Weird Suffolk: The Hartest Stone
PUBLISHED: 17:57 15 June 2018
If only stones could talk - what stories could the baffling boulder of Hartest tell, and would its tales need to be censored for those of a delicate disposition?
South of Bury St Edmunds, Hartest lies in a deep dale and at its most northerly point, the village green is guarded by a silent stone sentry, a square metre of rock which is the subject of several strange stories, one of which is somewhat saucy.
According to legend, the Hartest Stone was dragged from nearby Somerton Hill on July 7 1713 by 20 gentlemen and 20 farmers as a somewhat bizarre way to celebrate the Peace of Utrecht and Marlborough’s victories in the War of the Spanish Succession.
Stone-dragging, it appears, had a somewhat amorous effect on the villagers of Hartest and – according to the tale – when the stone found its new home, the people of the village fell under a spell which led to an “erotic debauch”, the details of which we will spare your innocent eyes.
A slightly less blush-inducing story has the stone – first mentioned in the Bury and Norwich Post of July 1859 - removed from a field near Somerton Common in the same year by 40 horses with a trumpeter riding on top of the stone.
Another explanation for the unusual stone claims it was uprooted from High Field in Somerton and heaved on to a sledge drawn by 45 horses on August 1st 1714, the day King George I took the throne.
Yet another tale sees the boulder discovered in a clay pit on top of Hartest Hill and then removed by the landowner who relocated the rock to its current resting place, arranging several small stones around it to keep it from rolling over.
Regardless of the stone’s journey to its current position, local tradition has it that the stones turns over at the witching hour when it hears the clock strike midnight or that sitting on the stone at midnight will lead to marriage or fortune (not both, rather amusingly).
If the stone was found on Hartest Hill, it would have once gazed down on Suffolk from the county’s highest point and some have suggested that a large, and rare, boulder on a hill might well have attracted ritualistic activity.
There has also been speculation that the stone once marked the centre of Bury’s terrestrial zodiac in the village mentioned in the Domesday Book that takes its name from the Stag, or Harte (it is written in the stars that we will explore this zodiac in greater detail another day).
Look out if you pass by Hartest for the village sign, which depicts not only the deer which has lent the community its name, but also the Ice Age stone which has perplexed its residents for centuries.