Wentbridge shown within West Yorkshire
|OS grid reference|
|– London||155 mi (249 km) SSE|
|Metropolitan borough||City of Wakefield|
|Metropolitan county||West Yorkshire|
|Region||Yorkshire and the Humber|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||Yorkshire and the Humber|
|UK Parliament||Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford|
The village contains one of the largest viaducts in Europe, its significance sanctioned by the Museum of Modern Art. Wentbridge is one of a number of locations that might have connections to the legend of Robin Hood.
Geography and topography
Wentbridge sits in the heart of the Went Valley, on the northernmost edge of the medieval Forest of Barnsdale, seen by medievalists as the official home of Robin Hood. During the Middle Ages the village of Wentbridge was itself sometimes referred to by the name of Barnsdale because it was the main settlement in the Forest of Barnsdale, and it was possible to look down upon the village from the Saylis. The county boundary follows the A1 from the River Went to Barnsdale Bar, which is the southernmost point of North Yorkshire. Close by to the southwest is the Roman Ridge, a Roman road which closely follows the course of the modern-day A639. To the north is Darrington. Earlier historians have usually assumed that this district was heavily wooded. However, aerial photography and excavation have shown that the region has always been a largely pastoral landscape dotted with occasional settlements.
The village of Wentbridge straddles the River Went, from which it takes its name, along a north-south axis and sits less than a mile from the county boundary with North Yorkshire to the east. The village is so named because it used to be the site of the Great North Road's bridge over the River Went. Entrance to the village was down a steep valley which would have been a problem before motorised transport and eventually became a bottleneck. Wentbridge House was one of the properties near the river and on the Great North Road. It still exists today and is called Wentbridge House Hotel.
Within close proximity of the village of Wentbridge reside several notable landmarks which relate to Robin Hood. The earliest Yorkshire Robin Hood place-name reference occurred in a deed of 1422 from Monkbretton Priory near Wentbridge in the city of Wakefield. The cartulary deed makes reference to a landmark named Robin Hood’s Stone which resided upon the eastern side of the Great North Road, a mile south of Barnsdale Bar. On the opposite side of the road once stood Robin Hood's Well, which has since been relocated six miles north-west of Doncaster, on the south-bound side of the Great North Road.
Wentbridge is unusual in that it has parts in three different civil parishes: the entire portion of the village which lies to north of the river, including the village church, lies with the parish of Darrington; whilst south of the river, that part of the village on the west side of the B6474 road falls within Thorpe Audlin parish, with buildings on the road's eastern side falling within North Elmsall parish.
The village is also divided between two council wards, and as such two parliamentary constituencies: north of the river the village comes under the Pontefract South ward within the Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford parliamentary constituency; south of the river, the Ackworth, North Elmsall and Upton ward within the Hemsworth constituency. Accordingly, the village's two Members of Parliament are Yvette Cooper and Jon Trickett.
On the Great North Road in the village is a four-star hotel and the Blue Bell Inn public house. The village church is dedicated to St John the Evangelist. It is within the Went Valley group of parishes in the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales. The vicar is the Rev Adrian Judd. There is a church service every Sunday and Christmas Day, except for the fifth Sunday of the month.
To avoid the incline on the valley, when the village was bypassed at a cost of £800,000 in 1961, one of the largest viaducts in Europe (at that time) was built to cross the Went valley at a height of 98 feet (30 m) using prestressed concrete. It is 308 feet (94 m) long and was designed by FA (Joe) Sims, and became a Grade II listed building on 29 May 1998. In 1964 the engineering significance of the bridge was sanctioned by New York's Museum of Modern Art. It received an award thirty years after its construction from the Concrete Society.
The Anglo-Saxon Battle of Winwaed is believed to have taken place between Wentbridge and Ackworth where what is now the A639 (a main Roman road) crosses the River Went. The battle was a pivotal event that decided the religious destiny of the English. The most powerful pagan king in seventh-century England Penda, was defeated by the Christian Oswiu in 655, effectively ending Anglo-Saxon paganism.
Archaeologists believe that a mound in Wentbridge was the location of an Anglo-Saxon fortification.
English Heritage has placed a Blue plaque on the bridge that crosses the River Went, recognising Wentbridge's strong claim to be the home of Robin Hood. Wentbridge is mentioned in what may be the earliest Robin Hood ballad, "Robin Hood and the Potter": "'Y mete hem bot at Went breg,' syde Lyttyl John". Though Wentbridge is not specifically named in the fifteenth-century ballad entitled "A Gest of Robyn Hode", the ballad does appear to make a cryptic reference to the locality by depicting a poor knight explaining to Robin that he ‘went at a bridge’ where there was wrestling.
The Gest of Robyn Hode makes specific reference to the Saylis at Wentbridge. The outlaw himself mentions the site in the first fytte of the Gest when he instructs Little John to,
‘walke up to the Saylis,
And so to Watlinge Strete,
And wayte after some unketh gest,
Up chaunce ye may them mete’.
The nineteenth-century antiquarian Joseph Hunter identified its site: a small tenancy, the size of one tenth of a knight’s fee, located on high ground 500 metres to the west of the village of Wentbridge in the manor of Pontefract. Sayles was a small tenancy, the size of one tenth of a knight’s fee, located in the manor of Pontefract. The high ground which overlooks the area was, and still is, known as the Saylis. From this location it was once possible to look out over the Went Valley and observe the traffic that passed along the Great North Road, thus demonstrating its significance as a lookout point in the Gest. The Saylis is recorded as having contributed towards the aid that was granted to Edward III in 1346-47 for the knighting of the Black Prince. Such evidence of continuity makes it virtually certain that the Saylis that was so well known to Robin Hood is preserved today as ‘Sayles Plantation’ on the northern limit of Barnsdale, near Wentbridge. The historians Professor Barry Dobson and Mr John Taylor indicate that this location provides a specific clue to Robin Hood’s Wentbridge heritage.
Swein-son-of-Siccga, 'The Prince of Thieves'
An infamous outlaw known as 'The Prince of Thieves" once inhabited Wentbridge on the edge of the Forest of Barnsdale. A medieval chronicler speaks of an outlaw named Swein-son-of-Sicga who robbed Abbot Benedict of Selby and " constantly prowled around Yorkshire's woods with his band on perpetual raids". J. Green indicates that Hugh fitz Baldric, the late-eleventh-century Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, held responsibility for bringing Swein-son-of-Sicga to justice. Historians indicate that the deeds of Yorkshire's outlaws, men such as Swein-son-of-Siccga, and their battles against the Sheriff of Nottingham, gave birth to the legend that is today known as Robin Hood.
- Hunter, Joseph, "Robin Hood", in Robin Hood: An Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism, ed. by Stephen Knight (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1999) pp.187-196. Holt, J.C., Robin Hood, 2nd edition (London: Thames and Hudson, 2011). Holt, J.C., "Robin Hood" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004-13). Holt, J.C. "The Origins and Audience of the Ballads of Robin Hood" in Robin Hood: An Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism, ed. by Stephen Knight (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1999). Bellamy, John, Robin Hood: An Historical Enquiry (London: Croom Helm, 1985). Keen, Maurice, The Outlaws of Medieval Legend, 2nd edition (London and Henley: Routledge and Kegan Paul; Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1977) ISBN 0-7102-1203-8.. Maddicott, J.R., "The Birth and Setting of the Ballads of Robin Hood" in Robin Hood: An Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism, ed. by Stephen Knight (Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 1999) pp.233-256. Dobson, R. B. and John Taylor, Rymes of Robyn Hode: An Introduction to the English Outlaw, 3rd edition (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1997). Crook, David, "Some Further Evidence Concerning the Dating of the Origins of the Legend of Robin Hood", in Robin Hood: An Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism, ed. by Stephen Knight (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1999) pp.257-262. Matheson, Lister, "The Dialects and Language of Selected Robin Hood Poems", in Robin Hood: The Early Poems, 1465-1560: Texts, Contexts and Ideology ed. Thomas Ohlgren (Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press, 2007) pp.189-210
- Eric Houlder, Ancient Roots North: When Pontefract Stood on the Great North Road, (Pontefract: Pontefract Groups Together, 2012) p.7.
- Monkbretton Priory, Abstracts of the Chartularies of the Priory of Monkbretton, Vol. LXVI, ed. by J. W. Walker (Leeds: The Yorkshire Archaeological Society, 1924) p.105.
- R. B. and John Taylor, p.22
- English Heritage. "Wentbridge Viaduct Carrying Bypass over Valley of River Went, Kirk Smeaton (Grade II) (1323681)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 26 June 2014.
- Higham N. J. 1993, Northumbria
- Breeze, A. C. "The Battle of the Uined and the River Went, Yorkshire", Northern History, XLI.2, Sept 2004
- Eric Houlder, p.7
- The Gest of Robyn Hode, Stanza 135 p.88
- The Gest, Stanza 18 repeated at Stanza 209 pp.80 &94.
- Joseph Hunter, "The Great Hero of the Ancient Minstrelsy of England", Critical and Historical Tracts, 4 (1852) 15-16 (pp.15-16).
- Joseph Hunter, ‘15-16 (pp.15-16).
- Dobson and Taylor, p.22.
- Dobson and Taylor, p.22
- Historia Selebiensis Monasterii, ed. by Janet Burton and Lynda Lockyer (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2013) Chapter 17 p.45.
- Green, Judith A., English Sheriffs to 1154, Public Records Handbook No. 24 (London: HMSO, 1990), pp.67 & 89
- Lewis, Brian, Robin Hood: A Yorkshire Man. La' Chance, A., "The Origins and Development of Robin Hood". Kapelle, William E., The Norman Conquest of the North: The Region and Its Transformation, 1000-1135 (London: Croom Helm, 1979)
Media related to Wentbridge at Wikimedia Commons