the Robin hood pageant

Robin hood Pageant

An annual pageant in 16th century Yeovil


Although the legendary folk hero Robin Hood has, on the face of it, nothing to do with Yeovil the Elizabethan Churchwarden's accounts (see below) of the early 16th century show a well-established tradition that the Robin Hood story was enacted here, as in many other towns, as an annual pageant.

The pageant was usually held on Ascension Day, a traditional church feast day celebrated on a Thursday, the fortieth day from Easter Day. Each of the great feast days of the church were general holidays when the dreariness of day-to-day life was relieved by parades, pageants, plays, Church ales and sporting events such as archery at the butts, cock-fighting, bull-baiting and the like at the 'The Kennels', later known as Sheep Fair, being that area of land (now a car park) between North Lane and Court Ash.

It appears from the Churchwardens' accounts that the part of Robin Hood, often called Robert Hood, was played by a prominent townsman, as were the other characters and the accounts show payments for hiring the garments and even a payment to "John Fletcher for fetherynge Robarte Hoodes Arrowes". Other expenses invariably included ale for the church bell ringers.

The chief purpose of the pageant was to raise money for church funds and the income derived from the pageants is listed below and was a considerable sum each year; for example £10 in 1540 would be worth around £6,000 at today's value. The monies were collected from the townspeople by the Churchwardens in much the same way that Somerset street carnival collectors do today.

The Robin Hood pageant was invariably closely associated with a Church ale - a festival formerly held in English country parishes at which ale was sold, again to raise money for church expenses and the relief of the poor. The name 'Church ale' derives from the Middle English chirche ale, from chirche = church, and ale = festival.

Church ales were not always, as might be suspected, simple gatherings over a pint or two. The Quarter Session records for the year 1607 for example in "Articles against Thomas Marsh and Roger Traske wardens at Yevel" recorded "Some of the disorders at our Church ale at Yeavell this year 1607. It was an usual thing upon the saboth day to have minstrelsie and dauncinge and carrying men upon a cavell staffe, the wardinges themselves Thomas Marshes and Roger Traske wear willingly so caried to the church."   "Witness: Thomas Braine, Thomas Jarves, etc." See 'Riding the Stang'.

William Hone, in 'Ancient Mysteries' in 1823, wrote "The Play of Robin Hood was a performance in the May games, in which a person, representing that bold outlaw, presided as Lord of the May, attended by Maid Marian, his faithful mistress, as Lady of the May, and by persons appropriately dressed denominating Robin Hood's men. Bishop Latimer complains, in one of his sermons, that coming to preach in a certain town on a holiday, he found the church door locked and was told the parish could not hear him that day, for they were gone to gather for Robin Hood, it being Robin Hood's day."

For most of the seventeenth century the Churchwardens' accounts are largely illegible but it would appear that the Robin Hood pageant had certainly ceased by 1690 when the records become legible again. By this time, although there were Ascension festivals held annually, there was no further mention of Robin Hood.

Gradually the Ascension festival merged with Rogationtide - the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Day that was traditionally observed as days of solemn supplication for the harvest and was marked by processions, special prayers and blessing of the year's crops. During the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries there are regular entries in the accounts for Ascension Day festivals and the two days following which became the three-day event known as 'Beating the Bounds' or the Perambulation.


the 'Robin Hood' entries in the churchwardens' accounts


Resayvyd of a parsell of syche money as was presented by Robarte Hood and by the devotion of the pepylle

20s 0d


Recevyd of Richard Hacker this yere beyng Robyn Hood that be hys gud puysyon and dylygent labors and by the good devocon of the towne and the contrey he presented to God and Holy Chyrch

£6 0s 8½d

Recevyd of Jone Wythers a gyrdyll the bockyll and pendent silver and gilt for bells ornaments and to be sett in the comen mynd and to the intent that the sayd gyrdyll should do honour to God and worshyppe to the sayd Church and parysh when Robyn Hood makyth hys besyness or such other lyke.


Item of John Phelyps being Robin Hood
For Ale for the Ryngers on Assention Day

£12 4s 1d


Received of John Dore being Rob: Hood

£2 12s 2½d


Received of Willm Short beyng Robert Hood

£8 7s 5d


Received of John Delagryse being R Hood this yere

£5 8s 9½d


Received of John Hacker the Elder being Rob: Hood thys Yere
To the ryngers on Assension Day

£9 0s 10d


To the Ringers Assention Day



Received of Tristram Brook being Robard Hood
Received of John Marchant being Robard Hoode [a previous year?]
For the Brush that the pryce mayd do bear in her hand

£8 11s 4d
£11 12s 5d
1s 1d


Received of John Hacker being Rob: Hood this Yere

£13 0s 5d


Received of Lyonel Harrison being Robart Hood this Yere
Drink for the ryngers Assention Day

£1 10s 5d


Received of Raynold Hardynge beynge Rob: Hood
For the Pleyers Garment for Raynold Hardyngs rent this year
For drynk for the Rgrs Assention Day

£9 14s 3d
4s 0d


Received of Wm Songge being Rob: Hoode in this Yere
Received of Willm Strood for the Players Garments
Received of Evered of Yetminster for ditto

£9 18s 0d
2s 0d
3s 4d


Received of John Gaylard being Robt Hood this yere

£9 15s 4½d


Recd of Robarte Dennys being Robarte Hoode this yere

£10 5s 8d


Pd for ayle for the Ryngers upon Assension Daie



of John Traske being Robt. Hood this yere
of Robt Dyer of Sherborne this yere for the lone of the plaiers garments
of Edmund Sheparde for the Hyer of the plaiers garments which sholde have been levied when he was warden
to John Twobblefield for makyng of 2 Gownes & 3 Joukons for the Plaiers

£4 0s 8d


3s 4d


Itm whereas there was brought in by Gyles Hayne which kept the pishe ale this yere the sum of
for a Riband lace at two sundrye tymes for little John Horne (Hounds)

£19 5s 9d


of John Tucker being Robyn Hoode this yere
of Robt Dounton of Lye for the lone of the plaiers garments
of John Wolf for the same

£10 1s 9d
3s 4d
2s 0d


of William Becke being Robyn Hoode this yere doth yeld uppe for the use of the pish
of one of Coker for the lone of the plaiers Garmnts
to Rob Hoode for dryncke for the ringers Assencion Day
to John Fletcher for fetherynge Robarte Hoodes Arrowes
for 12 yerthes and hlafe of Normandy Canvass olbrod (Ell broad) delyvred to Robyn hoode to make two borde clothes
for a Grene Silk ribyn for the Sheriffe

£13 8s 2d

3s 0d

10s 5d


of James Everdon being Rob. Hood this yere

£16 2s 5½d


of Wm Forde being Rob: Hood this year

£17 2s 0d


The sayde John Dyer beyng Robyn Hoode this yere doth yeld uppe to the pshe made by keepynge of the Church Ale the somme of
Pd for the newe fetherynge of Robyn Hoodes arrowes

£23 3s 10d


for mending Rob. Hoods     and a new Key




E WE Watts' map of 1806 shows 'Sheep Fair' sandwiched between Court Ash and Sheep Lane (today's North Lane). Earlier known as The Kennels, it was the site of much feast-day activity.