In the summer of 1924, a shroud of mystery descended on the West Yorkshire village of Eldwick, near Bingley. Rumour had it that a beautiful but excitable young woman whose only companion was a grey cat had taken up residence in a cave in the nearby popular beauty spot of Shipley Glen. On her visits to nearby villages, she couldn’t or wouldn’t reveal any details about herself beyond that her name was Florrie, and it was assumed that she was suffering from memory loss and how and why she came to be living in the cave was a matter of much speculation. The mysterious cave dweller and her plight hit the headlines around the country, and strange and romantic stories were told about her, her cat and a certain tall young man who had been seen visiting her at unearthly hours. And then she vanished…
Florrie All Alone
Florrie All Alone (as the villagers of Eldwick dubbed her) was thought to have started living in her cave in Shipley Glen in the July or August of 1924.[i] The Cave Girl came down into the village on occasion and kindly local women befriended her, though they could get no more out of her than her name being Florrie. Florrie was described as being in her early twenties with dark hair. She wore a ‘smart brown costume’ and had a ‘somewhat excitable disposition’. She was ‘passably good-looking’ according to the Leeds Mercury, though the Daily Mirror described her as a ‘pretty cave woman’.[ii]
As the stories about the ‘pretty cave woman’ spread, local youths searched Shipley Glen to try and find her cave, which they did. On entering, they couldn’t find her, but suddenly became aware that she was sitting at the back of the cave reading a paperback novel and laughing at them, which either embarrassed or scared them, for they left immediately. Another local boy saw her in her cave at 8pm one evening, and another Eldwick resident saw strange lights when crossing the Glen at around 1.30am one night. He assumed that the cave woman was responsible for this.
Eldwick shopkeeper Mrs Holgate described how the strange woman had rushed excitedly into her shop one day unwashed and dishevelled and asked for a comb, saying she needed it because she was going to Leeds the next day. Mrs Holgate provided her with one, but noted that a mysterious tall man was waiting for her outside the shop.[iii]
But perhaps the villagers who got to know the mysterious troglodyte best were owners of Eldwick’s tea shop, Timothy Bruce and his sister. One Saturday afternoon, Mr Bruce heard a banging at the door of his shop and was surprised to see the bedraggled cave girl standing there, soaked by the torrential rain. She asked for a cup of tea, but because the shop was closed and the fire was out, he took pity on the woman and brought her to his house where he gave her tea and a meal, which, to his surprise, she insisted on paying for. Mr Bruce was even more surprised when she asked for and smoked ten cigarettes, which she described as her only comfort.[iv]
It was a stormy evening and the woman, who introduced herself only as Florrie, asked if she could stay the night. When Mr Bruce agreed, she then asked if she could fetch her cat, her only friend. She said the cat had come to her when she was in the cave and slept with her, helping her to keep warm by snuggling up to her. Mr Bruce agreed to the extra guest, and Florrie disappeared, returning soon after with her faithful companion, a fine grey cat.
The tea shop owner was touched by Florrie’s kindness to the cat, and offered her a trial period of employment helping him in his business. Florrie agreed. It seemed the unfortunate woman’s luck had turned.
Florrie told Mr Bruce that she had been employed as a nurse to a Bradford man for two years but that he had died leaving her destitute and forcing her to seek the shelter of the cave on Shipley Glen.[v]
On the first day of her employment, Florrie left early to open up the tea shop. Mr Bruce followed a little later to find the shop open and the grey cat snoozing in front of the fire. But Florrie was gone, never to return. Mr Bruce put the cat outside so that it could, he supposed, go after its mistress.[vi] Why she had left so suddenly and without her faithful cat was a cause of much speculation.
Cave Girl Vanishes!
The local police were informed that a young woman, apparently suffering from memory loss, had been living in a cave in Shipley Glen and had disappeared and officers from Baildon and Bingley police investigated. They found the ‘cave’ Florrie had been using – it was actually a hollow called Fox’s Hold under a large protruding rock rather than a cave. They found some discarded women’s shoes and a glove, along with empty cigarette packets and toffee papers. They also discovered a lurid ‘twopenny novelette’ – a melodrama about an arranged marriage called The Man Who Bought Her.[vii] The floor of the ‘cave’ had some bracken spread over some old carpet, which was assumed to be Florrie’s bed.[viii]
Who was this strange but beautiful Cave Girl? Who was the mysterious tall man she had been seen with? What had happened to her and her faithful feline companion? What clues did the objects left in her cave provide?
Cave Girl Found!
Florrie was discovered soon after her disappearance in Eldwick village by a constable and taken to Bingley police station. At the time she was found, she was with a young man from Leeds. Her name was confirmed as Florrie, though her full name was not reported. She was a native of Derbyshire.
It turned out that she was not, in fact living in the cave, and never had been.[ix] She had spent some time there eating meals she had bought from local shops or reading trashy novels, which had perhaps inspired her to make up the story of her being destitute and living in the cave. She had also shown the cave to her male friend, the tall man of mystery the villagers had been speculating about.
There were no charges against Florrie, so she was released. She had, though, fooled the villagers and the local and national press into imagining strange and romantic stories of a mysterious cave girl who had lost her memory and was forced to hide out on the Yorkshire moors with her only friend in the world being a little grey cat.
And I’m afraid, we have no idea of what became of the cat.
[i] Daily Mirror, 29 September 1924; Evening Dispatch, 29 September 1924; Halifax Evening Courier, 29 September 1924
[ii] Leeds Mercury, 29 September 1924; Daily Mirror, 29 September 1924
[iii] Hull Daily Mail, 29 September 1924
[iv] Yorkshire Evening Post, 29 September 1924
[v] Hull Daily Mail, 29 September 1924
[vi] Yorkshire Evening Post, 29 September 1924
[vii] Leeds Mercury, 30 September 1924
[viii] Dundee Evening Telegraph, 30 September 1924
[ix] Yorkshire Evening Post, 30 September 1924; Shipley Times and Express, 3 October 1924
One thought on “Yorkshire Cave Girl Mystery!”
It sounds like the plot of the film Princess Caraboo! I wonder if the scriptwriters got the idea from Yorkshire Cave Mystery Girl?
You should be a columnist for Fortean Times.
The amount on un-Fortean related subjects they cover is getting wider and wider and, I think as you do this strange/weird archive research and come up with these fascinating stories, I think the magazine (and its readers) would benefit greatly from your input.
I have started writing articles – instead of books – about unsolved mysteries and strange happenings, and had one accepted by The Sceptic, (The one about the Kirby sisters in Calderdale which I sent you) after it was ignored twice by Fortean Times.
However, I also like the idea of publishing my own online as email alerts – like you do.
Look forward to the next.