Mother Shipton’s Petrifying Well

“The world to an end shall come In eighteen hundred and eighty one.” -Mother Shipton


Mother Shipton’s eerie cave and well have been tourist destinations since the mid 1600s in England. Her influence as a soothsayer, harbinger of doom, and witch have lingered on long after her death. As a figure of fear and amazement she is a huge inspiration to us here at the ‘Cult, we do love a good spooky story!

Born Ursala Southhell in 1448 and the surely embellished tales of her birth and early life have her living in a cave, born of a 15 year old mother during a thunderstorm who would never reveal the name of the absent father- going on to commune with the Devil himself. Her physical appearance is considered the original inspiration behind the archetypal “witch” character in pantomime- long crooked nose, hunched back, with long grasping fingers.

Source- Wikipedia Commons
Source- Wikipedia Commons

What is likely true of her story is that she was driven from town, and lived near the cave in which she was born. After her short marriage (thus the Shipton name) and abrupt widow-ing she continued on to develop a reputation as a herbalist and prophetess- known then as the Knaresborough’s Prophetess. Her predictions have been compiled and dissected time and again throughout the years, as her life still remains a captivating and eerie tale even so many years later.


The cave and spring near Knaresborough were long associated with her magic and thus avoided, even the water was considered toxic and dangerous as it seemed to turn anything it touched into stone. It was a long time before the supposed magic was solved. Victorian ladies would toss their hats up into the well which has resulted in lumps and strange rumpled facade. People still hang toys and small objects from it, and within 3-5 months a layer of sediment crusts over them like stone due to the waters’ extremely high mineral content, similar to how stalactites develop in cave roofs.


Nowadays visitors flock to the well to make wishes and to see the amazing effects of these renowned waters. You can even purchase petrified teddybears and samples of the magic water to take it’s power with you.

We are inspired by this woman’s long influence- whether she was truly a witch or just a very odd individual- it’s amazing to see how the strange and unique can leave lasting imprints in our culture for centuries.


A video of the petrifying well by Youtube user- Simon Riches

Sources and More Information:

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