Tuesday, 6 May 2014



Knaresborough is a totally different town situated to the north of Harrogate with little to separate the two.  It is situated in an enviable natural setting on the summit of a steep limestone gorge through which flows the River Nidd, reminiscent of the towns of Luxembourg or the Ardennes.

The ruined Norman castle sitting in a dominant position above the river, was knocked about by Cromwell 's troops in the Civil War after being held for the King
 It was here that Oliver Cromwell’s son, Oliver, was killed.

The castle grounds are now a park with fine views across the river

There is a bowling green with the former court house and lock-up alongside.


The town centre is close by with its traditional market place. This popular market is held every Wednesday.

Knaresborough also lays claim to the oldest chemist shop in England.  The shop in the Market Place is housed in a medieval building and first opened its doors as a pharmacy in 1720. This old building with tiny rooms and oak beams was a chemist shop until 1965 owned by the Lawrence family and Mrs Lawrence bottled her own lavender water. The old drawers and shelves are now stocked with confectionary, tea, preserves and gifts to attract tourists, but still sell lavender water, toiletries and herbal remedies and so the owner still lays claim to the title.

Across the Market Place is a pub which has the curious name Blind Jack’s and nearby is a very fine metal effigy of John Metcalfe sitting on a bench. Jack, as he was known, was born into a poor Knaresborough family in 1717 and at the age of six he lost his sight as a result of smallpox. Never daunted, young Jack lived life to the full, he could climb trees, run, box, wrestle, ride and swim with the best and he married the prettiest girl in the town. He became a fish merchant, learned to play the fiddle and he even fought at the Battle of Culloden. He also ran a horse drawn taxi service and a pack horse service before his big break came. Following the passing of an Act of Parliament which authorised the building of turnpike roads, Jack somehow managed to obtain the contract for such a road between Harrogate and Boroughbridge, which he completed successfully to be followed by several others and eventually employed some 400 men. It seemed that he had the nack, determined by instinct for his task despite the obstacles and the fame of Blind Jack spread. He died at nearby Spofforth when he was 93 years of age, a rich man with some 180 miles of northern roads behind him. He was buried in the churchyard at nearby Spofforth where an extensive epitaph on his gravestone tells his story.






The legendary sorceress and soothsayer, Old Mother Shipton, is said to have been born at Knaresborough in 1488 in a cave in the wooded area on the other side of the river. She died in 1561 at the age of 73 years.
Born Ursula Southill, she married York builder Tobias Shipton when she was 24 years old. Every woman is entitled to be ugly but it seems that Ursula abused the privilege.
‘She was very morose, big boned, her head was long  with great goggling sharp and fiery eyes; her nose of an incredible and un- proportionate length, having in it many crooks and turnings and adorned with many strange purples and diverse colours, which like vapours of brimstone gas, gave such a lustre in the dead of night.’  So said a contemporary writer who went on to say, ‘ She had in addition a chin of the nutcracker order, yellow skin shrivelled and wrinkled with one solitary big tooth standing out of her mouth like a tusk. Her neck was so distorted that her right shoulder supported her head, her legs crooked, with feet and toes turned towards her left side so that when she walked to the right it seemed as if she were travelling to the left.’  
That may be so but apparently her understanding was extraordinary and her strange powers of prophesy became known throughout the land. Over one hundred years after her death, Samuel Pepys had recorded in his diary that Mother Shipton had foretold the great fire of London. Her predictions were widespread, she is said to have foretold of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the defeat of the Armada, the Civil Warf, the Great Plague and so on. ‘Carriages without horses shall go and accidents fill the world with woe. Around the world thoughts shall fly in the twinkling of and eye. Iron in the water shall float as easy as a wooden boat. Gold shall be found in a foreign land that’s not now known.’ Is how some of her predictions have been quoted. In his Collection of Prophesies of 1645, Astrologer W. Lilley quoted that 16 of her predictions had been fulfilled. Many people thought that she was a witch, especially Cardinal Wolsey whom Mother Shipton predicted would never be Archbishop of York. Apparently he sent her a message that when he did enter York he would have her burned as a witch. Fortunately for her she was right. Equally fortunate, one of her predictions did not come true, the end of the world in 1881!

Near to Mother Shipton's Cave there is a dropping or petrifying well. The well is protected by an overhang in the limestone cliff and water dripping from this overhang  pertifies, in other words it turns to stone. It has been customary over the years to hang absorbent articles under the overhang such as teddy bears, gloves, shoes and the like where the water will drip onto them and after a time they are turned to stone. This area is privately owned and the public are admitted on payment.



On the town side of the gorge there is a house built into the rock face. Known as Fort Montague, this 18th century three storey castellated dwelling was partly excavated into the rock between 1770 and 1791 by linen weaver Thomas Hill and his son. It was once a popular tourist attraction but is now just a private house.



Another curiosity can be seen a little further along the riverside, The Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag is hollowed ten feet into solid rock. It was excavated and constructed in 1408, as a wayside shrine by John the Mason, traditionally to give thanks for his son being miraculously saved from a falling rock. The roof is ribbed and there is a simple altar, a stone bench, a small window and an arched door. The stone figure of a knight drawing his sword is also carved on the rock face at the side of the door.


Finally in this fascinating gorge there is another cave known as St Robert’s Cave. St Robert of Knaresborough lived in this cave from c1180 until his death in 1218. 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 1n 1216. After his death he was venerated as a saint. His stone bed and his altar remain in the cave.
The site gained notoriety in 1758 when the body of a local man, Daniel Clark, who had disappeared some thirteen years earlier was found buried there. He had been murdered and another local man, Eugene Aram was subsequently hanged for the crime.





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