Outside Humberstone village, Leicester, a large granite stone can be seen. On the face of it, the “Humber Stone” is just a chunk of rock. Estimated to weigh a whopping 20 tonnes. It’s a large, isolated stone, standing just off Thurmaston Lane, Leicester.
For hundreds of years, myths and legends have been attached to this weird, and once prominent, feature of the Leicestershire landscape. Some of the tales are fantastical, to say the least. It is said that the stone was thrown there by a giant, placed by aliens or even dropped from the sky by God. It’s also said that the stone was used as a sacrificial altar, that it will curse anyone who comes into contact with it and is also home to fairies.
Whatever the truth all we know is that this half-forgotten stone was once a site of great significance to our ancient ancestors.
The history of the Humber Stone
So what is the Humber Stone, speaking geologically? It is probably an “erratic”; a large block of rock transported by the action of glaciers and plonked down, now out-of-place, when the ice retreated. This would have happened about 440,000 years ago, during the Anglian Ice Age, when Leicester was traversed by swathes of thick ice. The rock is syenite granite, the nearest source of which is Mountsorrel, five-and-a-half miles away.
A modern visitor to the Humber Stone will only see the top of the nine feet-high stone. The Humber Stone was fully exposed in 1881, for a geologist’s report. The findings were documented by the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
The Stone was described as being pentagonal in shape, with a heavily grooved top and vertical sides. The report states that the grooves were created after the block was deposited – by artificial as well as natural causes.
The stone was also important enough to influence the naming of the nearby community and local fields.
Down the years, the Stone had various names, such as Hellstone, Holystone, Hoston and Holston.
Stories related with the Humber Stone
There have been many tales, myths, legends and horror stories associated with the stone. Here is a list of some of the better ones.
“Boy drew creature that stood beside his bed” was a Leicester Mercury headline as recently as 1980, when a 10-year-old boy, living close to the Humber Stone, had constant “visits” from a devilish entity. It was, apparently, a creature with a goat’s head and long curving horns, a man’s body and cloven hoofs. After drawing it at school, the boy’s teacher asked what it was. “I don’t know, miss”, he said. “It’s the thing I sometimes see at the end of my bed”. The family left Leicester not long after the drawing was made, but the same house was then occupied by the boy’s grandparents. A month later, the Leicester Mercury proclaimed “Humberstone ghost tried to choke me”. The grandmother of the unnamed boy said: “I was roughly awakened, feeling that my life was being choked out of my body”. The house in question was close to the Humber Stone.
As mentioned before, the stone was extensively excavated in 1881. This was by William Pochin of nearby Barkby, for a geologist’s report about rocks carried by glaciers. He also removed a large piece of the Stone for analyses. Not long after doing so Mr. Pochin shot off half his hand!
In John Harrison’s booklet The Mystery of the Humber Stone, he tells the story of a farmer in 1925 who decided to build a haystack on the stone. The stack burst into flames. The fire brigade was called but as soon as they had extinguished the fire and left, it burst into flames for a second time. This time the hay continued to burn for three days. The villagers said it was due to “the curse of the Humber Stone”, because it had been defiled. The stone must always be left to rest in peace.
Between 1756 and 1766, the upper parts of the stone were broken off so that a plough might pass over it. The owner of the land who did the deed “never prospered afterwards” apparently. He was reduced from being the owner of about 120 acres, to absolute poverty, and he died in 1810 in the parish workhouse.
A tale from the English Civil War says a group of Royalists were captured by the Roundheads and imprisoned in St Mary’s church in Humberstone village. They escaped from the church via a secret passage, to emerge in a field just by the Humber Stone. When the Roundheads finally discovered it, they levered the Humber Stone over the entrance to the passage, to stop anybody from using it again. Legend has it that there actually was a tunnel, from St. Mary’s to the now demolished Monks Rest. The Leicester Chronicle emailed the current priest at the church and was told that no tunnel has been found and that the church’s historian knows of the stories but they have never been proven.
In the 1900’s , old people would bathe their eyes in the pools of rainwater that collected in its crevices in Summer, as this water was rumoured to have curative powers and help their eyesight.
The infamous Leicester witch, Black Annis is said to have an involvement with the stone.
Standing to the east of the Stone and looking towards Bradgate Park, it will be seen that the contours of the land are reflected in the contours of the Stone. Although this could just be coincidence, considering how many bits have been chipped of.
The 19th century writer John Dudley conjectures that all these strange tales stem back to the stone’s ancient use – as a sacrificial altar. We’ve already mentioned that the stone was previously known as Hellstone. Hela, Dudley says, is the Saxon word for death. He adds that standing stones on hills or ridges, like the Humber Stone, “were usually chosen for the celebration of religious rites of the ancient British.
You should take all these tales – and many more like them – with a pinch of salt. But the fact remains that the Humber Stone has loomed large in local legends right down the centuries.
The Humber Stone today
The stone is now largely forgotten. It is flanked by a new housing estate and a major ring road. The last time I visited the stone, the fence surrounding the area was smashed, litter was flying around in the wind and the stone was covered in graffiti.
Maybe the stories and myths were created to protect the rock but even now that seems to be failing.
The location of the stone can be found on our Article Map, along with all our other articles.