The Black Stone – Ipswich, England - Atlas Obscura

The Black Stone

Christchurch Mansion

On the side of Christchurch Mansion is an enigmatic block of dark limestone that dates back to 14th-century Belgium. 

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On the side of Christchurch Mansion is an enigmatic block of dark limestone that for many years, went largely ignored. That is, until Victorian antiquarians realized that the stone might be something special. Nestled in the border is an image of two figures, a man and woman, in prayer beneath Gothic canopies. Between the figures are images of small keys placed at shoulder height. This stone showed potential in forging what life was like in the 1300s. 

As this mysterious stone resurfaced, many speculated its origins. In the 1970s, John Blatchly and the Reverend Diarmaid MacCulloh traced the possible origin to the quarries near Tournai in modern-day Belgium. Its features, specifically the brass monument, date the object to 1320-1340, just before the Black Death. The two figures are likely a prosperous Flemish cloth merchant and his wife, although their identities remain inconclusive.

There is speculation that the engraved brass was used to cover more of the surface, as the figures would have featured facial details and praying hands crafted from white marble or alabaster. Some embellishments may have included colorful enamel accents as well. A church likely set the stone into the floor within a chantry chapel dedicated to prayers of the deceased.  

Precisely when stone’s arrival at Christchurch Mansion remains unknown. Some suggestions include that during the events of the Low Countries in the 15th and 16th centuries, the object resurfaced during trade. However, the process stripped the brass figures from the stone. A notable Ipswich family in stone trading, the Daundys, were embroiled in a lawsuit, seizing their items, like the Black Stone.

Edmund Withipoll, the builder of Christchurch Mansion, made a lawsuit against the Daundys from 1563 to 1565. In Withipoll’s 1568 will, he wanted his grave consigned to St. Margaret’s church, specifically to be buried with the stone. However, his wish remained unfulfilled. 

Know Before You Go

The nearest train station is Ipswich, and is a 26-minute walk to Christchurch Mansion. The Black Stone is to the right of the mansion when you enter from the south park entrance from Soane Street. The Black Stone is outside and free to view in the park. 

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May 1, 2024

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