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From topless models and celebrities to stolen arrows: Nottingham’s Robin Hood statue is set to turn 70

todayJune 12, 2022 1

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You can’t come to Nottingham and not have a photograph next to the Robin Hood statue – the figure of the legendary outlaw which is set to turn 70 next month. Ahead of the milestone anniversary on July 24, Bob White, chairman of the World Wide Robin Hood Society, has compiled a miscellany of facts about the statue’s colourful past.

Numerous celebrities have been photographed alongside what has become a global ambassador for the city, standing outside Nottingham Castle. Brian Clough, Torvill and Dean, Jonathan Ross, Cilla Black, Pudsey Bear, Brian Blessed, The Killers, and Wallace and Gromit are just a few of the famous faces. And it was a lot more than faces that were photographed in 1986.

Would-be models caused quite a stir when they posed topless for Penthouse, the glossy international men’s magazine, alongside the 7ft statue. Mr White, who worked in Nottingham City Council’s publicity office at the time, recalled: “One bright, sunny morning in the summer of 1986, the local BBC radio station rang me at 5am to say they had received calls from members of the public complaining about female models being photographed in the nude at city centre landmarks, such as Old Market Square and the Robin Hood statue.

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“This was quickly followed by calls from city councillors and the police who were also being contacted by angry and disgusted Nottingham citizens, so when I hurriedly got into the office around 6am, I managed to establish the root cause of all the public outcry. It turned out that Penthouse had auditioned close to 100 local girls anxious to be potential glamour models of the future – and they were being photographed at popular Nottingham landmarks.

“Accompanied by a camera crew from Central Television’s Street Life series, they had deliberately staged the early morning photo shoot to try to avoid any issues or concerns with the general public. They had almost succeeded but were warned by the police that they would have to continue their session privately indoors. The story soon blew over but surfaced again later in the year when Penthouse published the pictures in their East Midlands feature and the Central Television documentary was broadcast.”



The topless photo-shoot for Penthouse by the statue in 1986
The topless photo-shoot for Penthouse by the statue in 1986

The statue was commissioned by local businessman, Philip E. F. Clay to provide a landmark that recognised Nottingham’s connection with the world-famous folk hero. Nottingham-born Royal Academy sculptor, James Woodford, was chosen to design and make the statue at a cost of £5,000.

The figure was cast in eight pieces of half-inch thick bronze, made to last for 6,000 years, and stands in a traditional archer’s pose on a two-and-half ton block of white Clipsham stone. The original plan had been to position it in the roadway at the top of Castle Road but common sense prevailed with the realisation that traffic dangers and congestion would be a nightmare.

There was also common agreement that Robin, as possibly the greatest ‘outsider’ of them all, should be situated outside the Castle, in the shadow of its walls, typically aiming his bow at the Establishment. The statue was presented to the city to commemorate the visit of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh on June 28, 1949, during Nottingham’s quincentenary celebrations but wasn’t actually completed and unveiled until three years later.

Meticulous research was undertaken by the sculptor to accurately represent how the historians believed the stocky-built medieval foresters of the period would look. However, the public were expecting to see a triangular pointed hat with a long feather, similar to actor Errol Flynn’s costume in his film role, so the statue’s authentic headgear of a woodsman’s leather skull cap sparked controversy and still divides opinion to this day.



Wallace and Gromit at the statue
Wallace and Gromit at the statue

The statue was finally unveiled on July 24, 1952, by the Duchess of Portland on the specially-prepared lawn beneath the walls of Nottingham Castle, where it remains the only city-based landmark providing a tangible link for visitors to see relating to Nottingham’s internationally known folk hero, the People’s Champion of justice, and a principled defender of the poor and the down-trodden. Some 500 schoolchildren sat cross-legged on the grass in the VIP enclosure and watched the ceremony.

Afterwards a banquet was held in the Council House to celebrate the unveiling, where guests attended a medieval-themed luncheon which included venison chasseur on the menu, preceded by a fish course of fillet of sole Robin Hood. The benefactor, Philip E.F. Clay had originally wished to remain anonymous but when the time came for the unveiling he had been talked out of it by a grateful city council and he was honoured at the ceremony by local dignitaries.

Mr White said: “From the moment it was unveiled the impressive figure became the definitive image of Robin Hood which has been copied and adapted thousands of times and often used by local companies to promote their goods and services. The image also became a featured ‘trademark’ for Nottingham that has helped promote the city around the world, making it a particularly successful ambassador in regional and global tourism.



Stars from Cirque Du Soleil pictured at the Robin Hood statue ahead of their show at the Motorpoint Arena
Stars from Cirque Du Soleil pictured at the Robin Hood statue ahead of their show at the Motorpoint Arena

“Inevitably the Robin Hood statue has become an iconic image for Nottingham, frequently representing the city in the international media. It has graced the covers of newspapers and magazines around the world, including the New York Times, all giving valuable free publicity for the city. The statue has also featured in many international television and film documentaries and appeared on BBC TV’s The One Show.

“It is the perfect location for the millions of souvenir photographs taken by visitors and as one leading travel writer remarked, ‘Be sure to have your photo taken next to the Robin Hood Statue at Nottingham Castle. You know you want to….'”

The statue often became a target for souvenir hunters and in the 1950s and 60s replacement arrows were regularly costing the city council £55 a time from the South Lambert foundry that provided them. Ironically, it was Robin Hood’s arch enemy who came to the rescue.

Former Sheriff of Nottingham, Alderman Frank Dennett, enlisted the help of the engineers at the Royal Ordnance Factory. They made an arrow from a tough metal used for the manufacture of tank gun barrels and secured it to the statue with a special welding process, to help deter the vandals. However, the statue has remained a target with both the arrow and bow broken, prompting a police investigation in recent years.

Steps had to be taken to protect the statue from being damaged during a right wing English Defence League demonstration, so it was boarded up in December 2009. On a lighter note it was also the location for a Guinness World Record for the most people gathered in one place dressed as Robin Hood in 2007 – the record later broken in Newark in 2011.



The Robin Hood statue was boarded up ahead of the EDL protest
The Robin Hood statue was boarded up ahead of the EDL protest

The statue has been yarn bombed, garlanded with flowers and frequently subjected to wearing all kinds of sporting and educational scarves, together with assorted banners, headgear and the inevitable Red Nose to support Comic Relief.

In 2015, a fibreglass, life-size copy was made of the Robin Hood statue and given to Nottingham’s sister city, Ningbo in China in return for Nottingham having been presented with a pair of Chinese Guardian Lions when the University of Nottingham became the first foreign university to establish an independent campus in China, which opened to students in 2004.

A smaller one-dimensional, gold coloured fibreglass model of the statue had previously been made as part of the original fascia of the city council’s Tourism and Information Office, when it moved into new premises in Wheeler Gate, just off the Old Market Square. However, in a violent windstorm one night it was ripped from the frontage and found blowing around near the entrance to the Broad Marsh Centre.



Bob White, chairman of the World Wide Robin Hood Society, pictured by the statue
Bob White, chairman of the World Wide Robin Hood Society, pictured by the statue

The feature was never replaced and appeared on occasional exhibition stands and displays and languished in various council storerooms until 1997 when the Queen visited Nottingham to mark the city’s centenary year. In conjunction with BBC Radio Nottingham, one of the commemorative projects the city staged was to photograph 100 Nottingham citizens, aged from one to 100, in an exclusive group picture with Her Majesty taken on a specially constructed set in the Council House ballroom. The gold fibreglass image of the Robin Hood statue was hung on the Minstrel Gallery to perfectly balance the composition of the photograph.

When the statue celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2002, the benefactor’s daughter, Susan Clay (now Mrs Neal) was a guest of the then Sheriff of Nottingham, Coun Ali Asghar, and alongside the statue, in the shadow of the Castle Rock, cut a cake made specially by the catering faculty of Clarendon College.

Recalling the original unveiling, Mrs Neal, the last surviving member of the Clay family, said “Although I was only a young girl at the time, I remember thinking how marvellous it was that my father was giving something so splendid to Nottingham. I remember all the children and the music, it was a great event.”

The society is asking for the public to share any memories, anecdotes and photos of the statue, which can be sent to info@robinhood.info. The best will be shared on the website on the anniversary day and the contributors will be receive a special arrow pen and certificate.



Setting a world record for the most people dressed as Robin Hood in one location at the famous statue in 2007
Setting a world record for the most people dressed as Robin Hood in one location at the famous statue in 2007

A poem about the Robin Hood statue Standing Up For Nottingham, first written by the World Wide Robin Hood Society to mark its 50th anniversary, has been updated to mark the 70th anniversary celebration.

STANDING UP FOR NOTTINGHAM

They say I stand for justice, a champion of the poor,

Well, I’ve stood here now for 70 years and God my feet are sore!

Pigeons perch upon my head, pecking at my nose,

Tourists clamber round my legs, treading on my toes.

I’m hardly dressed for the weather, wearing just tunic and hose

And it’s draughty round my sensitive bits when it blows up Castle Road.

They say I’m world famous. I’ve been photographed a lot.

My picture and legend has been round the globe, yet I’ve never left this spot!

My legs are aching, my back is breaking yet there’s nothing I can do

But stand tall and stout and tough it out, just seeing each day through.

Though any pain and suffering is more than made worthwhile

When I catch a glimpse of wonder in a child’s wide-eyed smile.

“Hey look, it’s a statue of Robin Hood! “- shout the kids in excited voice.

Then I’m proud to stand up for Nottingham and let’s face it I haven’t much choice!

Written by: thehitnetwork

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