Robin Hood & Little John Stones, Whitby, North Yorkshire

Standing Stones (destroyed?):  OS Grid Reference – NZ 9171 0952

Also Known as:

  1. Robin Hood’s Pillars

Archaeology & History

The 2 stones on 1853 map

The 2 stones on 1853 map

References to these old standing stones are scarce—at least in archaeology books anyway.  Even the usually diligent masters of Burl (1993) and Thom (1990) missed them!  But thankfully our folklorists and antiquarians with their keen interest in popular culture have written about these long lost monoliths, which could once be seen in fields just a mile or so south of Whitby town.

The earliest known account of the site is as the “Robyn-Hood-stone” in records dating from 1540 CE cited in the Cartularium Abbathiae de Whiteby (1881).  It was later described in land registers in 1713 and the fields in which they stood were—and still are—respectively known as Robin Hood’s Close and Little John’s Close.

These Whitby monoliths—like their namesakes in Northamptonshire— weren’t too big.  In Mr Young’s (1817) early description, when the stones were still visible, he told how Robin Hood’s stone was “a stone pillar about a foot square and four feet high”, and Little John’s Stone was “a similar pillar about two-and-a-half feet high.”  Mr J.C. Atkinson, the editor of the Cartularium (1881), also told that the two stones were “still in situ in the earlier part of the present century,” continuing:

“Both stones have now been removed, and are, I was informed, set up again near the enclosing fence of the field in which they stood. Almost beyond question , like the other monoliths of the district, they marked the site of ancient British interments.”

So—do the remains of these old stones still exist somewhere close by as J.C. Atkinson said, either in the walling, as a gatepost, or just pushed over and now covered in grass (like the long lost Thief Thorne standing stone near Addingham)?  Are any northern antiquarians living close by who might enable their rediscovery?


A number of writers exploring the mythic histories of Robin Hood have included this site in their surveys, usually repeating the earlier creation myths about them that could be heard in popular culture.  The Whitby historian George Young (1817) told the tale:

“According to tradition, Robin Hood and his trusty mate, Little John, went to dine with one of the Abbots of Whitby, and, being desired by the Abbot to try how far each of them could shoot and arrow, they both shot from the top of the Abbey, and their arrows fell on the west side of Whitby Laithes, beside the lane leading from thence to Stainsacre; that of Robin Hood falling on the north side of the lane and that of Little John about a hundred feet further, on the south side of the lane.”

Whitby folklorist P.S. Jeffrey (1923) took this myth literally, saying how the distance of the arrows fired by the respective folk heroes was “scarcely credible, as the distance in each case is about a mile-and-a-half.”  However, the earlier historian Lionel Charlton (1779) thought the incredible feat quite credible!

The distance between the Abbey and the stones is 1.36 miles (2.2km); but it may be that the direction related in the tale was more important than the distance, as the alignment between the two sites runs northwest to southeast—or southeast to northwest, whichever you prefer!—and may relate to an early astro-archaeological alignment.  Might…..


  1. Anonymous, “Robin Hood in Yorkshire“, in Yorkshire Folk-Lore Journal – volume 1, T.Harrison: Bingley 1888.
  2. Anonymous, “Whitby Arms,” in Yorkshire Folk-Lore Journal – volume 1, T.Harrison: Bingley 1888.
  3. Benedicti, Ordinis S., Cartularium Abbathiae de Whiteby – volume 2, Andrews: Durham 1881.
  4. Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
  5. Charlton, Lionel, The History of Whitby and Whitby Abbey, T. Cadell: York 1779.
  6. Doel, Fran & Goeff, Robin Hood: Outlaw or Greenwood Myth, Tempus: Stroud 2000.
  7. Green, Barbara, The Outlaw Robin Hood – His Yorkshire Legend, KCS: Huddersfield 1992.
  8. Gutch, Mrs, County Folk-lore – volume 2: North Riding of Yorkshire, York and the Ainsty, David Nutt: London 1901.
  9. Jeffrey, P. Shaw, Whitby Lore and Legend, Whitby 1923.
  10. Mitchell, W.R., Exploring the Robin Hood Country, Dalesman: Clapham 1978.
  11. Parkinson, Thomas, Yorkshire Legends and Traditions – volume 2, Elliot Stock: London 1889.
  12. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Stone Rows and Standing Stones – 2 volumes, BAR: Oxford 1990.
  13. Young, George, The History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey – volume 2, Clark & Medd: Whitby 1817.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian