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The King Stone

Standing Stone, Oxfordshire

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View High Res ImagesPhoto Julian Wates

OS Map: 151
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick & Banbury
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OS Map ref: SP296308 View local map for SP296308
Nearest town: Chipping Norton View map of Chipping Norton
Nearest village: Long Compton View map of Long Compton

The King Stone is thought to have been erected around 1800 BCE. It stands some eight feet tall by a mound of earth, alleged centuries ago to be the remains of a prehistoric tomb, but which was only confirmed as such in the 1980s, when an old covering stone - said to be the entrance to faerie-land - was found to be the entrance to a tumulus, built around the same time as its attendant monolith.

Evans [1895] describes how the little people used to be seen emerging from the ground where the covering stone once lay. Similarly, witches were said to be here. Lambrick related the tale, told "by the [previous] owner ... which relates how a quarryman working in the old stone pit there dropped one of his tools down a crack in the rock and it disappeared, making a weird noise, stolen by the witches." The legend known to most is the stone's relationship with the King's Men circle and Whispering Knights, whereby the King, failed in his journey over land, about to take his final step to see the village of Long Compton and become king of England, was thwarted at the last when an old hag made the land rise up before him (the tumulus) and prevented him seeing the village, a mile away, in the valley below.

As such, for failing in his bet with the old crone, she turned him to stone. This old crone is said by some to have been Mother Shipton - not the historical witch of Yorkshire, but a less powerful character whose tomb lies ten miles south. But, like the tale of King Arthur, "some day the spell will be broken", wrote Lambrick [1988], and "the stones will turn to flesh and blood and the King will lead his army in battle to conquer his enemies and rule over the land".

One piece of lore tells that this spell is broken nightly at midnight; also, when a nearby elder tree (said to be the old witch) is cut. A similar piece of lore tells that when the midnight bell at Long Compton is heard, the King ventures to a well at Little Rollright Spinney for a drink. Folklore alleged the stone to possess healing and good- luck properties. As such, the appearance of the stone today differs considerably from the drawings done of it in previous centuries. Pieces of it were taken by soldiers, for protection, before going to World War 1.

Literary and oral accounts exist describing the failure of this for most men who took bits with them. Another piece of lore also tells how people would take bits off the King to protect themselves from the devil, A very curious ritual used to be performed at the King Stone by local people, whose nature is - if the tales are true - quite prodigious and incredibly ancient. The elder tree of the witch, cut on the eve of summer solstice, so that it bled, would make the King move his head, thus temporarily breaking the spell. Another tradition tells that young girls would visit the solitary stone, usually at night, and rub their breasts on the stone, so as to aid fertility.

Access: See above for map links

Text from The Old Stones of Rollright and District by Paul Bennett & Tom Wilson

Rating: General Impression 4, Ambience 3, Access 4

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