Rock of Ages

It is a good shrubbery.

Head Knight, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

It is still a source of wonder to me that the University of Nottingham allows the public to roam freely around the grounds of its University Park campus. It’s not something that is widely advertised, but it’s certainly not discouraged either. I’ve explored the campus on many occasions over the years, but I still occasionally happen upon a feature that is new to me.

I particularly like to visit the grounds out of term and towards the end of the day, when they are at their most tranquil. Given the lack of restrictions on pedestrian entry into the grounds, it always surprises me that there aren’t more people around and it often feels almost as if I have the place to myself.

Last week, I decided to go for a short circular walk around the campus, the walk beginning with an ascent of the hill that rises near the University’s west entrance and leads up to an area that includes the Trent Building. It was as I was about to reach the crest of the hill that I spotted an information board that I had never seen before. It concerned itself with something called the Bassingfield Stone.

Most Nottinghamians will be familiar with the Hemlock Stone – mainly on account of its size and location – but relatively few, I’ll wager, will have seen or heard of the the more diminutive Bassingfield Stone, which is, at the time of writing, fairly well hidden inside a shrubbery. So well hidden, in fact, that it is unlikely that any casual passers-by would notice it if they had not already been alerted to its existence by the information board, which states that the stone is, ‘Tucked away in the shrub border to the west of the Trent Building’.

Fortuitously, and in line with the time of day, there’s no-one around as I identify the shrubbery/shrub border (is there a difference? Is ‘shrub border’ a posh way of saying shrubbery?) and make my way towards its interior, where I discover the mottled grey stone, perhaps a metre-or-so in height and rather phallic in appearance, resting contentedly on a plinth.

Attached to the plinth is a plaque, which reads, ‘This large erratic, consisting of hornblende schist, was brought into the district by glaciers from the south-west Highlands. It attracted the attention of Bronze Age man who adapted it for use in agricultural religious rites. Discovered by G. F. Turton Esq.,(N.N.S.F.C.) at Bassingfield Gravel Workings. Presented by B. S. Whiting Esq., Manager.’

As ever in such scenarios, I’m immediately made aware of the glaring gaps in my knowledge of the world. I’ve already realised that I don’t know exactly what a shrub is (some sort of plant, presumably), or at what point an assemblage of such entities may be termed a shrub border or shrubbery, but the words ‘erratic’, ‘hornblende schist’ and, indeed, ‘Bassingfield Gravel Workings’ present further mysteries. Frankly, I’m not even sure I know exactly when the Bronze Age was.

The internet comes galloping to the rescue. An erratic, as suggested by the information board and plaque, is a rock that has been transported by a glacier, then deposited, and is different in size and type to rock that is native to the new place in which it finds itself. Hornblende is a name for a particular group of minerals and a schist is, ‘a coarse-grained metamorphic rock which consists of layers of different minerals and can be split into thin irregular plates’.

Bassingfield, it transpires, is a hamlet that lies between Gamston and Radcliffe-on-Trent, and the name in geological circles for the zone of river terrace deposits in the area in which the object of our attention was discovered is ‘the Bassingfield Sand and Gravel’. The Bronze Age, meanwhile, for anyone else as intellectually-challenged as me, began in Britain ‘around 2,000 BC’ (according to a BBC web page) and ended circa 650 BC.

G. F. Turton, discoverer of the stone, is described in the book Quaternary of the Trent as an amateur archaeologist, while B. S. Whiting was presumably the manager of the gravel workings when the stone was discovered in 1949. At least some workings in the area were still operational at that time – a report in the Nottingham Evening Post of 6 October 1950 details the sad story of William Wady Shepherd, 39, of West Bridgford, who was fatally injured when the dumper he was driving at what is referred to in the report as ‘Bassingfield quarry’ fell over ‘upside down, into the pit.’ The truck weighed ‘about 2½ tons and was carrying about 2 tons of gravel’ and death was due to  ‘laceration of the heart, multiple injuries, hemorrhage, and shock’.

Still gazing at the stone, I make a mental note to have a walk around the Bassingfield area at some point. Then it’s time to make my way back out of the undergrowth. Thankfully, there are still no other visitors in evidence. Had there been, they would almost certainly have come to the conclusion that I had gone into the bushes for a wee.

I make my way back down the hill with a spring in my step, invigorated by the knowledge that there is always something new for the curious wanderer to discover on his or her perambulations.

The Bassingfield Stone