NEWS! The Inscribed Stone, a nationally important Scheduled Ancient Monument, is on the 'At Risk Register' due to the risk of flood damage by the Camel River.
A comprehensive report has been produced by Attwell Associates to examine past issues, current risks and potential future conservation measures. If anyone would like more information please use the contact form.
The Stone carries a Latin inscription and rare Ogham ( or Ogam), an ancient Celtic script. The Ogham dates the Stone to around the 6th century and indicates the presence of Southern Irish people in North Cornwall at this time. The inscription was further narrowed down to 'approximately 540AD' by Professor Charles Thomas in 1996.
The onward migration of people from Cornwall in to Brittany, moving ahead of the Saxon invaders ( interestingly a decisive battle between the Saxon King Egbert and the Celts might also have been fought over the same land at Slaughter Bridge in the 9th century), was a likely vehicle for the transmission of stories important in Celtic culture. It was this oral tradition that eventually inspired Geoffrey of Monmouth and later Cretien de Troyes, the greatest of the French ‘ Arthurian Romance’ writers of the 12th century.
The Slaughterbridge Stone. C.540 AD. ( Thomas 1996).
The inscriptions on this Stone are around 1500 years old.
It was first written about by Richard Carew when he published “ The Survey of Cornwall” in 1602 and observed that “ the olde folke thereabouts will shew you a stone, bearing Arthur’s name….” And later, in 1848, the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson stood on this spot and gained inspiration to write “ The Idylls of the King”.
The Stone is over nine feet ( 274 cm) long. It’s main inscription, reproduced in the figure below, is in Latin and there have been many different interpretations throughout history.
Most recently Okasha ( 1993) reads it as :-
LATINI IC IACIT FILIUS MA[…]RI.
( The Stone) of Latinus; here lies the son of Ma[-].
Or perhaps :- ( The body) of Latinus lies here, son of Ma[-].
In 1837 Adam Clarke interpreted it as :
LATIN HIC JACET FILIUS MAGNI ARTURI
( Here lies Latin the son of Arthur the Great).
Interestingly, in 1754, Borlase had also noted that some people considered the last words to be MAG-URI ( quasi Magni Arthur)!
Most common are those writers such as Maccalister ( 1945) who recorded :
LATINI IC IACIT FILIUS MACARI
Latinus lies here, the son of macarius. Latin names are common in British inscriptions and are thought to reflect intermarriage between Irish settlers in the 5th/6th Centuries and the local population of Celts who had adopted Latin names during the Roman occupation of Britain which ended in AD410. Jenner in 1912 refers to the 6th Century as the ‘ Age of Saints’ with missionaries from Ireland, in the new fervour of its conversion by St. Patrick, coming in crowds to Cornwall and then moving on to Armorica ( Brittany). Western France is still called Cornouaille.
This memorial stone is one of only seven in the South West of the British Isles which also carries a ‘hidden’ inscription not in Latin but in an Irish script known as OGHAM. It is this script which dates the Stone to the 6th Century. The date coincides with the time of Arthur. Ogham characters are cut into one edge of the Stone like Runic inscriptions. Unfortunately the text is almost unintelligible but appears to repeat the name LATINI. Maccalister ( 1945) suggests that Ogham was a ‘ gesture alphabet’ intended for secret communication between druids. The Ogham letters themselves are represented by groups of strokes cut against one of the long edges of the Stone. There are a total of 20 characters, which make up the alphabet.
Possibly the Stone has been cast down from its upright position high above the river by the Saxon invaders who fought and defeated the Cornish here in AD 823. It would have been a natural choice for the Celts to have made their last stand on the hallowed ground of their ‘Once and Future King’. A memorial stone to Arthur is not likely to have survived that defeat without attempts at destruction. ( J.Parsons, 1998).
In 1824 it was written : “ The finger of history points to this spot as the place in which Arthur, in his last battle, received a wound that ended his days…that this Stone has every mark of considerable antiquity no-one doubts…it seems more reasonable to attribute it to the death of Arthur than to that of any other person, of whom ancient history and tradition are alike silent…”
( Hitchins and Drew).