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a guest feature by Littlestone
And the stones in the road shone like diamonds in the dust
And then a voice called to us to make our way back home.
Mary Chapin Carpenter
No, this isn’t about that stirring song, Stones In The Road, by Mary Chapin Carpenter (though it could be) on her 1994 album of the same name, but about the megaliths that lay scattered along our highways, byways, high streets and lanes which, depending on your point of view, can certainly be either, ’A thousand points of light or shame’ or ‘diamonds in the dust’. Heritage Action ran an earlier feature on the stones in Ingatestone High Street, Essex – stones which almost certainly once formed a stone circle but, sadly, are still there on the road and just as vulnerable to damage now as when that feature was first run.
One of two stones at the entrance to Fryerning Lane, Ingatestone, Essex
The stones in Ingatestone’s High Street are not the only examples of megaliths used as buffers, pushed onto verges or just left where they are, awaiting their fate to be damaged or deliberately broken up. William Stukeley’s 1724 Groundplot of Avebury shows no less than nine stones in the roads there – all now long gone but once part of the proud Avebury Henge.
William Stukeley’s 1724 Groundplot of Avebury
Stones in the road are illustrated by small rectangles (click on the map for details)
On Flowergate (road) in Whitby, north-east Yorkshire, is a horse mounting stone. It’s not clear that the stone is originally from a megalithic structure but, as British History Online* records, “The monoliths which exist in the parish possibly mark ancient British interments… North of the lane from Whitby Lathes to Stainsacre a stone 1 ft. square and 4 ft. high stood in Robin Hood Closes in 1816, while south of the lane, in Little John Closes… was a second pillar 2½ ft. high.” so there is a possible connection between this, the more famous Wishing Chair also in Whitby, and a megalithic site. The horse mounting stone is now to be found outside the Little Angel pub in Flowergate road. British History Online again records that, “A diligence commenced in 1788 to run twice a week from the ‘Turk’s Head’ and ‘White Horse and Griffin’ at Whitby to York and another to Scarborough began in 1793. The mail-coach started in 1795 and ran three times a week. A Sunderland coach commenced in 1796. All the coaches ran from the Angel Inn…”
The horse mounting stone in Flowergate, Whitby
Turning south again there are stones on the verges outside The Church of St Barnabus at Alphamstone in Essex – and outside the lichgate of The Church of St Mary with St Leonard, Broomfield also in Essex – both almost certainly pre-Christian sites. More here –
Stones on the verge outside The Church of St Barnabus, Althamstone, Essex
Stones outside the lichgate of The Church of St Mary with St Leonard, Broomfield, Essex
The examples above of ‘stones in the road’ are just a few of perhaps many more scattered through the country – some with possibly intriguing histories. It’s been suggested, for example, that the stones in the little village of Berwick St James, Wiltshire may have originally been part of the Stonehenge complex (see ).
Two of the Berwick St James Stones. Image credit AlanS
But perhaps the most famous ‘stone in the road’ of them all is the London Stone in Cannon Street, east London. Both the stone, with its receptacle and iron grille, were designated a Grade II listed structure on 5 June 1972. It’s recorded that the, ”London Stone was for many hundreds of years recognised as the symbolic authority and heart of the City of London. It was the place where deals were forged and oaths were sworn. It was also the point from which official proclamations were made.”** Legend has it that, “So long as the stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish.” Let’s hope so, and as one of the longest surviving, and most respected ‘stones in the road’, this stone might, perhaps, lend itself in some way to the 2012 Olympic Games – for what better symbolizes the history and continuity of the City of London, and a place to swear the Olympic Oath, than this stone that lies at its very heart.
The London Stone. Image credit AlanS
Finally, this isn’t a campaign to have these stones in the road restored to their rightful place (though it could be) but just a little setting straight of the record. It could be that many of the stones that now lay chapped and chipped by passers-by once formed circles, or at least a place where people met to celebrate the rhythms of their lives and the planet that sustained those rhythms. If nothing else, that at least is perhaps worthy of a mention.
And the stones in the road leave a mark from whence they came
A thousand points of light or shame.
Mary Chapin Carpenter
* From: ‘Parishes: Whitby’, A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 2 (1923), pp. 506-528. URL:

From The Stone Crosses of the County of Northamptonshire (1901) by C A Markham

Mike Pitts in a Guardian article on Sunday the 25th April highlighted the danger of an Anglo-Saxon carved stone cross shaft being sold in the saleroom of Bonhams auctioneers. The cross dedicated to Saint Pega (who died in AD 716, and was England’s first female hermit) was from Peakirk in Northamptonshire. As an invaluable piece of our heritage, that it should go on to the open market, with the danger of it being exported abroad, raised alarm bells in the archaeological world. Two things came to light about this stone, firstly that although the chapel and house in which it had been housed were listed buildings under English law, the stone was not, and of course stone as a material is not covered by the Treasure Act.

Professor Rosemary Cramp, a leading expert on Anglo-Saxon history said she had worked hard to “stop a market in these monuments from being created”.

It was indeed unfortunate that the owner of the house in which the stone had been kept for the last few years, had merely decided to sell the stone on a whim, rather than with a profit motive in mind.

But the seventh cavalry came charging in at the last moment, and it can be revealed that, “it was the Guardian wot won it”. In an article on Thursday 29th, Mike Pitts, ever so slightly victorious, wrote that Bonham’s had withdrawn the cross from sale on Tuesday evening, in no small part to letters of protest written by Janet Gough (director of cathedrals and church buildings for The Church of England) and Mike Heyworth (director of the Council for British Archaeology).

So the cross is saved, its’ future not known at the present time, though it would obviously be preferable that it ended up in Peterborough Museum for public display. For more information the following links lead to the two original articles and the   link  below raises a more serious question as to the legality of selling ‘ancient stones’….

“Bonhams established it [sc. the cross] was not part of the listed building, which would have prevented the sale: the church had simply sold it with the house without restrictions, and it’s not physically attached… But there is a more important issue here.

“Has the cross been “removed from a building or structure of historical, architectural or archaeological interest where the object has at any time formed part of the building or structure”? Would the cross be protected under the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003?”.    Looting Matters blog

Save Our Anglo-Saxon Stone  Mike Pitts – Guardian Article; 25th April 2010

Has the stone been saved?     Mike Pitts – Guardian article; 28th April 2010

Paul Barford’s excellent blog also highlights the perils.


April 2010

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