Scan aims to unlock prehistoric Hemlock Stone's secrets

Bob's Rock, The Hemlock Stone and the Druid Stone Local historians believe three large stones in Nottinghamshire could have formed some sort of Bronze Age communication system

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The mystery of how a 200 million-year-old sandstone pillar came to stand in a Nottinghamshire town is one step closer to being solved.

The origin of the Hemlock Stone in Stapleford has puzzled historians and geologists for centuries but for the first time, a 3D laser scan of the monolithic structure will be carried out.

Local historian Frank Earp said he thought new information could show the Hemlock Stone was as significant as Stonehenge or even the Egyptian pyramids.

The Hemlock Stone stands on the side of Stapleford Hill on land owned by Broxtowe Borough Council, opposite Bramcote Hills Park.

It inspired a poem by 19th-century writer H.S. Sutton (1825-1901) and various folklore myths in the area.

Thou petrified Enigma - Question old, By Answer unespoused, though ask'd of old!

The Hemlock Stone

What eyes innum'rable O ages Stone,

Have gazed and gazed thy antique form upon?

The woad-dyed savage, with his hunting spear,

Has leapt, and stared, and wondered even here:

Haply soldier here has stood,

Strayed from his camp far into the wild wood.

The monk, at least, on pony ambling past,

Shaken by the rough bridle road, has cast

A hot glance on thee; - the knight, steel-array'd,

A breathing moment near thy bulk hath stayed

To bid his squire behold: gay Cavalier

And solemn, stern old Roundhead have been here:

Lovers and maidens, lords, and squires, and pages;

Serf, farmer, village lass - ages on ages

Of human life hast thou seen onward glide:

At last I stand upon thy withered side,

Another drop of that still flowing tide.

H.S. Sutton

One legend has it that the Hemlock Stone was hurled at Lenton Priory, four miles west of the stone, by the devil in disgust at a particularly pious priest.

Mr Earp said the tale of the devil hurling a stone and missing its mark occurs throughout European folk literature and it was widely accepted that such legends reflected conflict between the early Christian church and their pagan contemporaries.

But for him the stone and the prospect of seeing the results of a 3D scan has a greater significance.

"It really comes down to whether the Hemlock Stone is natural or man-made and if it was man-made, was it engineered?" said Mr Earp.

Mr Earp believes the stone, which sits on a prehistoric track, is linked to two other significant stones in Nottinghamshire - the Druid Stone at Blidworth and Bob's Rock at Stapleford.

It is possible the stones were used as some sort of marker or communication system in the Bronze Age, Mr Earp said.

Man vs nature

The Hemlock Stone is first mentioned by name in William Stukeley's Itenerarium Curiosium in 1724.

Stukeley was an English antiquary and one of the founders of field archaeology, who pioneered the investigation of Stonehenge.

He wrote a volume on "remarkable curiosities in nature or art, observed in travels through Great Britain".

In the account, Stukeley says the Hemlock Stone was probably a by-product of quarrying.

But Mr Earp said there would have been very little demand at that time for the amount of sand that would have been quarried, especially with sand-rich Nottingham so close by.

"If you scrap the idea the Hemlock Stone was a by-product of quarrying and that it could have been engineered, if the stone was deliberately created in prehistoric times, then it had a purpose and if that is the case then it could be as important as Stonehenge or even the Pyramids."

Mr Earp hopes the 3D laser scan, which is being carried out by the University of Nottingham's Geospatial Institute as part of an academic study, will establish how the pillar came about.

The scan will be accompanied by a full archaeological and geological appraisal of the site, landscape survey and the "largest data gathering exercise ever conducted on the stone's history and folklore".

"You may ask why we are doing this," said Mr Earp. "Quite simply, it's never been done before.

"There is so much potential for this project and we really want the community to get involved.

"Depending on the weather, we want to get started as soon as possible. We still need to source some scaffolding to help us carry out the scan but we are almost there."

It is hoped that in the future, scans can be carried out on the Druid's Stone and Bob's Rock, both of which currently stand on privately-owned land.

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