“The world to an end shall come In eighteen hundred and eighty one.” -Mother Shipton
It’s Halloween season and time for spooky stories and eerie tales! Starting with Mother Shipton, said to be the root of the cartoon “witch” stereotype and damner of caves.
Born Ursala Southhell in 1448- the surely embellished tales of her birth and early life have her born in a cave to a 15 year old mother during a thunderstorm who would never reveal the name of the father (probably the devil, so the story goes). Ursala’s physical appearance is considered the original inspiration behind the archetypal “witch” character in pantomime (and cartoons etc now)- long crooked nose, hunched back, and knobby grasping fingers.
What portions are 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 to a local carpenter (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.
It was said she cursed the cave she was born in and nearby well to turn any object hung in it to stone. It became one of England’s earliest tourist destinations and is still operated as one!
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 to be slowly “turned to stone” which has resulted in the lumpy and 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
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