Hollywood would have you believe that Robin Hood’s main stomping ground was the county of Nottinghamshire. However, many of the ancient fables and ballads of England’s most famous outlaw take place in and around Derbyshire. Robin Hood’s right-hand man, Little John, was said to have originated from the village of Hathersage.
The Grave of Little John is located in the graveyard of St. Michael’s Church, in the heart of Hathersage. The grave is below an old yew tree, with a contemporary gravestone describing the plot of land as the burial site of Robin Hood’s lieutenant. Although there is little evidence proving that Little John is even buried here, or that he ever existed, the sizeable burial plot matches the large stature of the fabled character. Little John, of course, is an ironic nickname, given that he was in fact a towering figure. The gravesite is mysteriously intriguing and is well worth visiting.
Little John, as a character, is referenced, alongside Robin, in the very early 15th century poems by the likes of Andrew Wyntoun and Walter Bower. He is referred to, initially, as a cunning character, but in later fables he becomes dimmer, and less capable. He tends to always be the second most prominent character, through fables and later television and film adaptions, and is the only member of Hood’s Merry Men to be present in the ballad ‘Robin Hood’s Death’.
In later ballads, more of Little John’s character was revealed, and he was reputed to have originated from Hathersage, and even settled there again in later life, and died in a small cottage by the River Derwent – in this site now lies a grade-II farmhouse, named Nether House. It is also alleged that Little John chose his gravesite in St. Michael’s Church himself, by firing an arrow from Robin Hood’s Stoop – a boundary stone located on nearby Offerton Moor – which landed in the Mew Tree above what became his burial site.
Hathersage records suggest that Little John’s longbow, alongside his cap, were on display inside St Michael’s Church in 1652, but items were later taken by the Shuttleworth family and put on display at their stately home, Cawthrone.
Little John’s grave was excavated in 1784, during which a thigh bone, measuring 30 inches long, was uncovered. This suggests a body of large stature is in fact buried in this plot of land, one measuring upwards of 8ft.
How to get there
St. Michael’s Church is a short 10-minute walk outside the centre of Hathersage. Walk east along the town’s main road and follow School Lane northward. A small, slightly steeper street on the left called Church Bank will lead you right to the church.
Alternatively, there is a small car park located outside the church.
The grave itself is found opposite the entrance to St. Michael’s.
Some may find the walk uphill towards St. Michael’s Church slightly strenuous; make sure you’re dressed appropriately and have plenty of water.
Things to see and do while at Little John’s Grave
– To continue the Little John pilgrimage, walk 2 kilometres in a north eastern direction towards Offerton Moor to find the alleged position from which Little John fired an arrow all the St. Michael’s Church. It is named after Robin now, however, earlier records show it was once referred to as ‘Little John’s Flight’.
– While in Hathersage, it is worth making the hike out towards the awe-inspiring Stanage Edge, a gritstone escarpment with some of the most unique views in the whole of the Peak District. Stretching out for miles, the Stanage Edge is the perfect place to take in the views of the Hope Valley and Hallam Moors.
– While exploring Stange Edge, look out for the unusual gaping hole in the side of the rock face, this is where Robin Hood, allegedly, regularly went into hiding. Access into the cave is easy, however, caution is advisable, as there is a 30 metre drop over the edge of the gritstone balcony. This cave makes for a fantastic viewing platform, or as a convenient place to shelter from the rain. Graffiti decorates the inside of the cave, with some engravements dating back to 1928.