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Stones in the road

"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'.

Two stones in Ingatestone High Street, Essex, almost certainly once formed a stone circle but, sadly, are still there and still vulnerable to damage now as when this was first written. 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.

On Flowergate (road) in Whitby, north-east Yorkshire, there is a stone outside the Little Angel pub. It's not clear that this is originally from a megalithic structure but, as British History Online** records, "The monoliths which exist in the parish possibly mark ancient British interments" so there is a possible connection between this stone and a megalithic site. 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 stone now has steps cut into it and was perhaps used to assist passengers in and out of their carriage, or riders on and off their horses.

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 -

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 ). 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 recognized 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, have lent 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.

"And the stones in the road leave a mark from whence they came.
A thousand points of light or shame."

Mary Chapin Carpenter

* The Stones In The Road
** From: 'Parishes: Whitby', A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 2 (1923), pp. 506-528. URL:


The Stonehenge Olympics

In the current edition of British Archaeology there is a two page article by Mike Pitts entitled The Stonehenge Olympics. The first page of the article contains a review of recent plans to improve the visitor facilities at Stonehenge and the second page is a summary of English Heritage's latest Public Consultation initiative (see for details). Mike Pitts makes an interesting point when he says -

"The government announced it was scraping the approved roads scheme on the grounds of cost last December. The day before, the DCMS said it was to give Tate Modern £50m towards its gallery extension, a gesture, it was hoped, that would ensure its opening in time for the Olympics. Now that seems unlikely, as fundraising gets tough, Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota is happy to say that his extension may not be ready till 2014."

Note the word 'happy'. Why is Serota happy? Couldn't be could it that it gives the Tate the necessary time to get the extension right?

I've never been happy with tying in new visitor facilities at Stonehenge with the Olympic deadline of 2012 - it seems an impossible objective to achieve in only four years. English Heritage are expected to have their plans in for government scrutiny by the end of this year. The proposals then have to be approved by the government, and planning permission then has to be granted for the preferred site. Each of the sites proposed for the new facilities contain, or are close to, sites of archaeological importance; are these sites to be hurriedly excavated just to meet the government's deadline for the 2012 Olympics?

Along with billions of other people I watched the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on television yesterday; pretty impressive, lots of people enjoying themselves - and why not. I couldn't help thinking however that it was more than a bit 'staged' for world approval. While the Chinese authorities were claiming that this was a 'green' Olympics (hmm...) and the unfolding digital scroll showed the progress of the Olympic torch around the world, it somehow managed to omit displaying any of the 'obstacles' the torch had encountered along the way. This is nothing more than a selective interpretation of the truth.

What I'm getting at here is that the ongoing shenanigans at Stonehenge seem to have a similar, not to say uncomfortable, feel to them - re: the 'manipulation' of public approval. One idea after another for new Stonehenge visitor facilities, tossed out at the obscene expense of the British taxpayer, has achieved nothing to date. Nothing, that is, until now when reputations and personalities are coming under the national and international spotlight of the 2012 Olympic Games.

Stonehenge, perhaps our most important and iconic Neolithic monument, deserves a great deal more than the passing whim of the present (indeed of any) government, let alone the fleeting reputations of those in the political and sporting worlds. It certainly deserves far more than the timeframe dictated by the big Olympic party scheduled for 2012. Let's take a leaf out of Nicholas Serota's book and say we'd be happy not to have anything ready for Stonehenge for the Olympics in four years time, but what we will eventually have will be something which Stonehenge, and the people of Britain, deserve and can be rightfully proud of.

See also -


The Church of St Mary with St Leonard, Broomfield, Chelmsford

The Church of St Mary with St Leonard in Broomfield, Chelmsford, Essex stands on a little knoll a couple of miles from the town centre. It is one of only six churches in the county with a round tower - the reason for constructing round towers here is that large stones are so scarce in the county that using small stones, set in mortar, was an economical way of building larger structures. The Essex RIGS Group on behalf of Essex ( ) has the following entry -

"Chelmsford. At Chelmsford Museum a block of puddingstone stands next to the main entrance door.[*]Two sarsen stones can be seen in Broomfield by the church gate."

Following a recent visit to Alphamstone, which also has sarsens by the church gate and built into its foundations, the mention of two sarsens by the gate of The Church of St Mary with St Leonard was enough to lure me out this afternoon. Could there really be more sarsens in the stone-scarce county of Essex? After a couple of wrong turns I finally found the church and saw the two sarsens as I went past the church gate. Deciding to drive a little further I went down a lane and pulled up behind the church. Entering the churchyard from a gate on the west side I started walking clockwise around the church. Nothing to see in the foundations - nothing that is until I turned the south-east corner. There in the foundations of the south wall was this -

The stone (an amazing black puddingstone) has a similar 'positioning' to one of the stones protruding from the foundations at Pewsey Church in Wiltshire - it literally sticks out about two foot from the wall and is about six inches from ground level! I stood there gob-smacked for a while when the vicar happened to walk by. "Interesting stone" said I. The vicar nodded and said he thought it was either a way marker or of pagan origin. He then went on to tell me about Pope Gregory and his edicts concerning the assimilation of pagan practices into early Christianity. Although the church was locked, the vicar took me in (via the tradesman's entrance as he put it) for a look inside. Some interesting items in there and well worth a visit. On the way out I picked up a copy of the church information pamphlet** which has this to say -

"The original Norman church, possibly on the site of a wooden Saxon church was probably built on the incentive of the de Mandeville family of Broomfield Hall, almost a thousand years ago. The south wall of that original small church containing nave and chancel survives today. The windows were small lancets then and the chancel was shorter, as can be seen from Roman bricks that formed the original south east corner. Among the flint and Roman bricks of the South wall is a projecting puddingstone, or mass conglomerate. Some believe that such marker stones are an indication of a pre-Christian site."

The pamphlet goes on to say -

"The Roman tiles are a reminder of the story still related fifty years ago. The plan had originally been to build the church at the top of New Barn Lane, called Dragon's Foot in the tithe maps, there is a depression, now somewhat ploughed out but still deep enough to be a dragon's footprint. This was the site of a Roman building which still yields numerous hypocaust tiles and bricks, so the story is a delightfully muddled memory of the Saxons trundling cartloads of Roman bricks down to the Green on the orders of their new Norman masters to use as quoins since there were no local stone quarries."

The Church of St Mary with St Leonard has all the hallmarks of a Christianised site. As at Alphamstone in Essex and Pewsey in Wiltshire it has an unusual stone protruding (and prominently visible) in its foundations. Across the lane from the Church of St Mary with St Leonard there is a pond (as there is at East Kennet church in Wiltshire). The pond is fed by both a stream and several springs - one of the houses (parts of which are medieval) opposite the church has a rivulet running under the paving stones in its cellar. I was told by the occupant of this house that the two sarsens in front of the church gate were originally in the stream that runs close to the church. The springs and stream, together with evidence of a Roman villa and the unusual black puddingstone in the church foundations, perhaps indicate that the site was sacred and pre-dates both Christianity and the Roman occupation.

* See

** The Church of St Mary with St Leonard by Ann Howard.

Essex — Images

<b>Essex</b>Posted by Littlestone<b>Essex</b>Posted by Littlestone<b>Essex</b>Posted by Littlestone<b>Essex</b>Posted by Littlestone<b>Essex</b>Posted by Littlestone
<b>The Church of St Mary with St Leonard, Broomfield</b>Posted by Littlestone<b>The Church of St Mary with St Leonard, Broomfield</b>Posted by Littlestone<b>The Church of St Mary with St Leonard, Broomfield</b>Posted by Littlestone


Christ Church, East Kennet: Christianised Site?

Where there are stones there often seems to be a nearby spring or well and/or a river. In the Avebury/Silbury area there are eight churches close to the course of the Winterbourne and Kennet, several with what appear to be un-worked stones in their foundations. The same also at nearby Alton Priors, Clyffe Pypard, Pewsey and, in Essex, at Alphamstone and The Church of St Mary with St Leonard, Broomfield, Chelmsford.

At East Kennet, "There was a church on the same site as the present one in the 12th century... local poverty and negligence on the part of the owner... resulted in reports in the 16th and 17th centuries of the decay of the church fabric, and by the 19th century the church had become dilapidated." (from the church information sheet).

It seems the old church was completely demolished in the 19th century and then a new one built in the Early English style. That might account for there being nothing of megalithic interest in the church foundations. However, the site does have a 'pre-Christian feel' to it: it's built on a mound, yew tree about as old as the one at Alton Barns (younger than the one at Alton Priors which might indicate that Alton Priors is a pre-Roman site while Alton Barns has never been anything other than Anglo-Saxon). There's a pond along the outside of the East Kennet churchyard wall with one large sarsen (maybe two sarsens as there's something completely covered with ivy) at the pond's edge. There's also another large sarsen in a nearby garden and a heap of broken sarsens by the northern wall of the churchyard. The original church may have been built within the circle not on it.

Avebury & the Marlborough Downs — Images

<b>Avebury & the Marlborough Downs</b>Posted by Littlestone


Clyffe Pypard

John Aubrey (1626-1697) visited Clyffe Pypard in, or around, 1660 - some twelve years after his visit to Avebury where he records being, "...wonderfully surprised at the site of these vast stones, of which I had never heard before, as also the mighty bank and graffe (grass) about it." At Clyffe Pypard he describes the Church of St Peter as, "Here is a handsome Church, and have been very good windowes."

While the tower, nave, aisles and porch of the Church of St Peter were built in the 15th century there remains some 14th century stonework in the south porch. Further study may show that the Norman church was built on the foundations of an earlier Saxon one and, as at other Christianised sites, the Saxon church may have been built on a pre-Christian structure. Six of the buttresses have sarsen stones under them, only one of which has been cut to the shape of the buttress. The other five sarsens, one of which is very large, are left protruding as they do under the buttresses of the Church of St James, Avebury; the Church of St Katherine and St Peter, Winterbourne Bassett and the Church of St John the Baptist, Pewsey.

The Church of St Peter is situated at the bottom of a steep escarpment and is set in a well-cared for graveyard surrounded by trees.* There is a distinct air of a 'grove' about the place which is reminiscent of the grove, and its disordered sarsens, by the river close to Pewsey Church. The leafy and sarsen-paved footpath that leads east past the church comes out on a secluded meadow with a magnificent oak tree at its centre. Nearby is a stream and lake. Nikolaus Pevsner, art and architectural historian and author of The Buildings of England, is buried with his wife at a place between the lake and the church - their grave is marked by a headstone of slate.**

About a mile from Clyffe Pypard, towards Broad Town and close to Little Town Farmhouse, is the cottage which Pevsner used as a country retreat. The cottage was formerly the home of the poet and literary critic Geoffrey Grigson, whose friends included Paul Nash and John Piper. Nash and Piper between them produced numerous paintings of Avebury, West Kennet Long Barrow, Stonehenge and other megalithic structures.***

* The 'Clyffe' of Clyffe Pypard refers to the adjacent escarpment. 'Pypard' refers to Richard Pypard who was Lord of the Manor in 1231.



Pewsey Church — Images

<b>Pewsey Church</b>Posted by Littlestone<b>Pewsey Church</b>Posted by Littlestone

Showing 1-5 of 7 posts. Most recent first | Next 5
Studied art and design at Swindon School of Art, Wiltshire, England and afterwards Japanese painting and calligraphy at Kyoto University of Fine Arts, Kyoto, Japan.

In 1966 I was a lay monk at the Zen Buddhist temple of Ryozen-an in Kyoto and practiced under the guidance of its Director, Ruth Fuller-Sasaki and senior monk Dana R Fraser (co-translator of Layman P'ang: A Ninth Century Zen Classic).

Also present at Ryozen-an was the author and poet Gary Snyder. Gary Snyder was one of the first Westerners in Japan to study Zen Buddhism and was the inspiration for Jack Kerouac's book, The Dharma Bums.

I was assistant conservator (paintings) at Kyoto National Museum from 1969-1980 and Chief Conservator (Eastern Pictorial Art) at the British Museum from 1980-1986. Japan Foundation Fellow 1973-1974 and Fellow of the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works since 1985.

Interests include ancient history, classical music, comparative religion, the fine arts, poetry and writing.

Home: North Yorkshire, ENGLAND


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