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Perhaps not so jolly old well…..Friar Tuck’s Well at Blidworth

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInterestingly this is the only other site within the mediaeval borders of Sherwood forest associated with the legend and its pedigree could be considered dubious.  Friar Tuck’s Well which is associated with his legendary hermitage.  The well was surrounded by ornate railings and low walling and a cascade of water would have run down a series of angled stones after arising at first to fill a small chamber above. Considerable damage was done when an ash tree fell on the site in the 1980s or before. Consequently, the low walling stones have nearly all gone, but when first visited parts of the railings lay buckled and bent emerging from the boggy water. The spring no longer appears to flow down the cascade and there is no water in the chamber above it, but its chalybeate water still emerges from the left hand side of the structure.

A local legend

Local legend suggests that the remains of the moat just before the spring head were where Friar Tuck resided. It is said that when he was ousted from his cell by a Roger de Tallibois, he cursed the springs in this area, making them dry for seven year intervals and indeed in recent heavy rainfall periods the spring has not flowed! Other sources suggest it was Danish raiders who not finding gold in the area cursed the springs.

He also notes that the spring water was still collected by local people for its healing qualities. Was it a pagan site? Does the site have some connection with the Blidworth Boulder, a nearby holed glacial erratic? This is suggested to be able to heal children with rickets and interestingly is also associated with Friar Tuck.

A forlorn folly or hopeless holy well?

It is possible that the site records a local hermit or saint who has become tangled up with Friar Tuck legend. The fact that the well may have been dedicated to a saint is supported by the Rev. R. H. Whitworth, local vicar (1895-1908) who notes to local historian Ernest Smedley that the spring was called St. Lawrence’s Spring. However, I have been unable to find any supporting evidence for this view and it may be wishful thinking by the vicar, (the original church was dedicated to the saint). It could be the Heghwelles noted in documents of 1350 at Ravenshede.Does its name possibly derive from O.E halig or is it another site? Equally the spring could have been purely an estate invention to impress visitors to Fountaindale and the name Friar Tuck attached, especially as the story of Tuck was possibly from Sussex, as two royal writs referring to a Frere Tuk survive from 1429, but of course this date is too late to be associated with Robin Hood who generally is accepted to be ‘active’….

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This is also at variance to the presence of the character in May plays in the 15th century such as that from 1475’s Robin Hood and the Knight or Robin Hood and the Sheriff, which suggests either a rapid rise to fame or else the Sussex friar was an actor playing the part in this play and using a pseudonym.

Fountain dale or Fountain’s abbey?

The other problem is that it is possible that there is a confusion occuring over the location.  It is possible that Fountaindale has been confused by Fountain’s Abbey, and this may be the fault of authors such as Washington Irving who stayed at Fountaindale house and did much to support the legend. The obvious problem with this location is that it was Benedictine and not a Franciscan establishment; they were of course established in Nottingham in the 13th century. It is also worth noting that Fountains Abbey does have a Robin Hood’s Well and a notable stream to cross. The most famous story, of their encounter to refer to Fountaindale however is recorded by Arthur Quiller-Couch, in the Oxford Book of Ballads (1910).

‘But how many months be in the year?
There are thirteen, I say;
The midsummer moon is the merryest of all
Next to the merry month of May.
‘Shoot on, shoot on, thou fine fellòw,
Shoot on as thou hast begun;
If thou shoot here a summer’s day,
Thy mark I will not shun.’
 
IN summer time, when leaves grow green,
And flowers are fresh and gay,
Robin Hood and his merry men
Were [all] disposed to play.
Robin Hood shot passing well,
Till his arrows all were gone;
They took their swords and steel bucklers,
And fought with might and maine;
Then some would leap, and some would run,
And some use artillery:
‘Which of you can a good bow draw,
A good archer to be?
From ten o’ th’ clock that day,
Till four i’ th’ afternoon;
Then Robin Hood came to his knees,
Of the friar to beg a boon.
 
Which of you can kill a buck?
Or who can kill a doe?
Or who can kill a hart of grease,
Five hundred foot him fro?’
A boon, a boon, thou curtal friar!
I beg it on my knee;
Give me leave to set my horn to my mouth,
And to blow blasts three.’
Will Scadlock he kill’d a buck,
And Midge he kill’d a doe,
And Little John kill’d a hart of grease,
Five hundred foot him fro.
‘That will I do,’ said the curtal friar!
‘Of thy blasts I have no doubt;
I hope thou’lt blow so passing well
Till both thy eyes fall out.’
‘God’s blessing on thy heart,’ said Robin Hood,
‘That hath [shot] such a shot for me;
I would ride my horse an hundred miles,
To finde one could match with thee.’
That caus’d Will Scadlock to laugh,
He laugh’d full heartily:
‘There lives a curtal friar in Fountains Dale
Will beat both him and thee.
Robin Hood set his horn to his mouth
He blew but blasts three;
Half a hundred yeomen, with bows bent,
Came raking over the lee.
 ‘Whose men are these,’ said the friar,
‘That come so hastily?’
‘These men are mine,’ said Robin Hood
‘Friar, what is that to thee?’
‘That curtal friar in Fountains Dale
Well can a strong bow draw;
He will beat you and your yeomen,
Set them all on a row.’
‘A boon, a boon,’ said the curtal friar,
‘The like I gave to thee!
Give me leave to set my fist to my mouth,
And to whute whutès three.’
Robin Hood took a solemn oath,
It was by Mary free,
That he would neither eat nor drink
Till the friar he did see.
‘That will I do,’ said Robin Hood,
‘Or else I were to blame;
Three whutès in a friar’s fist
Would make me glad and fain.’
Robin Hood put on his harness good,
And on his head a cap of steel,
Broad sword and buckler by his side,
And they became him weel.
The friar he set his fist to his mouth,
And whuted whutès three;
Half a hundred good ban-dogs
Came running the friar unto.
He took his bow into his hand,
It was made of a trusty tree,
With a sheaf of arrows at his belt,
To the Fountains Dale went he.
‘Here’s for every man of thine a dog,
And I my self for thee!’ —
‘Nay, by my faith,’ quoth Robin Hood,
‘Friar, that may not be.’
 
And coming unto Fountain Dale,
No further would he ride;
There was he aware of a curtal friar,
Walking by the water-side.
Two dogs at once to Robin Hood did go,
T’ one behind, the other before;
Robin Hood’s mantle of Lincoln green
Off from his back they tore.
The friar had on a harness good,
And on his head a cap of steel,
Broad sword and buckler by his side,
And they became him weel.
And whether his men shot east or west,
Or they shot north or south,
The curtal dogs, so taught they were,
They kept their arrows in their mouth.
Robin Hood lighted off his horse,
And tied him to a thorn:
‘Carry me over the water, thou curtal friar,
Or else thy life’s forlorn.’
‘Take up thy dogs,’ said Little John,
‘Friar, at my bidding be.’—
‘Whose man art thou,’ said the curtal friar,
‘Comes here to prate with me?’
The friar took Robin Hood on his back,
Deep water he did bestride,
And spake neither good word nor bad,
Till he came at the other side.
‘I am Little John, Robin Hood’s man,
Friar, I will not lie;
If thou take not up thy dogs soon,
Ile take up them and thee.’
Lightly leapt Robin Hood off the friar’s back;
The friar said to him again,
‘Carry me over this water, fine fellow,
Or it shall breed thy pain.’
Little John had a bow in his hand,
He shot with might and main;
Soon half a score of the friar’s dogs
Lay dead upon the plain.
Lightly leapt the friar off Robin Hood’s back;
Robin Hood said to him again,
‘Carry me over this water, thou curtal friar,
Or it shall breed thy pain.’
‘Hold thy hand, good fellow,’ said the curtal friar,
‘Thy master and I will agree;
And we will have new orders taken,
With all the haste that may be.’
The friar took Robin Hood on’s back again,
And stept up to the knee;
Till he came at the middle stream,
Neither good nor bad spake he.
‘If thou wilt forsake fair Fountains Dale,
And Fountains Abbey free,
Every Sunday throughout the year,
A noble shall be thy fee.
 
And coming to the middle stream,
There he threw Robin in:
‘And chuse thee, chuse thee, fine fellow,
Whether thou wilt sink or swim!’
‘And every holy day throughout the year,
Changed shall thy garment be,
If thou wilt go to fair Nottingham,
And there remain with me.’
Robin Hood swam to a bush of broom,
The friar to a wicker wand;
Bold Robin Hood is gone to shore,
And took his bow in hand.
This curtal friar had kept Fountains Dale
Seven long years or more;
There was neither knight, lord, nor earl
Could make him yield before.

One of his   best arrows under his belt
To the friar he let flye;
The curtal friar, with his steel buckler,
He put that arrow by.

Slowly vanishing from view..

The site really should be better looked after and could make a good local project if the site could be bought from the local landowner to avoid trespass. However, I have been unable to find an old photo or illustration to suggest what the structure looked like when in best order (according to local historian Mr. Richards there is not one). Something needs to be done soon as even in the last year the iron railings which once surrounded the site have been removed. It would be sad to see this noted spring, whatever its provenance, fall to vandals and apathy. Sign up below to show your support.

New article with old photos discovered