British Folklore
Fairy Lore & Prehistoric Sites in Britain

Rollright Stones

Rollright Stones

This monument is on one side of a hill on the boundary between Oxfordshire and Warwickshire; in the valley on the further side lies Long Compton. It consists of a circle of stones, a tall single stone some fifty yards further up the hill, and a cluster of five stones a few hundred yards east - the remains of a chambered tomb. A tradition that they are men turned to stone is mentioned very briefly in Camden's Britannia, penned in 1586. A translation of the work gives some detail:

The highest of them all, which without the circle looketh to the earth, they use to call The King, because he should have beene King of England (forsooth), if he had once seene Long-Compton, a little town so called lying beneath, and which a man, if he go some few paces forward, may see; other five standing at the other side, touching, as it were, one another, they imagine to have beene Knights mounted on horsebacke, and the rest the army.

Later versions from the middle of the 19th century ascribe the whole place to a magician or witch who meets the King as he is riding ahead of his Knights on the Ridgeway.  The fullest account is giving by Sir Arthur Evans in 1895:

Seven long strides shalt thou take,
And if Long Compton thou canst see,
King of England thou shall be.

Delighted, the king strode forward and shouted with vigor:

Stick, stock, stone!
As King of England I should be known!

But just on his seventh stride the ground in front of him rose up into a long mound, blocking his view, and the witch declared:

As Long Compton thou canst not see,
King of England thou shalt not be.
Rise up, stick, stand still, stone,
For King of England thou shalt be none.
Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be,
And I myself an eldern tree.

So the King and all his army became the stones.  It is also said in local folklore that the stones will again turn into flesh and blood once more and the King will overcome his enemies and rule England. On Midsummer Eve, local people would gather about the king stone and cut an Elder tree branch and while it 'bled, the king would turn his head.'

Three of the general traditions about megalithic monuments are found here.  The first is that whoever removes a stone will suffer dire consequences. Simple admonishments in the form of quick tales such as, "a man who takes a stone to bridge a stream could have no rest until he removed it back again."  Another more dramatic tale describes how it took four horses to drag a stone downhill, and two of the men who helped were killed in the process; but when the villagers decided to return the stone,  it moved so easily it only took one horse to drag it back uphill.

Another is very common "uncountable stones" legend.  A baker brought a certain account of loaves to place one on each top of stone to get a solid count of them, but his loaves were not sufficiently numerous, or some sorcery displaced them.  The third most common theme is that the King stones and/or the Whispering Knights come down the hill at midnight to drink from a spring in LIttle Rollright Spinney.

The last and oldest is that fairies have been seen on the site, especially in the vicinity of the King Stone.