19th Century

“Saxon Grit”

St George’s Day seems as fitting time as ever to publish a “new” Robin Hood poem I found titled “Saxon Grit” in the archives of a long-defunct Christian socialist magazine titled The Labour Prophet in 1892.


The magazine was founded by John Trevor who believed that the labour movement, specifically the Independent Labour Party (ILP), was the means through which God’s kingdom on earth might be established. High on the Christian Socialists’ agenda was charity work and their “political” meetings were more akin to Church services, comprising hymns, sermons, as well as discussions on political matters.

As to the author himself: according to his ODNB entry, Collyer was born at Bradford in 1823 to a working-class family. He was given basic schooling in the “Three Rs” but was, at the age of eight, forced to quit school and begin working in a linen factory. At age 14 he was apprenticed to a blacksmith. Little is known of his early life but by 1849 he was working as a Methodist minister—this was a movement which, in the nineteenth century, was heavily involved with the socialist movement.


Robert Collyer in 1880

His career as a minister went from strength to strength. He was invited on several guest tours of the USA and eventually became pastor of the Church of the Messiah in New York. He continued to campaign on various social justice issues and even advocated votes for women.

While in our modern era, socialists tend to eschew anything which smacks of patriotism or nationalism, it was not so in the late-Victorian era. Leading socialists such as Robert Blatchford proclaimed that he had never read Marx but that his socialism was inspired by John Ball, the Diggers, Robert Owen, and the Ricardian socialists. He loved England and its heritage. For him, love of country came first:

“I am ready to sacrifice Socialism for the sake of England; but never to sacrifice England for the sake of Socialism.”

Blatchford was a nationalist and socialist (but not a National Socialist). This attitude must also have been true of Robert Collyer, to whose poem we now turn. It celebrates the English spirit of resistance to oppression. It invokes the names of many who, in Collyer’s view, fought against Norman tyranny—the legacy of Walter Scott still lived on as late as 1892—such as Robin Hood, Wat Tyler, and Kett the Tanner.

Full citation is given after the poem.

“Saxon Grit” by Robert Collyer

Worn with the battle by Stamford Town,

Fighting the Norman by Hastings Bay,

Harold the Saxon’s sun went down,

While the acorns were falling one autumn day.

Then the Norman said, “I am lord of the land;

By tenure of conquest here I sit;

I will rule you now with the iron hand;”

But he had not thought of the Saxon grit.

He took the land, and he took the men,

And burnt the homesteads from Trent to Tyne;

Made the freemen serfs by the stroke of the pen;

Eat up the corn, and drank the wine;

And said to the maiden, pure and fair,

“You shall be my leman, as is most fit—

Your Saxon churl may rot in his lair;”

But he had not measured the Saxon grit.

To the merry greenwood went bold Robin Hood,

With his strong-hearted yeomanry ripe for the fray.

Driving the arrow into the marrow

Of all the proud Normans who came in his way.

Scorning the fetter, fearless and free,

Winning by valour, or foiling by wit,

Dear to the Saxon folk ever is he,

The merry old rogue with the Saxon grit.

And Kett the Tanner whipt out his knife,

And Watt the smith his hammer brought down,

For ruth of the maid he loved better than life,

And by breaking a head made a hole in the crown.

From the Saxon heart rose a mighty roar,

“Our life shall not be by the king’s permit!

We will fight for the right—we want no more.”

Then the Norman found out the Saxon grit.

For slow and sure as the oaks had grown

From the acorns falling that autumn day,

So the Saxon manhood, in thorpe and down,

To a nobler stature grew always.

Winning by inches, holding by clinches,

Slow to contention, and slower to quit;

Many times failing, never once quailing,

Let us thank God for the Saxon grit.

Citation: Robert Collyer, ‘Saxon Grit’, The Labour Prophet, 1: 3 (1892), 19.