North Devon in 100 Objects 80

80. The West Down Inscribed Stone

This stone was found in 2104 by a teenager, Jack Lawrence, lying in a cottage garden in West Down.  It bears a single inscription GUERNGENI, identifying it as a memorial to a Celtic Briton named Gwerngen.       Found throughout Cornwall and Devon, these memorial stones from the fifth to eighth centuries, are thought to be Christian monuments to significant people, the elites of pre-English societies.  The only other example in North Devon was found in 1913 near Caffyns Heanton, Lynton, bearing the name Cavudus, son of Civilis.

Some of these memorials have been found in graveyards and in association with churches, but others are found in open country, where their function may have been to mark territorial boundaries or exert claims to grazing rights. We do not know where this stone first stood.

Before the stone was discarded in the garden, it was built into a boundary wall.  Before that it may have lain in or beside the church.  Scratched on one end of the stone is a crude wheeled cross, suggesting that it had been claimed by the church and sanctified.  Prior to this we can only speculate about its location.

The style of the letters and the name are significant, implying creation in the eighth or ninth century, when Devon was already part of Saxon Wessex. It is interesting that a member of the old Celtic elite was still being commemorated in the traditional fashion as late as this.  Perhaps Guerngen was the last Celtic lord of North Devon?

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