A Chill Tale for Hallowe’en: The Legend of the Devil’s Stone

The origin of the Legend of the Devil’s Stone seems to have been lost in the mists of time and there exists several versions of the main theme.

The stone may have been one of several, derived from a Neolithic burial chamber dismantled when Church Lane was widened near Parsonage Farm in 1931 (FOSMC 2022). One of the stones was broken up and the other was placed at the bottom of Church Lane.

In 1935 the stone was moved again, to the entrance of St Mary’s Churchyard, Newington-next-Sittingbourne, Swale, Kent, where it remains to his day (Waymarker 2022).

A woman walking west along Church Lane past the Oast House, with St Mary’s Church in the background, and the Devil’s Stone in the foreground. This illustration appeared on page 285 of ‘Cycle Rides Round London’, by C G Harper.Date: 1892 – 1933. Reference: CGH01/01/0651.
© Historic England Archive.
Boot or shoe print on the Devil’s Stone. Photo © W Perkins 2022.

The stone has a raised shape upon it, likened to that of a large shoe print which has been named the Devil’s Footprint. There are two versions of the tale:

This historic “Devil’s Stone” was
removed from the corner of Church
Lane and placed here A.D. 1936.

Version 1

The Devil was apparently upset by the bellringing at St Mary’s, so he decided to get rid of the bells. He put them into a large sack and lept from the top of the tower, landing with great force upon a huge stone. On the stone he left his foot mark which can be seen until this day. The bells then rolled out of the sack and into the Libbet Stream. Many unsuccessful attempts were made to recover the bells.

An old witch who was passing said, four white cows would help to pull the bells free. But as the bells surfaced, someone spoke of a black patch on the nose of one of the cows and the bells fell back into the water and were never seen again (Waymarker 2022).

Like many stones utilised in Neolithic monuments, it possesses an ‘anthropomorphic’ profile. Photo © W Perkins 2022

Version 2

The church wardens, in order to save money, thought they could sell the largest bell in order to repair the rest. These unscrupulous gentlemen hauled the bell to the top of the tower one night and were about to lower it when the Devil appeared. He seized the bell, cleared the battlements and landed with great might on a stone leaving his footprint upon it. He then threw the bell into the Libbet Stream and disappeared. When the coast was clear, the church wardens attempted to rescue the bell with ropes and grappling irons, but alas the rope broke and the bell fell back into the water.

An old witch was passing and said the help of four white oxen was needed. A young urchin watching shouted, “look at the black spot behind the bull’s ear!” The rope snapped and the bell was lost forever. Local tradition says the stream still bubbles at the site where the bells met their fate and the Devil Stone emits a spark on being hit by a pebble.

Some folk say the stone brought bad luck to the village when it was first moved, only to be resolved when it was repositioned near the church. Senior citizens today recall that as children, the stone was supposed to bring you good luck if you place a finger on the top while walking round it three times.” (Waymarker 2022).

Photo © W Perkins 2022

Some of the versions of the legend refer to the Devil’s ‘footprint’ on the stone when it clearly resembles a shoe or boot; a natural fissure in the stone conveniently provides the division between ‘heel’ and ‘sole’ – a clear case of pareidolia

The story utilises a number of well-known folkloric motifs –

  • The church bells, which would have been blessed by the priest after they were cast; some bells bear short lines of scripture
  • In the early Middle Ages bells were rung during thunder storms to dispel spirits
  • The flowing water or spring of the Libbet Stream; it is often said that witches could not pass flowing water – as epitomised in the legend of Cutty Sark
‘Ae spring brought off her master hale’. Source: Robert Burns, Tam ‘O Shanter. John Faed RSA. 1855.
Royal Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland.
  • The motif of the ‘passing’ witch is also a staple of folk tales.
  • A king riding across the county with his army was accosted by a local witch called Mother Shipton who turned his army to stone and created the ‘King’s Men’ stone circle at the Rollrights, Oxfordshire
  • ‘Immovable’ objects often feature, usually in stories whereby a farmer is trying to move prehistoric standing stones to create a bridge or some such other structure
  • The ‘pure white’ oxen – depicted as humble, virtuous animals
  • The ‘breaking of the spell’ by the child who sees the ‘black spot’…if it hadn’t been for that pesky kid…
  • In these tales, the Devil is ALWAYS thwarted thus providing both a warning to the unwary and a morality tale at the same time
  • Counting (uncountable) stones, walking around stones (widdershins) or counter clockwise turn up time and again. If any action has to be performed it will always be in rounds of ‘three’ – because, as we know, three is a magic number!
  • The ‘magical’ properties of old boots and shoes used as ritual deposits has been discussed elsewhere on RPM.


Friends of St Mary’s Church

‘A Short Guide to the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, Newington-next-Sittingbourne.’

Historic England




Megalithic Portal






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