Downham’s Roman Stone

Many of us have driven from chapel towards Clitheroe, through Rimington and turning right at Downham. Close to that junction, underneath the wall opposite belonging to Downham Hall, is a small boulder. Few notice it; they’re too busy enjoying the lovely scenery or taking care on that dangerous corner. The object itself looks a little odd and there is no shortage of odd comment about its origin. The most interesting legend states that it is the grave marker of two Roman legionaries killed by Brigantian tribesmen in the first century. The records show it originally sat in the field opposite, but was moved in 1830. Some suggest this was done to protect it, others that the boulder was considered a lucky talisman, likely to bless the Downham estate with good fortune.


The stone itself is unusual and not like the stone nearby, for it has little lumps in it. At first I thought it a type of ancient concrete for Roman road building, rather than a gravestone. It’s certainly right next to the old road, and could have been excess material dumped by the way. I’d have thought a Roman optio or centurion would take him men’s bodies back to camp for proper funerary rites rather than leave them out in the very wilds on which they were slain. The Romans preferred to cremate their corpses and place them in a columbarium where offerings of wine might afterwards be given. More likely, it’s the marker of two Brigantes dispatched by the local legion, a commemorative stone placed as a reminder to other troublesome locals.


History is full of uncertainty and mystery. Is this stone just ancient navvies’ waste? A Brigantian grave stone? A Roman commemoration of a skirmish in which comrades fell? We don’t know. That it was moved beneath the estate wall may indicate a certain level of superstition some 1800 years later. These parts are so wonderfully pretty and the views here are worth the photographer’s trouble. Yet this place was not always peaceful and quiet. Pondering this, I was reminded of a conversation between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson as they journey by rail in The Copper Beeches:

All over the countryside, away to the rolling hills around Aldershot, the little red and grey roofs of the farm-steadings peeped out from amid the light green of the new foliage.

“Are they not fresh and beautiful?” I cried with all the enthusiasm of a man fresh from the fogs of Baker Street.

But Holmes shook his head gravely.

“Do you know, Watson,” said he, “that it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there.”

“Good heavens!” I cried. “Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?”

“They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

We fallen humans export our depravity wherever we go, like dog muck on a sole. Show me a human settlement, and I’ll show you a bastion of jealousy, pride, idolatry and fear. In the most splendid of vistas lurks all manner of human vice. This is why the Lord not only promises to redeem people, but the whole of creation. He will make a new heaven and a new earth, the old things will pass away. The fields and glades that have witnessed two millenia of bloodshed and violence will be made clean again.

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, these words are true and faithful.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

Revelation 21