Sunday, 7 September 2008

The Ingatestone Campaign

A report by Essex correspondant Littlestone

This report was first published on the Heritage Action website, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author. Please also see the authors own Megalithic Poems site, which we can highly recommend.

The town of Ingatestone (Ging ad Petram - the 'parcel of land by the stone') in Essex takes its name from a Saxon settlement of 430 acres which originally supported a dozen or so inhabitants belonging to the Gigingas - the 'Giga's people'. The Saxon name for the settlement was Ing-atte-Stone (Ing at the Stone). It is likely that a Saxon church predated the small Norman one built there sometime between 1080-1100. The Saxon church may in turn have occupied the site of a former stone circle as a sarsen (a hard silicified sandstone of a type also used at Avebury and Stonehenge) was found in the north wall of the church during building work for the organ chamber there in 1905. This stone has since been relocated to the south side of the church.

One of the eight Ingatestone stones now on the
south side of Ingatestone church. Photo credit: Littlestone

There is evidence that some Christianised sites in Britain and Ireland have been in continuous use as sacred meeting places from before the Roman occupation. Such sites may have started with people meeting in groves, or close to springs, ponds and other water courses. The remains of a stone circle, either near or actually beneath the church itself, are sometimes found at such sites. Often an Anglo-Saxon, and then a Norman church, were built on t
he older pre-Christian site: Alphamstone and Broomfield churches in Essex and Alton Priors and Pewsey churches in Wiltshire appear to be examples of this continuity. The north wall (the oldest part of the Church of St Edmund and St Mary at Ingatestone) is constructed largely of broken puddingstones, although there are also several quite large dressed stones in the buttress between the north wall and the tower. The puddingstones in the north wall of Ingatestone church are interspersed in places with layers of Roman tiles.

The astonishing puddingstone wall (Norman) on the north side of Ingatestone Church.
Did the puddingstones once form part of the circle here? Photo credit: Littlestone

In the south wall of Broomfield church there is a similar pattern of flint nodules interspersed with Roman tiles, as well as a few small broken puddingstones and one single, very impressive, puddingstone which protrudes from the base of the south wall. It has been suggested that the sarsen now on the south side of Ingatestone church, and the two sarsens on either side of Fryerning Lane in Ingatestone High Street, once belonged to a single standing stone.

One of two sarsens at the entrance to Fryerning Lane. Photo credit: Littlestone

Whether or not the 'stone' in the name Ingatestone derives from a single stone, or several stones, is unclear. To complicate matters further the Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names gives the origin of the name Ingatestone as, "One of a group of places so called, this one distinguished by reference to a Roman milestone." Were the first Saxon settlers at Ingatestone referring to one (or more) pre-Roman standing stones on the knoll now occupied by the church or to a single Roman milestone? A cursory examination of the sarsen in the churchyard, and the two sarsens at the entrance to Fryerning Lane, suggests they may actually be three discrete stones. The Freyering Lane stones seem to have been at their present location from at least the early 1930s - ie some twenty years after the stone embedded in the north wall of the church was discovered in 1905. If it can be shown that the Fryerning Lane stones have been at their present location since before 1905 however this would indicate that the sarsens are indeed three separate stones. This may be important; there are five other much smaller stones on Ingatestone High Street (making a total of eight so far accounted for) and these might have once formed part of an Ingatestone stone circle. Together with the broken puddingstones in the north wall of the church this could indicate that a stone circle of considerable size and variety once stood on the knoll now occupied by the church.

While the smaller stones, some painted white and now scattered along Ingatestone High Street, might not yet be considered important enough to return to the Ingatestone churchyard there are good reasons, on grounds of conservation and heritage, for returning the two large Fryerning Lane stones to their likely place of origin on the church knoll.

A campaign is underway to achieve this aim and emails of support should be sent to Ingatestone and Fryerning Parish Council at or to Heritage Action at

For details of Littlestones interesting research at Broomfield, Essex, please click here