Knaresborough hermit's cave, Yorkshire, West Riding

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Feature Sets (2)


Knaresborough is a historic market town on the River Nidd, 4 miles E of Harrogate.  The hermit's cave is cut in bedrock on the north bank of the river Nidd, and reached by steps down from Abbey Road.

Ampleforth Abbey are the trustees of the site, and it was cleared and excavated by Harrogate Museums Service in 1989. Extensive photographs were taken at that time, and a copy of their plan of the site has been sent in.

On a rock shelf in front of the cave is the foundation level of a small chapel, of which the W end is not clearly located. A few courses of stone remain on the E and S sides. A grave is cut in front of the altar step. This has been filled in but its outline can be seen. To the W of the chapel and the entrance to the cave is an open area with a bench cut into the cliff, labelled as ‘domestic area’ by the archaeologists.

Within the two-cell cave are one or two alcoves, and at the back of the second chamber is a ‘bench’ and alcove. The walls and roof, which is at about 2.2m, are full of scratched initials, etc., but there is one incised cross with bored terminals which looks possibly 12th c. There is also an entrance doorway. Otherwise, no sculpture.


The hermit associated with the site was Robert Floure from York, known as St Robert of Knaresborough, c.1160-1218. A medieval Life (ed. Bazire, 1968) gives information about him. He was a novice at Newminster, a Cistercian house in Northumberland. He lived at several sites, but most often at Knaresborough. The Life says that his brother Walter arranged for masons from York to build a stone chapel for Robert. King John visited him at the cave, and gave him 40 acres of land in 1216. This marks what is believed to be the first ever Royal Maundy ceremony (See also Farmer, 1987, pp. 371-2; Kellett, 1990, pp. 76-9, and Kellett, 1991, p. 13).

After Robert died in 1218 he was buried at the cave. The site was acquired by the Trinitarian Order, who later had their buildings about half a mile back towards the town, and reburied him there. Papal indulgences were offered for help in building at the priory for ‘the saint’ but official canonisation never took place (Grey, 1993, 115-118). Some carved stone presumably from the 13th-century priory can be seen in the walls of 'The Priory' and 'Abbey House' in that area.


Exterior Features



The cave is entered by a rectangular opening or doorway cut in the cliff-face, on the inside of which is a rebate. W. of opening 1.075m within the rebate. H. of opening 1.53 to step at rebate. Coarse tooling is found to the right of the opening and on the jamb.



  • J. Bazire, The Metrical Life of St Robert of Knaresborough, Early English Text Society (London, 1968).

  • D. H. Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, 2nd edn. (Oxford, 1987).

  • M. Grey, 'The Trinitarian Order in England', British Achaeological Reports, British Series 226 (Oxford, 1993).

  • A. Kellett, Historic Knaresborough (Otley, 1991).

  • A. Kellett, 'King John in Knaresborough: the first known Royal Maundy', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, Aug 1990; see also ibid., 'King John's Maundy', History Today 40 Issue 4 (Apr, 1990), available online at http://www.historytoday.com/arnold-kellet/king-johns-maundy




Site of hermitage (from domestic end with entrance to cave)
Wall, exterior, R of entrance, tooling in bedrock.
Wall, interior, L of entrance, from within.
Wall, interior, L of entrance, from within.
Back wall, R side, 'seat' and recess; incised cross in centre of picture.
Site panel by Harrogate Museum Services
Site of hermitage (from chapel end) with river beyond.
S wall, foundation and floor with blocked grave pit.
Walk from below castle to the cave, about 1 mile between cliff and river.


Site Location
Knaresborough hermit's cave
National Grid Reference
SE 361 561 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Yorkshire, West Riding
now: North Yorkshire
Type of building/monument
Hermit's cave  
Report authors
Rita Wood 
Visit Date
23 March 1999, 08 Mar 2010