Friday, 26 October 2012

FOLKLORIC ~ Staddle Stones

Alice and The Caterpillar meet by a mushroom
John Tenniel

Epilogue to Through the Looking Glass

A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July --

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear
Pleased a simple tale to hear --

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream --
Lingering in the golden gleam --
Life what is it but a dream?

Lewis Carroll









All of my life I have been mesmerised by Lewis Carroll. His photographs and his writing epitomised the idea of England which first captured my heart and made me want to live here. I love his poems which I find quite poignant, and of course Alice. I have collected illustrations and items which remind me of his books and am always thrilled to find anything which touches an 'Alice' chord within me. Our cottage is full of Mad Tea Party and Cheshire Cat vignettes. I always loved that a lot of what he wrote has double meaning and although it resonates heavily with children you can read and re-read and find deeper meaning. It took me sometime to understand - and then thanks to Grace Slick and The Jefferson Airplane with 'White Rabbit'  and a wander through the psychelic streets of Haight Ashbury to realise that the naughty caterpillar (and Alice) were under the enfluence of magic mushrooms and other rather special substances. Mushrooms are forever associated with magic and Fairies and most children delight in finding them in any form.

A set of 6 fabulous stone mushrooms for sale
from the Salisbury Salvo website

There are a lot of things in England which do seem to be Alice like. There are of course those magnifient West Country teas, or tea at The Ritz, how civilised! When I first moved here I was enthralled by giant stone mushrooms I came across in gardens, especially in villages and on farms. I wanted one, or two! They were fairy like and instantly Alice like, but I could not imagine that the generally stoic English public would be so sentimental about fairies or Alice to have strewn these items across their little enchanted isle.  I was living in London in those days and there was no internet (imagine!?) so it took me awhile to work out just what they really were.

When I finally did I was even more excited! I should have just asked a countryman, but instead it dawned on me one fine day when I came across a really magical little building in the wonderful Wiltshire landscape!

Little building from Sheldon Manor, near Chippenham, Wiltshire
From here:
Once upon a time these uncommon looking things were quite common and they had a very important use. They are known as 'Staddle Stones' a kind of magical name just in itself.  From the Wikipedia page: "In Middle English staddle or stadle is stathel, from Old English stathol, a foundation, support or trunk of a tree. The tops of the staddles were usually circular and this made it almost impossible for a rodent to climb up and into the hay or grain stored above. The air could freely circulate beneath the stored crops and this helped to keep it dry. Bee hives were often set on top of staddle stones to keep out predators and provide dry and airy conditions."


An old barn supported on several Staddle Stones at Boscombe, Wiltshire
Photo by Mike Searle, from here:

Staddle Stones of old were made of sandstone, red sandstone or granite, according to whatever materials were available locally. Today some garden centres sell reproductions made of cement but they are not anywhere near as magical and it takes  along time for them to achieve the any kind of patina or growth of the wonderful lichen that adds to the ancient look and charm of the old ones.

You often see old cattle troughs and sinks being placed upon Staddle Stones, still with their mushroom tops, or otherwise and this makes a lovely planter. I came across this pretty one in Ramsbury.


Conical shaped Staddle Stones in Ramsbury, Wiltshire



Mushroom Staddle Stones for sale at Below Stairs, Hungerford





Recently when I posted a fine set of these magical mushrooms for sale at a favourite shop, Below Stairs in Hungerford, ( their website:)   Nella from the lovely Acorn Country Living here:  asked if they had a special name. This reminded me once again of how much these stones meant to me and what a part they had played in my life in England. Since living here I have found out that they were also used in America, but most of them were made of timber there and have not survived.

I always look for them on our travels and they never cease to delight. Once they were quite common, less so today, but to me they will always be magical and Alice like.

And finally, here is the one in our garden which covers the old well that was once used by our village before it was connected to mains water in 1936.  Today the cats often sit upon it watching the birds in the trees.  As soon as we viewed our tiny Arts and Crafts cottage we fell in love with it and when I saw this mushroom in the back garden I knew we had to live here. Our very own little bit of 'Alice'.



Our much loved Staddle Stone over our old well

 
 
Further reading: The Wiki page for Staddle Stones

14 comments:

  1. Quelles Jolie Photos!! :0) et quelle Jolie place cous avait visiter!!!:0)

    Buone semane!!
    xxx Maria xxx

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  2. Hello:
    This interesting and informative post, which is so well illustrated, has been a pleasure to read both for what you say about staddle stones and for the way in which you convey your enthusiasm for the writer Lewis Carroll who, as we are sure you will know, was inspired to write of Alice disappearing down the hole on account of the secret path which connects the gardens of Sussex Square in Brighton with the sea.

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  3. Excellent post!!!
    This is so informative . . . and a pleasure to read, Wow!

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  4. I love them ~ and the do look like oversized mushrooms!! Of course in a perfect world I'd have my perfect (and imaginary) little art studio placed on top of some in the garden... *sigh... :))))
    Where did you live before England?

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  5. What a fun post! I love Alice and tea parties and mushrooms and Jefferson Airplane (Starship) .... I'll be humming all day!!! I learned something new today .. all about staddle stones -- thank you!

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  6. I've always loved staddle stones and have to admit to having made some small ones (about 6 inches high) for my home that can sit around wherever the mood takes me. Although not quite the same as the 'real thing' I love them for their cuteness! x

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  7. Wish I could buy some of these wonderful staddle stones, but I imagine the shipping to the US would put me in a financial bind!!

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  8. I've never seen anything like these stones in Canada. I enjoyed the explanation very much. Now that I've seen your photos I know I'd love to have such a 'mushroom' in the woods here at Pondside. They look a tad heavy for shipment from England, so I'll have to do some searching closer to home.

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  9. Dear Minerva,
    I love those staddle stones too - and now I know a bit more about them, thank you! "Alice" is a wonderful source for our family-quotes, but of course it is a book with many depth.

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  10. I was fortunate to visit England with my eldest daughter in 1998, and it was - truly magical. Such a wonderful place to live.
    I've never heard of Staddle Stones before. The fact that they look like mushrooms make them all the more charming! :)
    Such a wonder-filled post!
    Hugs,
    Zuzu

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  11. What a great post this is. Like you the stories by Lewis Caroll appeal to me very much too. I don't know what it is exactly, the magic, humour, Englishness?! Whatever it is, it is the perfect combination!

    Wish you a happy Sunday!

    Madelief x

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  12. Hello across the pond....Oh, I just couldn't resist your sweet photos of Mrs. Black! I have a beautiful black kitty, too. Her name is Zoey. She was also a feral cat. What a dear little pal she is to me today.

    I am fascinated with your post about Staddle Stones. They remind me of the cute little red mushrooms that occasionally pop up in my backyard.

    Thank you for sharing this fun post, my friend...
    and, kitty kisses to Mrs. Black!
    Carolynn >^^<

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  13. This is so interesting. I had never heard of the straddle stones before, but in looking at them I can now understand why they were effective. I will have to see if I notice any of them here in the US. Where are you from originally?

    In my junior high years in Canada, we had an English teacher who was quite "hip" by our standards and he and our class interpreted "Alice" through the various songs of the time written about it and by Lewis Carroll's unique life as well. I've always found it so full of symbolism, just as is "The Wizard of Oz" and many classics. I don't think students growing up these days are exposed to those ideas as they are focused on test scores and technology. We can all use a little Alice magic in our lives to understand it better. Ann

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  14. Since having read your blog post these 'mushrooms' are popping up everywhere :) In my archaeolgy photos (latte stones from Guam, Mesoamerican piedras hongo, Scandinavian Iron Age 'phallus' stones, fertility stones from a Peruvian temple) and now in my neighbours garden *LOL* I might dedicate an (archaeological) blog post to them myself :)

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