Map Ref: SJ898554
Latitude: 53.095705N Longitude: 2.153774W
Gawton’s Stone is a dolmen / cromlech situated in Greenway Bank Country Park, Knypersley, Biddulph.
The stone or dolmen has been referred to by various names over the years some of which are listed below:
The Hermits Cave
The Healing Stone
The spelling Gawton and Gorton are different versions of the same name. It may also be that Ganton could be a misspelling of this name.
J.D. Sainter in his “Scientific Rambles Round Macclesfield” believed the name originates from the German ‘gau,’ a spring in a hollow or furrow, and ‘stan,’ a stone.
The main stone itself rests upon three smaller stones, this may in fact only be two, the one classed as the third stone at the rear of the dolmen could actually be part of the main stone and could well be damaged. It is believed that the main stone weighs somewhere between 35 and 60 tons, and is approximately 15 cubic metres in size.
The stone to the right of the main stone does have a lot of modern graffiti on it along with two strange pebbledash lines that go all the way along the side and down the front of the stone. A geologist was contacted about this pattern who said: “from the picture it is difficult to see what the ‘pattern’ is actually made of and the fact that the distance between the two lines is not parallel is unusual. I would expect them to be pebbles and that they were deposited at times of higher energy flow into the rest of the sediment. The fact that they nearly merge may be an indication of current flow.” It was confirmed to her that it had pebbles imbedded in the lines.
The underside of the large stone showing a pitted red colour shows us what type of rock it is; Sandstone. Inside the cave itself and around the dolmen are various smaller stones that may or may not have been part of the structure at some point. At the back is a large stone that looks like it may have been shaped for something.
Anyway back to the main stone. This is the most intriguing of the three stones as one side of it seems to be shaped like a man’s head. It must also be mentioned that there are various small holes around this stone that vary in depth, but are approximately 10 – 15 cm in width. It is possible that these may be cup marks associated with ancient man. These holes will be investigated further.
Now the stone on the left side of the main stone, at first glance seemed like a normal stone, with small traces of graffiti. However, further investigation has shown that this may in fact have some kind of human figure carved on it. This is another area that is being investigated further.
There are just a few different ideas on how these stones came to this position. These are:
Purposely designed by ancient man
With regards to it being a Victorian Folly it is believed that this idea would be highly unlikely, as it is mentioned in various texts by various authors on the sites around the area who generally consider it to be either a burial site or natural formation. It is also difficult to believe that a stone weighing 35 to 60 tons would be used in this way. Yes, there have been instances of Victorians copying standing stones and stone circles which are then portrayed as ancient monuments trying to deceive the people, but these do not use stones of this size. Many original cromlechs don’t actually have a top stone the size of this one, so it would put doubt in the minds of historians and archaeologists straight away.
It is highly unlikely that Gawton’s Stone is a natural formation, as the rock mentioned earlier to the right of the main boulder with the pebbledash markings suggest that these rocks are from different locations. If they had always been together then it would be expected that all these stones would have the same type of markings. Even so, further investigations will be made.
At current, the idea of the large stone being a fallen boulder is a real possibility, as the rocks are of the same type as the surrounding outcrop of rock found nearby. Again, further investigations will be undertaken on this.
Purposely Designed by Ancient Man
This is a suggestion that is also being investigated as a possibility. It is also worth noting that even if it is a fallen boulder, it could still have been utilised by ancient man for an unknown purpose. Excavations in the 1900’s did show the dolmen was used at some point in the past as a burial site.
Copy of a drawing of Gawton Stone by Dr. Sainter
There is a local story of a hermit using Gawton’s Stone as a hermitage after he was cured from the plague by Gawton’s Well.
The story of the Hermit:
Gawton / Gorton was one of the servants of Knypersley Hall when he became ill with the plague. Due to everyone thinking they would fall ill he was forced to leave. He left and went to live in a cave (Gawton’s Stone) near Knypersley pool.
Nearby was a spring which is known as Gawton’s Well which is where he bathed every day. He also used the spring for his drinking water. The spring was believed to have the power to heal skin diseases by the locals and apparently cured Gawton of the plague.
Even though he was now healed he continued to stay at the cave and lived there till his death.
(The Biddulph Parish Register shows that a Robert Gorton died in 1611. He was buried on the 06th December).
Local legends say that if you crawl underneath the stone that the ‘Devil will be knocked of your back’.
Many local people do believe the stone has strange magical powers and gives off healing properties and a kind of magnetic field when touched.
J. D. Sainter in his "Scientific Rambles round Macclesfield" states:
About one mile south of Wickenstone, and near the
reservoir, Knypersley Park, there may be noticed a fine
spring of water flowing into two elongated stone cisterns,
along with a smaller one that is circular ; and some years
ago this spring was much resorted to by the sick and lame,
on account of its reputed medicinal properties. A little
up the valley to the right, there comes into view that huge,
singularly shaped and poised block of sandstone, named
the " gawton," gorton, or gawstone ; from the German
"gau," a spring in a hollow or furrow, and " stan," a stone,
i.e. the spring near to or not far from this celebrated stone.
It will weigh about 60 tons, and forms the capstone of a
large sepulchral cell or dolmen that has undergone rough
and degrading usage. This form of burial is of an early
Scandinavian type that had been adopted in this country.
Photograph by Robert Worrall
The Prehistoric Chamber Tombs of England and Wales by Glyn E. Daniel, 2013 states:
“(2) Gawton’s (or Ganton’s) Stone (O.S. 6”7 S.W.). This site in Knypersley Park is sometimes marked as a ‘Cromlech’ but is in reality merely a great fallen block of stone resting on some smaller stones. (See Trans. N. Staffs Field Club, 29 (1895) P.156)”
Written by Robert Worrall (Curator, Biddulph Museum)
Sources and Credits:
Staffordshire Past Track
Various local residents for the myths and legends
Greenway Bank Country Park Visitor Information
Scientific Rambles round Macclesfield – J. D. Sainter – 1878
The Megalithic Portal
Investigations by Biddulph Museum
Geologist: D. Clements
Photographs by Robert Worrall (Curator) Biddulph Museum
The Prehistoric Chamber Tombs of England and Wales by Glyn E. Daniel, 2013