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New to this blog series? Get started with Part I - My Secret
The next morning, I drove my wee little car through the streets of Nottingham to get to the historic district where I hoped to find Robin Hood. I wedged my Ford Focus in the world's smallest parking space and I wandered along the deserted streets. Nottingham is a modern, university town, but being August and sans students, it felt a little post-apocalyptic. Whole blocks where I was the only living soul... I was not eaten by zombies or raptured, however, on my way to meet up with my tour guide.
(I did, however, spot this fantastic mural)
I had a bit of time, and so decided to duck into St. Mary's Church.
You got it! This church is the actual church mentioned in ballads! A chance to walk the actually space occupied by our hero!
Here's a picture of the exterior:
(picture taken from their official website)
Sadly, time and acid rain has not been kind to the exterior of St. Mary's.
Now, when you read Olde Robin Hood, you may notice every single church is called St. Mary's. St. Mary's church in Nottingham (where Robin is captured), St. Mary's Abbey in York (where Sir Richard and Robin's crew confront the abbot), St. Mary's in Edwinstowe (where Robin and Marian get married)... It can get a bit confusing!
During the medieval period, people revered Mary, comparing the emotional suffering she experienced as a mom watching what went down with her son (an emotional crucifixion) to the physical suffering of Jesus's actual crucifixion (a.k.a. medieval clergy acknowledging that emotional wounds can hurt like the physical, and that your mom's pain as she watches what you're going through is as bad as what you're feeling. PSA: Call your mom.)
Times were tough in the Dark Ages and this message resonated. Most of the churches at the time were renamed to honor Mary, the original ballads have Robin extremely devoted to her, and there is discussion that if Marian was not based upon one of the two recorded historic wives of Robin (either Matilde or Maud), she was created as part of this "Cult of St. Mary" (as historians have named it) to honor the Blessed Mother.
But shall we go inside?
In the ballad Robin Hood and the Monk, Robin and Little John have a fight. Robin goes into St. Mary's to pray. So, this is what the inside looks like today.
From the altar looking at the door.
(From the door looking at the altar. So, that wooden part? That's called a "rood screen" and it says in the ballad that's where Robin knelt.)
Here's a little display they had on what it looked like over the years:
And if you'd really like to get into the nitty gritty, check out the Architectural Notes on the official St. Mary site. It's got a GREAT article with pictures from 1916 that is a pure delight.
There was a really great documentary on The Mystery Files that goes into the history of Robin Hood. In the Robin Hood episode, they explore St. Mary's. Evidently, there is a floor board which can be lifted to show the original foundations.
I had a little more time before my tour, so spent a ridiculous amount of time wandering the city and trying to decide where to eat. I tend to be a grab-and-go kind of gal, but I'm so happy I decided to indulge. I ended up going to a place called Pitcher & Piano. Rather than allowing a gorgeous old church building fall to ruins, it was repurposed as a restaurant, preserving the art and architecture.
(Sorry for all the pictures. It's just such a cool space!)
Properly fortified, I headed out for a grand walking tour with local historian and Robin Hood expert Ezekial Bone. He was an absolute wealth of information and pretty handy with the sword, too.
If you're ever in Nottingham, I HIGHLY recommend grabbing this tour. It is so funny how places will sometimes fight against that which makes them special. Nottingham is a really cool town in its own right and worth the trip just to see it, but it seems like they're a bit uncomfortable with their association with Robin Hood. There's this guy... a couple signs around the city... an exhibit in the basement of Nottingham Castle... a statue... and a little walk-thru museum.... And that's kind of it.
Not in Nottingham, indeed.
- A Nottingham city centre tourist attraction The Tales of Robin Hood closed in 2009, due to a fall in visitors
- An attempt by Nottinghamshire County Council to win £50m of funding to develop the Sherwood Forest visitor centre failed in 2007
- Nottingham City Council's application for £14.9m of funding to develop an attraction at Nottingham Castle was rejected by the Heritage Lottery Fund
Here's a video of the now closed The Tales of Robin Hood ride-thru attraction.
(video not mine. Dated 1996)
And pictures of what it once looked like collected by Google Images
But at least we have Ezekial Bone!
The skies opened up on us and rain dumped from the skies, but Ezekial kept us distracted and entertained. Here we are, back at St. Mary's, but this time in the church yard.
Fun fact! That blue brick is actually a trademark architectural detail in Nottingham, going back to the 18th century. (These are new, but I've got some pictures of the old later!)
Now, I had been ready after this tour to incorporate lace into Olde Robin Hood. In fact, I wrote one of the characters as a tatter (someone who tats, or crochets, lace.) But, doing some digging, lace wasn't really invented until the 1500s. And I've chosen to set my story in the 1200s. So, what was there before?
Nottingham was known for its wool.
The women who used to spin wool were called "spinsters." (Look at where we got that word!) Spinning wool was a cottage industry for unmarried women back in the day. Sheep were prevalent and some of the early poems about Robin Hood have cast him as a shepherd. Fulling is the process where women would put the wool into urine and walk on it to clean it. There is a Walker Street in Nottingham, and Walker Street was where all that walking was going down.
But back to the tour! This area at one point had been a gorgeous gardened spot, but when the industrial revolution brought lace making machines to town, it was turned into an industrial complex.
That blue building has been around since the 1600. It is a rather lovely pub called The Old Angel and features sandstone caves in the shape of a cross beneath.
Sandstone caves, you ask?
Oh... we're getting there, my friend...
But first, this art nouveau marvel was home to the very first Boots. Tragically, the interior is now just white walls, but they say beneath the drywall, the original architecture still exists.
Ezekial took us to the indoor arcade (it's like an old timey shopping mall)
And we paused to look at old murals paying homage to Robin Hood.
(Doesn't it just make your heart hurt to see them peeling?)
Here's that historic Nottingham blue brick.
FINALLY! FINALLY (I know!) I'm getting to the sandstone caves!
Were you aware that Nottingham is the City of Caves? This town is lousy with them. Ezekial took us to Ye ("Y" is pronounced "Th") Olde Salutation Inn. And, yes, dated 1240. And you can go get a beverage here to this day!
Nottingham, known for its lace and known for its wool, was also best known for its ale and beer.
Why? Well, back in the day, there was no climate control. But Nottingham is built on sandstone. It is so soft, when you touch it, it just brushes away. So, the people dug tunnels through the town (this site says there are over 500 caves), and fermented their ale and beer at a steady, cool temperature. And for any ladies reading this, women controlled the ale brewing market in the 1200s. It was respectable work and alewives (which included both married and unmarried women) owned their own businesses, often operating out of their own home.
But back to the caves! Evidently, there is a ballroom beneath the streets somewhere where the Victorians used to hang out with columns dug out of the sandstone and a fireplace mantle with a lion. Alas, the caves have just recently started opening up to tourist, folks just not thinking anyone would be interested in going down there.
BUT I GOT TO GO INTO THE CAVES!
The very kind owners at Ye Olde Salutation opened up their cavern cellars to Ezekial Bone and let us go inside.
After our trip underground (don't worry! More caves in the next installment!), Ezekial led us over to the base of Nottingham Castle and the ONE Robin Hood statue in the city.
Evidently, the folks who commissioned this statue hated it.
(and the base of his bow has since been broken off by some jerk)
This statue was made in 1952, and evidently, the townspeople wanted a more manly looking statue, a.k.a. they wanted Errol Flynn. But the artist, James Woodford, wanted a statue that reflected how young Robin Hood probably was.
The founding fathers of America were in their late teens and early twenties when they organized the revolution that created the United States. And with the the average lifespan of people in the medieval times... Robin probably wasn't some old dude when everything went down. I've tried to incorporate that viewpoint into Olde Robin Hood and explore what might cause a person of that age to turn into an enemy of the state and a folk hero of the people whose story has resonated for over 800-years.
Behind the tavern, castle rock is pocked with sandstone caves (the following day, I would exit out of that little metal gate, but more about that in the next installment.) People used to live in there, there were dove cotes where birds were kept to carry messages between York and London (the doves were each trained to fly one direction or the other.) Kind of an olde fashioned apartment complex.
But what did Ye Olde Jerusalem Trip look like inside?
Well, here's one of the pictures. My computer completely bricked out on me last October and I'm afraid my other pictures were victims of the crash. I'll keep looking for them and adding if I find them, but here's one of the rooms with one of the bars!
And here is a picture I did not take, but is from an article that says Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem closed for renovations, and has a bunch of pictures of what it used to be and a great video walk-thru. Check it out!
The legend says a crusader left that sword when he could not pay for his drink, telling the bartender that he'd be back to pay when he returned from the wars, but never returned. There is a kissing chair where if you sit on it, your fertility is threatened to go way up. And all of these little side rooms with tables and chairs. Historically, there is some record of a cockpit in the basement and (supposedly) tunnels that go all over town.
But speaking of all over town, I had been all over town, and the day was growing long. I headed back to my hotel and prepped myself for the following day on my adventure...
Part VII - Castles in the Sky
Part I - My Secret
Part II - Cleavage and Turkey Legs
Part III - The "V" Stands for WHAT??
Part IV - Into the Dusty Tomes
Part V - Into The Woods - Sherwood Forest
Part VI - Not in Snottingham
Part VII - Castles in the Sky
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