Legendary Rock: OS Grid Reference – SD 782 443
- Downham Cross (Byrne 1974)
The best way to locate this is probably by starting from the pub opposite the old church of St. Leonard and heading west along the village road, past three large gate-entrances, until reaching the conspicuous milestone by the road junction. On the other side of the road, just before the gate entrance to Downham Hall, edged into the base of the wall, we find this ‘ere The Great Stone.
Archaeology & History
What a truly beautiful little village we find in Downham, nestled quietly and with age at the northern edge of Pendle Hill. It’s tucked away, off any main road so maintaining its sense of age and almost reclusive nature. There is hidden history a-plenty scattering the landscape here, but tales of our Great Stone — thought by some as an old monolith; remains of a Roman milestone by others; whilst some just denote it as nowt but a small stone — is what brought me here. It’s name betrayed my expectation (I always hope for too much it seems…), but the small pock-marked stone has been embedded in its present position for at least 150 years, as the growth of soil and tree behind it shows. Archaeo-historians say little of it (reputations y’ know!) until something substantial is found; but thankfully we came upon the lovely couple who are Lord and Lady Clitheroe of Downham Hall, who told us more…
“There are a couple of humourous legends told of the Great Stone,” Lord Downham began… But to a (sometimes) courteous megalithomaniac like myself, the tales rang the all-too-familiar bell.
The original position of the stone, though not known for certain, was some short distance away either across the road, or further along in a nearby field. When it was moved – Lord Downham said around 1830 – the remains of a body were found beneath it; but another source told in fact that it marked “the final resting place of two legionaries who died on the nearby Roman road during trouble with the Brigantes.” (An old Roman road is nearby) But apparently this old stone also moves. When the church bell strikes midnight the stone is said to turn itself around upside-down. Where have we heard that before!?
The site is described in Clifford Byrne’s (1974) unpublished manuscript on the crosses of Lancashire, where he cites it as being the remains of a cross pedestal, but adds that “if ever a cross stood by the village green, no memory of seems now to exist.” But Mr Byrne also described the all-too-familiar heathen folk tales, saying:
“A local man told the writer that the object is called Downham Stone and that it turns over every night at midnight. We read elsewhere that the boulder is called “the great stone of Downham” and that it turns at the stroke of midnight by the church clock.”
- Byrne, Clifford H., “A Survey of the Ancient Wayside Crosses in North East Lancashire,” unpublished manuscript, 1974.
- Lofthouse, Jessica, Three Rivers, Robert Hale: London 1946.
- Lofthouse, North Country Folklore, Robert Hale: London 1976.
- Winterbottom, Vera, The Devil in Lancashire, Cloister: Stockport 1963.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian