In September 2012 eagle-eyed 13 year old Jack Lawrence found, in a pile of rubble in his garden in West Down, North Devon, a large inscribed stone. The stone had once formed part of a roadside stone wall, which had been removed in the late 1990s and the rubble left in a pile until it was cleared from the site in 2012. One end of the stone has been split by the insertion of an iron gate hinge and this split has been repaired with stone bonded with lime-mortar. While the scratch marks initially attracted Jack’s interest it was only when the stone, measuring 0.97m by 0.37m by 0.20m, was rolled over that a nine-letter inscription was revealed.
The inscription reads “GUERNGENI” – pronounced “Gwernien” – and represents a memorial stone to an important individual. The stone may have marked a grave, or the territory of GUERNGENI or even a routeway leading to upland grazing of land owned by the descendants of GUERNGENI. The style of the letters suggest that the stone dates to the 8th century AD. The stone also has a cross, within a diamond or lozenge shape, inscribed at one end and may indicate that it was re-used, and consecrated, perhaps in the parish church of St Calixstus and then removed during its refurbishment in the 17th or 18th century, finally being used in the construction of a wall.
Over the last year the stone has been subject to investigation and research by Oliver Padel from Cambridge University and Terry Green – historic researcher – and illustrated by Jane Read with the aim of publishing the results of this analysis in the Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. This work has been funded by Devon County Council and the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon.