Mother Shipton’s Cave

096 Entrance 3

I’ve been away in York for the past five days, during which time we visited several interesting sites. We decided to go to York initially to visit a Viking Village at Murton on Saturday, but we managed to fill the rest of the days very nicely, too. I must apologise for not visiting blogs at this time, as the internet connection in the hotel was more off than on. I hope to get to as many as I can in the next few days.

Anyway, the Mother Shipton site was the first one we visited and here’s some information about it.

Mother Shipton’s Cave – a site which also includes the Petrifying Well – has been England’s oldest visitor attraction since 1630. It’s located in the historic market town of Knaresborough, four miles east of Harrogate, in North Yorkshire, UK.

Knaresborough

Map of North Yorkshire, UK. Author Nilfanion, created using O.S. data. Creative Commons.

The actual cave was home to England’s most famous clairvoyant and prophetess – Mother Shipton herself:

063 Mother Shipton in her cave

Sculpture of Mother Shipton in her cave

This famous attraction sits in unspoilt parkland, a remnant of the once extensive Royal Forest of Knaresborough. The park lies along the banks of the River Nidd, which at this stage, flows through a gorge created by a glacier during the last Ice Age, 12 000 years ago.

There are many lovely views across the river. Some simply look over to the buildings of the town, others to the gorge and Knaresborough Castle sitting atop it. And across an impressive, roaring weir is the old mill, aptly known as Castle Mill. There are also great views of the viaduct carrying the railway, and the lower (in height) bridge known at the High Bridge.

As our visit was during the Easter holidays, a special children’s event was running, this one with the theme of Alice in Wonderland. It involved some of the staff dressing up in costumes, such as the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter and White Rabbit. Children seemed to be enjoying the fun:

Both Mother Shipton’s Cave and the Petrifying Well are natural geological features which can be found close to each other on the site. The latter never fails to fascinate visitors from near and far. It was first opened to the general public in 1630:

Any object left in this well for a period of months/years becomes ‘stony’ on the exterior. It’s a natural phenomenon, due to the evaporation of water with a high mineral content. Nowadays, objects from various ‘celebrities’ have been left to undergo transformation. But at one time, these strange occurrences at the Petrifying Well were believed to be the result of magic or witchcraft. People believed if they just touched the water they would be turned into stone.

So, just who was Mother Shipton . . . ?

Mother Shipton was born on a stormy night in 1488, with the name of Ursula Southeil. Her fifteen-year-old mother, Agatha, gave birth in the cave after being banished for refusing to reveal the name of the father of her unborn child. After two years of a struggling to survive in the cave, the fate of the mother and child became known to the Abbot of Beverley, who decided to help them.  Little Ursula was taken into the home of a local family, but her mother was sent to a convent in Nottinghamshire, here she died two years later.

As a child, Ursula grew to love Knaresborough and often played along the banks of the Nidd. At school she far surpassed other children at reading and writing, but her looks were what most people saw as ugly. The other children taunted her and ridiculed her long, crooked nose, bent back and twisted legs. They even claimed she took her revenge, and could feel her by pulling their hair and pushing them to the ground – when she was nowhere near.

Mother Shipton 2

Old engraving of Mother Shipton. Author Unknown. Public Domain.

Ursula soon realised that she much preferred to be on her own, and came to spend most of her time in the cave. Despite having no memory of having lived there, she claimed it drew her back. She learnt much about the forest, its plants and herbs, and how to make cures for ailments and various potions. She also discovered, she was able to predict the future, and her prophecies are what she became famous for.

At twenty four, Ursula  met and married Thomas Shipton, a carpenter from York. For two years they were very happy, but Thomas died young – before any children had been born. But Ursula kept the name of Shipton, and as she aged, the title of ‘Mother’ was added to it. She died in 1561 at the age of seventy three, but her prophecies lived on . . .

Mother Shipton made many prophecies, several about people who lived during or just after her own lifetime. She predicted the end of the Catholic Church in England under Henry VIII and the fall of Cardinal Wolsey. She also foretold the death of Henry’s son, Edward VI, the ‘bloody’ events of Mary’s reign and that her sister, Elizabeth, would take the throne. Mother Shipton also foretold the coming of the Spanish Armada and, according to the diary of Samuel Pepys, the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Other predictions relate to later times, including the coming of iron ships (in the 1830s). There are dozens of these prophecies, which can easily be found online. But we need to bear in mind that many people believe them to be fake – like this one, which did not appear until 1862:

The world to an end shall come
In eighteen hundred and eighty one.

Its true author, Charles Hindley, later admitted in print that he had invented it.

In the 17th century, when witch hysteria hit England, the image of Mother Shipton gradually changed from prophetess to witch. She became known as one of England’s most renowned witches. This moth – known as the Mother Shipton Moth – got its name because of the markings on its wings, which resemble an old hag’s head. They are common over much of the British Isles, and can be seen in May and June in the woods around Mother Shipton’s Cave:

Mother Shipton Moth 2

Mother Shipton Moth, named after the pattern on the wings resembling the face of a hag. Author Callistege – mi_02 (xndr). User: Sydmolen. Creative Commons.

About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
This entry was posted in Travel and History and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

55 Responses to Mother Shipton’s Cave

  1. Thanks again, Millie

  2. Very interesting post! I have never heard of any of this about mother Shipton- very intriguing! I loved the pictures and the children’s event was so special!

  3. Very interesting! The photos are all very lovely! What a sad life Ursula and Agatha had. It is so interesting that Mother Shipton predicted all those events and they came true.

    • milliethom says:

      The stories about her tell us she predicted those events, but I have no idea whether the stories come from primary sources or were written later. It would be something for me to look into when I have the time. The one about predicting iron ships is thought to be false, as well as many others relating to times much later than Mother Shipton’s life. Thanks, PJ.

  4. Interesting read, Milie :)I have never heard about Mother Shipton, her story and predictions are really intriguing!

    • milliethom says:

      It is very interesting, and all wrapped up in the old 17th century ideas about witchcraft – which is how the Petrifying Well became linked to Mother Shipton. But not until the century after her death. Thank you, Freda.

  5. Haven’t been to Mother Shipton’s cave for 30 years, but it’s the place I alway remember as one of our first dates when the kids ask where we went on our first date. Great to see you celebrating her story 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Thirty years is a long time – perhaps a re-run is due. 🙂 It’s certainly a memorable place for one of your first dates, and a definite topic of conversation during family ‘get togethers’ on your your wedding anniversary. 🙂

      • Hubby gave me a surprise trip to Leeds on our 19th anniversary, because he thought it was our 20th. So I’m thinking we should do Leeds again on our 29th and visit Mother Shipton during that one.

      • milliethom says:

        I take it your 29th anniversary isn’t too far off? I hope you enjoy it and it lives up to your expectations. It hadn’t changed much since we were there fifteen years ago, but 30 years is a long time between visits! 🙂

      • It’s next year. To be honest, I can’t remember that much of it – presumably because I was so smitten by the man I was with 😉

      • milliethom says:

        No other possible explanation. 🙂

      • milliethom says:

        I forgot to add a’well done’ to your hubby for getting the year of your anniversary wrong. I suppose the appropriate response would be, ‘How typical of a man’! but I hate to generalise. We all make mistakes – and at least he didn’t forget your anniversary altogether.

      • It was kind of nice really. And extra and definitely unexpected surprise.

  6. Lina says:

    How very wonderful to know! Good to see you blogging….hope the book is done!

  7. anroworld says:

    Your story about Mother Shipton is very fascinating, I enjoyed every word and grasped them so quickly! Pictures are fantastic, thank you!

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you Ann. I’m really glad you enjoyed the story. Mother Shipton had a sad life, all in all, but her predictions are still talked about today. Many of the later ones have proven to be fake. The Petrifying Well is interesting, too. 🙂

  8. Great post although I too had never heard of Mother Shipton (I have led such a sheltered life 😉 ) You write it all so well Millie so that I find it engaging and easy to read.
    Thank you.

    • milliethom says:

      There are lots of people who’ve never heard of Mother Shipton, Cameron, especially those who live a long way from the site. I’m sure there are many stories around Britain that I haven’t heard of, either! It’s interesting to find out about them, though. I knew very little about King Alfred, or White Horse Hill, until I lived in Wantage. 🙂

  9. r_prab says:

    Quite a mystical and exciting trip you had! I like such places which has mysterious stories and folk lore attached with them!

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you, Prabhat. Yes, it’s all quite mystical and wrapped up in folklore. It’s hard to say whether her story is all true, as I don’t know how much comes from primary sources. Many of the predictions regarding later centuries are believed to be fake, including the one about ships being made of iron.

  10. Wow ! as always, a fascinating and interesting read. I learn something new in each and every post your write Millie, thank you 🙂

  11. Tastyniblets says:

    Great read Millie- and a great way to learn about your part of the world! Hope you’ve been well..

    • milliethom says:

      Hi Az. I’m still on your blog at the moment but got called away for a moment. I’ll get back there soon. I haven’t connected with you for a while, probably because I’ve done very little flash fiction lately. Yes, I’m well and hope you are too. Thanks for liking my post, too!

  12. Joy Pixley says:

    What a fascinating natural phenomenon that petrifying well is — and I can well believe how it seemed like magic to people of earlier ages!

    • milliethom says:

      In very early days, the well was thought to have medicinal properties. It only became associated with witchcraft and Mother Shipton during the following century and the witch hysteria that swept the country, particularly under Oliver Cromwell’s ‘rule’. There is another well with these properties at Matlock Bath in Derbyshire.
      Thanks, Joy. Hope the writing/editing is going well.

  13. Antonia says:

    How interesting Millie! I think I would have enjoyed the Alice in Wonderland theme as much as the kids 😀 Love the Queen of Hearts sitting there. Wow, that bicycle…how fascinating. Thank you for ‘taking’ us there! Love the pictures!

    • milliethom says:

      The ‘Alice’ characters were excellent, and played their parts so well. The Queen of Hearts terrified one or two young children when she accused them of stealing her tarts! The older ones just laughed. She certainly had a commanding presence. The bicycle is brilliant and was given by some celebrity or other to petrify. The stony effect is only on the exterior (not the entire object as in true petrification) but it looks very effective. In the museum shop they sell ‘stone’ teddy bears that have been in the well. It’s a fun place to visit and is lovely when the trees are in leaf in the summer. Thank you for reading, Antonia. 🙂

  14. That place looks very interesting! Definitely, I’ll go there when I’m nearby! 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      It’s definitely worth a visit, if only to see the Petrifying Well. But the woodlands and the riverside walks are very pretty, too. Thanks for visiting, Rockhopper. 🙂

  15. cynthiamvoss says:

    What an interesting place. Thanks for sharing the stories and the photos! This was all new to me 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks, Cynthia. It’s an unusual site, and interesting because Mother Shipton’s story is one that appeals to people – sad but fascinating. The setting along the River Nidd, with the views across the river is also lovely. 🙂

  16. Fascinating history, beautiful architecture.

  17. Seenorway says:

    We invite you to visit Norway! Digitally, that is! 😉
    On our blog: http://www.SeeNorway.wordpress.com
    you may find more than 5000 ‘full-screen-pictures’
    from Norway, and best of all: It’s all free! Of course, you
    can’t freely use our pictures, but it won’t cost you a penny
    enjoy them all. They are posted for your pleasure!
    Be advised to follow the links to our INDEX once you
    find it (at the end of any post you may choose).
    It will make it way easier to find what you are looking
    for! Welcome to Norway! 😉

  18. Aquileana says:

    A most excellent post… Beautiful photographs and very catching to the eye as well as interesting…
    I learnt many things due to your thorough post, dear Millie… Starting with Mother Shipton’s Cave and its natural properties, alongside the Sculpture of Mother Shipton keeping up with her myth, so to speak… It is interesting how a Catholic figure, or at least a mere prophetess becomes pagan, somehow… in this sense, the moth´s nickname is certainly eloquent…
    Thanks for yet another great reading… All my best wishes. Aquileana ⭐️.-
    PS… I have nominated you for an award… look for your name at the end of this post https://aquileana.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/%E2%96%BAhistory-the-greek-theatre-literature-aristotles-poetics-theory-of-tragedy%E2%AD%90%EF%B8%8F/

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you for that great comment, Aquileana. Mother Shipton was a sad but intriguing character. If she had been born a hundred years later, she would most likely have been burned as a witch.
      Thank you also for the nomination for the award. I’ll certainly be over to read your post as soon as I can. Best wishes to you, too. 🙂

  19. nowathome says:

    Wow! So interesting!

  20. So very intriguing!
    Beautiful photos as always!

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you! I can see from your recent posts that you had a wonderful time in the Galapagos. Such an amazing experience!

      • It was an experience the girls will always keep with them. They will be writing about it in the upcoming weeks.
        We disable comments but I will continue to comment on the blogs we have closely followed.
        Please don’t hesitate to comment on something you see on the girls blog on your blog if that makes any sense!

      • milliethom says:

        I wondered why I couldn’t comment – I always like to say something! I’m green with envy that you got to the Galapagos, and look forward to reading your posts about your experiences there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s