Four Shires Guild of Bell Ringers

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Letters to the Editor

There has been a hefty response to the Four Shire Stone article in the last Newsletter:-

Dear Chris,
I was interested in your article on the Four Shire Stone; someone may have beaten me to it, but I thought you might like these copies of recently drawn maps* based on the old ones. In his Ways & Waymarks in the Four Shires book (1980) Peter Drinkwater has a 10 page chapter on it, suggesting the present Stone might have succeeded an earlier one, possibly a Roman milestone. He then surmises that the present Stone might have been erected in the early 17th.C by Sir Baptist Hicks, Viscount Campden, as it is in similar style to some of his other building in Chipping Campden, though the present top ball and sundial are not original. Presumably the local Parish Council would know who repaired it recently. PD reckons that if it were not a Roman milestone, it was probably a large natural stone, like one of the Rollrights, but certainly large and distinguished enough to be recorded as a marker in Henry VIII's time. Hope this helps.
Yours sincerely, Peter Richardson, The Old Rectory, Halford.

* the maps confirm the Blockley 'finger' and also that the following parishes met at the Stone: Blockley (Worcs), and clockwise from there; Lemington (Glos), Todenham (Glos) - possibly, Great Wolford (Warks), Barton-on-the-Heath (Warks) until 1725, Little Compton (Glos), Chastleton (Oxon), Evenlode (Worcs), Moreton-in-Marsh (Glos), Batsford (Glos). Thank you for your reply, Peter. The Stone clearly marks a location of some importance, but for what reason, one wonders? The boundaries from so many parishes must have been an administrative nightmare. CMP

Dear Chris,
I was interested in your piece on the Four Shire Stone in the last newsletter. I was first shown it around 60 years ago, at which time one could enter the gate and walk all round it and 'claim' to have been in four counties. Around 40 years ago I read a piece in, I think, the Warwickshire and Worcestershire magazine where it was stated that the Stone marked the site of an ancient battle fought between the Saxons and the Danes as part of the campaign to drive the Danes out of the country, and that the Shire boundaries of central England broadly marked the stages by which this was accomplished. The actual battle was indecisive, as the Saxons were tricked by a traitor who had gone over to the Danish side. Seeing that the Saxons appeared to be winning and noticing that a man near to him bore a marked resemblance to the Saxon leader, he cut off the man's head and held it aloft, calling to the Saxons to behold their slain leader. The Saxon army faltered and although their leader quickly rallied them the damage was done and neither side was able to claim a victory on this occasion. The significance of this to the Stone is that the present one is probably a replacement for a much earlier one possibly dating from the 10th century when the battle was fought. My guess for the date of the present one is 18th century but I'm no expert!
Best regards, Bill Hicks.

Thank you for your mail, Bill. It's interesting you mention significant battles and the 10th century, as a web-site I came across recently, which hopes to be 'the definitive history of the Stone', mentions both these aspects. The site is: It contains some good photos, and shows the Stone is Listed (Grade II), gaining this accolade in 1966 (LBS ref 305989). CMP.

Dear Chris,
I was most interested to read your article on the Four Shire Stone in the FSG magazine. I have always been vaguely curious about the subject and this spurred me on to do a bit of research. Unfortunately, I am unable to answer any of your three intrinsic questions, viz, who built the FSS and when, and who's currently responsible for its upkeep (although the latter shouldn't be too difficult to ascertain: I think Peter K is working on this one). What a mystery! But. . . . I have uncovered all sorts of information concerning parish boundaries, which may or may not interest you. So here goes. Firstly, one has to be sceptical about historical sources until one studies the original Ordnance Survey map of 1828, for which the first field surveys were carried out between 1811 and 1817. This was executed very professionally by huge teams of surveyors and draughtsmen, and can be taken as very reliable. Although it does not show parish boundaries, in the case of Blockley it is fortuitously covered by the county boundary as one and the same thing. Maps by Smith, Cary, Teesdale, Monk, etc, are all early 19thC and thus fairly contemporary with the original OS. Your article states that Teesdale's map shows Worcestershire (ie, Blockley) reaching 'about a couple of miles to the west of the Stone, immediately north of Moreton'. In actual fact, the nearest point is about 600 yards immediately east of Moreton. Incidentally many of the early mapmakers plagiarised one another and any inaccuracies were thus perpetuated. Anyway, well before 1828, Blockley (Dorn) did not reach the FSS (but it did until the end of the 18thC as you will see later).
One or two points about Dr Iceley's book:- Introduction, p.xvii - "Record of beating of bounds by Dr Erasmus Saunders (vicar) of 26th May 1720 mentions 'ye Four Shire Stone'" (that's fine) but his map on to illustrate this dates the event to 1721 and is "based on the OS map". Dr Iceley's book actually contains a photograph of the 1828 OS map, which clearly shows Blockley not reaching the FSS. Nowhere does he acknowledge this. Page xviii: the parliamentary account of the boundary is reckoned to be about 12 miles. Dr Iceley expresses surprise at this low mileage and estimates it over 20 miles. He should have known a mile in that era was roughly equivalent to 1½ modern miles. ("Chains" with a similar ratio were used in the Vale of Evesham as late as the 19thC). Page xx - footnote 1: "Dorn and the narrow tongue of land reaching to FSS was transferred to the parish of Batsford in 1935." Dorn hadn't been contiguous with the FSS for well over 100 years! (Incidentally, assuming that the 1935 date is correct, I think this could have happened because Moreton Aerodrome was being planned and the MOD would not have wanted a parish boundary crossing it: this is just a personal conjecture of mine - it might be worth following up)
Back to the Stone. .. Most of the following information is gleaned from Peter Drinkwater's book "Ways & Waymarks in the Four Shires", and I can sum up briefly what he has to tell us. PD speculates about an earlier Stone but the earliest maps to show the Stone were the Hyckes's tapestries of 1580's, which depict it as "a grey square with a circle in the centre." PD is inclined to think this relates to the current Stone. (Saxton's beautiful maps of 1579 are highly stylized and do not show the Stone) Next come Ogilby's road maps of 1675. The first impression mentions the FSS and the second shows a crude sketch corresponding to the present stone. In 1662 a private survey for local landowner Sir Robt. Pye contains a map of Dorn showing a long narrow projection of fields, complete with names, reaching to the FSS ending in "Bartonstile" (Barton then reached to FSS but not now) but the Stone itself is not mentioned. (I shall refer to this map later.) Next come Beighton's maps of 1725, which show all sorts of changes. PD shows these on his map, but he has admitted to me that Beighton can't be relied on. Samual Rudder, antiquarian, of 1779 mentions the FSS in his survey of Little Compton - "inscriptions on four sides", also of Batsford and Moreton - "a handsome pedestal about 12ft high with a [sun]dial on top and an inscription to inform travellers that "This is the Four Shire Stone"".(Rudder did not cover Worcestershire, so Blockley doesn't get a mention.) (Incidentally, Little Compton was transferred from Gloucestershire to Warwickshire in 1844, and Blockley and Evenlode to Gloucestershire on 1st April 1931. Little Compton is in the Diocese of Oxford and has a Gloucestershire post-code although still in Warks!) Soon after the 1870s, the inscription had become badly weathered, an indication in itself of the great age of the Stone, considering that it was constructed of top quality stone. The column was refurbished and refaced, and inscribed with the lettering that we see now. Who was responsible for this I do not know.
On p.35 of his book, PD states that "Blockley's ancient claim (to extend to the old Landmark) was given up by the local 'lugubrii' of the early 19thC, who allowed the [the last field] to be transferred to Batsford and obliterated. They received in exchange a small triangle of land, which, added to the south side of [the last but one] field, brought it closer to the theoretical rectangle. [This] is pencilled in on the old Pye map of 1662". PD tells me this dates to about 1800. Why this should have taken place is a mystery to me. Of course, as previously stated, the first OS map confirms this. Incidentally, I have a pre-WW2 OS map of the area. Dorn's narrow strip (then in Batsford) can be picked out and the ancient field boundaries exactly correspond with Pye's map (excepting of course the last field, which had become part of a coppice called Ellis' Plantation). I find that quite remarkable. By the War most of this strip was lost forever under Moreton Aerodrome.
It was evidently very important for all these parishes (nine in all) to extend to the FSS. The marshy heath (Henmarsh) was originally a 'No Man's Land' held in common by a number of places. Why the convergence of the four shires, which was an important political meeting place (Guildborough) in 969AD, should be situated in the middle of a marsh beats me. I must stress my research is of an amateur nature. I hope it doesn't contain too many errors. It has certainly posited more questions than answers. Such is life!
Yours, Paul Marriott, The Old Forge, Cherington.

Paul also refers to the map in Peter Drinkwater's book that Peter Richardson mentions above, and lists the parishes. Thank you, Paul, for this extremely fascinating and deeply-researched explanation of the boundary changes over the centuries at what is clearly a very important location in our area. CMP

Dear Chris,
a belated reply to your question in the Guild Newsletter. A friend found the following in the Lych Gate collection of history: English Heritage list, National Monument Ref 10E 130 222 (from web-site). This may throw some light on the Stone.
Mrs Helen Bennett, Kingspring House, Long Compton.

Thank you for this information, Helen. CMP

Good to see there are no letters about the Guild and its activities, as this indicates everything is OK on those fronts. . . . . . . Ed