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Mother Shipton: Prophecies and a petrifying well.

Mother Shipton, born Ursala Sontheil in 1488, is a Prophetess. She stands equal with the greats, Nostradamus and The Simpsons writer John Swartzwelder, with some pretty wild predictions.  


Earlier life

Born in a cave near the river bank of Nidd, Knaresborough, Shipton was always a bit of an outcast, starting with her unusual birth. Shipton was born during a dark and thundering night in a cave near the river bank of Nidd to, then 15-year-old, mother Agatha. Shipton's father remains unidentified; her mother refused to name him. Agatha kept her silence even in front of the local magistrate. At the tender age of two, Shipton was adopted into a family on the order of the Abbot of Beverly. Shipton was, according to legend, born with twisted legs and a long and crooked nose, features that we in modern times associate with the appearance of a classical, cinematic witch. Shipton's appearance contributed to her outcast status. During those lonely hours spent isolated, Shipton studied plants and herbs in the forest near her birth cave. Soon she was well-versed in herbology; the community sought her council to cure their ailments. 


The start of her prophetic career


Her isolation continues after the death of her husband of only two years, Tobias Shipton. The Knaresborough community ostracized her. They believed that she was somehow responsible for his death. It was only after her husband's death that she started down the path of prophecies. Shipton starts with local prophecies, such as the construction of the Ouse Bridge water system and the destruction of the Trinity Church saying, ‘what is built in the day shall fall in the night, till the highest stone in the church is the lowest stone of the bridge’. Like with any skill, she became more confident with time and spoke of more high-profile prophecies. Mother Shipton predicted the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and her prediction said, ‘A Widowed Queen, In England shall be headless seen'. Shipton caught the attention of the royal court of Henry VIII according to Samuel Pepys, administrator of the Royal Navy and Member of Parliament, stating this in his diary entries. A book of her famous prophecies was published in 1641. 

Famous Prophecies. 


  1. The Great Fire of London in 1666 

  2. The rise of Thomas Wolsey to counselor to King Henry VIII - 'the mitered peacock’s lofty cry shall to his master be a guide.’

  3. Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and the dissolution of the monasteries - When the cow [Henry] doth ride the bull [Anne], then, priest, beware the skull.’

  4. The rise of Elizabeth I - ‘A Maiden Queen shall Reign anon.’

  5. The destruction of the Spanish Armada by Sir Francis Drake - ‘The Western Monarch’s Wooden Horses Shall be destroyed by the Drakes forces.’


The petrifying well 

The well is located near a cave along the banks of the Nidd river in Knaresborough. It is rumored that the well is shaped like a human skull. 

The great attraction of the well is its Medusa-like properties, turning everyday items into stone. Much as we would rather believe in a magical well, scientists reached a very rational explanation for the phenomenon that has captured the attention of tourists since the 16th century. 


The water source to the well is a river 1.6km underground, that filters through an aquifer, A rock that filters and breaks down minerals. The water is rich in sulfates and carbonates that create calcareous tufa during deposition. Tufa is a form of limestone. A deposition is when the carbonates dissolve in water and change from a solution to a solid state. The well consists of Tufa and Treventis rock. 


The water, passing over and through these rocks, forms a layer over an object when exposed. After repeated exposure, some objects become as hard as a rock when enough layers have formed. Think of the process as a plumbing pipe that calcifies after continuous exposure to mineral-rich water. 


One fact remains unexplained. The well never runs dry or freezes, and the water levels stay the same, no matter the season. It has been the same for the past 500 years. 


Mother Shipton’s legend has sparked heated debates between believers and non-believers and has even been called propaganda made up by the royal court of King Henry VIII to manipulate their subjects. Whether it is a fact or fiction remains to be determined, all we know for certain is that Mother Shipton's cave is the oldest known tourist attraction and has been cashing entry fees for the past 500 years. 

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