Robert Willance was a succesful Richmond merchant and who also had lead smelting and mining property at Clints in Swaledale. He was the first Alderman (the equivalent of Mayor) of Richmond in 1608, but two years earlier he survived a hunting accident on Whitcliffe Scar, just outside Richmond. The site is now known as Willance's Leap in commemoration of the amazing event in 1606.
On a chilly November day Robert Willance was out hunting, riding an inexperienced and nervous young horse, when a thick mist suddenly came down. The horse bolted and fell 212ft over the edge of Whitcliffe Scar and was killed. Willance himself survived the fall but severely injured his leg. Realising he would not be rescued until the fog lifted, he used his hunting knife to slit open the horse's belly and inserted his fractured leg into the warm belly of the unfortunate horse.
It is said that this act probably saved his life, as the extra warmth would delay the onset of gangrene and protect him from the cruel cold weather on Whitcliffe Scar.
When he was found many hours later he was taken back to his house in Richmond, now Willance House (24 Frenchgate), where his injured leg was amputated. He made such a good recovery that he was able to serve as the first Alderman of Richmond in 1608.
To thank God for his miraculous deliverance from the jaws of death, he set up three stones marking the last strides of his horse with the inscription :
"Hear Us - Glory be to our Merciful God who Miraculously Preserved me from the Danger so Great"
He died ten years later in 1616 and was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary's parish church, close to the garden wall of Willance House on 12 February. According to tradition, he was reunited with his leg which had been buried there ten years earlier. His grave is marked by a flat stone near a door in the garden wall, but the inscription is no longer legible.
In September, 2006, the Town of Richmond celebrated the 400th Anniversary with a new stone placed at the Leap. People of Richmond with their mayor and many mayors and people from afar walked the few miles to Willance's Leap. Here John Wilson sang his song 'Robert Willance' to tell the remarkable story to those gathered.
Image above by Shelagh Powell, courtesy of John Wilson, Whitcliffe Records.
Robert Willance also gave Richmond a silver 'boulle' or cup which is on display with other civic plates in the Green Howards Regimental Museum in the Market Place.
The Silver plain bell shaped bowl is inscribed at the top, "This boulle given by Robert Willance to the Incorporate Alderman and Burgesses of Richmond to be used by the Alderman for the time being and to be redelivered by him or his exer or assignes to his successors for ever 1606".
The domed foot is inscribed "Given as a thanks offering for his great escape from death in a riding accident".
Made in London 1595. Makers mark AB over a tun.
Information & Photo above sourced from Richmond Town Council © Alan M.Wilcox Richmond Town Clerk 1985-1997.