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Tuesday 7 June 2022

The Westonzoyland giant boulder

Purely by chance, I came across a digitised version of "The Archaeology of Somerset" by DP Dobson, published in 1931 and digitised by Dehli University!

On p 78 there is a reference to the famous giant boulder at Westonzoyland, called "the Devil's Upping Stock" until it was cut up and disposed of

An upping-stock is a mounting block -- so if it was deemed suitable for the Devil, it must have been of great size -- maybe more than 2 x 2 x 2m -- and with a flat top.  

More information is contained in William Stradling's "Description of the Priory of Chilton Polden", pp 75-79 -- but I have been unable to track that one down..........

As for the possible location, there are a lot of moors around Westonzoyland, just to the east of the M5 motorway and near the village of North Petherton (where, as it happens, my sister once owned a hotel).........  We are in the territory of thick peat deposits, Sedgemoor and the Burtle Beds, about which there has been much discussion.

Could the giant boulder have been a glacial erratic?  Well, it was clearly in an unusual, prominent and "erratic" position unrelated to any rock outcrops.  Across most of the landscape peat beds and the sands and gravels of the Burtle Beds are at the surface, and the underlying Mercia mudstones (of Triassic age) are only exposed in a narrow strip running NW-SE, on the southern edge of Westonzoyland Village.  This is a ridge of slightly higher land.  The Devil's Upping Stock, in order to have survived as a "nuisance" until it was cut up, was clearly neither made of mudstone or sands and gravels.  Mudstone breaks down into rubble and slabs, and if the stone was suitable for "chimney pieces" (mantelpieces) it must have been either an igneous rock or a coherent limestone or sandstone.  Since mantelpieces were often exotic or showy, with status attached, we can speculate that the rock type itself was rather interesting........  why, otherwise, would Mr Hitchings have wanted to purchase it?

A giant glacial erratic?  Almost certainly, and Kellaway thought so too.   Carried by ice coming into the Somerset Levels depression from the west?  Almost certainly.  Linked in age to the glacial deposits at Greylake?  Almost certainly......


Tony Hinchliffe said...

You mention the glacial deposits at Greylake as well as the giant boulder of Westonzoyland. Well, "here's the thing", as my acquaintance on Radio Somerset, Simon Parkin often says between 10 and 2 every day Mondays to Fridays. Simon is always looking for interesting and/or curious stories to get his radio audience interested in discussing with him on the radio. I think you, Brian, should contact him and his Team between 10 and 2, explain your involvement with glacial boulders and such as well as folklore, and there's a fair chance he'd do a longish chat with you, possibly recorded off-air. Good opportunity for publicising Stonehenge, its Bluestones, and glaciers in one fell swoop!

Tony Hinchliffe said...

In all seriousness, another thought is to contact renowned Folk Musician Seth Lakeman. Anyone looking him up on the web will soon realise he is not only an extremely talented singer and musician, but also a great songwriter. He hales from Dartmoor, and has several musician brothers. He loves writing evocative folk songs, and I'd reckon yon Westonzoyland Giant Boulder would be right up his street/ footpath. His sister-in-law by the way is equally renowned Irish folk singer Cara Dillon. Great folk tradition embedded in the Lakeman dynasty.So it's not only glacial erratics that become embedded.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Westonzoyland is just off a much - travelled route of mine, the A361 between Street and Othery and Athelney (famous for being the hiding place for Alfred The Great). Westonzoyland is also just south, significantly, of the Polden Hills which serve as a natural causeway. So this location may well have glacial erratics.