Mike Harwood, a local historian whose work we have published in past issues of Kirkstall Matters, has again provided us with an insight into local history. This time Mike delves into the suposed local legend of the popular ballad “Mary the Maid of the Inn”, trying to establish whether this was in fact based in Kirkstall.
Mary the Maid of the Inn was a poem written by Robert Southey (1774-1843), telling of a dark and stormy night where a pub maid was dared to go down to the Abbey and bring a branch back from the tree standing in the middle. In doing so, she came across two men carrying a body across the Abbey knave. The hat of one of the men blew to the feet of the maid and she ran back clutching it to the inn. When she looked at the hat, it turned out that it belonged to her betrothed, who was subsequently hung for his crime. Mary was never to be the same again.
Perfectly matched to this time of year, this tale is full of suspense, intangible ghouls and murder.
Mike examines the evidence that the story was based in Kirkstall, whether the inn mentioned was the Hark to Rover and in fact whether the Hark to Rover (located at the cross roads of Abbey Walk and Spen Lane) was a pub at all!
As well as the interesting historical analysis, Mike ponders the effects of the world wide web on folklaw and legend. The accounts of where the name of Hark to Rover came from that Mike found during his research online certainly make interesting reading!