A guest feature by Littlestone.

One of two sarsens at the entrance to Fryerning Lane on Ingatestone Highstreet, Ingatestone, Essex
The Heritage Trust

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 (above) 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.

Stone on Flowergate (road) in Whitby, north-east Yorkshire
The Heritage Trust

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.

Stones on the verges outside The Church of St Barnabus at Alphamstone in Essex
The Heritage Trust

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.

Stones outside the lichgate of The Church of St Mary with St Leonard, Broomfield also in Essex
The Heritage Trust

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 Dennis Price’s Inigo Jones’ lost Altar Stone from Stonehenge and somewhere called “St James” article.


The London Stone. Source Wikimedia. Image credit Lonpicman

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 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

* From: ‘Parishes: Whitby’, A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 2 (1923), pp. 506-528.