WEIRD NORFOLK: The seaside stone circle at Gorleston that rivalled Stonehenge
PUBLISHED: 18:00 30 May 2020 | UPDATED: 09:07 31 May 2020
Copyright: Archant 2020
Could Gorleston have once been Norfolk’s answer to Stonehenge complete with a stone circle used for ancient worship?
They were the stones that put the ‘ston’ into Gorleston, the spectacular stone circle that once greeted the sunrise in this seaside town. Where Stone Close now stands it is said that a stone circle – the only one of its kind known in East Anglia – once towered over the land with “ten huge stones, like unto those of Stonehenge”. Now covered with a housing estate, the stones that once drew crowds were known as the Gull Stones and were, according to legend, a magnet to Druids who would gather there in June to watch the midsummer sun rise from the eastern sea.
Charles Palmer, who was twice mayor of the borough, chief magistrate for Yarmouth and deputy lieutenant for Suffolk published a number of literary works on the town and its surrounding area. In 1875, he wrote: “There is a tradition that the Druids had a temple at Gorleston, some remains of which existed down to a comparatively recent period.
“It is supposed to have stood on a field next the road to Lowestoft, upon what is called Great Stone Close; and it has been asserted that some huge stones remained standing until 1768, when they were destroyed by digging round their base and dragging them down by ropes.
“There are also two fields called Further Stone Close and Middle Stone Close, so that it is possible the Druidical circle, if it ever existed, may have had a wide extent”.
Middlestone Close in Gorleston still exists, but Further Stone Close has been replaced by the somewhat less mystical A12 Inner Relief Road. The stones that were toppled were then dragged to the harbour, where they formed the first stone pier that greeted sailors as they arrived to the town. At a meeting of the Yarmouth branch of the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society in 1888, a painting of ‘The Gull Stones’ was displayed, then in the possession of Fred Danby Palmer.
Norfolk Heritage Explorer (www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk) adds an element of doubt to the story, saying that a letter written in 1925 (which has mysteriously gone missing) says that the evidence for a stone circle is “very flimsy and there is a suspicion of forgery”. It also says, however, that as “there is no large house anywhere near in which they could have formed a garden ornament, an antiquarian folly seems very improbable”.
Archaeological evidence suggests that stone circles were used as places for burial and ritual linked to agricultural events such as the summer solstice. Many are aligned to either the sun or the moon and together form a kind of calendar, revealing the level of engineering and geometry skills that ancient civilisations possessed.
There are around 1,250 stone circles in Britain and Ireland with the largest number in Scotland, which has 508 recorded sites. Of the 316 in England, the vast majority are in the south-west of the country which would make a possible circle in Gorleston a real rarity.
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