The Rudston Monolith – did you know the tallest ancient megalith in the UK is in Yorkshire?
I’ve always had an interest in pre-history, regularly walking my dog up on Rombald’s Moor near Ilkley and exploring the cup and ring marked stones and stone circles. My interest had originally been spurred by a strange source – one of my musical heroes Julian Cope from the 80’s band the Teardrop Explodes, had written a book called The Modern Antiquarian detailing most of the Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in Britain.
I managed to get a signed copy of the book and was surprised to see how many examples of these monuments were based in Yorkshire.
But one of the listings which intrigued me the most was the Rudston Monolith, at just under 8 metres tall, the tallest standing stone in the United Kingdom. I have since found the stone and been back a number of times, particularly if I have been over near the East Coast with clients. If you are wondering what a monolith is it’s an upright block of stone, shaped as a pillar and often used for ceremonial purposes.
The megalith is situated in a churchyard in the village of Rudston, which is a short drive from Bridlington and is believed to date from the late Neolithic (4400 – 2500BC )or early Bronze Age.
The huge stone has been carved from gritstone, and it is believed the stone comes from a Moorstone Grit from either the Cleveland Hills to the West of Whitby or even Cayton Bay near Scarborough. The nearest place a similar stone is found is Cayton and as that is over 10 miles away, the monolith has been transported over quite a distance.
Some geologists believe the stone may have been carried locally by a glacier, but this theory seems to be losing traction.
Whilst the stone has not been transported as far as some of the stones at Stonehenge, it is much bigger and heavier (estimated to weigh over 40 tonnes), so must have created a huge challenge to move it over the distance of 10 miles. Various theories have been banded around as to how stones were moved back 4,500 years ago, including rolling them on logs or floating them on rafts down rivers, but at present the main consensus seems to be that they were dragged on massive sledges.
The site was believed to have had significant importance, either as a ceremonial place or a some sort of pagan worship. We will never know, but later on once the Roman’s had departed Britain it is understood that Anglo Saxon missionaries had tried to “Christianise” the sacred stone by fixing a cross to the top. This is backed up by the origin of the name of the location being “Rudstane”, because the old English word for cross is Rood and Stane meaning stone.
Christian sites of worship often used sites of previous pagan worship and its believed that Christian worship took place here perhaps as early as the Romans and certainly during the Anglo Saxon era. The existing church is Norman and well worth a look in too. It is often open and has a display about the history of the area.
Last time I visited there was an artist sketching the church and the monolith. I had a lovely chat and think you will agree he was making a pretty good job of representing the huge standing stone.
Whenever I visit the stone it is its size which really takes your breath away. It seems to keep on growing as you get closer! The width of the base of the stone is 5 metres and whilst there is 8 metres of stone above ground it is believed that there are at least 6 - 7 metres of stone below ground. There is a picture of me below to give it some scale and I am 6ft!
The stone has two flat sides and the top looks like it has been broken off. The stone was capped in lead in 1773 and believed to have lost part of its height at this time. The stone has since been capped with lead again to protect it from lightening strikes and erosion.
There is also a small standing stone in the corner of the churchyard but it is believed that this has been brought to the site from a local barrow or burial mound. Interestingly the monolith is close to the Gypsey Race, an occasional stream flowing near the wolds and situated close to another Neolithic site – the long barrow of Duggleby Howe.
Rather like the Devil’s Arrows standing stones in Boroughbridge, there is a popular local myth about the origin of the standing stone – apparently the devil was angered by the building of a church on this sacred pagan place, he hurled a huge stone thunderbolt to destroy the church, fortunately it landed short and accounts for its present position. I'll let you decide whether this is true or not!