Mother Shipton (1488-1561) is a traditional English character with a reputation as a prophet. Among the most startling predictions attributed to her is a short poem which predicts that
Carriages without horses shall go,
And accidents fill the world with woe.
Around the world thoughts shall fly
In the twinkling of an eye.
The world upside down shall be
And gold be found at the root of a tree.
Through hills man shall ride,
And no horse be at his side.
Under water men shall walk,
Shall ride, shall sleep, shall talk.
In the air men shall be seen,
In white, in black, in green;
Iron in the water shall float,
As easily as a wooden boat.
Gold shall be found and shown
In a land that's now not known.
Fire and water shall wonders do,
England shall at last admit a foe.
The world to an end shall come,
In eighteen hundred and eighty one."
Alas, this is a forgery written in 1862. In the 20th century an expanded version of this was circulated (revised to exclude the 1881 apocalypse, and include world wars I and II). Today, variations of this are uncritically posted at various websites, just as bogus Nostradamus prophecies circulated in the wake of the events of 9/11/2001.
This essay about Mother Shipton was written in the year 1881; it gives the text of the earliest Mother Shipton prophecies, which primarily concern events from the reign of Henry the Eighth. As it turns out, these were also spawned after the fact, penned by a notorious plagarist. The three earliest texts mention nothing about horseless carriages, submarines, the telegraph, iron boats, let alone predict the year the world will end.
So if there is any kernel of truth to the Mother Shipton legend, it can't be determined from any verifiable documentation. Mother Shipton belongs in the same category as Robin Hood or King Arthur: a legendary figure, possibly based on a real person, whose narrative has been enhanced by time and retelling.
John Bruno Hare, April 8th, 2004.