Shropshire legends: Humphrey Kynaston

PUBLISHED: 18:13 18 October 2010 | UPDATED: 18:00 20 February 2013

Shropshire legends: Humphrey Kynaston

Shropshire legends: Humphrey Kynaston

Humphrey Kynaston is one of many fascinating characters featured in a new book, It Happened In Shropshire. Author Bob Burrows tells his story

Murderer, robber, knight

Humphrey Kynaston is one of many fascinating characters featured in a new book, It Happened In Shropshire. Author Bob Burrows tells his story

The Shropshire that we know today was geographically shaped by the Ice Age but its people were influenced by the successive invasions of the Romans, the Normans and the Vikings. Historically violent, geographically diverse, industrially vibrant and culturally profuse, Shropshire, for its size, made an astonishing contribution to the social, cultural and political history of Great Britain producing an amazing, diverse range of creative, resilient, determined people.

Humphrey Kynaston was born in 1474, the first son of Sir Roger Kynaston, Sheriff of Shropshire and his second wife Elizabeth Grey. After his father died he inherited the family seat at Myddle Castle near Nesscliffe. He was young, reckless, impulsive and irresponsible and very soon his lands and castle fell into disrepair as he became heavily in debt. He was arrogant, with scant respect for reputation or person, and on a winters day around 1491, when out riding with two friends and without provocation, they killed John Hughes. The attack was cowardly and brutal. One man hit Hughes in the head with his sword, another struck him in the leg and Kynaston stuck his lance into the unfortunate. It was unquestionably murder but shortly after his trial on December 20th 1491 and before he was incarcerated, Kynaston fled the crumbling Myddle Castle, leaving behind his wife and family and enormous debts. He was declared an outlaw by King Henry VII and his legend began.

He retreated into the wilds and settled in a cave in Nesscliffe Rock, close by the village of Nesscliffe. The approach to the cave is heavily wooded and up a very steep pathway, the end of which leads to towering red sandstone cliffs. Set into the cliff side is the cave which is spacious and divided into two sections by a pillar of stone. Kynaston lived in one half of the cave and his precious horse and sole companion, the legendary Beelzebub, lived in the other half. There is a path leading to the cave which is accessed by steep stone steps and guarded by a heavy iron door. Today the site is a protected historical site and fascinating to visit.
Beelzebub would graze in the fields of amiable neighbours close by the hideout and would come whenever Kynaston whistled. The local people respected his secrecy and gave him food from time to time, probably in exchange for a share of his spoils.

The cave was a perfect vantage point and from the top of Nesscliffe Hill, Kynaston could see the road below winding between Shrewsbury and Oswestry and could target the merchants in their carts carrying wool, silver or gold or travellers in their coaches.

He would descend at speed on Beelzebub and rob the unfortunates before returning to his cave. Often he would share the spoils with his neighbours, ensuring their support and loyalty and his later reputation as the countys own Dick Turpin, or Robin Hood.

The local sheriff was charged with capturing him and his attempts are garnished by legend. One story told of how the sheriff laid an ambush for him by removing the planks from the bridge on the way to the hideout. Kynaston spotted the trap, spurred Beelzebub into a full gallop and cleared the bridge in one leap. However, hero as he was to some, Humphrey Kynaston on one occasion demonstrated that he had not lost the ruthless streak that got him into trouble when a young man.
One day he walked into his favourite pub, The Old Three Pigeons of Nesscliffe, which sits at the foot of the cliff, and took offence when he saw a man sitting in his seat inset into the fireplace. Without further ado he drew his pistol and shot the man dead; he escaped by climbing up the chimney, out onto the roof and away. Today, the pub still features Humphreys seat carved out of the large fireplace as a sandstone cleft.

It is not clear how many years Kynaston lived in the cave but history reveals he was pardoned after shrewdly using the riches from his outlaw activities. Henry VIII needed manpower and money for a military foray into France and as the English army moved into France on June 16th 1513, a banner was observed with the legend: Shrop-Homffray Kynaston and Thomas Trentham, under which 100 men were marching, giving an indication of Humphreys wealth and illustrating his support for King Henry VIII. Around 1516, as a reward for his loyalty and support, he was pardoned and knighted.

Sir Humphrey married again and had more children He died in 1534, some say in Welshpool, although one source claims that he died in the cave. However, with a wife and family that theory can be discounted, indeed his will stated that all his land and tenements in England and Wales should go to his eldest son Edward, except the land and property at Knockyn which should go to his youngest son Roger. Such a legacy hardly befits a cave dweller.

A most remarkable man who moved from riches to rags, and, through crime, back to respectability.

It Happened in Shropshire is published by Merlin Unwin Books of Ludlow. www.merlinunwin.co.uk

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