Shropshire’s Robin Hood
Many people are aware of the legend of Robin Hood, however another person of similar character existed in the past which many people are unaware of. The mans name in question was Humphrey Kynaston, he was the son of Sir Roger Kynaston of Hordley near Ellesmere and Lady Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Gray Earl of Ankerville, and Lord of Powys. The family originated in Wales from the Prince’s of Powys. As Humphrey was not expected to inherit the family estates he was given constableship of Middle Castle which had previously belonged to the Le Strange family but had since returned to the ownership of the Crown. Humphrey failed in the upkeep of the castle and it started to fall into disrepair which was hardly suprising as he was expected to keep the castle in good repair from his own resources, and as he had no means of income the inevitable came to pass.
This was one of the reasons that Humphrey took to robbery and became an outlaw, some say it was due to his riotous living and his massive debts, others say that he killed a man in Church Stretton along with two other accomplices. Once he had become an outlaw it quite literally meant that he had no rights whatsoever and that he was outside the law, any land or property would have been confiscated and he would have had to steal just to stay alive, this is the position Humphrey found himself in in 1491.
On one of Humphreys exploits it is said that he robbed a steward who was carrying rents he had received on behalf of a Gentleman. The Lord of the Manor who had had his rent stolen by Humphrey sent a message to him saying that he would be putting his tenants rent up to cover the loss. Humphrey promptly went and stole the rent money from another steward to pay back the takings of the first robbery!
By this time he was gaining a reputation and he was forced to flee from the crumbling Middle Castle so he set up home in a sandstone cave above the village of Nesscliffe in Shropshire.
The cave is about 6 metres up on the side of a cliff, there are worn sandstone steps leading up to it and at one time there was a wooden staircase used to access it. The cave has two chambers, the one on the left would have been the smaller of the two, whereas the one on the right was about 4 square metres in total area. It is said that Humphrey lived in the larger room and stabled his horse in the smaller one.
The hole on the far left was the chimmney
It is said that Humphrey trained his horse to climb up the steps and enter the cave by whistling to it. On the pillar that divides the two rooms can be found an engraving which says HK1564, this is thought to refer to Humphrey Kynaston and the date that it was engraved, however there is a debate as to whether this is genuine or not.
The engraved pillar
Kynaston and his trusty horse called Beelzebub seemed to possess a skill at avoiding their pursuers and always seemed to make it back to the safety of their cave. On one occasion the Under Sheriff tried to fool Humphrey by removing the planks on the Montford Bridge knowing that he had to return this way to cross the river Severn, however Humphrey managed an incredible leap on horseback and managed to evade his pursuers. It is also claimed that Humphrey would put horseshoes back to front on Beelzebub so that people tracking him would not know in which direction he was travelling in.
Humphrey had used to let Beelzebub graze on a farmers field without his permission, one day the farmer collected a large group of men and together with a long length of rope attempted to encircle the horse. Kynaston saw what they were doing from his cave, he whistled the horse like a dog, the horse leapt over the heads of the men and climbed the steps to the cave and safety. Another time a thief managed to get on the horses back in an attempt to steal it, the horse then headed up the steps to the cave, the thief scared of confronting Humphrey leapt off the horses back breaking his arm in the process.
Another story relates to Humphrey visiting Aston Hall near Oswestry for a drink, while downing his drink from a silver tankard the owners got the servants to close the gates trapping Humphrey and his horse inside in the hope of capturing the outlaw, this however was not to be as Humphrey and his steed cleared the gates riding to freedom and keeping the silver tankard for his troubles.
Humphrey lived quite well because of the love that the poor had for him due to him sharing his ill gotten gains with them and the fear that he inspired in the wealthy. When he was deserted by his second wife it is said that Humphrey’s Mother would bring him his Sunday dinner to the cave as Sunday was classed as a day of civil freedom.
It is known that Humphrey would visit the Three Old Pigeons public house at the foot of the cliffs where his cave is located for a drink.
The Three Old Pigeons pub
This photograph shows Humphrey’s favourite seat which is a recess to the left of the fireplace. There is an entry in the Visitation of Shropshire 1623 which states that a Homffray Kynaston and Thomas Trentham from Shropshire entered France in the service of the King on the 16th June 1513 with 100 men but without a standard, this could be the reason why Humphrey was pardoned three years later by King Henry VIII.
Humphrey used his new found freedom to make a home on a small estate near Welshpool in the county of Powys, he stayed there until his death in 1534. He is buried on the right hand side of the chancel at the church of St Mary in Welshpool.
A strange carved face outside the cave entrance