Wheathampstead ‘witch stone’ is relocated after almost 600 years

Historic boundary marker repositioned on Nomansland: Cllr John Newton-Davies (Sandridge parish) and

Historic boundary marker repositioned on Nomansland: Cllr John Newton-Davies (Sandridge parish) and Cllr David Johnston (Wheathampstead parish) with the stone buried in its new position. - Credit: Photo supplied

Howzat! Cricket players who have been tripping over a nearly 600-year-old boundary stone for two centuries have won their appeal for it to be moved off-pitch.

Wheathampstead Cricket Club had been caught between a rock and a hard place over a historic puddingstone dating back to the rule of Henry VI, which divides the parishes of Wheathampstead and Sandridge.

But because of health and safety fears, that tooth-shaped stone has now been relocated about 20 metres on the outfield.

The club has been based at Nomansland common opposite the Wicked Lady Pub since the early 1800s.

Jointly owned by the Spencer family’s Althorp estate and Wheathampstead parish council, the common is administered by St Albans district council.

During the 15th century the monasteries of St Albans and Westminster both contested the common, literally no-mans-land for the warring sides, for their respective parish.

And in 1429, after years of disputes, a jury agreed that a boulder of Hertfordshire puddingstone should be used to divide the two parishes.

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Cllr David Johnston, chairman of Wheathampstead parish council, said that the cricket club asked for the historic marker to be moved because it was a danger to players.

Following agreement between the two parishes, and in the presence of the district’s chief archaeologist, the stone has been moved to the edge of the pitch, where it is more visible and less of a hazard.

But, Cllr Johnston admitted, “we now have to make the stone safe for members of the public who walk there”.

Nearly all the puddingstone - pebbles cemented together with silica resembling a Christmas plum pudding - in the world is found in Hertfordshire, and is several million years old.

It is credited in local folklore with several supernatural powers, including being a protective charm against witchcraft – it was sometimes referred to as hag or witch stone.

Parish records from Aldenham show that in 1662 a woman suspected of being a witch was buried with a piece of it laid on top of her coffin to prevent her from escaping after burial.