Ancient Celtic stone unveiled in Barnstaple Museum

Jack Lawrence, 14, with the stone he found at West Down.

Jack Lawrence, 14, with the stone he found at West Down. - Credit: Archant

The stone bearing an inscription of the name ‘Guerngen’ was discovered by a 15-year-old at his home in West Down.

Stone finder Jack Lawrence and museum curator Alison Mills unveiling the stone at the North Devon Mu

Stone finder Jack Lawrence and museum curator Alison Mills unveiling the stone at the North Devon Museum. - Credit: Archant

A CELTIC stone which is thought to be more than 1,200 years old has been unveiled in Barnstaple Museum today (Thurs).

The inscription on the stone reads 'Guerngen' and is believed to possibly have been a pillow stone p

The inscription on the stone reads 'Guerngen' and is believed to possibly have been a pillow stone placed at the head of a grave. - Credit: Archant

The stone, which bears the inscription of the name ‘Guerngen’ is one of only two that have been discovered in the whole of North Devon.

Last year 15-year-old Jack Lawrence made the discovery in the wall of Shutes Cottage in West Down, where he lives with his parents.

He reported it to the North Devon Archaeological Society, and the stone was taken to the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon to be cleaned, drawn and studied.


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Terry Green, who has researched the ancient find, said it was believed to be a memorial stone made from locally sourced sandstone.

“It is possible it could be a pillow stone which is placed at the head of a grave,” he said.

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“It could have found its way from its original position to the churchyard, where it was built into the church in the 10th century.

“This was until the chancel was rebuilt in the 17th century and the tower in the early 18th century.

“These would have been two occasions where there would have been a lot of rubble available, and at some point this was built into the wall beside Shutes Cottage.”

Oliver Padel, of Cambridge University, said it was most probable the inscription dated back to the eight century, before the Anglo Saxons took over in Devon.

“This man who was commemorated must have been in the upper reaches of society for his family to afford such an expensive memorial,” said Mr Padel.

Jack, who was 13 when he discovered the inscription, said he hopes to pursue a career in archaeology or history.

He said: “I spotted some marks on the other side of the stone and they looked quite interesting we decided to turn it over – that’s when we found the inscription.

“The wall was knocked down before we moved in 12 years ago but it is amazing to think the stone has been sat in the pile of rubble all that time.”

The stone will remain in the museum until the spring, when it will be displayed in West Down Church.

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