Mother Shipton was a sixteenth-century Yorkshire seer who supposedly made a number of startlingly accurate predictions. However, it is uncertain whether she actually existed, and many of the predictions attributed to her are outright hoaxes.
The first extant reference to her is found in a booklet, The Propheceyes of Mother Shipton
, published in 1641, eighty years after she was said to have died. This work claimed she had accurately predicted the deaths of a number of her contemporaries such as Cardinal Wolsey. However, there are no written references to her, or her predictions, during her own lifetime.
Other works about Mother Shipton subsequently appeared, and with each work new prophecies were credited to her. However, all the prophecies were backdated prophecies (i.e. prophecies which described events that had already occurred).
Mother Shipton's most famous prophecy was that, "The world to an end shall come / In eighteen hundred and eighty-one."
These lines circulated widely throughout England as 1881 approached and caused great popular concern. However, this prophecy was actually the work of a Brighton bookseller, Charles Hindley, who in 1862 had published what he claimed to be a reprint of a 1684 biography of Mother Shipton. To make the biography seem more relevant to nineteenth-century audiences, Hindley had inserted some new verses of his own creation into the book. Some of the other verses Hindley wrote made it seem as if Mother Shipton had accurately predicted the invention of technologies such as the railway, telegraph, submarines, and hot-air balloons.