelled from Pontefract south through Skelbrooke to Hampole arriving on the same day.1 Neither during this time or before it was there any reference to the ballad hero Robyn Hode in any local place-name. Yet 120 years later we have the first reference to 'Robin Hood's Stone' which was then located north of the vill.
"In August, 1541, Henry VIII. in order to tranquilize the minds of his subjects, made a tour into the north: On his arrival at Barnsdale, in the West Riding [then] of this county, he was met by two hundred gentlemen in velvet coats and suitable accoutrements, with four thousand tall yeomen and three hundred clergymen, who, on their knees, made submission to his Majesty,and presented him with £600."2 Others have suggested that this meeting took place at Skelbrooke between King Henry and the York clergy led by the Archbishop of York, Edward Lee [1531–1544].3
|Sleep Hill Lane - In
the foreground a large piece of Magnesian limestone set against the backdrop
of what was formerly the 'Lynges of Slepyl' where Robin Hood's Stone was sited:
Sleep Hill upon which Robin Hood's stone was sited, mentioned in 1422.
The view from near the site of Sayles Wood southeast towards
the Great North Road and Robin Hood's Well.
Robin Hood's Well now represented by an arched shelter designed by John Vanbrugh lies at the southern end of a lay-by, formerly the line of the Great North Road. This is not the site of the artesian spring later formed as a well, which lay further to the North on the opposite side of the River Skell.The well was first mentioned in the 1600's by Roger Dodsworth and became a popular halting place in the 1800's with its two public houses. According to an O.S. map of the 1850's, the original well was sited on the eastern side of the Great North Road opposite Skelbrooke Park Lodge gates on the left bank of the Skell.
Richard Cooper-Holmes who resided in the small farm workers cottage at Robin Hood's Well nearest to the Skell in the 1980's, says the well was artesian and 50m to the north of the Skell in the field adjacent to the road, it was capped off in the 1980's when the use of the field changed from a cricket pitch (Crossfield Lane CC, not Hampole and Skellbrooke over the road) to a working field, Richard adds "the spring on the map is the one I mentioned and the water was sweet as it can be. Both cricket clubs swore it made the best tea!'
The original Well site, look for the green dot
The well is likely to have been used by the occupants of the Roman auxiliary fortlet here as a clear source of non-sideritic water and perhaps later in Edwin of Northumbria's reign when wells with chained drinking cups were established for weary travellers along highways.
The clarity of the spring water was remarked upon by travellers in the 1600's and this along with the remoteness of the area in Brigantian territory [during the Roman occupation] at the junction of the nearby Roman road from Templeborough would have helped to site the Roman garrison. As such the possibility remains, what later became to be known as 'Robin Hood's Well', was a Roman sacred spring similar to that of the pre-Christian Romano-British water goddess, Coventina, near Hadrian's wall. The waters of such wells or shrines were believed to have had healing properties.
Source: Bruce, J. Collingwood. The Roman Wall. Andrew Read, 1957, p. 108.
The River Skell, if such a stream can be called a river, would have been a watering place for pack animals and war horses travelling to and from York and the North, whilst the legionnaires would have made offerings here to a water goddess similar to if not indeed, Coventina. Such wells carried votive offerings such as coins, broken brooches, earthenware and incense burners. We still see the practice of coin tossing at the Trevi fountain in Rome and the 'wishing wells' of England which probably evolved from the Iron Age practice of throwing swords into sacred waters and lakes. The British Arthurian tradition of the 'Lady of the Lake' or 'Lady Luck' [from the Norse god Loki] springs to mind.
A little further to the West near Hampole is the so called Little John's Well or Cave. Here a stone and basin has been cut from a rock and purportedly had the outlaws name engraved upon it. Eric Houlder believes it too could have been a Roman headstone but the likelihood is that it was a water shrine. Again, the spring was clear water emanating from the Magnesian limestone which is now quarried very close by. See photograph of Little John's Well
Roman deity musicians portrayed in Roman art are referred to as the Camenae. These women were mythical musicians and water sprites associated with a sacred spring in Rome. They were eventually associated with the Greek Muses, the Goddesses of the arts, history, and music. Poets, musicians, and others held them not only as their patrons but as their inspiration. With the evolution of the Geste the process seems to have come full circle.
Everything you need to know about Coventina of Carrawburgh
Robin Hood's Well in the 1700's, 'Watling Street' seems to be in the background.
Skelbrooke Hall today, the site of the former Butler family home.
Skelbrooke Church Tower
The original Butler and/or Lund Priory arms over the doorway to Skelbrooke Church
. The early Butler arms of Ireland Gules three cups covered Or.
Genealogists have not found any definite connection between the Butlers of Ormonde, Ireland and the Butlers/Botillers etc. of Skelbrooke. However their coats of arms have the same devices as indicated from the arms displayed above the church doorway built by the Butler family of Skelbrooke, butlers to Pontefract Castle. The Botelers of Warrington, Lancashire also had similar arms as shown below:
Various branches of the ancestors of the Butlers spread over England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. There were also branches in Wem, Shropshire & Oversley, Warwicks The tinctures and position of the devices on the coat of arms of each branch varied. [e.g. royal blue field].
The Butlers, as they came to be known, were descended from Hervey Walter who is found in D.B. and who is believed to have accompanied William The Conqueror in 1066 as a close aide. It appears from what is reasoned below that Hervey I Walter had a son Hervey II Walter[i] who held lands in East Anglia and Lancashire.
Hervey II Walteri had six sons,one was Hubert [a variant of Hervey] Walter who became archbishop of Canterbury and another was Theobald I FitzWalter. Theobald was Lord of Preston and appointed as sheriff of Lancashire for part of 1194. Theobold [b.~ 1160, d. Feb. 1206] accompanied Henry I to Ireland in 1177, presumably at a youth. For his services to the king between 1177 and 1185 he was, made hereditary Butler of Ireland and was granted lands where Trinity College, Dublin now stands. In the latter year he accompanied Prince John to Ireland. One of his marriages to Maud [Matilda le Vavasour] produced a son, Theobald II [b. 1200 d. 1234] who assumed the name Botillier, today Butler. The herditary title meant that each succeeding member was permitted to hand the king the first cup of wine at state banquets and coronations, a very trusted position, for wine spiking was a common method of removing one's opponents.
Maud was widowed by Theobald as Maud [Matilda] FitzWalter, baroness Butler, and when she married for a second time it was to Fulk FitzWarine, a person associated in both history and poetry. Some have compared this man and his wife with the Robyn Hode and Maid Marian of folk tales, but there is little agreement with the Geste in this respect. It was probably from this supposed association that Anthony Munday introduced Matilda Fitzwalter as Robin Hood's [seen as Fulk FitzWarin's] wife, conflated with the daughter, by the same name, of the leader of the barons in King John's reign. See: Gestes of Guarine and his Sunnes
Recent research in the Domesday Book, Hunter's 'South Yorkshire', C.P.R., C.F.R., C.Cl.R., Burke's 'Dormant and Extinct' as well as Butler and Vavasour genealogies have indicated that the Butlers of Ireland are descended from Hervey I Walter who held lands in Haseley, Oxfordshire and Skelbrooke Yorkshire under the Laci fee. That is Hervey of D.B. in Oxon. and Herveus of D.B. in Skelbrooke, Yorks. are probably the same person. Joseph Hunter states in his 'South Yorkshire' that all the old genealogies of the Butler family in Ireland give this Hervey as their progenitor and that Theobald, Henry II's butler was the 'grandson of this Hervey the Domesday tenant'. Most Butler genealogies also give Theobald's parents as Hervey Walter of East Dereham, Norfolk and Maud de Valoignes [Valois, Valoines]. Putting this together, this would indicate that Hervey Walter of E. Dereham was the son of Hervey of Oxon. and Skelbrooke and also the father of Theobald the butler to Henry II in Ireland. That is, the Butlers of Ireland are descended from Herveus who held Skelbrooke.
Thus the genealogy would look something like this:-
Hervey I Walter===?
of Haseley, Oxon.
& Skelbrooke Yorks.
Butler to Ilbert de Lacy
Hervey II Walter==== Maud de Valoignes
of East Dereham
| | | | | |
Hubert Osbert Roger Hamo Bartholemew
Walter | Walter Walter Walter Walter
Walter le Vavasour FitzWarin
Butlers of Ireland FitzWarins
Earls of Ormonde
* The connection between the Butlers of Ireland is further strengthend with that of the Butlers of South Yorkshire when we find that upon her marriage to Theobald, Matilda le Vavasour received the manor of Edlington, South Yorkshire from her father Robert lord of Hazelwood, West Yorks. This manor became a source of conflict between the Butlers of Ireland and the FitzWarines until the reign of Edward I after Matilda married secondly to Fulk FitzWarin, lord of Whittington, Shropshire, the man some fallaciously equate with the origin for the ballad character 'Robin Hood'.4
There were four branches of Boteler in the medieval period:
1. Botiller [Butler] of Skelbrooke, S. Yorkshire.
2. Theobald le Boteler [Butler] progenitor in Ireland.
3. Boteler/Botiller [Butler] of Warrington, Lancashire.
4. Boteler/Botiller [Butler] of Wem Shrops. & Oversley, Warwicks.
The Vavasour-FitzWarine-le Waleys associations:
If we examine those families more widely associated with Vavasour we find that the local Stephen II le Waleys is related to Matilda le Vavasour:
le Vavasour de Roos
| | | |
Theobald===Maud===Fulk Sir John===Alice Malger III Alice
Botiller le Vavasour FitzWarine Cockfield
| | | | |
Sir Richard II===Eleanor Nichola===Sir William Sir Malger IV Anne
| le Waleys le Vavasour
This is good circumstantial evidence that later local balladeers certainly knew of the poem to Fulk FitzWarin which vaguely related to Fulk's activities some hundred of years earlier and this knowledge may have helped hatch or inspire the storyline of A Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode.
Arms of Vavasour - Or a fess dancettee sable.
Porch to Skelbrooke Church with the original arms of Butler and/or Lund Priory
< Sir John le Botiler from an inscribed slab
~1335 in the church at St. Bride's Major,
South Glamorgan, South Wales.
Note the arms of three covered cups on the shield.
effigies appear to have been added after the heraldic arms
- these arms show a higher degree of weathering. If the arms
were placed in this position when the chantry was built by Agnes, widow
of Edmund Butler, Lord of Skelbrooke then they date from
about 1336-8 although there has been some considerable repair to the church.
1. Gough, Henry. The Itinerary of Edward I. 1900, p. 195.
2. Baines Gazeteer 1823.
3. A Topographical Dictionary of England p. 113.
4. Maurine Keen, The Outlaws of Medieval Legend.
See Coventina's Well
Tim midgley 2006, links revised July 2023