Monday, 7 July 2008

Roadside History

It's early afternoon and I've just attempted to deliver a shiny new red Vauxhall Astra estate to an address in Leek, Staffordshire. The attempt failed due to the customer having ordered a saloon. I've driven away in search of something to eat, and am now waiting for the office to tell me what to do with the vehicle.

When I studied my street map on the way here my eye was caught by something called the 'Plague Stone', whose name stood out in bold italics on the page, denoting it to be an antiquity of some kind. I ought to be within a mile of it and have decided to seek it out while I wait.

It turns out to be more visible on the map than in the reality, and I drive past it three times before I spot it, a small upright stone about three feet high at the side of one of the entrances to a playing field.

It is topped with green and streaked with a single white line left by a bird that obviously had no respect for history. A small plaque at its base explains that it is the bottom part of a medieval wayside cross, and derives its name from the local belief that it was here that supplies were left for the town when it was isolated by the Bubonic Plague during the seventeenth century. The plaque also explains that the payment for these supplies would be left in bowls of vinegar to prevent the spread of the disease, a small strange detail that seems to make that long gone scene come to life in my imagination.

I wonder how many other diminutive but enthralling relics lurk along the sides of our roads, not quite capable of catching the eye of passers by? The Plague Stone could certainly use a sign to tell people it is there, preferably one written in bold italics, or better still, in a font borrowed from the opening credits of an old black and white horror film.

[caption id="attachment_37" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Plague Stone"]Plague Stone[/caption]

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