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Stapleford Nottingham, Nottinghamshire

The Hemlock Stone

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The Hemlock Stone stands near the summit of Stapleford Hill adjacent to Bramcote Hills and the park (Location Map).

The stone and the hills are made up of red sandstone which was deposited in the early Triassic period over 200 million years ago.

The upper part of the Hemlock Stone is heavily impregnated with barium sulphate or barytes, a mineral that is resistant to weathering, which forms a protective cap above the pillar of softer rock below.

Over many millennia, erosion of the softer sandstone surrounding the pillar by water, ice and wind has shaped the strange form of the Hemlock Stone that we see today.

Many theories exist as to how the Stone got its name but it is thought by many to have been the site of activity by the Druids, the priesthood of the Celts. Myths and legends concerning the Stone abound, many of which formed part of a specially commissioned play performed in the walled garden area in 2001. A huge bonfire was lit on top of the Stone, one of the official beacons the length and breadth of the country, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2002.

A recent project of Broxtowe Borough Council and the local community has seen the installation of new interpretation panels, way markers to highlight the many wooded walks in the area, new carved stone seats and the publication of a special leaflet, as well as the inauguration of the Hemlock Happening, an outdoor festival to showcase the talents of local schools, groups and individuals.

The Hemlock Stone

By Mr Emsley Coke/Mr Samuel Page,The Hemlock Stone, Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 10 (1906)


By Mr Emsley Coke

Various theories have been put forward in explanation of the Himlack (or Hemlock) Stone, and may be divided under two heads: (1) That it is entirely the work of nature; (2) That it is mainly the work of man.

The Hemlock Stone. circa 1906

At one time it was thought to have been cut out by the Druids as an object of worship, and later opinion suggested the remains of a quarry. In the memoirs of the Geological Survey, published in 1880, Mr. Aveline says: “Twenty years of further observation would incline me now to place more stress on sub-aerial denudation than on marine. I believe that whatever may have been the first denuding agent, sub-aerial agencies have given the finishing touches to the moulding of the physical features of the district as we now see them, and that the striking pillar of rock, the “Himlack Stone” has slowly worn into its present shape after the country was raised above the sea for the last time.”

I entirely agree with Mr. Aveline in this; the adjoining Bramcote and Stapleford hills are of the same formation and no doubt are the remains of strata which at one time extended over the entire district. The “Himlack Stone” is probably the last remnant of a harder piece of the rock which has taken longer to remove.

There is no evidence, so far as I can learn, that any quarry was worked in the vicinity, and I believe the ground has been examined to see if there are any remains, but nothing was found.

It is quite possible and likely that this stone was associated with worship in ancient days, most of the striking natural objects usually have been.

Mr. Shipman considers the Hemlock Stone the remains of a huge hill which has been washed away and crumbled by the dislocations or “faults,” and by weather, its origin somewhat resembling that of Nottingham Castle rock. The upper part of it, of the hill at Stapleford behind and of the hill at Bramcote in front, he considers to be Keuper, he and Mr. Wilson thus differing from most geologists, who regard it as Bunter, like the Castle Rock. The lower part is considered to be mottled sandstone. The particles of the upper portion maintain their firmness through chemical action, the substance apparently being sulphate of barium.

Mr. Samuel Page holds that the use of the Hemlock Stone for Druidical rites may be definitely traced. He believes it to have been a Tothill, one of those eminences, natural or artificial, which were dedicated to the worship of the Celtic deity, Teut (Egyptian “Thoth”). He sends us the following paper in support of this theory.

By Mr Samuel Page, F.R.N.S.

Though there may be difference of opinion as to the origin of the Hemlock Stone, yet, in my view, the use of it for Druidical rites may very definitely be traced. I would refer to a letter in Hone’s Year Book, 1831, page 867, on the subject of the Toothills, from the text of which I take the following extracts :—

“The able manner in which you have elucidated the antiquities and customs of Britain, and especially the ‘Midsummer Fires,’ and other Pagan relics, prompts me to draw your attention to what, though intimately connected with them, you seem hitherto to have neglected or overlooked namely, the Toot Hills, formerly consecrated to the worship of the Celtic deity ‘ Teutates,’ many of which still remain with scarcely any alteration of their designated names. . . . Mr. Payne read a paper before the Royal Society of Literature, in 1829, in which he identifies the Celtic Teutates with that benefactor of mankind, who, from the invention of various useful arts, was worshipped in Egypt and Phoenicia under the name of Thoth, in Greece as Hermes, and by the Latins as Mercury. To shew the connection between Tot and Teut and the Egyptian Thoth, it may also be remarked that Bruce says the word Tot is Ethiopic, and means the dog-star; now the Egyptians represented Thoth with the head of a dog, and Mr. Bowles remarks that ‘the Druids cut the sacred Vervain at the rising of the Dog Star.

There can be little doubt, at any rate, that the Thoth of Egypt, deified in the Dog-star, was transferred to the Phoenicians, who derived their astronomical knowledge from Egypt, and who ‘held their way to our distant shores on account of commerce, thus, perhaps, leaving some relic of their knowledge behind them; and indeed the Egyptian Thoth, the Phoenician Taautus or Taute, the Grecian Hermes, the Roman Mercury, and the Teutates of the Celts (so called from the Celtic Du Taith, Deus Tautus) are among the learned admitted to be the same. . . .

A stone was the first rude representation of Tuisto, or Teut, and these dedicated stones were placed on eminences, natural or artificial, most commonly by road sides, and hence called Tot-hills or Teut-hills, and in various parts of the kingdom are so called at present. These hills would, of course, still remain after the Druidical rites were abrogated by the Romans; and as that people paid especial attention to the genii loci of the countries they conquered, and, besides, considered these Teut-hills as dedicated to their own Mercury, they would probably venerate them equally with the conquered Britons. . . ‘According to my idea,’ observes Mr. Bowles, ‘Thoth, Taute, Toute, Tot, Tut, Tad, Ted, Tet, are all derived from the same Celtic root, and are in names of places in England, indicative of some tumulus, or conical hill, dedicated to the great Celtic god, Taute, or Mercury.’”

Many names of places derived from Taut are scattered all over the country, to mention locally, Toothill Lane, Mansfield; Toton, near Nottingham; Toth ill, near Alford, Lincolnshire; Totley, Derbyshire; Tatenhill, near Tutbury; which latter name is also of the same derivation. At least sixty names are given in Hone’s Year Book.

But it will be asked, what connection has all this with the Hemlock Stone, and where is the Tothill to be traced?—(the name Hemlock, by the way, I think, was sometime Cromlech, though the late Mr. Lowe gives a different derivation). If we look around for Tothill I think we need not go very far. An ancient little stream called the Tottle Brook rises near Trowell Domesday Torwell—and flows not very far from the Hemlock Stone. Further on, it forms the boundaries of some parishes, and then pursues its winding course to the distant Trent, into which it empties itself opposite Wilford Church. How probable it is that this little rivulet acquired its name many centuries ago from an important Tothill close by! Mr. F. W. Dobson informs me that there are certain streams in Wales which undoubtedly derive their names from local Cromlech stones, and this strengthens my theory.

To my mind, at least, there is here some evidence that this Hemlock Stone was the Tothill, and that here the Druids celebrated their worship, brought their sacrifices, and lit their prodigious fires on the eves of May Day, Midsummer, and the 1st of November. Probably, owing to the action of nature during prehistoric ages, they found the stone in much the same shape as we see it now, though, from denudation, less in height from the level of the ground, and utilised it for their purposes. Of the Druids and their rites our knowledge is limited, but I venture to suggest that in the name of this little stream may lie the key to some of the antecedents of the Hemlock Stone, the mystery of which has so long puzzled the antiquary.

Mr. Page’s theory is disputed by another correspondent, who considers that there is no evidence connecting the stone with Druidical observance, and who suggests that the etymology of “Toothill” is merely an example of the process known as the reduplication of synonyms.

The name, as well as the origin and use, of the Hemlock Stone is a matter of speculation. It has been suggested that it was named from the plant Hemlock, which was greatly celebrated by the ancients, and which may have grown in abundance about the column.

A brief stay was made by the party at the Hemlock Stone, most of the company having already inspected it.


By Emsley Coke/Samuel Page, The Hemlock Stone, Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 10 (1906)


Thanks to A. Nicholson for the use of text and pictures:

The Hemlock Stone

Percy Whatnall (ed.) Links with old Nottingham. Historical notes by J. Holland Walker, (1928)

THERE are in the neighbourhood few more puzzling relics of the past than the Hemlock Stone, near Bramcote. Geologists tell us that it is a perfectly natural object, being a mass of red sandstone, whose summit is more or less protected by a harder formation, and that its curious shape is due to the weathering of countless ages.

For a generation this explanation has been accepted, and inquirers as to the meaning of the Hemlock Stone have turned, perhaps regretfully, away from the tradition that equated the word "Hemlock" with "Cromlech," the name for those mysterious Rude Stone Circles of unknown antiquity and use, and which roundly declared that the Hemlock Stone was a "Druid Altar" —whatever that may mean.

Certain discoveries have been made recently in this neighbourhood, however, which seem to indicate that there is something in this tradition after all, for they point, in a very shadowy way it is trite, to a very early occupation of the district by man, and almost any time something may be found which may conceivably throw the district into the archaeological limelight.

It is well, therefore, to keep a very open mind and a very sharp look-out, when considering the neighbourhood in which stands the Hemlock Stone.

Thanks to A. Nicholson for the use of text and pictures:

Geology of Nottinghamshire

From, A History of Nottinghamshire (1896) By Cornelius Brown

The next formation that we encounter is the new red sandstone, the site of the old Forest of Sherwood. The ‘forest lands,’ past and present, of Nottinghamshire may be said to be synonymous with this formation. In some districts the sandstone is hard; in others quite loose, giving rise to ‘blow-away sand.’ It generally abounds in hard pebbles (quartzites), which ignorant rustics firmly believe to grow. The grains of sand are white quartz, and the present red colour is due to an external coating of the individual grains. The soil of the new red sandstone is for the most part poor and gravelly, and but for this fact, doubtless, the wide limits of the old Forest of Sherwood (Worksop to Nottingham Park) would not have been suffered to continue so long. The yellow gorse flourishes on and brightens the dry, barren and uncultivated tracts of this formation, which in its higher levels is, owing to its extremely porous character, singularly devoid of brooks and streams. The rainfall is rapidly absorbed, and as at the base of the sandstone impervious beds of marl occur, the whole rock forms a fine natural water-reservoir. As a water-bearing formation, it ranks third in England. The sand has not only all the powers of absorption of a vast sponge, but is an excellent filter. Many of the largest towns in England derive their supply of water from the new red sandstone. Some of the sand is excellently adapted for moulding purposes.

The Hemlock Stone

At Bramcote there is a high pinnacle of rock, known as the Hemlock Stone; at Blidworth there are similar pinnacles, commonly called ‘Druidical remains? These pinnacles are masses of rock, locally cemented, and made intensely hard by a vertical dissemination of calcareous matter (contained in percolating waters) before the removal of the surrounding mass took place. The surrounding and softer mass has been gradually removed by subaerial denudation, leaving the harder or cemented portion standing in the shape of pinnacles—objects of interest to the geologist, and a wonderful puzzle to the superstitious and uninformed.

The next formation we meet with is known as the ‘keuper marls.’ In the upper portion gypsum (sulphate of lime) occurs, and is worked as a commercial commodity at Beacon Hill, Newark, where this formation occurs capped by the ‘rhaetic beds.’ A fossil from the keuper marls of Nottinghamshire has been a long-sought-for ‘philosopher’s stone.’ The marls are largely worked for brickmaking. The sea in which these beds were deposited must have been surcharged with various salts, and (Sir Andrew Ramsey says) must have been an inland sea, like the Great Salt Lake of Utah or the Caspian. Large pseudomorphous crystals of salt are common in these beds. A fine section of these beds may be seen by the Midland Railway between Canton and Nottingham.

The last formation (to be met with on the eastern edge of the county) is the ‘has,’ a formation characterized by most striking regularity of stratification. It abounds in ammonites (perhaps the best known of all fossils) of various species. The various species occur at various zones as systematically as the arrangement of specimens in the different drawers of a cabinet. The ‘has-plain’ extends to the base of the hill at Lincoln. This formation is the same as that existing at Whitby, Yorkshire, the ammonites of which place are celebrated. The limestones of this formation yield valuable hydraulic cement, and are extensively worked in some villages in the county.

The officers of the Government Geological Survey have of late years made the discovery that the river Trent formerly flowed direct from Newark into the Wash by way of Lincoln. At Lincoln the river passed through the gap there in the long range of hills known as the Cliff. The gap was doubtless cut by the Trent itself at a time when the river Witham was its tributary. Trent gravel is a distinct deposit capable of easy recognition. A deep deposit of Trent gravel (the site of the old river-bed) has been found to extend from Newark to Lincoln, and forward to the Wash. It is impossible for this gravel, composed as it is of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire rock materials unknown in Lincolnshire, to have become deposited in its present position but by the agency of a large river. The manner in which the river Trent became deflected from its ancient course is set forth in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, 1883, vol. xxxix., in a paper by Mr. A. J. Jukes-Brown, B.A., of her Majesty’s Geological Survey. If a map of the county be examined, it will be noticed that the Trent from Nottingham runs for miles in a north-easterly direction, pointing to the gap at Lincoln; at Newark, however, the river takes a somewhat sharp turn to the north in the direction of the H umber, into which it now flows.

There are in Nottinghamshire two public geological museums—one at the University Buildings, Nottingham, and the other at Southwell. The latter was a bequest by the late J. B. Warwick, Esq., M.R.C.S., and, though small, contains some choice specimens.

Thanks to A. Nicholson for the use of text and pictures:

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