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 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 vale of Barnsdale, seen by many 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 to the village of Wentbridge there are, or were, some notable landmarks which relate to Robin Hood. The earliest-known Robin Hood place-name reference - in Yorkshire or anywhere else - occurs in a deed of 1322 from the two cartularies of Monk Bretton Priory, near the town of Barnsley. The cartulary deed refers in Latin to a landmark named 'the Stone of Robert Hode' (Robin Hood’s Stone), which was located in the Barnsdale area. According to J. W. Walker this was on 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 to the north of the river, including the village church, is within 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 are 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 Leeds.
To avoid the incline on the valley, when the village was bypassed at a cost of £800,000 in 1961, one of the then-largest viaducts in Europe 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 F. A. (Joe) Sims, and became a Grade II listed building on 29 May 1998. In 1964 the engineering significance of the bridge was recognised by New York's Museum of Modern Art. Thirty years after its construction it received an award 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 (and Barnsdale's) strong claim to be the original home of Robin Hood. Wentbridge is mentioned in what may be the earliest surviving manuscript of a Robin Hood ballad, "Robin Hood and the Potter": "'Y mete hem bot at Went breg,' s(e)yde Lytyll John" ('I met him but at Wentbridge', said Little John). Though Wentbridge is not specifically named in the medieval ballad entitled "A Gest of Robyn Hode", the ballad does appear to make a cryptic reference to the locality by depicting a friendly knight explaining to Robin that he ‘went at a brydge’ where there was 'a wraste-lyng' (wrestling).
The Gest of Robyn Hode makes specific references to 'the Saylis' and 'the Sayles', and a landmark by that name was certainly located near Wentbridge. The outlaw himself mentions the site in the First Fytte of the Gest.
The 19th-century antiquary Joseph Hunter (a Yorkshireman by birth) identified its likely site: a small tenancy, of one-tenth of a knight’s fee (i.e. a knight's annual income), located on high ground 500 yards (457.2 metres) to the east of the village of Wentbridge in the manor of Pontefract. The high ground which overlooks the area - 120 feet (36.576 metres) above the flat terrain - was then known as Sayles Plantation. From this location it was possible to see across the whole of 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 King Edward III in 1346-47 for the knighting of his son, the Black Prince. Such evidence of continuity makes it virtually certain that the Saylis or Sayles which was so well known to the Robin Hood of the "Gest" survived into modern times as the 'Sayles Plantation' near Wentbridge. The historians Richard Barrie Dobson and 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. 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 of 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.
- In 1924 the antiquary J. W. Walker redated the deed to 1422 (with apparently excellent justification), claiming an alleged scribal error, and this redating has been widely accepted ever since. ( See ref 4 below.) In both cartularies the actual year written on the 'Robin Hood's Stone' deed is 1322. The older of the two surviving Monk Bretton cartularies is in the British Library. In this the full date of the deed is given, in Latin words and numerals. These translate directly as 'the Sixth of June, the Lord's Day, in the Feast of the Holy Trinity, One-Thousand 300 Twenty-Two' (ie Trinity Sunday, 6 June 1322). This is a perfectly correct date, both in the Church Calendar and in the civil Julian Calendar, which was used in the British Isles until the middle of the 18th century. In 1322 the Sixth of June fell on a Sunday, and Sunday the Sixth of June was Trinity Sunday. In 1422 the Sixth of June fell on a Saturday, and Trinity Sunday was the Seventh of June. (Calendar years are not repeated at 100-year intervals in either the Julian or Gregorian calendars.) In the date itself there is no evidence of scribal error. See C. R. Cheney and Michael Jones: A Handbook of Dates for students of British history (London: Royal Historical Society 1945/new edition: Cambridge University Press 2000, reprinted 2004) pp196-199. See also Jim Lees: "The Quest for Robin Hood" (Nottingham: Temple Nostalgia Press 1987) p120.
- "Abstracts of the Chartularies of the Priory of Monkbretton", Record Series Vol. LXVI, edited by J. W. Walker (Leeds: The Yorkshire Archaeological Society, 1924) pp105-106.
- Dobson and Taylor, p. 22
- Biff Vernon, "A1-The Great North Road: Wentbridge", Freeserve.co.uk, retrieved 21 December 2015.
- Wentbridge Viaduct and By-pass, Region: North East: A1 Improvement schemes. Redhouse to Wentbridge, The Motorway Archive, CIHT, archived 19 March 2012.
- Historic England. "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, September 2004
- Houlder, p. 7
- The Gest of Robyn Hode, Stanza 135 p. 88
- The "Gest", Stanza 18, repeated with slight variations at Stanza 209, pp. 80, 94.
- Joseph Hunter, "The Great Hero of the Ancient Minstrelsy of England", Critical and Historical Tracts 4 (1852 pp. 15-16).
- Hunter, pp. 15-16).
- Dobson and Taylor, p. 22; Holt, p. 85.
- 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, S., "The Origins and Development of Robin Hood", University of Leeds Library. Kapelle, William E., The Norman Conquest of the North: The Region and Its Transformation, 1000-1135 (London: Croom Helm, 1979)