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Barnsdale (Exton)

Locality
Coordinates 52.670277777778, -0.66777777777778
Adm. div. Rutland
Vicinity c. 3.3 km SW of Exton
Type Area
Interest Miscellaneous
Status Extant
First Record
A.k.a. Bernard's Hill
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Barnsdale, formerly Bernard's Hill, near Exton, Rutland.
Barnsdale Hall Hotel Country Club (Barnsdale Hall Hotel Country Club: Barnsdale, Nr Oakham, Rutland, [2???]). Photographic postcard / Private collection.
Though its connection with Robin Hood is tenuous, Barnsdale in Rut­land is an attractive area, especially when the bluebells are in bloom / Photo © Steve Fareham; under cc-by-sa/2.0 licence; via Geograph.

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2017-05-23. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2017-09-01.

Barnsdale near Exton in Rutland, a locality now largely covered by a large water reservoir known as Rutland Water, does not have any connection with Robin Hood except the quite indirect one that it may conceivably have been named, or rather renamed, after the area of the same name near Doncaster, which is one of Robin Hood's chief haunts in the earliest tales.

However, in 1994 the ever prolific Stephen Knight advanced the novel idea that the Rutland Barnsdale was, if not the original, then at least an earlier scene of the outlaw's adventures or possibly one coeval with Barnsdale in South Yorkshire. It is not quite certain which of these hypotheses he favoured, but he believed his discovery was so significant that he must berate 'empiricist historians' – his favourite victims – for not already having made it.[1] Had he done the kind of painstaking research in records that historians (empiricist or otherwise) and some philologists are wont to do, he might have found evidence that shows his wild speculation is unlikely to be correct. By an irony of fate the respected philologist Barrie Cox in fact did the research and published the results, quite without reference to Robin Hood studies, in the English Place Name Society's Rutland volume the very year Knight advanced his dubious hypothesis. Yet as late as 2015, Knight was still touting the Rutland Barnsdale as Robin Hood's most authentic home.[2]

As Sue Howlett notes in a recommended publication on the Rutland Water area

For modern visitors to Rutland, the name of Barnsdale provides a regular source of confusion. Tourist information draws their attention to the horti­cultural pleasures of Barnsdale Gardens, or to the events, meals or accommodation offered by Barnsdale Lodge Hotel and Barnsdale Hall Hotel. They may follow signs to the impressively landscaped Barnsdale car park on the shores of Rutland Water. From here, on a May evening, they may wander delightedly along the bluebell-lined path through Barnsdale Wood.

And yet, Rutland has no village or parish of Barnsdale. [...][3]

It never had. Stephen Knight's claim, with regard to Barnsdale in Rutland, that "the name has medieval status"[4] is simply not true. As far as we know, no locality of any description in Rutland was ever known as Barnsdale during the Middle Ages. However, there was a park, i.e. an enclosed hunting ground, named Bernard's Hill. Barrie Cox notes with regard to its etymology that it was "a deer park held by Bernard de Brus in 1280 [...] His predecessors may well have borne the same name". It is known under the name Bernard's Hill as early as 1201, a form that still held sway in the early 16th century, but from 1579 on another form, or rather another name, appears in the records and maps: Barnsdale.[5] It is quite instructive to see the evidence in tabular form:

Year Bernard's Hill Barnsdale
1201 Bernardishill'[6]
1202 Bernardeshull(e)[6]
1202 Barnardeshull'[6]
1207 Bernardshill'[3]
1208 Bernardeshull(e)[6]
1256 Bernardeshull(e)[6]
1263 Bernardeshull(e)[6]
1280 Bernardeshull(e)[6]
1283 Bernardyshill'[3]
1286 Bernardishill'[6]
1294 Bernardeshull(e)[6]
1298 Bernerdishil'[6]
1329 Bernardeshul[3]
1421 Bernardeshilpark[3]
1518-20 Bernardeshell[6]
1579 Barnesdalep[ar]k[3]
1602 Barnsdale Park[6]
1607 Barnsdale Park[6]
1610 Barinsdale[6]
1634 Barndalle[6]
1695 Barnsdale[6]
1710 Barnsdale Park[6]
c. 1800 Barndale Wood[6]
1806 Barnshill Lodge[6]
1806 Barndale Wood[6]
1806 Barnsdale Hill[6]
1846 Barnsdale Lodge[6]
1943 Godfeed's Barnsdale[7]


We must conclude from this sequence that the development Bernard's Hill → Barnsdale took place during the 16th century, it being first documented as late as 1579 while the original form is well attested in the records throughout the preceding centuries. On the other hand, Barnsdale as literary locale of the Robin Hood tradition has been Bern(e)sdale/Barn(e)sdale since 1420, its first occurrence in the surviving sources,[8] at which time it must already have been well established. Never once does it appear in a form that is suggestive of 'Bernard's Hill'. Barnsdale near Doncaster appears in records from 1362 on in forms that match those of the name of the literary locale.

Readers who do not know the late medieval Robin Hood tradition well or have little experience with Middle English might wonder whether the (first) "e" in Berns(e)dale might not after all suggest a connection with "Bernard", but this is not the case. See the page From Beornsdale to Barnsdale.

It is not difficult to imagine pronunciations of 'Bernard's Hill" that would sound rather similar to that of "Barnsdale", and assuming such a development in local pronunciation of the place-name is perhaps the most natural way to account for the change. When the resulting sound sequence had to be represented in writing it was then 'interpreted' as 'Barnsdale'. Although I have no direct supporting evidence of this, it would seem likely that such a reinterpretation might have been influenced by writers'/speakers' knowledge of Barnsdale in South Yorkshire through its then longstanding association with Robin Hood.

What is clear from the evidence is that this development happened long after the South Yorkshire locality had become established as one of Robin Hood's two major stamping grounds, which must have happened by the late 14th century, for the prior of Lochleven, writing in the first quarter of the 15th century, knew the latter as one of the outlaw's haunts.[9] Until Knight can present a slew of early 'Barnsdale'-type forms of the name of the Rutland locality, there is no reason to take his attempt to teleport Robin Hood to Rutland seriously.

This conclusion is not affected by the presence in the area, as early as 1284, of a field (or other minor locality) referred to in the records as 'de la Sale", whose etymology could be either that of 'a hall' or 'sallow' (willow)[10] and which might of course conceivably have been the original of the Sayles figuring in the Gest, for Barnsdale in South Yorkshire also had such a locality. In fact there may have been two there.

If one wanted – though this is a dubious proposition – to suggest that Robin Hood's stamping ground of Barnsdale had originally been another locality of that name than that in South Yorkshire, the Barnsdale located between Great Easton and Bringhurst in the south-east of Leicestershire would be a rather better candidate than the locality near Exton. First recorded in 1505, this at least cannot be shown to have been called something else than Barnsdale in the medieval period.

Gazetteers

Sources

Maps

Studies and criticism

Background

Also see

Notes

  1. Knight, Stephen. Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw (Oxford, UK; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1994), pp. 29-32; and see ibid. pp. 42, 112, 131.
  2. Cox, Barrie. The Place-Names of Rutland (English Place-Name Society, vols. LXVII/LXVIII/LXIX) ([s.l.], 1994), p. 20, and on Barnsdale also see pp. xv, xxix-xxx, xliv-xlv, lvi, 23. Knight, Stephen; Bernbau, Anke, ser. ed.; Ashton, Gail, ser. ed. Reading Robin Hood: Content, Form and Reception in the Outlaw Myth (Manchester Medieval Literature and Culture) (Manchester, 2015), pp. 45-46.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Howlett, Sue. 'Barnsdale', in: Ovens, Robert, compil. & ed.; Sleath, Sheila, compil. & ed.; Clough, T.H. McK, ed. The Heritage of Rutland Water. Reprinted with minor corrections (Rutland Local History & Record Society, Rutland Record Series, No. 5) (Oakham, Rutland, 2008), pp. 45-54, p. 45.
  4. Knight, Stephen. Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw (Oxford, UK; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1994), p. 29.
  5. Cox, Barrie. The Place-Names of Rutland (English Place-Name Society, vols. LXVII/LXVIII/LXIX) ([s.l.], 1994), p. 20; and see p. 18 for the field-name 'Bruselonde' (recorded 1387) believed to have been named after the de Bruse family. Cox's italics in cited passage.
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 6.15 6.16 6.17 6.18 6.19 6.20 6.21 Cox, Barrie. The Place-Names of Rutland (English Place-Name Society, vols. LXVII/LXVIII/LXIX) ([s.l.], 1994), p. 20.
  7. Cox, Barrie. The Place-Names of Rutland (English Place-Name Society, vols. LXVII/LXVIII/LXIX) ([s.l.], 1994), p. 23.
  8. See 1420 - Wyntoun, Andrew of - Original Chronicle (1).
  9. See 1420 - Wyntoun, Andrew of - Original Chronicle (1).
  10. Cox, Barrie. The Place-Names of Rutland (English Place-Name Society, vols. LXVII/LXVIII/LXIX) ([s.l.], 1994), p. 24.