Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Mother Shipton's Cave and The Petrifying Well within an Historic Park, Yorkshire Pt 2

As mentioned in my last post, we visited Knaresborough primarily to visit Mother Shipton's Cave. I posted on one of her most famous prophesies early in the year, but this was the first time that I have visited her birthplace. This is England's oldest visitor attraction. This will be a long post but full of interest and fascination.

This the legendary place where, in 1488 Agatha Sontheil gave birth to a baby girl she named Ursula and where the amazing story of Mother Shipton began - in the middle of a violent thunderstorm.
Agatha was just 15 years old and would not reveal the father's identity, not even when she was dragged in front of the local court. She had no parents to support her and no-body was willing to give her shelter, so she was effectively banished from Knaresborough.
Mother and daughter lived in the cave for 2 years, after which a local religious man, the Abbot of Beverly intervened. The Mother spent the rest of her years in a convent and Ursula was taken in by a local family and raised but the identity of the Father was never known.
Many people thought she was a witch as she was round shouldered, deformed and twisted with large hooked features. She was so taunted by the townsfolk that she would spend most of her time in the forest where herbs grew in abundance. As she grew into a young woman she realised that she had a powerful gift and her reputation spread.
Ultimately, the Royal Palace of Henry VIII and the King's left hand man, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey became aware of Mother Shipton, the hag from Yorkshire. The King despatched the Duke of Suffolk, Lord D'Arcy and the Earl of Northumberland to seek out this woman and silence her.
They approached her disguised as travellers. She offered them drinks and a place by the fire. Ursula knew exactly who they were and why they had come. Not only did she refuse to take back her prophesies but spoke of her guests being dead upon the streets of York.
They returned to London with her predictions of The Spanish Armada, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, the discovery of potato and tobacco, The Great Fire of London and The Great Plague. Some years later in a Royal rebellion her visitors were beheaded at York and their heads mounted on wooden stakes and placed above the pavements at York.
She married a local carpenter at the age of 24 and never had children. There were later references to her in English writings, and you may be aware of the familiar characters of Old Mother Riley and Old Mother Hubbard.

The park in which the cave precides is a now a world famous historic park. The park is unique and is now all that remains, unspoilt, of the ancient forest of Knaresborough. The park was sold by King Charles I in 1630 to a local gentleman, Sir Charles Slingsby, and has only had 2 owners since. The present owners Adrian and Liz Sayers, bought the estate in June 2001. Being privately owned it receives no financial assistance whatsoever so all proceeds from admissions are ploughed back into the park.

Before proceeding to the cave I'll reprint this prophecy here as a reminder:

Mother Shipton was a very keen, and discerning student of the prophecies of the Bible. From her studies of the Scriptures, she saw what was going to take place in the Twentieth Century or in the Latter days, and wrote it in the form of a poem. This is as it was originally written.

Mother Shipton’s Prophecy
A.D. 1449

And now a word, in uncouth rhyme
Of what shall be in future time
For, in those wondrous far off days,
The women shall adopt a craze
To dress like men and trousers wear
And cut off all their locks of hair.

They’ll ride astride with brazen brow,
As witches do, on broom sticks now;
Then love shall die, and marriage cease
And nations wane as babes decrease’
Then wives shall fondle cats and dogs
And men shall live much the same as hogs.

A carriage without horse shall go,
Disaster fill the world with woe;
In London, Primrose Hill shall be’
Its centre hold a Bishop’s See,
Around the world men’s thoughts shall fly
Quick as the twinkling of an eye.

And waters shall great wonders do-
How strange, and yet is shall come true.
Then upside down the world shall be,
And gold found at the root of tree.
Through towering hills proud men shall ride,
No horse or mule move by his side.

Beneath the water men shall walk.
Shall ride, shall sleep, and even talk;
And in the air men shall be seen,
In white, in black, as well as green.
A great man then shall come and go,
For prophecy declares it so.

In water iron then shall float,
As easy as a wooden boat.
Gold shall be found in streams and stone
In land that is as yet unknown.
Water and fire shall wonders do, (steam)
And England shall admit a Jew.

The Jew that once was held in scorn
Shall of a Christian then be born.
A hearse of glass shall come to pass, (Crystal Palace)
In England – but, alas! alas!
A war will follow with the work
Where dwells the pagan and the Turk.

The states will lock in fiercest strife,
And seek to take each others life;
When North shall thus divide the South,
The eagle builds in lion’s mouth.
Then tax and blood and cruel war
Shall come to every humble door.

Then, when the fiercest fight is done,
England and France shall be as one,
The British olive next shall twine
In marriage with the German vine.
Men shall walk beneath and over streams-
Fulfilled shall be our strangest dreams.

All England’s sons that plough the land
Shall oft be seen with book in hand
The poor shall now great wisdom know.
Great houses stand in far flung vale
All covered o’er with snow and hail.

In nineteen hundred twenty-six
Build houses light of straw and sticks.
For then shall mighty wars be planned.
When pictures seen alive with movements free,
When boats like fishes swim beneath the sea,
When men like birds shall scour the sky;
Then half this world, deep drenched in blood shall die.

But those who live to see (all this) through,
In fear and trembling this will do;
Flee to the mountains and the dens,
To bog and forest and wild fens
For storms will rage and oceans roar,
When Gabriel stands on sea and shore.
And as he blows his wondrous horn
Old worlds shall die and new be born.

It is a fairly long and steep walk to the cave amongst these ancient Beech trees which also takes us over the famous spring and brings us to the front of the Petrifying Well before entering the cave.

A well opposite to the cave

The cave with a picture of Mother Shipton imposed on the rock face.
The Geology of the Cave
The Nidd gorge was formed by a glacier during the last Ice Age, 12,000 years ago. It was during the Ice Age that the geology and strata of the area was formed and the lake and spring that now falls over the Petrifying Well.
The Cave is made up of mineral deposits, exactly the same as the Petrifying Well.
The waters that now flow over the well used to flow where the cave is.
The mineral deposits built up over thousands of years forming a huge overhang that eventually collapsed, forming the cave. If the Petrifying Well was left unmaintained that too would eventually build up so much tht it would collapse.
Geologists estimate that the collapse forming the cave occurred aproximately 6000 years ago. The collapse diverted the waters and they began to form what we now call The Petrifying Well.

The Spring where the waters flow from

And below that the Petrifying Well

Visitors have been paying to see this Well since 1630 although they had been coming for many years before that. Henry VIII's Antiquary stood here in 1538 and reported back to the King how amazing it was and how great numbers of people travelled miles to visit! For many centuries it was thought to have miraculous healing powers and people used to carry their sick and dying relatives to bathe in the pool.
The waters come from a lake a mile underground. As they travel to the surface they collect a massive amount of minerals, just right for turning things into stone. Compared to a stalactrite or stalagmite, items turn to stone or petrify very quickly, a small teddy bear taking 3 - 5 months to be completely solid, and 6 - 12 months for large porous items.
Here we see many items hanging that have been petrified. (I imagine this is where the word petrify comes from - the local people were frightened that they would be turned to stone if they stayed too long) People are no longer allowed to hang things up for obvious reasons but we will see some interesting exhibits in the museum. The lumps sticking out half way up the well face are a Victorian top hat and a ladies bonnet, recorded as being left there by a young couple on their way to the York races in 1853.

We see here in the museum John Wayne's hat and Agatha Christie's handbag amongst bits and pieces left by a number of celebrities. Probably the most historic and valuable is a shoe left by Queen Mary when she visited in 1923.

This is how many criminals were dealt with in the 1600's in the area. Not only hung but left for the crows to pick at exposed flesh. We still have 2 more places we plan to visit today so we will walk back along the river to the entrance before crossing the bridge and walking up the steep streets to the town where we find the church ladies selling delicious afternoon teas as we saw in the last post. From there we have to walk back to the car park on the other side of the river - at least it is downhill this time.


willow said...

Mother Shipton's predictions are absolutely amazing! She and her verse are completely new to me. Very intriguing post!

Charm and Grace said...

Wow, I had no idea about this woman. I read the entire poem and was stunned by her accuracy. The petrifying well is really interesting and beautiful the way the stone looks iridescent. Thanks for all the writing and the terrific pictures. I can see this will have to be on my agenda for when I come over.


Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Jeepers, I had no knowledge of this at all. Completely fascinating. Thanks so much!

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

Fascinating. Truly fascinating. I have no idea what to think about it all.

Michelle-ozark crafter said...

That was very interesting indeed!

bennie and patsy said...

I have never known about Mother Shipton's Cave or the Well. Her prophecy was right on the point.It is very interesting and a charming piece of history. We had to go in the city early this morning, the mushrooms had opened up in little umbrellas. They had cut the yards when we got back, didn't get a picture. But did see my 12 mo old great grand son.

Willow said...

Very interesting, Barbara! I didn't know anything about her or the reference to Mother Hubbard.

Sioux said...

Wow, Barbara. This is truly spectacular. The cave was my favorite bit.

I am challenging you to a meme my aunt sent. Check it out at

Lorrie said...

What a fascinating place. I remember reading about Mother Shipton earlier on your blog. And the petrifying caves - so interesting.
But how gruesome to be hung in a cage.


Anonymous said...

This is so interesting Barbara. Although I'm not too far away, I've never been to this part of Yorkshire. Thank you so much for taking me.

Ooo I think Hesketh is a norse origin name common around here. The park is in Southport.

Sara said...

Interesting, and even a little gruesome (that last photo)....

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