Knaresborough

“And in the air men shall be seen, in white and black and even green.”

– Mother Shiptons prophecy on the invention of aircraft

Knaresborough is a popular market town in North Yorkshire. It’s situated on the River Nidd and has a population of roughly 15,000 people.

The town is known for being the home to one of the oldest tourist attractions in England. It also hosts the bed race which happens every year. 

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Places to Visit in Knaresborough

Although Knaresborough isn’t overly big, it’s full of family friendly attractions. There are plenty of places to visit in the market town that are guaranteed to be a day of fun.

Mother Shipton’s Cave

Knaresborough is home to Mother Shipton’s Cave, an extremely popular tourist attraction that people travel from miles around to visit. It explains the life of Mother Shipton and houses a wishing well and museum. There are also woodland walks, a play area, and gift shop.

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The town was once home to one of Yorkshire’s most famous residents, Ursula Southeil. She was mainly known as the fortune-teller Mother Shipton. 

Born in a Knaresborough cave in 1488, Ursula became famous for her prophecies about the future. These included the great fire of London in 1666, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and the end of the world.

It’s said that if Knaresborough Viaduct falls down three times then the world will end. So far it’s fallen down twice.

The Dropping Well

The famous petrifying well at Mother Shipton's Cave. Picture credit Chris Gunns wikipedia creative commons.
The famous petrifying well at Mother Shipton’s Cave. Picture credit Chris Gunns wikipedia creative commons.

The Dropping Well was known for its healing powers and ability to petrify objects. This attracted Charles Slingsby.

In 1630, Charles bought the cave and Dropping well. He charged visitors to see them which in turn created the oldest tourist attraction in England.

Nowadays, the petrifying well and cave are still open to the public. There’s only one of its kind in the entire country.

The well is known for turning everyday objects such as teddy bears, footballs, and hats into stone. Some objects have been left by celebrities who have visited the site to be petrified.

It was once thought that the petrifying process was down to the work of magic. Many scientists have analysed the well and found that it’s caused by an unusually high mineral content found in its water.

Knaresborough Castle

Knaresborough Castle is a Norman ruin and was an important Royalist stronghold during the Civil War. In 1644, it was later taken and destroyed by Parliamentarian forces.

Nowadays, the ruin and 700 year old King’s Tower are open to the public. Visitors can explore the dungeons and learn about the history of the castle through guided tours.

The grounds also include a Courtroom museum. People can experience a Tudor court and learn about crime and punishment during this period.

Blind Jack

Another notable landmark is the statue of local character John Metcalf. Also known as “Blind Jack”, it can be found on a seat in the market square.

Born in 1717, John was blind from the age of six. He was responsible for building some of the North’s first turnpike roads, the most notable A section between Harrogate to Wetherby.

John became a pioneer in road building and route planning despite his severe disability. Throughout an interesting life, he was also an accomplished violinist and tour guide.

Blind Jack’s roads have now been modernised. This has made Knaresborough well connected to other Yorkshire towns and cities.

Events & Festivals in Knaresborough

Annual Bed Race

Every June, Knaresborough hosts its annual bed race. This involves 90 teams of six runners and one passenger race to complete a 2.4 mile course around the town.

The Knaresborough Bed Race in 2013. Picture credit: Terry Madeley flicr wikipedia creative commons
The Knaresborough Bed Race in 2013. Picture credit: Terry Madeley flicr wikipedia creative commons

The race first started in 1966 when the newly formed Knaresborough Round table wanted a new fundraiser for the community. This event has since become a highly anticipated popular event around the county.

It first starts at Knaresborough Castle. The teams are then judged for the best bed design. At 1pm they parade through the town centre in fancy dress.

Afterwards, the decorations are then stripped off in preparation for the race itself. This includes a 20m swim across the River Nidd and through the castle gorge.

The average time for the winners is around 15 minutes. In total, the annual bed race generates an estimated £100,000 for charity.

Knaresborough Festival (Feva)

Knaresborough festival, also called feva, first started in 1996. It has been held in the town each summer since and continues to do so. This festival features ten days of visual art, dancing, and music.

Knaresborough has also featured in stage two of the Tour de France. They even won an award for being the best-dressed town on the route.

Theatres in Knaresborough

The Frazer Theatre is located on the high street. It is owned and run by the Knaresborough players who are an amateur dramatics society that was formed in 1962.

The building is named after the philanthropist who first rented the hall to the players in its early days. It hosts not only productions such as the annual pantomime, but also music, drama, and comedy throughout the year by well known acts.

Knaresborough Market

In Knaresborough’s marketplace, you’ll find the oldest chemist shop in England. It was established in 1720 by John Beckwith although the building itself dates back to medieval times.

Nowadays, it’s a gift shop which sells jams, confectionery, and herbal remedies. There is also a market held outside every Wednesday and has been since 1310.

Travelling In & Out of Knaresborough

It is directly next to the A1 motorway and is linked to York and Harrogate by the A59. Along the A658, is Leeds which is only a half hour drive away.

Knaresborough also has a railway station which is situated on the Harrogate line between Leeds and York. The current station was rebuilt around 1890 near the four arched stone viaduct which spans across the River Nidd and was built in 1851.

The signal box in Knaresborough is quite unusual. It’s joined onto the gable end of a row of terraced houses. This was done due to a lack of space at the level crossing.

Alongside the railway station, Knaresborough also has a bus station. Its buses run to local towns such as Boroughbridge, Harrogate, Ripon, and York.

Knaresborough is not a town that is normally associated with sport. Although there are sports teams, they are not widely known.

Sport in Knaresborough

They have a football team called Knaresborough Town FC which was founded in 1902. When first created, they did really well and often won matches. Now, at time of writing, they are in Northern Counties East Football League Division One.

The town also has two cricket teams which play in local Yorkshire competitions. These are Knaresborough Cricket Club and Knaresborough Forest CC.

Knaresborough is a pleasant corner of Yorkshire. It offers a mix of fascinating history and wonderful scenery with picturesque views.

History of Knaresborough

Knaresborough. Picture credit: Olya Marsh (IFY Community)

The town of Knaresborough is first mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086 as “The Manor of Chenarsberg”. Like many places in the area, a castle was built to maintain order over its natives and to defend the town.

Interesting Characters

This gave Knaresborough the first of its many colourful characters. Hugh de Morville, Lord of Knaresborough, was part of the group of knights which murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett, in 1170. The assassins returned and hid at Knaresborough castle after their crime.

In 1205, the lands around the settlement were acquired by King John who held the first Maundy Thursday ritual. Five years later after he acquired the land, this was introduced and silver coins were given to the poor three days before Easter. 

Scot Invasion

During the reign of Edward II, most of the town was burned down by invading Scots including the parish church. The castle remained up until the Civil War when the Parliamentarians ousted the Royalists and destroyed it.

Knaresborough Dropping Well

The town’s dropping well has been spoken about for hundreds of years. In earlier times, it was noted and feared for its ability to turn objects into stone.

Throughout its earlier history, no one visited the area near the well. It was believed to be magic and the work of witches.

However, by 1538, this view of the well changed and it was believed to have healing powers and attracted visitors from miles around.

The coincidence that Mother Shipton was born in a nearby cave further intensified the interest in the location. This led it to gradually become the first tourist attraction in the country from 1630.

Industrial Revolution

During the Industrial Revolution, the town developed some industries and mills. The most notable was its production of linen cloth.

However, as Knaresborough is on higher ground, it proved to be a difficult location to import raw materials by canal and rail. There were several failed attempts to build a canal from Knaresborough and the stone viaduct over the River Nidd.

Knaresborough Viaduct

Knaresborough Viaduct was also unsuccessful on its first building attempt as it collapsed into the river close to completion. It was only until its second attempt that it was successful and officially completed in 1851.

National Hoax

In October 2013, Knaresborough hit the national headlines. Its town centre was put into lock down by armed police after they received a security call centred on a takeaway shop. In the end, the alert turned out to be a malicious hoax.

Tourist Town

Due to the success of other towns and cities in the nearby area, such as Leeds and Bradford, it meant that Knaresborough never expanded in the same way as them. Instead it focused more on tourism which proved popular thanks to the scenery and history of the town.

Knaresborough Trivia

Knaresborough is called “Chenaresburg” in the Domesday Book. This means Cenheard’s Fortress.

The Normans built Knaresborough Castle around 1100.

In 1170, Hugh de Morville, the Lord of Knaresborough, was one of the four Knights that murdered Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.

The first Maundy Monday was given to Knaresborough by King John in 1205.

Edward II granted a Royal Charter for Knaresborough to hold a market. The market is still held each Wednesday in the market square.

After their victory at Bannockburn in 1314, there were repeated raids by the Scots into England. In one of these, Knaresborough was almost burned to the ground.

Knaresborough Castle, now a ruin, sits on top of a high cliff of 120 feet. In 1646, after the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644, the castle was besieged and fell to Parliamentary forces. It was ordered to be destroyed by Parliament. Much of the destruction was carried out by locals who took away stone for building purposes.

Mother Shipton, originally called Ursula Southeil, was a renowned soothsayer and prophetess who was born in a cave now known as Mother Shipton’s Cave.

People leave objects under the falling water of the Petrifying Well, the Dropping Well, which turns into stone over time.

Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist, records that Mother Shipton predicted the Great Fire of London.

John Metcalf, often known as Blind Jack, was blind from the age of six and became a known musician, guide, and road maker. There is a pub in Knaresborough named after him.

Every year on the second Saturday of June, the town hosts the Great Knaresborough Bed Race. It was first staged in 1966 and in 2013 attracted 30,000 people.