Hertfordfordshire puddingstone is mostly found in areas of England in the county of Hertfordshire and Plumstead Common in the Royal Borough of Greenwich in south-east London. It is a conglomerate silicrete composed of pebbles embedded in a mass of silica making it very hard and enduring. There are different types made of different materials from different regions. Here we look at the folklore, traditions and superstitions that have become associated with Hertfordshire Puddingstone.
In folklore and tradition Hertfordshire puddingstone was believed to possess certain supernatural qualities and local people long believed it protected against witchcraft. According to the parish records of the village of Aldenham in 1662 a local witch had a piece of puddingstone placed upon her coffin lid before it was covered over to prevent her from returning from the dead (1). Because of the supernatural connotations it was also given various names reflecting this. For example it was also known as Witch stone, Hag stone, or Woe stone.
However, there was a less sinister side to puddingstone, though arguably more bizarre. Although geologists are not in exact agreement how puddingstone was formed local people believed it grew from the ground and gave birth to new stones which also grew and gave birth. Proof of this was seen when it was split open revealing many smaller pebbles and stones stuck together inside and was called the Breeding stone. Because it appears out of the ground and said to grow it was called the Growing stone. A piece of puddingstone was given to the happy couple at weddings possibly to promote their fertility and bring luck.
This tendency for it to appear from the ground made it troublesome for arable farmers who can damage their ploughs upon it but its association with breeding makes it a good luck charm for dairy farmers and it was believed to increase milk production. Pieces of it were kept in the milking shed for this purpose.
Uses for Puddingstone
Puddingstone was used in construction of the Church of St John the Baptist. (2), During Roman times it was used as a millstone for grinding corn. It was later built into the walls of a number of Hertfordshire churches such as the tower of the church of St. Nicholas in Harpenden. Nevertheless, it was not widely used for building because although it was a good material it was scarce.
Puddingstone was used for grave markers and coffin stones and it was placed on top of the coffin to protect the deceased from evil spirits. It was also used in this way to ensure witches could not come back from the dead. In the churchyard of Great Gaddesden there are still large pieces of puddingstone marking the graves.
Despite having an unattractive surface similar to concrete when it was sliced and polished it became something very attractive and desirable. After it had been sliced and highly polished the sliced surface displayed a variety of multicolored pebbles turning it into a very attractive and beautiful material. In Victorian times it was made into ornaments, jewellery and small table tops (3).
There are many superstitions centered on puddingstone and local people often used pieces of it for a good luck charm. Because of its associations with good fortune it was also placed in doorways and gate posts. People also carried a small piece in their pockets for luck.
Names of Puddingstone
As well as those already mentioned, Puddingstone has many alternative names that reflect the use it was put to. For example, to ward against witches it was called Witchstone or Hagstone. For good luck and positive purposes it was called Angel stone. It was also known as Plum puddingstone because it looks like a plum or Christmas pudding when sliced.
© 08/4/2020 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright April 8th, 2020 zteve t evans
- (1) Hertfordshire puddingstone – Wikipedia
- (2) CHURCH HISTORY – St John the Baptist church, Aldenham …
- (3) Almost unique to our area | Hertfordshire Puddingstone
- File:Polished Section of Hertfordshire Puddingstone, Hertford Museum (geograph 3874623).jpg – From Wikimedia Commons – Source geograph.org.uk – Chris Reynolds – CC BY-SA 2.0