St Robert's Cave medieval hermitage, 90m north of Plumpton Mill Farm


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Yorkshire
Harrogate (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SE 36105 56089

Reasons for Designation

Following St Augustine's re-establishment of Christianity in AD 597, monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular medieval life in the British Isles. Although most monasticism centred on communities, some men and women chose to live solitary lives of contemplation and simplified religious observance, akin to those of the Christian fathers and early British saints. They lived in what we now refer to as hermitages, occupying secluded sites such as isolated islands and caves in river banks, marshy areas or forests. The hermits lived off alms or under the patronage of the nobility who established hermits to pray for the souls and well-being of their families. Hermitages were generally simple, comprising a dwelling area, an oratory or room set aside for private prayer, and perhaps a small chapel. Hermitages fell out of favour with the general dissolution of religious establishments in the middle of the 16th century. Around 500 hermitages are known from documents but the locations of very few have been identified and this is therefore a rare monument type. All examples which exhibit surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

The monument is a very rare surviving example of a medieval hermitage, which includes both the hermit's cave and living area, as well as the remains of a chapel. Although the chapel survives only as ruined foundations, the monument as a whole is unique, given its association with a known and famous medieval hermit, St Robert of Knaresborough.


The monument includes the medieval hermitage of St Robert, situated along Abbey Road, on the north western bank of the River Nidd at the south eastern end of Knaresborough. The monument includes a cave, chapel and living area which were cut out of the cliff face of the magnesian limestone bedrock. The cave includes a plain `L' shaped chamber nearly 4m long east-west by 3m north-south at its widest, which formed the hermit's living area. Outside the cave entrance against the rock face of the cliff there is a low rock-cut bench, beyond which is a further small living area to the north end measuring approximately 3m square. To the east of this lies the remains of the chapel, containing an altar area to the east and the site of St Robert's grave, orientated east-west to the west of the altar area, towards the centre of the chapel floor. This was cut into the rock in front of the altar step of the chapel chancel, and was recessed to provide a covering slab flush with the floor in the manner of important burials of that time. It measures 2m long by between 0.35m-0.53m wide. The chapel itself survives as the remains of low stone foundations for the original chapel walls and measures approximately 6.25m long north east-south west by about 3m wide north-south and is bounded by the edge of the bedrock along its southern side, beyond which the land drops into the bank on the Nidd River. The deviation from the usual east-west alignment is probably owing to its restricted situation between the cliff face and the river bank. The hermitage dates from c.1180, when Robert of Knaresborough, a renowned local hermit, first occupied the cave. At this time, the cave was located within what was then the Forest of Knaresborough. Robert was the son of a leading citizen of York, and early in his life he took a religious vocation, first briefly joining the Cistercian community at Newminster in Northumberland. He did not remain there, however, moving firstly to join an established hermit in Knaresborough by the Nidd, and then moving from site to site. His reputation as a holy man and consequent popularity rapidly spread, which caused him to become an object of persecution by the local authorities for a while, in particular by the Constable of Knaresborough, who repeatedly evicted him from the different sites he had occupied. Robert returned to the cave by the River Nidd where his popularity continued to grow. Tradition tells us that the constable had visions warning him to cease his persecution of Robert, after which he was given a grant of land and allowed to live there in peace. Robert's brother Walter caused the small chapel - the chapel of the Holy Rood - and living area to be built next to the cave for Robert, who had refused to move to a more acceptable location such as a monastery. He spent the remainder of his life there in contemplation and prayer, and eventually became renowned across Europe during the 13th century, his cave and chapel becoming a focus for pilgrims both during his life and following his death in 1218. In 1252 he was recognised as a Saint in a Papal Bull although he was never officially canonised. Robert was first buried in the chapel of the hermitage, but his body was later moved to the priory in Knaresborough built by the Order of the Holy Trinity for the Redemption of Captives from the Holy Land (the Trinitarians), who were devotees of Robert. The entire structure of the cave and the chapel, which together are Listed Grade II*, with its living area, are included in the scheduling, which includes the rock cliff face into which the cave is cut. Modern stone walls and post and wire fences bounding the monument, steps and hand rails of the steps leading down to the hermitage, together with information plaques are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Bottomley, F, St Robert of Knaresborough, (1993)
Information leaflet, Harrogate Museums & Art Gallery Service, St Robert of Knaresborough,
North Yorks SMR, Records Cards, (1996)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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