Robert Willance left his mark on Richmond in two ways. He was the first Alderman (the equivalent of Mayor) of Richmond in 1608, but two years earlier he survived a hunting accident at a site on Whitcliffe Scar, just outside Richmond. The site is now known as Willance's Leap in commemoration of the amazing event in 1606.
Robert Willance, whose family owned property at Clints near Marske as well as in Richmond, was out hunting one day, 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 survived the fall but with a broken 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 into it his fractured leg. This probably saved his life, as the extra warmth would delay the onset of gangrene.
Later, he was taken back to his house in Richmond, now No. 24 Frenchgate or Willance House, 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 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".
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. He died in 1616 and was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary’s parish church, close to the garden wall of Willance House. 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.
Image by Shelagh Powell
Courtesy of John Wilson, Whitcliffe Records.