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The Devil Stones of Acton

St Mary's Church, Acton, Near Nantwich, Cheshire


ACTON

THE CHURCH AND THE DEVIL

“As will be seen in later pages, the Devil seems to have had it in for Cheshire churches in the old days. Whether they were especially pious, or whether he merely happened to be in the county on other business isn’t recorded; but certainly there were frequent occasions when they apparently angered him beyond endurance.

Acton church was one that provoked his ire – to such an extent that he began hurling rocks at it. These can still be seen in a field half a mile away, which doesn’t say a great deal for his marksmanship.”

An Extract from ‘Cheshire: Ghosts & Legends’ By Frederick Woods (1990)


The Monks and the Devil Stones 

The legend of the Devil throwing stones at St Mary’s Church in Acton, near the town of Nantwich, in Cheshire, may, as an alternative viewpoint (rather than the 'Bluestone'), refer to the stones which marked out the boundary of an area of land to the south of the Church, which was part of Dodcott cum Wilkesley Township.

They are shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1875) and some of the stones are also shown on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1898) of the area.

This area of land must be associated with the carucate of land in the vill of Acton granted to Combermere Abbey in 1130AD (Dodgson, p. 126, ‘The Place-Names of Cheshire, Volume XLVI, Part 3, 1971’). The reason this area of Acton Township is actually part of Dodcott cum Wilkesley Township, is because Combermere Abbey is located within the latter’s confines, and therefore this link to the endowment of the carucate of land to the Abbey, can be made. The lane to the south and south-west of St Mary’s Church is also known as ‘Monks Lane’, and serves as the northern boundary of their land holding. 

Another small area immediately south of Bluestone Farm is also an area of Acton Parish which is actually in Dodcott cum Wilkesley Township.


A Map showing the Combermere Abbey Monks' Land Holding in Acton Township


Combermere Abbey was first founded in the 1130s, by the Baron of Nantwich, Hugh Malbank. At first it served the community as a Savigniac Monastery (the Savigniac Order, followed the Rule of St Benedict, in a similar way to the Cistercians, they dressed in grey habits, and their initial base grew from the Abbey of Savigny, in northern France, the order was later merged with that of the Cistercians). Combermere hence was later inhabited by the Cistercian’s (who were a monastic order who followed strictly, the Rule of St Benedict, and were an offshoot of the Benedictines, and later also followed one of their own monks, St Bernard of Clairvaux. The Cistercians wore white habits, whereas the Benedictines wore black). The Abbey was dissolved in 1538.

This means that these stones would have been placed here as boundary markers by the monks of the Abbey, to mark out their land, and over the centuries may have formed the basis of the legend. There are many instances of boundary stones being used to mark out township, parish and county boundaries across Cheshire, as well as the rest of the country, often these stones would acquire names meaning boundary, i.e. hoar, hear, hare, mear, mere stones.

Previously, the stones which were linked to the legend had been associated with a glacial boulder in a field opposite to Bluestone Farm, but the legend may also or alternatively refer to the boundary stones that were placed here by the monks of Combermere, and due to the Dissolution of Monasteries, by Henry VIII, and the end of the dominance of the Catholic Faith, this legend grew up around these stones whose function had been lost over the centuries, rather than just one glacial erratic in a field to the north of the Church.

The Puritans were known during and after the Reformation of white washing over Catholic and older history, destroying many pre-Christian monuments as well as Catholic and early Christian antiquities, such as the Sandbach Crosses. This meant that much of these structures became linked with the Devil, as they were viewed as none Christian, with examples of many ancient sites across the country gaining superstitious legends and myths, rather than their true function being remembered, or being broken up and distributed, only to be found and re-instated by later Victorian antiquarians.

On investigation of the area on foot, it was not possible to locate the boundary stones, which are shown on early Ordnance Survey maps, which may mean they have been removed over the years, or are awaiting re-discovery under the soil.

This entry for Wikipedia was added at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acton,_Cheshire, as an alternative viewpoint to the legend, rather than the previous link to the Bluestone:-

“The legend of the Devil throwing stones at Acton Church, may also refer to the stones which marked out the boundary of an area of land to the south of the Church, which was part of Dodcott cum Wilkesley Township. They are shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Maps (1875) of the area. This area of land is suggested to have been the carucate of land in the vill of Acton granted to Combermere Abbey in 1130AD (Dodgson, p. 126, The Place-Names of Cheshire, Volume XLVI, Part 3, 1971). Meaning that these stones would have been placed here as boundary markers by the monks of the Abbey, to mark out their land, and over the centuries formed the basis of the legend.”

Since adding this entry onto Wikipedia, it has been removed, in favour of just the Bluestone, again.


The Lost Stones of Oaktown 
by Charles E. S. Fairey 

The ancient stones at Acton 
Hurled from the hills of sandstone 
By the Devil with great strength 
But drunk and inaccurately thrown. 

These stones on ancient map 
Shown standing along a field boundary 
Nothing to see now 
Look and you cannot see, gone to history. 

Since the time of the Victorians 
These stones have disappeared 
But still the legend persists 
Although farmer his land now cleared, 
Of this ancient stone row 
Now missing from arable and meadow. 

What was here before 
When man linked Devil with Ancient 
What stood here in times past 
When these stones were standing obedient. 

 *   *   *   *   *   *   *

by Charles E S Fairey, 2011 (Revised 2012 & 2015)


Map Evidence 

The Devil Stones of Acton are shown on:-


Bibliography 


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