Weird Norfolk: The stone at the heart of Harleston in Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 09:00 04 May 2019 | UPDATED: 14:55 04 May 2019
Is the strange stone of Harleston named after a marauding Dane or a Danish king? Was it where land was given to locals or where locals were warned of an invasion? Weird Norfolk try to carve out the answer.
It puts the “stone” into Harleston, a strange addition to a modern streetscape that hides a host of mysteries.
The curious three-foot square boulder lies in the heart of the Norfolk town in an alleyway that joins two streets and is said to have been the place where a herald once stood in order to proclaim the imminent arrival of the Danes, who came to pillage houses.
Other tales connect the glacial erratic with the Romans, who are said to have left it there when they came to the East, while one says the stone is named after the aforementioned Danes, in particular a chieftan, Hereolf, who came to Norfolk and granted ownership of Middle Row to the local guilds while stood atop the boulder.
Or does the block take its name from King Harold of Hastings fame? Did the warrior mount his horse from the stone or issue orders for the billeting of his army from the rock? Some believe the pit on top of the block mirrors the imprint of his booted foot, giving it the name 'Harold's Stone', not a million miles from 'Harleston'.
Harold held the earldom of East Anglia during the reign of Edward the Confessor and was himself a member of a powerful Danish noble family with close connections to Canute, the Danish king of England. Following Edward's death, Harold held the crown for nine months in 1066 until he was killed – as every school child knows – by an arrow through the eye by Norman invaders under William the Conqueror.
That there is no evidence that Harold ever visited East Anglia should, of course, not be permitted to block the path of a good story.
In The Old Straight Track, by Alfred Watkins, published in 1925, the author postulated that Harlston's stone was one of a network of straight alignments in the area which followed a ley line that can be drawn between nearby Stockton Stone and Harleston, passing directly through a remarkable moated pond at Earsham, called the Lay, onward to an earthwork enclosure on Bungay Common, then through an ancient burial mound on Broome Heath, over Longford Bridge and then on to an artificial mound called Bell Hill and beyond it to Belton Church.
Watkins believed that other mark stones on the Harleston ley line had been hidden by roadside banks or by Christian priests who had been instructed to hide pagan sacred stones out of sight.
Located in the aptly, if somewhat unimaginatively, named Stone Court off the Thoroughfare almost opposite Swan Lane, the silent sentry has stood since Norfolk was an icy wasteland – did it lend its name to Harleston? Weird Norfolk likes to think it did.
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