Stretford Great Stone
By the entrance of Gorse Hill Park from Chester Road is a large boulder known as the Great Stone. This stone gave its name to Great Stone Road (beside which it stood until 1925) and the old Great Stone Farm. There are many stories, legends and theories concerning the origins of the stone. Some of these were recounted in ‘Lancashire Legends’ (1873) by John Harland & T T Wilkinson and quoted below.
‘Not far from the “Great Stone Farm,” and lying on the footpath, is the “Plague Stone,” whence the farm takes its name. It is an oblong coarse gritstone, foreign to the locality, and quite different from the stone quarried at Collyhurst. Some term it a “travelled stone.” It was probably brought hither during the glacial period by iceberg agency, and deposited in a manner similar to the huge boulder now exhibited in Peel Park, Manchester. The Stretford stone measures five feet four inches in length; and the breadth and height are two and three feet respectively. On the upper surface are two cavities, or small rock basins, divided by a ridge, or moulding, the cavities measuring thirteen inches in length, eight inches in breadth, and seven inches in depth. There are, of course, various traditions to account for the origin and use of this curious relic of the olden time. One of these states that the stone was hurled from the Castle Field, and that the two cavities are the prints of Giant Tarquin’s finger and thumb. Another alleges that it was thrown from the Old Bridge at Manchester; that it is gradually sinking into the earth, like Nixon’s stone in Delamere Forest, and that on its final disappearance, the destruction of the world will ensue. A third tradition is recorded by Baines in his “History of Lancashire” (vol. ii. p. 257), and was also noticed in a paper read before the Rosicrucian Brotherhood of Manchester. The latter account, as obtained from two old residents near the memorial, is somewhat as follows : — During a malignant plague visitation (one of which took place in a.d. 1351, three near the close of the sixteenth, and six or seven during the seventeenth century), in order to prevent the infection from spreading, the inhabitants, like those of Eyam, Derbyshire, during a similar epidemic, were confined within specified limits, marked on the highways leading to the town by certain stones like the one now under notice. A similar stone once existed at Cheetham Hill, according to the statement of an old person still living; and Rochdale had also, till within these few years, its plague stones, locally called “milk stones,” evidently a corruption of “mickle ” or great stones. The Stretford tradition goes on to assert that a market was held there, and the townspeople, after washing the money in one of the basins, filled with water or vinegar, as a disinfectant, deposited it in the other, filled in like manner, and then retired to a short distance. The country folks then advanced for the corn, vegetables, and other produce, and left their money in one of the cavities. There yet remain two other traditions respecting this stone. The first is, that the stone was formerly on the opposite side of the road, and about fifty or sixty yards nearer to Manchester; secondly, that before the plague visitation, the stone bore a cross and bells, and was used as a mass stone or altar — the custom being for travellers and other passersby there to stop and perform their devotions. The late Mr John Higson has given some further particulars in the Ashton Reporter newspaper, but they do not affect the tradition.