Online Encyclopedia

MOTHER SHIPTON

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V24, Page 989 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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MOTHER SHIPTON, a witch and prophetess who is supposed to have lived in early Tudor times. There is no really trust-worthy evidence as to her ever having existed, but tradition has it that her maiden-name was Ursula Southill, Sowthiel or Southiel, and her parents were peasants, living near the Dropping Well, Knaresborough, Yorkshire. The date of her birth is uncertain, but it is placed about 1486-1488, Her mother, Agatha Southill, was a reputed witch, and Ursula from her infancy was regarded by the neighbours as " the Devil's child." The girl's appearance seems to have been such as to encourage superstitions. Richard Head in his Life and Death of Mother Shipton (1684) says, " the body was of indifferent height, her head was long, with sharp fiery eyes, her nose of an incredible and unproportionate length, having many crooks and turnings, adorned with many strange pimples of divers colours, as red, blue and dirt, which like vapours of brimstone gave such a lustre to her affrighted spectators in the dead time of the night, that one of them confessed several times in my hearing that her nurse needed no other light to assist her in her duties " Allowing for the absurdity of this account, it certainly seems (if any reliance is to be placed on the so-called authorities) that the child was phenomenally plain and deformed. While still at school she became known as a prophetess. When about twenty-four she married a builder of York, Tobias Shipton. N.B.-The figures of the official or Board of Trade returns, owing of Lloyd's Register (a body altogether distinct from the Corpora- to their inclusion of vessels below too tons, differ more or less widely with the rules of the Register or "Book," which, moreover, are in (A) Wooden colonial vessels trading on the Great Lakes of North a constant state of scientific evolution, may involve withdrawal of America are not included. (B) These figures only include sea- going vessels and iron and steel vessels trading on the Great Lakes. the vessel's class, a result which would be fatal to her cheap in- (C) These figures do not include sailing vessels registered in southern freights. With its skilled surveyors at foreign, colonial and home The following table illustrates the growth and progress of British whole world's shipping, and Number and Tonnage of Steamers and Sailing Vessels registered in the United Kingdom, Isle of Man and foreign as well as British Channel Islands on 31st of December of various Years. (Official Returns of the Board of Trade.) owners are fully alive to the importance of a strict compliance with the Book's requirements. Consequently, amongst the various factors making for improved construction and the greater safety of shipping, the beneficent influence of Lloyd's Register occupies a foremost place. But the various factors or forces which make for the evolution of shipping may all be summed up under the word " competition," which is the mainspring of the machinery both of insurance and classification. These factors operate, however, in different ways. Thus, while insurance and classification make most for ships' increased safety, the desire for profitable freights tends continually to their greater size. But making also for increased size, and in addition for the many Improvements and inventions which result in luxury and comfort at sea, the vast influence of the ocean passenger is conspicuous. For, no longer regarded as an encumbrance to be made room for on a cargo ship, the modern age of travel has rendered him a vast source of profit. The old position is reversed, and now fast-steaming hotels are built for ocean travellers, in which cargo occupies a secondary place, which only merchandise able to pay highly for the costly advantage of a speedy voyage can afford to occupy. The growth of the passenger traffic and the demand of travellers for routes the most direct is, in turn, creating or developing ports which have small regard to cargo considerations, and involving the ports, both old and new, of the various maritime states in a keen and costly competition for the great passenger steamers. This competition is further enhanced by railway lines at rivalry for the conveyance of the ocean passenger and for the more valuable merchandise able to pay high rates for speed between ocean port Steamers. Sailing Vessels. Total. Year. Tonnage. Tonnage. Tonnage. No. No. - No. Net. Gross. Net. Gross. Net. Gross. 1830 298 30,339 .. 18,876 2,171,253 .. 19,174 2,201,592 1840 771 87,928 21,883 2,680,334 •• 22,654 2,768,262 1850 1,187 168,474 • • 24,797 3,396,659 . . 25,984 3,565,133 186o 2,000 454,327 • • 25,663 4,204,360 .. 27,663 4,658,687 1870 3,178 1,112,934 • • 23,189 4,577,855 • • 26,367 5,690,789 188o 5,247 2,723,468 .. 19,938 3,851,045 .. 25,185 6,574,513 .. 1890 7,410 5,042,517 8,095,370 14,181 2,936,021 3,055,136 21,591 7,978,538 11,150,506 1900 9,209 7,207,610 11,816,924 10,773 2,096,498 2,247,228 19,982 9,304,108 14,064,152 1907 11,394 10,023,700 16,513,800 9,648 1,461,490 1,575,900 21,042 11,485,190 18,089,700 SHIRAZ Her most sensational prophecies had to do with Cardinal Wolsey, the duke of Suffolk, Lord Percy and other men prominent at the court of Henry VIII. There is a tradition that on one occasion the abbot of Beverley, anxious to investigate the case for himself, visited Mother Shipton's cottage disguised, and that no sooner had he knocked than the old woman called out " Come in, Mr Abbot, for you are not so much disguised but the fox may be seen through the sheep's skin." She is said to have died at Clifton, Yorkshire, in 1561, and was buried there or at Shipton. Her whole history rests on the flimsiest authority, but her alleged prophecies have had from the 17th century until quite recently an extraordinary hold on the popular imagination. In Stuart times all ranks of society believed in her, and referring to her supposed foretelling of the Great Fire, Pepys relates that when Prince Rupert heard, while sailing. up the Thames on the loth of October 1666, of the outbreak of the fire " all he said was, ` now Shipton's prophecy was out.' " One of her prophecies was supposed to have menaced Yeovil, Somerset, with an earthquake and flood in 1879, and so convinced were the peasantry of the truth of her prognostications that hundreds moved from their cottages on the eve of the expected disaster, while spectators swarmed in from all quarters of the county to see the town's destruction. The suggestion that Mother Shipton had foretold the end of the world in 1881 was the cause of the most poignant alarm throughout rural England in that year, the people deserting their houses, and spending the night in prayer in the fields, churches and chapels. This latter alleged prophecy was one of a series of forgeries to which Charles Hindley, who reprinted in 1862 a garbled version of Richard Head's Life, confessed in 1873. See Richard Head, Life and Death of Mother Shipton (London, 1684) ; Life, Death and the whole of the Wonderful Prophecies of Mother Shipton, the Northern Prophetess (Leeds, 1869); W. H. Harrison, Mother Shipton investigated (London, 1881); _Town. of Brit. Archaeo. Assoc. xix. 308. Mother Shipton's and Nixon's Prophecies, with an introduction by S. Baker (London, 1797).
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