Restoration of the Four Shire Stone

How you can play a part in bringing this local historical landmark back to life

The Four Shire Stone is a unique 15 feet-high pillar, around a mile and a half from Moreton in Marsh, on the A44 to Chipping Norton. It marks the ancient boundary between the counties of Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Worcestershire.

The origins of the stone are unclear but probably go back to at least the late 16th Century, when the parishes of Blockley and Evenlode, among others, were administered by the Bishop of Worcester and were detached parts of the county. A government reorganisation of the county boundaries in 1931 saw these two parishes, as well as villages such as Cutsdean, Daylesford and Icomb absorbed into Gloucestershire. 

We think that the present stone was built in the mid-1700s and replaced an earlier marker stone which dated back to the Middle Ages. We don’t know who built it or exactly when and any information on this would be gratefully received.

Built in white oolitic limestone – that’s the famous and characteristic, honey-coloured Cotswold stone, probably sourced from local quarries - it is said to have been an inspiration to J.R.R Tolkien, a frequent visitor to this corner of the Cotswolds. Fans of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings will know of the Three Farthing Stone of the Shire.

However, some features of this striking and historic monument reveal that it has not always been well-cared for. Once a convenient venue for prize fights, where pugilists could evade prosecution in one county by hopping across the border to another, vandalism, bill stickers in the late 19th Century and even a wayward lorry which demolished it in 1955, the stone has seen better days. It is little wonder then, that motorists, cyclists and even walkers pass without even noticing it.

All that is about to change.

Why now? It’s because local chartered surveyor, James Hayman-Joyce decided long ago that, in retirement, he would get this Cotswold landmark the love and affection it deserved. A committee has been formed, which has formulated the current plan to renovate the Four Shire Stone. This includes repairing the existing damaged stonework, thoroughly cleaning the stone and replacing the railings. 

It’s all being done with the approval of the local authorities in Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Oxfordshire and you can help towards the modest cost of less than £20,000 by making a donation. 

Work has now started and the state of the existing stonework is worse than we initially thought. View photos of our progress. 

Fundraising Progress

£11,220 remaining £20,000 target
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The History of The Four Shire Stone

The first thing to make clear is that the Four Shire Stone is not a stone but a pillar, around 15 feet high, made from Cotswold stone, probably quarried from nearby Chipping Camden.

Maps from the 11th, 12th and 13th Centuries show the presence of stones in this area but a Four Shire Stone is clearly referred to by the antiquarian and historian appointed by King Henry VIII and often referred to as ‘the father of England local history’, John Leland. In 1520, he wrote of ‘a big stone, three miles west from the Rollright Stones standing on a heath, being the name of Barton, a village nearby belonging to Mr Palmer. The Stone is a very Marke or Limes of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Oxfordshire’.

A Taunt & Co postcard taken in the 1930s

Thomas Habington, known as the first historian of Worcestershire, died in 1647 but in his Survey of Worcestershire – which wasn’t published until 1895 – he mentioned ‘the stone which toucheth four sheeres, a thing rarely scene’.

Samuel Rudder, a Cirencester-based topographer, printer and historian, also recorded the Four Shire Stone in his 1779 book, A New History of Gloucestershire. He described ‘a handsome pedestal about 12 ft high with a dial on the top and an inscription to inform travellers: ‘This is the Four Shire Stone’’. This is the stone that exists today and Rudder’s description tells us that it was built before 1779.

The railings around the monument were added at the turn of the 20th Century to protect it from bill stickers and vandals. In 1955, it was reported to have been demolished after being hit by a lorry.

Then, in 1931, the boundary of Worcestershire was redrawn and four shires became three.

  • Do you know anything about the history of the Four Shire Stone?
  • Do you know how and why it came to be built in the first place?

It has clearly been a meeting place for all sorts of reasons, including for prize fights. The stone is covered in messages and names carved into all four sides, some done with more skill than others. Research into the stone is still ongoing and if you can help, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact restoration@fourshirestone.org.uk

The Tolkien Connection

There has been much speculation about the possibility that the much-loved author, J.R.R. Tolkien was inspired by the Four Shire Stone. The land where the Hobbit lives is called the Shire, which is divided into four farthings. In Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings, the Three Farthing Stone is the point at which the Shires of Westfarthing, Southfarthing and Eastfarthing meet and lies on the Great East Road between By-Water and Green-hill country. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings while living in Northmoor Road in North Oxford, during his time as Professor of Anglo Saxon at Pembroke College. 

There may be no written evidence to support this connection but it is highly unlikely that the Oxford-based Tolkien would not have been aware of the Four Shire Stone. There is, also, no other monument or waymarker similar to the Four Shire Stone that could be considered an inspiration. 

The Four Shire Stone is also on a direct route from Oxford to Evesham which Tolkien used regularly to visit his brother, Hilary at his fruit farm at Station Garden Nurseries in Blackminster near Evesham. In his JRR Tolkien: A Biography, the author, Humphrey Carpenter notes: ‘There was the unforgettable occasion in 1932 when Tolkien bought his first car, a Morris Cowley that was nicknamed 'Jo' after the first two letters of its registration. After learning to drive he took the entire family by car to visit his brother Hilary at his Evesham fruit farm.’

Andrew Compton, a British book dealer, specialising in the works of Tolkien, said that Tolkien often visited Moreton in Marsh, was a prolific walker and loved maps and legends.’

Who's Involved?

  • James Hayman-Joyce (Chairman)

    I am a semi-retired chartered surveyor who has lived in Barton on the Heath for 35 years and worked in Moreton in Marsh since 1976 – having passed the stone every day until I retired I have become more and more concerned at its poor state of repair and resolved to do something about it

  • Jasper Feilding

    Jasper Feilding is a chartered surveyor who has lived in the area for over 35 years and has worked in nearby Moreton-in-Marsh for over 25 years. He has been involved in a number fundraising and restoration projects in the area.

  • Robert Caldicott

    I am a retired wine importer and have time now to pursue my interest in the historical environment. I am a member of the Milestone Society and have been involved in a number of restoration and conservation projects in Warwickshire and north Oxfordshire.

  • Sue Berry

    I have lived in Moreton-in-Marsh for the last six years and have loved getting involved and supporting my new community. I am the Business Manager at St David’s C of E Primary School and for the last four years been the secretary of Moreton-in-Marsh and District History Society.

  • Michael Buxton

    I am a retired chartered town planner and have a keen interest in the built environment. I am the Warwickshire Representative of The Milestone Society, a Committee member and Trustee and I have been in involved in a number of milestone restoration and conservation projects in the county. I have been a member of the Society since its inaugural AGM in 2001. 

Acknowledgements

The committee is very grateful to the following who have kindly provided their services: 

Tyack Architects, Moreton in Marsh for preparing and submitting application for Listed Building Consent 

Richard Grove, architectural photographic modelling

Chris Dyer, Great Wolford – Freelance Web Developer and Designer who has very kindly designed and set up this website and helped us with everything digital

Garry Dore, Moreton Photography Group

Claire Carroll, photography

We are also grateful for the help and advice provided by Jeff Morris and his colleagues.

Transport & Highways Communities, Warwickshire County Council