Stanton Drew

One of my favourite stories from my home county of Somerset concerns the standing stones of Stanton Drew, a village just south of Bristol.

A group of megalithic stone circles there dates from between 2000 & 1600 BC, and there is a dark story associated with them, first mentioned by antiquarian John Aubrey in 1664.

There are several different versions of the story, but its fundamentals concern a wedding party held one Saturday which went on late into the night, in the fields just outside the village. As midnight – and the Sabbath – approached, the fiddler providing the music for the dancers refused to play any longer. The bride was furious, but the man packed up and left anyway. But as he disappeared into the darkness, another musician appeared and agreed to play in his stead, at first slowly, but then faster and faster, until all the dancers were unable to stop, though they screamed out for mercy, and when dawn at last came, and the cock crowed, the fiddler left, and the dancers were turned to stone.

The fiddler who was so happy to play on a Sunday was of course the Devil himself, and the wedding guests were punished for breaking God’s law. The stones are known as “The Wedding”, and also by another name, “The Fiddler and the Maids” (from a version of the story in which the original fiddler doesn’t pack up and leave but plays on, regardless of the Sabbath, and is also turned to stone).

According to John Wood of Bath, the stones cannot be counted. He wrote in 1749 that:

“No one was ever able to reckon the number of these metamorphosed stones, or to take a draught of them, though several have attempted to do both, and proceeded until they were either struck dead upon the spot, or with such illness as soon carried them off.”

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