Ludlow is one of a number of what you could call Norman 'New Towns'. When the Normans invaded Britain in 1066 they didn't manage to conquer Wales and it was important for William the Conqueror to set up defensive castles along the borderlands between England and Wales to police the area. Walter De Lacy was put in charge of the task and his son Roger built the castle at Ludlow and the town soon grew around it for protection and trade. Much of the medieval town layout remains and it is still possible to pick out the site of the long burgage plots. Ludlow was effectively the capital of the Marches (the lands the army had to police by marching up and down) and the ruins of its castle and other intact surviving buildings show off a town steeped in history.
St Laurence's Church
The sandstone church of St. Laurence was built in the 15th Century. On the roof of the Fletchers Chancel (the meeting place of the arrow makers of Ludlow) is a great Iron Arrow to denote the Fletchers' trade. It really has nothing to do with Robin Hood as in our story.
The church has a rather unusual hexagonal porch, the upper storey of which was once used as a school. St. Laurence's also has very fine medieval stained glass and choir stalls.
An Honorary Son
The poet and academic A E Housman wrote about Ludlow affectionately in many of his works, most notably his most popular piece - A Shropshire Lad. Housman was in fact born in Bromsgrove in Worcestershire in 1859 and spent much of his life in London and Cambridge. However, when he died in 1936 his ashes were scattered close to the North wall of St. Laurence's Church in Ludlow, a place that had never been far from his heart. A plaque low down in a recess bears his epitaph. You can find one of the poems from A Shropshire Lad, called 'On Wenlock Edge' on the 'Lost In The Flood' pages.
Robin Hood's Butt
Just by Ludlow Racecourse there is a group of about 20 Bronze Age burial mounds, most are no longer visible. The longest of these mounds is called Robin Hood's Butt. It still bears the tree which robin was fabled to have climbed to lose his arrow. The butt contained a Bronze Age burial of a 12 - 14 year old boy with a bronze knife. His identify is unknown, but plainly the Bromfield cemetery is a very important one with so many mounds and this mound seems to assume prominence.
The Real Robin Hood - Another Shropshire Lad
When Fulk Fitz Warine III was a young man he was brought up in the Court of Henry II with the King's sons, Richard, Arthur and John. Fulk was of an age with John but one could never have called them close friends, they were always arguing. One day after Fulk caught John cheating at chess, John threw the board and players at Fulk who retaliated by kicking John across the room and into the wall, not a way to treat a Prince! John rushed to his father, telling him he must punish Fulk. Wise King Henry II would have none of this. He told John that Fulk had surely been provoked and punished John for coming telling tales. From this point the die was cast.
Fulk inherited Whittington Castle in 1197. When John came to the throne in 1199 he ousted Fulk from his baronial seat and set Sir Morys of Hawkstone in his place. Fulk became an outlaw and roamed the country robbing the rich to give to the poor with one aim in his mind, to get his rightful castle back.
In one notable episode Fulk and his band of outlaws managed to capture King John while he was out hunting in Windsor Forest. John promised to give Fulk Whittington Castle back if he let him go. However, after his release, John reneged on his promise and Fulk became all the more determined. Fulk became a great favourite of the people and amassed a great band of followers. Eventually he led his band back to his Castle and laid it to siege and captured it back from Sir Morys. Fulk was so popular that John could do nothing but pardon him. Fulk remained a thorn in John's flesh and was one of the nobles in the baronial revolt that led to John signing the Magna Carta.
Does the story seem familiar? - Yes, indeed. Substitute the name 'Robin Hood' for Fulk and that of the 'Sheriff of Nottingham' for Sir Morys and you have it. Robin Hood was indeed a Shropshire Lad.
In 2003 we commission Michael Rosen to revisit the ancient legend and compose his own updated verse epic of the story, you can read the poem here:- The Ballad of Fouke le fitz waryn.
Robin Hood in Shropshire
There are many stories of Robin Hood associated with places throughout England. It's impossible to tell whether Robin Hood was a real outlaw or just a myth. There may even have been many men who assumed the identity in many locations. However, there seems to be something of a tradition in Shropshire of naming Bronze age burial mounds Robin Hood's Butt (a butt being a mound of earth, used behind a target in archery to catch stray arrows, with Robin's prowess with bow and arrow you wouldn't think a butt was necessary). Atop the Long Mynd near the line of the ancient trackway, the Portway, stand two fine burial mounds that bear the same name, Robin Hood's Butt.