The modern gravestones replace what Elias Ashmole (1617-1692) had seen when writing in the late seventeenth century:
“The famous Little John lyes buried in Hathersage Church yard within 3 miles fro Castleton, in High Peake, with one Stone set up at his head, and another at his Feete, but a large distance betweene them. They say a part of his bow hangs in the said Church. Neere Grindleford Bridge are Robin Hood 2 pricks."
The bow was recorded as being made of spliced yew, 79in long (about 2 meters), tipped with horn, weighing 21lb and requiring a pull of 160ilbs to draw it. The bow and a cuirass of chainmail both said to have belonged to Little John were hung in Hathersage church chancel for many years, until they were removed by a William Spencer in 1729 and taken to Canon Hall near Barnsley in Yorkshire for better security. The cuirass was later lost!
In about 1950 a Mr. H. C. Haldane was photographed holding ‘Little John’s Bow’ outside Canon Hall in Barnsley. By this time the horn tips were missing and the ends were broken off. Engraved on the bow grip is the name of a Colonel Naylor, who shot an arrow from it at Cannon Hall in 1715.
Originally 'Little John’s Grave’ had been marked by a head and foot stone, both marked with the initials ‘I.L.’ as described by E. Hargrave in his ‘Anecdotes of Archery’ in 1792.
The grave was excavated by a Captain James Shuttleworth (d.1826) in 1784 and it is reported that he discovered a thigh bone of ‘twenty eight and a half inches long’ (71.25cm). This would make the person in the grave originally about eight feet tall!
A local story says: ‘James Shuttleworth took the bone to Cannon Hall to show his cousin. The two men then exhibited to an old huntsman who shook his head and told them that, ‘no good will come to either of ye, so long as ye keep dead men’s bones above ground.’ The huntsman was called Hinchcliffe who measured the bone and said the exact length was 28 1/2 inches!
James Shuttleworth took the bone back to Hathersage and hung it above his bed. After a series of accidents a nurse told him the same as the old huntsman, that he would never have luck as long as he kept dead men's bones out of their graves. So James sent the bone back to the Sexton with an order to put it back into the grave. But instead he displayed it in his window and charged sixpence for viewing. But one day a William Strickland, passing through Hathersage carried off the bone, on the pre-text of showing a friend, much to the dismay of the Sexton. He returned it to Canon Hall and buried it under a tree, it was lost forever.’
To read more about Little John's Grave, please click here.