The Wishing Stone

This has been on my to-do list since the spring after reading a blog post on the Arcanum web-site1Arcanum. The Ingleby Greenhow Wishing Stone? [online] Available at: https://arcanum33.blogspot.com/2021/04/the-ingleby-greenhow-wishing-stone.html?%20utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+blogspot/EQmcw+%20(Arcanum)&m=1 [Accessed 24 Oct. 2021].. It’s a large, deep, circular basin on a boulder on Ingleby Moor that is speculated to have be manmade and used for ritual purposes: the making of wishes or prayers, or curses and so on.

As far as I know, it has no official name, Arcanum calls it ‘The Wishing Stone’ so I guess that’s good enough.

This ritual use was first suggested by Brian Smith and Alan Walker in their book ‘Rock Art & Ritual’2Smith, Brian A. and Alan A. Walker. Rock Art & Ritual: Mindscapes of Prehistory. Amberley Publishing Limited, 2011. Available online: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Kz6IAwAAQBAJ&lpg=PA7-IA2&ots=w5bYeprkPh&dq=%22middle%20head%20top%22&pg=PA7-IA2#v=onepage&q=%22middle%20head%20top%22&f=false [Accessed 24 Oct. 2021].:

Deep, smoothly rounded, artificial basins were probably formed by rotating a hard, rounded stone within an initial hollow within the surface of sandstone. An unusual discovery on the North York Moors referred to in our first volume of Rock Art and Ritual may provide the answer:

On Ingleby Moor, between the Cheese Stone and Burton Howe (on Middle Head Top) is a huge block of sandstone beside a public footpath. This stone may hold the secret as to how deep rounded basins of the kind mentioned above were created. In 1998 a large, deep, rounded basin in this rock was observed to contain a stone with a circular flat top. When this heavy sandstone was lifted from the basin, the underside of the stone had clearly been ground smooth by rotation into a hemisphere that closely matched the ‘negative’ basin in which it was found resting.

The Wishing Stone with the semi-hemispherical stone inserted (the colour difference is due to weathering).

Sure enough the ‘stone with a circular flat top’ was laid on the turf beside and I couldn’t resist the temptation to place it in the basin. About 600mm in diameter, it was very heavy but a perfect fit. I was reminded of an handstone of a rotary quern but this agrarian purpose high up on the moors seems nonsense. Smith and Walker’s suggestion of the method of formation does however seem reasonable, but I would tend to think of a gradual enlargement of a natural basin over a long period of time.

That a moorland rock be credited with supernatural powers, should not come as a surprise. The North Riding is particularly full of such superstitions, of witches and wise men, fairies and hobs.

The rock is a dominant feature on Middle Head Top, the north-eastern ridge of Burton Howe. It forms a key point on the ‘undefined’ boundary between the  parishes of Ingleby and Westerdale3Maps.nls.uk. (2021). View map: Yorkshire 43 (includes: Bransdale; Farndale West Side; Ingleby Greenhow; Westerd… – Ordnance Survey Six-inch England and Wales, 1842-1952. [online] Available at: https://maps.nls.uk/view/102344293#zoom=7&lat=6529&lon=9750&layers=BT [Accessed 24 Oct. 2021].. Here the boundary abruptly changes direction.

In medieval times, an important custom was the ‘beating of the bounds’, when every seven years, all the boys in the parish would be taken around the parish boundary to ensure that knowledge of it would not be lost (and the boys do not stray into the adjoining parish). Led by the priest and the parochial officials boundary markers would be beaten with green boughs, usually birch or willow. It is said that sometimes the boys themselves were thrashed against the boundary stones to really ensure they will remember4Wikipedia. Beating the bounds. [online]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beating_the_bounds#Ceremony [Accessed 24 Oct. 2021]..

The inscribed ‘P’ — probably referring to the name Pierson.

The best contender for a ‘P’ inscribed on the rock is ‘Pierson’. In 1729, Ann Pierson, daughter of William of Stokesley, brought Baysdale priory, which, on her death passed to her brother Bradshaw, and which, on his death, passed to his 2nd cousin who subsequently adopted the name Pierson. That seemed quite a popular thing to do. His son, however never inherited, and the land was sold in 17995British-history.ac.uk. Parishes: Stokesley | British History Online. [online] Available at: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/north/vol2/pp301-308 [Accessed 24 Oct. 2021].. To whom is unclear but, by 1833, it was in the possession of William Russell of Brancepeth Castle6British-history.ac.uk. (2021). Parishes: Westerdale | British History Online. [online] Available at: 6https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/north/vol2/pp413-417 [Accessed 24 Oct. 2021].[/mfn].

The Wishing Stone with a view to Burton Head
The Wishing Stone with a view to Burton Head, the basin in at the left end.

2 Replies to “The Wishing Stone”

  1. Mr Arcanum here 🙂
    When i wrote the blog post i was not aware of Smith and Walker having recorded the site previously. Interesting that they found the stone already in the basin.
    I got the impression that the large basin was natural, but it may have been utilised in some folk ritual with the other stone? Or maybe someone just found that it sat nicely in the basin?

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