Weird Norfolk: The cursed stone of Stockton
- Credit: Nick Butcher
It has stood as a sentinel for centuries, a lonely, lichen-covered reminder of a frozen past when sabre-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths roamed the plains of East Anglia.
Stockton Stone, an oblong sandstone glacial megalith, stands on a grassy slope on the west side of the Beccles to Norwich A146 road, pitted in places but seemingly un-worked, a silent watchtower over a busy thoroughfare that is said to guard a curse which sees misfortune or death befall anyone who sees fit to move it.
There has been a great deal of debate over the original purpose of the stone – some believe it to be the meeting place of the Clavering Hundred, others that it was where the Danegeld, a land tax levied in Anglo-Saxon England during the reign of King Ethelred to raise funds for protection against Danish invaders.
There are theories that the rock was an old mark stone, a Roman milestone or the base of a wayside cross – but it is definitely a glacial erratic, a stone deposited during the movement of a glacier in the last Ice Age, a fragment of the past.
The stone is mentioned in the 1662 Town Books of Stockton which record a small payment for putting 'sculps' to the stone, although there are no signs of carving that can be seen – it has been suggested that the record could refer to an old custom that saw nails driven into standing stones (particularly in Scotland) as a cure for toothache. A large steel nail remains driven into the stone.
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In The Old Straight Track, by Alfred Watkins, published in 1925, the author postulated that Stockton Stone was one of a network of straight alignments in the area which followed a ley line that can be drawn between Harleston Stone and Stockton, 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 Stockton ley line had been hidden by roadside banks or by Christian priests who had been instructed to hide pagan sacred stones out of sight.
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Villagers have long been aware of – but unaware of the origin of - the curse attached to the stone that claims death and destruction will dog anyone that moves it: indeed the stone was moved in the 1930s during work to straighten the main road, and photographs in the Lowestoft Journal from July 1935 show the six-feet long stone being lifted under the supervision of Benjamin Edge of Stockton Old Hall, who owned the land and Major S.E Glendenning of the Norfolk Archaeological Society.
Glendenning said the stone had been moved diagonally eastwards by around 14 feet and that the disturbance 'was regarded locally with some misgiving'. A document from Suffolk Record Office includes an account of what is said to have happened next: 'Only a few years ago, it was moved during work to straighten out the road and curiously enough, so I gather, one of the workmen involved actually collapsed and died.'
Today, visitors sometimes leave votive offerings as an appeasement to the spirits that have cursed the solitary stone of Stockton and to make amends for the unwanted upheaval.
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