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The legend of Mirfield

By Rach ~ Friday, 02 December 2011

Having spent a week back at my mum’s in my home town of Mirfield, West Yorkshire, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share with you some of the legends of its past.

Situated between Dewsbury and Huddersfield, Mirfield may seem unremarkable, but it has many claims to fame. The Brontë sisters all spent time here during the 1830s at Roe Head, a boarding school for refined young ladies, with Anne then going on to become a governess at Blake Hall for the Ingham family. The enigmatic Dumb Steeple on the western edge of the town was a gathering place for an army of Luddites before a notorious attack on Cartwright’s Mill at Rawfolds. A couple of people died in the attack and several more were injured. For some people most impressively, Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame was born here and went to my secondary school, Mirfield Free Grammar (a fact which they have commemorated by naming an assembly hall after him).

The most compelling and mysterious (and some would say far-fetched) of all the legends though is that the outlaw Robin Hood died and was buried here. A ruined nunnery (above) stands at the back of the Three Nuns pub. This is the remains of the tiny Kirklees Priory, which at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries housed only seven nuns. Legend has it that Robin Hood, feeling ill on the road, sought out his relative, the Prioress of Kirklees, for blood letting. Unfortunately, the Prioress was an enemy in disguise and bled him to death. Legend also tells that Hood requested to be buried where his arrow fell, and indeed there is a tomb with inscriptions claiming to be the resting place of Robin Hood nearby, though not near enough to the priory that an arrow could have landed there from its window.

A fragmentary tale from the Percy Folio, which may be one of the earliest Robin Hood tales, tells the story of Robin’s death at Kirklees, or “Churchlees”. It was included by Francis James Child in his 1883 ‘Child’s Ballads’ collection.

‘I WILL neuer eate oor drinke,’ Robin Hood said,
‘Nor meate will doo me noe good,
Till I haue beene at merry Churchlees,
My vaines for to let blood.’

The ballad tells the full grisly tale of how the prioress betrayed Robin Hood and opened his veins so that “Then did he bleed all the live-long day” until finally “...there they buried bold Robin Hood, / Within the fair Kirkleys.”

Of course it is dubious whether or not Robin Hood is really buried in Mirfield, or of course whether he really existed, but it is pleasing to have a bit of mystery and myth just down the road from where I grew up!


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