Lovely Loxley in South Yorkshire

This South Yorkshire village plans to mark its claim to fame as the birthplace of Robin Hood but it has much more to offer, as Bill Hearld discovers

There is only one shop in the small South Yorkshire village of Loxley and, on the face of it, there is not much else going on. But things are afoot.

This settlement of fewer than 1,800 souls has discovered a new community spirit and the village is pulling together to forge its future.

It all started four years ago when a group of residents formed Loxley Community Forum and carried out a village appraisal, asking the people what they thought Loxley needed. Out of that appraisal came a score of ideas which are now on the drawing board and many of them are more than likely to become reality.

This village of less than 800 homes is set in lush greenbelt in the lovely Loxley Valley just a few miles from Sheffield city centre. It has three pubs set miles apart, one shop (Old Loxley Post Office), a garden centre, chapel and village school. And if the name seems familiar you may have heard of Robin of Loxley – more famously known as Robin Hood – who is said to have been born in the village.

Up to now, Loxley has made little of that claim to fame. There is not even a plaque to mark the site of the cottage where the 12th century outlaw was born. The spot, at Little Haggas Croft, is now just a grass field beside a small housing development.

But a well-known Sheffield sculptor, Anthony Bennett, has been commissioned to create a statue of Robin to stand on Loxley village green. Mr Bennett has so far created a small model which, if approved, will become a large bronze on a granite ball totalling 12ft in height. It will show Robin of Loxley in a hollow tree as a 12-year-old, the age it is said he was when he murdered his stepfather and became an outlaw. He hid in the nearby woods, aided by his mother.

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There are also plans for a new recreation ground and Loxley’s first community building. The parish council is offering �30,000 towards the project, Sheffield City Council has promised cash and English Heritage has been approached for help. Locals are hoping that it will be announced soon that an impressive local building has been secured for the scheme.

Before World War One, Loxley had few houses, but in the 1920s new homes sprang up as people left the nearby city. It has had little industry, apart from refractory works which made heat-proof linings from the unique local clay for Sheffield steel furnaces. Those works closed in the 1980s.

The Hepworth refractory sites still stand derelict in the Loxley Valley and controversial plans to build 500 homes on these sites – almost doubling the size of Loxley – have again pulled the community together in opposition, along with national and local preservation groups. So far planning permission has not been granted but the developers have not given up.

One community project that is already a reality is Loxley Community Farm, set up by a group of volunteers on six acres of a local farmer’s land. It’s run by 25 volunteers who give up an hour a week to feed the collection of pigs, turkeys, ducks and hens, tend the vegetable plot and the bees and then get together for weekend maintenance duties. It is a not-for-profit co-operative which gives up to 15 per cent of any surplus to worthy causes, either in produce or as cash from sales. The farm began work last July and was featured in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s new TV series, River Cottage: Winter’s on the Way, in late November as an ideal example of his landshare project.

Mark Whitehouse is a parish councillor, bee-keeper, a volunteer at the farm and chairman of Loxley Community Forum. ‘We are trying to work together to put something back into the local community. And it is working,’ he said. ‘People are really getting to know each other.’Loxley has had a chequered history. In 1864, the dam wall burst on Dale Dyke Reservoir above Loxley and millions of gallons of water swept down the valley causing the great Sheffield Flood which killed 240 people, 17 of them in Loxley.

According to Loxley historian Malcolm Nunn, the water swept a trail of devastation as far away as Doncaster and weeks afterwards the death toll rose as more victims succumbed to injuries or disease. Malcolm is the parish council’s archivist and local family historian and has just published a pictorial history book, Loxley Valley and Beyond Through Time.

Vickie Priestley is a parish councillor, a Sheffield City councillor and long-time resident of Loxley. ‘It is such a lovely place to live with the most wonderful views. We want Loxley to thrive but we are concerned about any development that might spoil the very essence of the village.

‘From my window I can see right across the Loxley Valley – and sometimes watch bad weather rolling down from the top of the valley.’