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Saturday, 25 August 2012


My family tree is chock full of vicars (for example Rev Edmund Daubeny, whose wife was coincidentally a first cousin of this article's subject). So many large families: younger offspring who were unlikely to inherit lands or wealth ahead of their older brothers often had no option but to enter the church in the hope of finding a comfortable vicarage living somewhere.

It was rather different with my great great uncle Edwin Castle, fourth child and eldest surviving son of my great great grandfather William Henry Castle (about whose childhood spinal problems I have written before). Edwin might have been expected to inherit, but it was the youngest brother of the eight-strong brood, my great grandfather William Henry junior, who was favoured with his father’s name and mercantile interests.

St Mary Magdalene Church, Campsall
where Edwin Castle made his only mark

Instead, Edwin trained for the cloth at Durham. He didn’t immediately find a parish to call his own – in 1871 aged 28 he was a qualified priest but still living at home with his widowed mother. By 1881 he was married and had taken up residence in the vicarage of St Mary Magdalene Church in the Yorkshire village of Campsall, a few miles outside Doncaster. By 1891 he had moved on again and was living in Isleworth in Middlesex, a Clerk in Holy Orders without (as far as I can tell) a congregation. Six years later he was dead. His wife outlived him by many years but never remarried; they had no children.

I hope Edwin enjoyed his brief time in charge at Campsall. It’s a beautiful village church dating back to at least the 12th century, with features from every century since then. The vicarage isn’t bad either, a 14th century mansion in large grounds across the road from the church, approached through iron gates along a private drive. Easy to imagine tea parties on the lawn!

The Vicarage, Campsall

Such an ancient church has of course ancient traditions – there’s a plague stone in the churchyard which originally stood on the boundary of the parish. Food was brought there for the parishioners during the plague, in exchange for money which was left on the stone in a bottle of vinegar to avoid contamination. Within the church is the so-called Founder’s Tomb – if it really is, it contains the mortal remains of 11th century Norman knight Ilbert de Laci. The eight bells in the romanesque tower were already old when they rang out to announce the defeat of the Spanish armada in 1588.

One persistent legend attached to Campsall is that Robin Hood and Maid Marian got married in St Mary Magdalene Church. There is a strong claim amongst Robin Hood scholars – Hoodies? – that the legendary outlaw comes from Yorkshire and not Nottingham. Based on the references to locations contained in early versions of the Robin Hood stories, they argue that Barnsdale Forest is the orginal, and Sherwood the imposter. And in one verse telling of the story, Robin declares:

I made a chapel in Barnsdale,
That seemly is to see,
It is of Mary Magdalene,
And there to would I be."

Campsall’s church is the only one in Barnsdale dedicated to St Mary Magdalene. The wedding story was certainly widely told during Edwin’s tenure there. Unfortunately Maid Marian, like (perhaps) Sherwood, is a later and fictional addition to the Robin Hood entourage. The historical Robin Hood was in fact already married to a certain Matilda at the time of his outlawing in 1322 (a time, incidentally, when for a very brief period the sheriff of Nottingham had jurisdiction over Yorkshire).

If you want to read the arguments about Robin Hood’s Yorkshire origins, they are well summed up at In the interest of balance, I should point out that other churches also claim to be the venue for the fictional wedding, including that of Edwinstowe in Nottinghamshire.

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