"Henry Whitney, b. at 25 Pearl St., New York, 23 Aug. 1812; was graduated at Yale College in 1830, and settled in New Haven, Conn., in 1837, where he continued to reside until his death, living for a year in "Maple Cottage", Trumbull Street, until the fine mansion which he built for himself on Whitney Avenue (now occupied by his son Stephen) was completed; married, 27 Jan. 1835, by Rev. Dr. Lyell, at the residence of her parents, 498 Broadway, N. Y., to Hannah Eugenia Lawrence, born in New York, 27 Jan. 1815, dau. of Isaac Lawrence and his wife Anna, dau. of Rev. Abraham Beach, D. D., minister of Trinity Church, New York. She died, 16 March 1844, in New Haven, and was buried in the New Haven Cemetery. He married (2d), 25 July 1850, at Norwich, Conn., Maria Lucy Fitch; and died in New Haven, 21 March 1856, and was buried in the New Haven Cemetery. . . . . She married (2d), 20 Nov. 1862, at New York, Nathan Adolphus Baldwin, of Milford, Conn., where they resided in June 1877. They have one child, Natalie Augusta Baldwin, born at Milford, 26 Dec. 1864."

"The History of the Old Town of Derby, Connecticut 1642-1880" by Samuel Orcut t and Ambrose Beardsley, M.D. 1880 p779 "Stephen..was a merchant in New York city..He died Fe b 16, 1860; buried in Greenwood, of which cemetery he was one of the original incorporators , and a director through his life. He went to New York when 18 or 20 years of age, having had only ordinary advantages at Derby, and engaged himself as clerk to the firm of Lawrence and Whitney, shippers, in which his brother Henry was a partner. By energy and business talent he soon acquired means to enter copartnership with John Currie, a Scotchman, in the wholesale grocery trade. He traded largely in wines, then in cotton, then engaged in ship-building and the shipping trade to nearly all parts of the world; then in canals and railroads, and finally in banks, accumulating great wealth."

He set himself in business as a liquor retailer and later wholesaler in 1805 at Nr 4 Stone Street, New York. Stephen Whitney's fortune grew heavily thanks to some large and fortunate speculations in cotton. In the 1830's he was among New York's richest men. His fortune was doubled by shrewd investments in city real estate. Second in wealth to John Jacob Astor, Whitney's fortune was estimated between 5-10'000'000 dollars at its height.


Webster Family Genealogy    Yorkshire Roots; Inventors and More...





Contact Beth Northrop
ejnorth123 AT juno.com



Knaresborough is an old and historic market townspa town and civil parish in the Borough of HarrogateNorth Yorkshire, England.Historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, it is located on the River Nidd, 4 miles (6.4 km) east from the centre of Harrogate.


Knaresborough is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Chenaresburg, meaning 'Cenheard's fortress'.[1][2] Knaresborough Castle dates fromNorman times;[3] around 1100, the town began to grow and provide a market and attract traders to service the castle. The present parish church, St John's, was established around this time. The earliest name for a Lord of Knaresborough is from around 1115 when Serlo de Burgh held the 'Honour of Knaresborough' from the King.[4]

Hugh de Morville was granted the Honour of Knaresborough in 1158. He was constable of Knaresborough and leader of the group of four knights who murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170. The four knights fled to Knaresborough and hid at the castle. Hugh de Morville forfeited the lands in 1173, not for his implication in the murder of Thomas Becket, but for "complicity in the rebellion of youngHenry", according to the Early Yorkshire Charters.

The Honour of Knaresborough then passed to the Stuteville family. When the Stuteville line was broken with the death of Robert de Stuteville the 4th in 1205, King John effectively took the Honour of Knaresborough for himself.[5] The first Maundy Money was distributed in Knaresborough by King John on 15 April 1210.[6][7] Knaresborough Forest, which extended far to the south of the town, is reputed to have been one of King John's favourite hunting grounds.

Although a market was first mentioned in 1206, the town was not granted a Royal Charter to hold a market until 1310, by Edward II. A market is still held every Wednesday in the market square. During Edward II's reign, the castle was occupied by rebels and the curtain walls were breached by a siege engine. Later, Scots invaders burned much of the town and the parish church. In 1328, as part of the marriage settlement, Queen Philippa was granted "the Castle, Town, Forest and Honour of Knaresborough" by Edward III and the parish church was restored. After her death in 1369, the Honour was granted by Edward to their younger son, John of Gaunt.

During the Civil War, following the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644, the castle was besieged by Parliamentary forces. The castle eventually fell and in 1646 an order was made by Parliament for its destruction (but not carried out till 1648). The destruction was mainly done by citizens looting the stone. Many town centre buildings are built of 'castle stone'.





This one sometimes creates erros probably since it's large, so I made it a custom size in hopes of avoidiing the errors.


Culture and community[edit]

Knaresborough House on the High Street houses Knaresborough Town Council and of the Yorkshire Federation of Young Farmers' Clubs.[8]

The town's yearly events include the Knaresborough Bed Race, held since 1966. The 2011 event attracted 25,000 people to the town.[9][10]

An annual town centre arts summer festival, FEVA (Festival of Entertainment and Visual Arts), has run since 2001.[11]

The town was used in the opening election sequence in the first episode of the ITV comedy series The New Statesman and some exterior shots for the series were filmed around Knaresborough.


The Dropping Well in 1985, showing a selection of petrified toys

Sights in the town include the remains of Knaresborough CastleMother Shipton's petrifying well (also known as the Dropping Well), the House in the Rock, and several cave dwellings, one a chapel, dating from the Middle Ages. Knaresborough is the site of Ye Oldest Chymist Shoppe in England, opened in 1720 and the Courthouse Museum in the castle grounds.

The principal areas of public open space in are the Knaresborough Castle grounds, Horseshoe Field, the King George V Playing Field and Jacob Smith Park, a 30 acres (12 ha) parkland on the edge of the town, bequeathed to Knaresborough by Miss Winifred Jacob Smith in 2003.[12]

Near to the castle are Bebra Gardens, formerly the Moat Gardens, renamed after Knaresborough's twin town in Germany. The gardens are currently being redeveloped.[13]

The Borough Bailiff public house, currently owned by the Samuel Smith Brewery, is the oldest pub in Knaresborough.[citation needed]


Knaresborough is served by Knaresborough railway station, on the Harrogate Line between Leeds and York. The town is four miles from junction 47 of the A1 (M) Motorway (Great North Road), and on the A59 which links York and Wallasey. It is further served by Transdev and Connexions who both run buses in the area.


The Bishop of Knaresborough is a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds.


Knaresborough Town F.C. are the town's predominant football team and are based at Manse Lane; they play in the West Yorkshire Football League. Knaresborough Celtic also provide youth football with junior teams from Under 6s to Under 17s.

The town has two cricket clubs. Knaresborough Forest Cricket Club were Nidderdale League Division 3 winners in 2005, afterwards promoted from Division 2 as runners-up in the following season. Knaresborough Cricket Club have a ground on Aspin Lane, where adult teams play in the Airedale & Wharfedale Senior Cricket League and junior teams play in the Nidderdale Junior Cricket League.

Notable people[edit]

  • St Robert, a 12th century hermit whose cave can be found near the River Nidd.
  • Ursula Southeil, known as Mother Shipton, was a medieval seer said to have been born in a cave south of the town.
  • John Metcalf, known as "Blind Jack", lost his sight in childhood and was a violin player, local guide, bridgebuilder and roadmaker. A public house in the market square bears his name.
  • Robert Aagaard, a Knaresborough manufacturer, founded the youth movement Cathedral Camps.
  • Eugene Aram, the 18th century scholar and murderer lived here.
  • Squadron Leader James Harry "Ginger" Lacey DFM & Bar, Second World War RAF fighter pilot, attended school in Knaresborough.


Britaininaday: St.Robert's Cave

Roberts Cave 11-14-09



Knaresborough - 3rd January, 2011


The Walking Englishman - Knaresborough Round Walk


St Robert's Cave, Knaresborough

St Robert's Cave, Knaresborough

Sitting snugly beside the River Nidd on the outskirts of Knaresborough, Saint Robert's Cave is a rare survival of a medieval hermit's home. This site once attracted thousands of pilgrims to this North Yorkshire town.

Robert of Knaresborough lived on this site in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. Pilgrims flocked to Robert in his lifetime, and they continued to come to the cave in large numbers for centuries after his death in 1218.

Pilgrims came to be healed of physical ailments, for spiritual direction, or simply to be in close proximity to the home of a revered holy man.

Today, visitors continue to come to St Robert's Cave to see the place where this extraordinary man lived. The small cave is carved into the face of the limestone cliff, and the remains of a chapel and Robert's living area survive. The site retains a remarkable atmosphere of distant times.

Stained glass window depicting a scene from the life of St Robert


Stained glass window depicting a scene from the life of St Robert, with permission of St Matthew's Church, Morley, Derbyshire


Robert of Knaresborough

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Robert of Knaresborough (St. Robert) (c. 1160 – 24 September 1218) was a hermit who lived in a cave by the River NiddKnaresboroughNorth Yorkshire. His feast day is 24 September.

St Robert's Cave




Although never officially canonised Robert is considered as one of the outstanding saints of the early thirteenth century.

He was born Robert Flower (Floure or Fleur), the son of Touk Flower, mayor of York, in York in 1160. Very early in his life he became a sub-deacon and a novice at the Cistercian abbey of Newminster, but he only stayed there a few months. Seeking a life of solitude, he visited a knight/hermit who lived by the river Nidd at Knaresborough. At first he had to share his cave with a knight who was hiding from Richard 1, on the death of the king the knight returned home to his family leaving Robert on his own. The cave had a small chapel dedicated to St. Giles built around it. He continued to live there for some years, until a wealthy widow, Juliana, offered him a cell at St. Hilda's Chapel in Rudfarlington, near by. There he developed a reputation as a wise and holy man who cared for the poor.He stayed there just a year before his hermitage was destroyed by bandits. Robert dispossessed of his home lived, for a time under the church wall at Spofforth and then he tried living with the monks at Hedley, near Tadcaster, but he found them far too easy going for his style of life. By this time the area had calmed down and he returned to Rudfarlington.[1]

For a time Robert prospered, having four servants and keeping cattle. But he was soon in trouble again this time with William de Stuteville, the constable of Knaresborough castle who accused him of harbouring thieves and outlaws. Robert was well known for his charity to the poor and destitute. His favorite form of charity was to redeem men from prison. [2]Having his hermitage destroyed for the second time, this time by the forces of law and order under William de Stuteville, Robert returned to the cave at Knaresborough, where he stayed for the rest of his life.[1]

Although living as a recluse, his piety soon attracted followers and gifts from local benefactors which included land alongside the river. A number of stories of St. Robert exist both in Latin and Early English verse. One concerns his complaining about the King’s deer eating his crops. Sir William, making fun of the saint, invites Robert to catch the offending beasts. Robert not only manages to herd the deer into his barn as if they were a tame flock of sheep, but also harnesses them to his plough and sets them to work.[3]

Robert died on 24th September 1218.[3] Before his death St Robert established an order of Trinitarian Friars at Knasborough, but he warned them that when his time came the monks of Fountains abbey would try to carry his body away to their own establishment, he urged his followers to resist them, which they did and so St Robert was buried in his chapel cut from the steep rocky crags by the river, where it was said that a medicinal oil flowed from his tomb and pilgrims came from near and far to be healed by this.[4]

St. Robert's Cave[edit]

He lived in various places in the vicinity of Knaresborough before taking up residence in a cave by the river Nidd (then known as St. Giles' Priory). It is said that King John visited him and Trinitarian friars also venerated him[5] Towards the end of his life, pilgrims flocked to see Robert to seek spiritual guidance and to be healed of physical ailments.[6] His brother Walter, then Mayor of York, came and paid for some new buildings, including a chapel dedicated to the Holy Cross. The floor plan of this can still be seen alongside Robert’s cave in Knaresborough today.[3]

St. Robert's Well[edit]

Calvert's "History of Knaresborough" (1844) describes St Robert's Well as being near the York Road, about 1 mile from the town. Calvert also relates that prior to 1791 it had been an open well about two feet deep but at that date bathing facilities were built at the well, because of its value as a cold bath. An 1850's OS map reveals a place marked as "Cold Bath" near the York Road, just as described by Calvert, and this site was connected by a track to St Robert's cave and chapel 400m to the south west.

The Monkswell business park was built on the site of St Robert's well/Cold Bath where a well shaft preserves the site of the spring which fed St Robert's Well and the Cold Bath. Visitors drop coins (as well as litter) through the metal grid that covers the wellshaft.[4]


St. Robert's feast day is 24 September. Seven stained-glass panels of his life, originally from Dale Abbey survive at St. Matthew's Church in Morley, Derbyshire.[1]


Today the cave, carved into a limestone cliff, can still be visited by the public. A small chapel and evidence of a small living area are all that remain.[6]

Churches are dedicated to St. Robert at Knaresborough in North Yorkshire,[1] and at Pannall, Harrogate.[3]


External links[edit]


St. Robert, Ripon Cathedral and HIYF

Hail St. Robert, our patron and guide, secure on every side”.

Ripon Cathedral

Ripon Cathedral

Northern England is well-off for notable saints. You may be thinking of St. Bede, often referred to as the Father of English History due to his Ecclesiastical History of the English PeopleOr perhaps St. Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, after whom the school in which I work is named. Moving further south, Durham Cathedral is the final resting place of St. Cuthbert, monk, hermit and later Bishop of Lindisfarne. Cuthbert was at one time “guest master” at the newly founded monastery in Ripon, Yorkshire, where, in 658 St Wilfrid set about building a new stone church on the site now occupied by the magnificentRipon Cathedral.

Perhaps not so well-known is Robert Flower of Knaresborough, the North Yorkshire town. Born into a well-to-do family in York, his father having been the mayor of that city, he followed a life of service to God and his neighbours. Electing to pursue a hermit’s lifestyle he lived in a number of locations west of York, including Spofforth, still a thriving village, Rudfarlington, of which hamlet all that remains is a farm (well-known for selling Christmas trees), and most famously in a cave on the banks of the River Nidd at Knaresborough, still preserved today by the Knaresborough Civic Society.


St. Robert’s Cave Knaresborough

I was delighted in late 2012 to be asked to compose a new choral work for performance at Ripon Cathedral as part of the 40th AnniversaryHarrogate International Youth Festival, and, looking for suitable subject matter, it was suggested to me by the Reverend Nigel Sinclair, then vicar of St. Robert’s Church, Pannal, near Harrogate, that St. Robert was long overdue some musical attention. I visited St Robert’s Cave several times, once after severe flooding of the River Nidd, which made me wonder how often Robert would have suffered such inconvenience in his 30 years living there, and was struck by the historical resonance of the place, especially seeing the small coffin-shaped indentation where his humble chapel would have been, and where he would have been buried  before his remains were taken up to the abbey founded in his name some short distance away. After consulting two sources  the translation by Dr. Frank Bottomley of the Latin biography of Robert, written c. 1250 and ‘The Metrical Life of St. Robert of Knaresborough (for the translation  of some of which, from the original mediaeval English, I am indebted to Tom Howells of St. Aidan’s High School, Harrogate), I was persuaded that St Robert’s life was indeed fascinating and worthy of setting to music, at least in part. The text was then collated from these two sources in addition to words from Psalm 1, chosen for its reference to the virtues of a godly man and to him being “like a tree planted by streams of water”, apt for the river-side location of Robert’s chosen cave abode, and also because Robert would undoubtedly have been very familiar with the Psalms.

20130405-075943.jpgMany stories and legends attached themselves to Robert. As Dr. Bottomley writes in the preface to his translation ” (Robert) is the friend and defender of social outcasts and so identified with them that the powers of law and order can accuse him of encouraging criminality. We see him falling asleep at his devotions through utter exhaustion, laughing at the strange ways of Providence, and displaying, like many ascetics, remarkable powers over wild creatures”.

In a piece which could be no longer than 15 minutes, it was necessary to select only one incident in Robert’s life, so I chose that which offered the most dramatic possibilities, especially as young people were to be the performers; namely his stand-off with the Lord of Knaresborough at the time, Sir William Stuteville, who clearly took exception to Robert’s lifestyle and demanded that his servants evict Robert from his dwelling. In true Sheriff of Nottingham’s henchmen style, they failed miserably as Robert stood his ground. Sir William pledged to do the job properly the following day but had a terrifying nightmare in which he was warned to leave Robert alone.  This he did and was thenceforth transformed in his attitude to Robert, even giving him land to feed the poor.

Myths and legends can become confused with reality over the centuries and I do sometimes wonder if the fact that scenes from the life of St Robert appear depicted in some stained glass windows in a church in St. Matthew’s Church, Morley in Derbyshire suggests that Robert may have at some time become merged with the legend of Robin Hood!

The musical style of the work is highly approachable, fairly easily singable and playable given the limited amount of rehearsal time with local international groups together, and has moments of high drama, grandeur and spiritual strength, the finale “Ah, Blessed Saint, and Citizen Divine” having an at first unheard counter-melody, eventually on repetition becoming apparent as Vaughan-Williams’ melody ’Sine Nomine’ suggesting the words “For all Thy saints, who from their labours rest”.
My hope is that this work, brilliantly performed at its premiere by a choir of 90, and orchestra of 70 young people from the local area, Canada, Spain, Switzerland and Kenya, may further widen the knowledge of St Robert, and inspire us all to emulate the great saint’s selfless and charitable deeds.


Ripon HIYF Flower of York

The premiere performance of Flower of York at Ripon Cathedral on 2nd April 2013


ST ROBERT'S CAVE, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. (See comments box for story).

ST ROBERT'S CAVE, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. (See comments box for story).


Selected for Google Earth [?] - ID: 66823246

More photos by Roy Pledger

Comments (1)

Roy Pledger, on February 15, 2012, said:

In the rock face alongside the River Nidd at Knaresborough is a small cave which was the home of St Robert of Knaresborough from c1180 until his death in1218. He was well known in the area and renowned throughout the land as a holy man. Robert sought the life of a hermit but was responsible for physical and spiritual healing and many miracles were attributed to him. He was visited by no less a personage than King John in 1216. After his death Robert was venerated as a saint. The site gained notoriety in 1758 when the body of local man Daniel Clark who had disappeared some 13 years earlier was found buried there. He had been murdered and another local man, Eugene Aram, was subsequently hanged for the crime.


Sign up to comment. Sign in if you already did it.

©2013 Google - Map Data - Terms of Use
500 m
2000 ft

Photo taken in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, UK

©2013 Google - Terms of Use

Flag photo:

Tags in this photo:

Photo stats: [?]


This photo doesn't belong to any group yet.

Photo details:

  • Uploaded on February 15, 2012
  • Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 
    by Roy Pledger
  • Extra information



An interesting hermit's cave in North Yorkshire

When my mother found out that I was planning a day trip to North Yorkshire (Ripon, Harrogate and Knaresborough) she said, "Have you been to the Hermit's Cave?" I hadn't and what's more I hadn't even heard of such a place but a quick Google search soon verified that it seemed worthy of a visit.

Officially known as St Robert's Cave this is an attraction on the outskirts of the North Yorkshire town of Knaresborough, it is often referred to as the "Hermit's Cave" because St Robert lived here as a hermit during the 12th century. I'm ashamed to say I knew virtually nothing about St Robert but I would soon discover that he is locally very famous in these parts, in fact he almost has legendary status. 

Robert Fleur (or Flower) was the son of the mayor of York. He joined St Gile's Priory and lived his early adult years as a monk. Nothing remains today of St Gile's Priory but it stood on the banks of the River Nidd about a mile out of Knaresborough town centre quite close to where the cave is situated. After leaving the priory Robert lived as a hermit in this cave until his death in 1218. He was 58 years old when he died and had lived in the cave for about 30 years where he had acquired a reputation as a "healer" and he also offered spiritual guidance. As word of his "gifts" spread people began to flock to the cave to be cured of all sorts of ailments. Amongst his most notable clients was King John who visited him on several different occasions. After Robert's death the cave became a place of pilgrimage and the scene of several alleged miracles. 

There is no charge to visit the cave and it is open at all times but it not particularly easy to reach other than by walking along the river from the town centre. There is a road that runs part of the way but then it has a barrier across it and vehicular access beyond that point is for local residents only. If you do walk from the town along the river be sure to look out for two other features along the route. The first of these is the "House on the Rock", which as its name suggests is a house built into the rock face high above the river and close by the "Chapel in the Rock", which you've probably guessed is a small church built into the same rock face. Anyway I digress so back to Saint Robert's Cave.

Once you approach the cave there is a large sign at the side of the road and a gate that leads you down a short but very narrow twisting path towards the river. It certainly wouldn't be suitable for the infirm and when I visited there was water running down this path and it was quite slippy. It isn't until you reach the bottom of this path that you get your first glimpse of the cave. The entrance is very narrow and looks like a keyhole cut into the rock but it is possible to walk right up to it and go inside. The interior though small was actually larger than I originally imagined and the area closest to the entrance where daylight penetrated was almost perfectly round in shape. It was about 10 metres wide and must have made quite a cosy dwelling eight centuries ago. I scrambled right inside but it was so dark it was impossible to see far beyond the entrance. I felt my way along the back wall and then remembered that I had a torch on my mobile phone so I headed back to towards the entrance and the daylight. In fact once the whole cave was illuminated it wasn't much larger than the area you can see with the naked eye but there was another smaller narrower room a bedroom perhaps? Actually when I scrambled back outside and read the information board outside I actually learned that this smaller room was used as chapel.

To be honest there isn't actually a great deal to see here and I probably only hung around about 10 minutes but it is a lovely walk along the river to get there and for that reason alone I'd recommend a visit here to others. The cave itself is also unusual enough to have that novelty appeal so all in all I was glad that I paid it a visit.



Mother Shipton's Cave (or "Old Mother Shipton's Cave") is at KnaresboroughNorth YorkshireEngland, near to the River Nidd. Nearby is apetrifying well which has been a tourist attraction since 1630 due to its association with the legendary soothsayer and prophetess Mother Shipton (c. 1488 - 1561), born Ursula Southeil, wife of Toby Shipton. According to legend she was born in the cave. The cave and dropping well, together with other attractions, remain open to visitors and are run by Mother Shipton's Cave Ltd.


Mother Shipton

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Mother Shipton.jpg
Mother Shipton's cave

Ursula Southeil (c. 1488–1561) (also variously spelt as Ursula SouthillUrsula Soothtell[1] or Ursula Sontheil[2][3]), better known asMother Shipton, is said to have been an English soothsayer and prophetess. The first publication of her prophecies, which did not appear until 1641, eighty years after her reported death, contained a number of mainly regional predictions, but only two prophetic verses – neither of which foretold the End of the World, despite widespread assumptions to that effect.[4]

One of the most notable editions of her prophecies was published in 1684.[4] It states that she was born in KnaresboroughYorkshire, in a cave now known as Mother Shipton's Cave, that along with the Petrifying Well and associated parkland is operated as a visitor attraction. She was reputed to be hideously ugly. The book also claims that she married Toby Shipton, a local carpenter, near York in 1512 and told fortunes and made predictions throughout her life.

It is recorded in the diaries of Samuel Pepys that whilst surveying the damage to London caused by the Great Fire in the company of theRoyal Family they were heard to discuss Mother Shipton's prophecy of the event.[5]




Mother Shipton's house

The most famous claimed edition of Mother Shipton's prophecies foretells many modern events and phenomena. Widely quoted today as if it were the original, it contains over a hundred prophetic rhymed couplets in notably non-16th-century language and includes the now-famous lines:

The world to an end shall come
In eighteen hundred and eighty one.[6]

However, this version did not appear in print until 1862, and its true author, one Charles Hindley, subsequently admitted in print that he had invented it.[7] This invented prophecy has appeared over the years with different dates and in (or about) several countries (for example in the late 1970s many news articles about Mother Shipton appeared setting the date at 1981[citation needed]). The 1920s (subsequently much reprinted) booklet The Life and Prophecies of Ursula Sontheil better known as Mother Shipton[8] stated the date as 1991.[9][10]

Among other well-known lines from Hindley's fake version (often quoted as if they were original) are:

A Carriage without a horse shall go;
Disaster fill the world with woe...
In water iron then shall float,
As easy as a wooden boat.


Mother Shipton moth

Quite who Mother Shipton was or what exactly she said is not definitively known. What is certain is that her name became linked with many tragic events and strange goings on recorded all over the UK, Australia and North America throughout the 17/18/19th centuries. Many fortune tellers used her effigy and statue, presumably for purposes of association marketing. Many pubs were named after her. Only two survive, one near her birthplace in Knaresborough and the other in Portsmouth where there is a lifesize statue above the door.

A caricature of Mother Shipton was used in early pantomime and is believed by historians to be the forerunner of the Panto dame.

There is a mothCallistege mi, named after her. It seemingly bears a profile of a hag's head on each wing.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Strange and Wonderful History of Mother Shipton, London, 1686
  2. ^ "Ursula Sontheil (1488-1561)". History and Women. 2010-05-28. Retrieved 2012-09-06.
  3. ^ "The Life and Prophecies of URSULA SONTHEIL Better Known as MOTHER SHIPTON . Knaresborough, Yorkshire: Amazon.co.uk: J.C. Simpson: Books". Amazon.co.uk. 2011-01-02. Retrieved 2012-09-06.
  4. a b Mother Shipton's Prophecies (Mann, 1989)
  5. ^ Entry for 20 October 1666, cited in Mother Shipton's Prophecies (Mann, 1989)
  6. a b Harrison, William Henry (1881). Mother Shipton investigated. The result of critical examination in the British Museum Library, of the literature relating to the Yorkshire sibyl. London.
  7. ^ Notes and Queries, 26 April 1873
  8. ^ "The Life and Prophecies of URSULA SONTHEIL Better Known as MOTHER SHIPTON: Books". Amazon.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-09-06.
  9. ^ http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0019QPMNE
  10. ^ "12 failed end of the world predictions, for 1990 to 1994". Religioustolerance.org. 1993-11-03. Retrieved 2012-09-06.

External links[edit]

Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Mother Shipton


Mother Shipton

Mother Shipton is the most famous prophetess of the British Isles. She is one of the many figures of romance who achieve widespread fame and notoriety many years after the real exploits of their lives have faded from the pages of history. With such a passage of time, and lack of historical evidence, there is even debate as to whether she existed at all. Many of her prophecies are undoubtedly later fabrications, and the first written accounts of her exploits were published eighty years after her supposed death.

Whatever the truth she has been a fertile source of folklore and myth down through the centuries.

In this short essay we will examine in brief the legend of her life and then look at some of her alleged prophecies and their likely origin.

Mother Shipton: by Daniel ParkinsonMother Shipton: by Daniel ParkinsonHer Legendary Life
The first stories about Mother Shipton appear in chapbooks from the mid seventeenth century, and a basic story of her life can be summarised as follows:

Mother Shipton was born in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire in 1488 as Ursula Southheil to a poor single mother. According to tradition her mother had been seduced out of wedlock and died during her birth. Her birthplace has been identified as the cave by the river Nidd, which bears her name. Another place associated with her is the nearby dropping well: where the limestone rich waters have the power of turning objects to stone. The cave and the well were probably 'religious' places long before her alleged birth, and may have become associated with her as her legend grew.

Ursula was not a pretty baby by any stretch of the imagination, in fact, she was hideous to behold, and it was difficult to find a nurse to care for her. Eventually a woman who lived on the outskirts of Knaresborough agreed to be her foster mother.

Strange happenings were reported throughout her childhood: furniture reportedly moved around the house of its own violation, plates and crockery were said to fly around the room, and her powers of prophesy were evident at an early age.

Many stories were told of her childhood: one morning the young baby and her crib were found to be missing from the house. Several villagers were brought into her home to search for clues to her disappearance, and were attacked by supernatural forces and pricked by imps in the form of monkeys. Eventually after some of the neighbours were thrown around the room attached to a yolk, Ursula was discovered in her crib hanging in mid air half way up the chimney.

As she grew into adulthood her inborn ugliness did not improve and descriptions of her visage paint a particularly ugly figure,: her nose was sight to be seen in itself being "of improportional length with many crooks and turnings...her stature was larger than common, her body crooked and her face frightful", she had great goggling eyes and her wreck of a nose also gave off a faint luminosity.

However, her hideous appearance did not stop her from finding a suitable husband and Ursula was married at the age of 24 to Toby Shipton - a carpenter from Shipton. They set up home in Knaresborough, which became a magnet for people far and wide in search of her words of wisdom and prophetic powers. Her fame soon spread and she became known as Mother Shipton.

Mother Shipton was thought to have died in 1561, and event that she prophesised.

Her Prophesies
She is said to have prophesised many things during her lifetime, including the Civil War, the dissolution of the monasteries, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. However, many of the rhymes are obscure and like many obscure riddles - such as those of Nostradamus - can be moulded to fit a number of events.

The earliest pamphlets and books about Mother Shipton were published in 1641 and 1684, many years after her death, and we can assume that the fertile imagination of the 17th century writers has much to answer for. We can certainly be sure that the predictions that were recorded in the early pamphlets were describing events that had already come to pass, such as her many predictions about Cardinal Wolsey.

The editor of the 1684 edition of her work, Richard Head, invented much of the story of her life and the descriptions of her, even if these were based on legend and folklore that had been passed down by word of mouth. Later writers are also fabricated prophesies, for example Charles Hindley admitted that he had concocted many of the predictions in 1862 to fool the Victorian public. In particular those prophecies easily recognisable to the Victorian mind such as:

A house of glass shall come to pass
In England, but alas!
War will follow with the work
In the land of the pagan and the Turk.

Which is an obvious reference to Crystal Palace and the Crimean war.

Mother Shipton was certainly popular during the Victorian era and in 1881, the year that she is supposed to have prophesised the end of the world - "The world to an end shall come, In eighteen hundred and eighty one." - many people fled from their homes to pray in their local churches ready for the coming of Armageddon.

Her popularity during the 17th century is also suggested in the story that Prince Rupert is said to have remarked "Now Shipton's Prophesy is out" after hearing of the Fire of London in 1666. I have also heard this saying attributed to Samuel Pepys.

More recently writer Alan Vaughan studied original editions of the prophesies in the British Museum, which led him to believe that the prophecies were rewritten in the 1960's from the works of a 19th century writer.

Some of Mother Shipton's more famous prophesies are as follows:

Carriages without horses shall go,
And accidents fill the world with woe.
Around the world thoughts shall fly,
In the twinkling of an eye.

(Said to predict cars, telephone, internet, satellites, planes amongst other things)

Under water men shall walk,
Shall ride shall sleep shall talk:
In the air men shall be seen,
In white, in black and in green.

(Said to predict, submarines, hot air balloons or planes)

Over a wild and stormy sea,
Shall a noble sail
Who to find will not fail,
A new and fair countree
From whence he shall bring
A herb and a root
That all men shall suit
And please both the ploughman and the king.

(The discovery of tobacco, and the potato)

Mother Shipton's HouseMother Shipton's HouseThe real truth about Mother Shipton will probably never be known, it is possible that such a person existed, village wise-women and men certainly existed, and were part of country society for hundreds of years. They were called upon for simple cures and herbal remedies. Perhaps the root of the legend lies in one woman who was famed in her local area for exceptional powers (or at least a reasonable success rate). Some of the stories about her powers, such as being able to make thieves return stolen belongings and finding lost property are the traditional reserve of the village wise woman or seer.

Whether she existed or not is perhaps not really important, she is one of those legendary figures of romance and folklore entwined in the imagination and environment.

For more information about Mother Shipton please consider the website, Mother Shipton's Cave.


Votive rags from St Helen's Well, Thorp Arch near Boston Spa, West Yorkshire

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project


1884.140.331 is an example of the votive rags that were tied to a tree near a well. Oddly this item was not accessioned into the Pitt Rivers Museum collections until the 1990s though it had lain in the museum for over a hundred years by then.

The documentation the Museum has about these objects is as follows:

1884.140.331 Blue book entry - Idols and objects connected with religion Case 78 159 Fragments of rag used as votive offerings for the cure of diseases at St Helens Well Thorp Arch Yorkshire at the present time (2496)
Delivery Catalogue II entry - Religious emblems Votive rags on card 2496 13 Cases 225 226
Detailed Amulet card catalogue entry - Amulets D. Crop Fertility, E. Offerings to Gods etc F. Spirit Houses, Scares G. Sacred and Mem. food H. Relics and Mementos - Models of human body E3 Ex voto rags, pins etc Description: Votive rags from bushes at a holy well hung there by the country people who believe the water is good for eye diseases [insert] if [end insert] combined with an offering of this type to St Helen. They are often left by Roman Catholics being near Clifford where they are numerous Locality: St Helen's Well Thorp Church Yorks Collected by: Mrs Marianne Cooke 1869 How Acquired: PR coll 159 dd Mrs M. Cooke 1869 [sic]

This well was just off the Roman road, the Rudgate. This well was supposed to be devoted to St Helen. The site of the well is actually at Thorp Arch, outside Boston Spa near Wetherby in North Yorkshire. Ellen Ettlinger mentions the rags:

In pre-Christian days, when wells and trees were identified with spirits, offerings were deposited in their immediate neighbourhood to preserve the contact between the worshipper and the divinity. Since the spread of Christianity the real intention of this rite has been preserved only at those wells, where Christian Saints replaced the well spirit. To quote only instances from the Pitt Rivers Museum, this was the case at St. Helen's Well in Thorparch, Yorks. [Ettlinger, 1943: 247-8]

Other accounts of the well mention textiles tied near the well:

Bonser also recalls visiting St Helen's Well in Thorp Arch in the 1930s, when "there were a number of rags and ribbons fluttering from the branches of bushes overhanging the spring which bubbled out of the ground quite close to the banks of the River Wharfe, at a ford where the Roman road, the Rudgate, crossed the river. [http://www.northernearth.co.uk/61leeds.htm]


St Helen's Well, Rudgate (SE 451 458)
Situated on the north side of River Wharfe east of Thorpe Arch, and about 400 yards from the river.'This well was re-dedicated from a Pagan deity to St Helen's Well. Metal and pins were thrown into the water and ribbons tied to trees nearby. Waters reputed to be of specific use for eye troubles.' [Speight, Lower Wharfedale].
'The well is now dried up due to the lowering water table but in the not too distant past people, particularly young girls, used to give offerings to St Helen in the form of pieces of cloth tied to the branches of trees around it. In this way, if done in secret, you would see your true love. Also, that ghastly hound the Bargest was supposed to haunt St Helen's Well rattling its chains. Leland mentions a chapel at St Helen's (now gone).' [Guy Ragland Phillips].
St Helen's Cross was found near the spring. There is a plantation to the NE of the well called Chapel Wood and the church at Bilton 3 miles to the North is dedicated to St Helen. [http://people.bath.ac.uk/liskmj/living-spring/sourcearchive/fs3/fs3ew1.htm]

A website image suggests that people still tie things to the tree near the well. Votive rags at wells are a subject that has been written about extensively in Folklore (for example Broadwood, 1898; Hartland, 1893)

Although Pitt Rivers acquired his examples long before most of these authors wrote about them, he must have found the two articles of interest if he recalled the item in his collection.


Further Reading

Broadwood, Lucy E. 1898 'Pins and Metal in Wells Pins and Metal in Wells' Folklore, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Dec., 1898), p. 368
Ettlinger, Ellen. 1943 'Documents of British Superstition in Oxford' Folklore, Vol. 54, No. 1 (Mar., 1943), pp. 227-249
Hartland, E. Sidney 1893 Pin-Wells and Rag-Bushes' Folklore, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Dec., 1893), pp. 451-470





St. Helen’s Well, Thorp Arch, West Yorkshire

Posted on July 24, 2011 by 

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 451 458

Getting Here

1849 OS-map showing St Helen's well

The well is all dried up today, but its remains are about 200 yards north of the river Wharfe. Sam Brewster (1980) told the easiest way to find it: “To get there from Thorp Arch you take the trackway that goes to the south of the church and follow this until you are walking alongside the river; eventually you will come to a barrier of barbed wire near some old disused water-works; get under or over this barrier and turn 90 degrees to your left, following the barbed wire until you come to a wood, the other side of the barbed wire; go into the wood and turn right; keep exploring near the edge of the wood until you find a tree under which is a hollow which used to be St. Helen’s Well.”  Once here you can see where the water used to flow down a narrow channel and under a little bridge.

Archaeology & History

Carved cross remains found near St Helen's Well

This ancient and well-known healing spring is shown on early OS-maps emerging a short distance north of the River Wharfe besides St. Helen’s Beck in Chapel Wood, adjacent to the Kirkstall Ing or field.  In the western fields close by was once an ancient chapel and, closer to the holy well, once “stood St. Helen’s (or St. Helena’s) Cross, which is somewhat crudely represented in Dr. Whitaker’s History of Craven“, (Speight 1902), illustrated here.

This well possesses a prodigious occult history yet is curiously absent from most studies on the subject.  The place is said to have been a respected holy site that was venerated long before the Romans arrived here. Found at a place called the Rudgate — but known locally as St. Helen’s Ford — it is also said to be haunted.  Angela Smith (n.d.) considers the traditions surrounding the well to be pre-Roman, and the curative waters would certainly have been known of at the time of their occupation here,

“because it lies at the side of Roman road No.280, just north of where it crosses the River Wharfe at St. Helen’s Ford, leading to the Roman fort at Newton Kyme.”

St Helens Well in 1900

Several species of psychoactive plants grow adjacent to the well, which are thought by Phillips, (1976) Devereux (1992) and I as serving ritual shamanic purposes. The likelihood is more so than not.  The oracular nature of the site which R.C. Hope (1893) and others have described here is particularly interesting: in traditions the world over, oracles were often consulted after the ingestion or use of sacred plants, such as are found here.

Due to the sacred nature of this spring and its importance in local folklore and history, it should be recovered from its present state.  The fact that this place was highly important as a ritual and sacred site to christians, pagans, Romans and peasants alike, and now hides all-but-lost and forgotten is a disgrace.


A fascinating tale hangs over this still-revered holy well which legend tells had a chapel standing adjacent, dedicated to Helen in the 7th century – although no trace of it is visible today. Local historian Edmund Bogg (1904) recounted how a local sexton told of “padfoots and barguests and ‘that grim foul beast with clanking chain’ which on dark nights kept its vigil” near St.Helen’s Well. Padfoots and barguests are Yorkshire names for spectral black dogs, said to be bringers of death and misfortune (they are one of several remaining folk-ingredients from the Underworld myths in British shamanism).

St Helen's Well, c.1935

St Helens Well in 1934

Folklorist Guy Ragland Phillips (1976), referring to an article in The Dalesmanin 1971, told how a Mrs Dorothy Tate as a young girl used to visit the site and would tie pieces of rag on the bushes aside the place as grateful offerings to the spirit of the well. She said however, that she had gone about doing this in the wrong way, as according to tradition such offerings are to be done secretly. The article showed a photograph of Mrs Tate (from 1908) tying one of the memaws to the wych-elm tree overhanging the old spring.

People visited the well – probably on August 18 – to divine the future with the oracle which Hope (1893) described as being here, always in the dead of night without being seen, leaving before sunrise. It has been visited by thousands of people over the centuries, with gifts of rag-hangings, pins and other memaws. Such offerings continue even to this day. When Harry Speight (1902) visited St. Helen’s Well at the turn of the century, he related how as many as forty or fifty hangings would be left at any one time on the branches of the trees.  He wrote:

“The water is beautifully soft and clear, and in former times was much resorted to as a specific for sore or weak eyes. There are two other springs close by, which were also held to be sacred, but they do not bear any particular dedications. An old plantation a little north of the well is known as Chapel Wood, which commemorates St. Helen’s chapel and the ancient church at Bilton, three miles further north, and about a mile to the east of the Roman Rudgate, is also dedicated to St. Helen.”

A few years before Speight’s visit here, Dr Fred Lees and the botanist, Robert Baines, visited St. Helen’s Well, and wrote similarly of the lore and memaws they found there:

“There are veritably hundreds of these bedizenings affixed and removed surreptitiously (probably before sunrise), according to an unwritten law, for none are ever caught in the act. And yet during the summer months a careful observer may detect almost weekly evidence of a shy communicant with the ghostly genius of someone¾country maid or her dumb shy swain. What murmured litany (if any) had to be said is lost; most likely nothing more was necessary than the unspoken wish…Pieced together and codified, fact and heresay testify as follows: ‘The visitor to the grove, before rise of sun, has to face the tree [a wych-elm overhanging the well] to detach from his or her own person some garment, to dip it in the well, and having knotted or whilst hanging the fragment to any convenient twig…is to breathe a ‘wish’ telling no-one what that wish may be; these conditions strictly observed, what is desired shall come to pass.’” (in Phillips, 1976)

When the archaeologist C.N. Bromehead (1935) and geologist J.V. Stephens came to the site in the 1930s, despite the fall of the well, he was surprised to find local peasants still respecting the spirits of the site, reporting:

“There is now no well or visible spring, but from the position at the lower margin of a gravel terrace it is obvious that water would be obtained by digging a few feet; a small stream flows just east of the site… It is curious that the hanging of rags should survive when the actual well has vanished, but the writer has visited the spot many times in the last seven years and there are always plenty of obviously recent additions.  The custom is to stand facing the well (i.e., due west), preferably after sunset, wish, and then attach something torn from one’s clothing either to the big tree — wych elm — or to any of the bushes.  Probably the custom is largely maintained by vagrants who frequently camp in the wood, but it also has its attraction for courting couples from the neighbouring villages!”

Such offerings at the site of St. Helen’s Well are still left by locals and some of the plastic pagans, who tie pieces of artificial material to the remnants of the wych-elm and other trees, which actually pollutes the Earth and kills the spirit  here.  Whilst the intent may be good, please, if you’re gonna leave offerings here, make sure that the rags you leave are totally biodegradable.  The magical effectiveness of your intent is almost worthless if the material left is toxic to the environment and will certainly have a wholly negative effect on the spirit of the place here.  Please consider this to ensure the sacred nature of the site.

…to be continued…


Bogg, Edmund, Lower Wharfeland, the Old City of York and the Ainsty, James Miles: Leeds 1904.
Brewster, Sam, ‘St. Helen’s Well,’ in Wind & Water 1:4, 1980.
Bromehead, C.N., ‘Rag Wells,’ in Antiquity IX, March 1935.
Devereux, Paul, Symbolic Landscapes, Gothic Image: Glastonbury 1992.
Hope, R.C., Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, London 1893.
Ni’Bride, Feorag, The Wells and Springs of Leeds, PPP: Preston 1984.
Phillips, Guy Ragland, Brigantia, RKP: London 1976.
Smith, Andrea, Holy Wells Around Leeds, Bradford & Pontefract, unpublished thesis.
Speight, Harry, Lower Wharfedale, Elliott Stock: London 1902.
Whelan, Edna, The Magic and Mystery of Holy Wells, Capall Bann 2001.
Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire’s Holy Wells & Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: York 1989.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Rate this:

Rate This

Like this:





    ej northrop ©2013 All Rights Reserved. site design by damnedcomputer.com