The Ragged Stone
Pathway to the top of Ragged Stone hill
The Ragged Stone
The Ragged Stone by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson - writing during the First World War about a soldier and his sweetheart:
As I was walking with my dear, my dear come back at last, The shadow of the Ragged Stone fell on us as we passed: And if the tale be true they tell about the Ragged Stone I'll not be walking with my dear next year, nor yet alone. And we're to wed come Michaelmas, my lovely dear and I; And we're to have a little house, and do not want to die. But all the folk are fighting in the lands across the sea, Because the King and counsellors went mad in Germany. Because the King and counsellors went mad, my love and I May never have a little house before we come to die. And if the tale be true they tell about the Ragged Stone I'll not be walking with my dear next year, nor yet alone.
Who would think that the Malvern Hills, well known for its spring waters, sweeping views of the Shires, Edward Elgar and Abbey Road coffee could ever be a place to find a dastardly tale of suicide and revenge? John’s main object in life was to avenge his father's murder of his mother, a deed incited by false accusations made against his mother by a "wicked knight" - Sir Eustace Devereux. He disguises himself in borrowed armour, attends a tournament and slays the knight. After this act he is forced against his will, but for his own safety, to join the Order of Benedictine Monks at the Little Malvern Priory of St Giles. As can be expected, he struggled to settle into the disciplined and pious life of the righteous, and loved nothing more than the hours spent outside when sent to gather medicinal herbs from the Common. One morning, he was out collecting burdock and dandelion roots, when he heard the sweet voice of a woman singing. He followed the enchanting sound and came across a fair young woman washing her clothes, …. and herself in a nearby pool. Brother John was smitten, and from that day on he would ensure that his herb-gathering mornings would bring him to that same spot, day after day. Secretly he would watch her bathe and sing her sweet melodies, but soon the girl discovered him, and rather than be shy, she only encouraged her admirer, a trait that still continues in the area to this day. She knew only too well it was forbidden for a monk to break his vow of chastity, so she enjoyed the fun of teasing him. However Brother John was a handsome chap, and soon managed to steal a kiss. It was not long before the two found themselves falling in love. Then the inevitable happened one summer’s morning. After the deed was done, the monk panicked, realising that he was late to Matins. He ran back to the Priory as fast as he could, but found that the Prior and the rest of the monks were waiting for him. His secret it seems was not a secret at all. Some of his brothers of the cloth had been spying on him and had informed the Prior about his romantic adventures. The Prior was a much-feared man (and certainly not without his failings too – allegedly being guilty of the exact same offence), and demanded to know the name of the wicked temptress who had led the monk into sin. Brother John refused to betray the woman he loved. The Prior set a punishment for the lustful monk; that he would be made each day to crawl up Raggedstone Hill on all fours form its foot to the summit where he would pray to God for forgiveness. Then on all fours he would crawl back down, until he repented and gave the name of his lover to the Prior. Each day Brother John would crawl over the sharp rocks, through stinging nettles and scratching brambles and gorse. But when questioned after completing his dreadful task, he refused to give the girl’s name. His bruises had no time to heal and soon his scratches and cuts became infected sores, despite the best efforts of the Priory’s herbalist. Delirious with fever, Brother John made that agonising journey again to the summit, barely reaching the top. As he pulled himself towards the peak, gasping for breath, he saw a sight most strange. From between the twin peaks of Raggedstone Hill, a long cloud appeared, and threw its darkness down the hill casting a shadow over the monks below. Brother John was filled with a new-found strength, and using the last of his power stood tall in defiance of his torturers. Pointing at them, he bellowed a terrible curse, "I will say no more prayers today, Instead I lay my curse upon my punishers. May all upon whom the shadow of this rock falls die before their time, as I do!" Closing his eyes, happy that his lover’s identity was safe, Brother John leaned over and threw himself off the hill into a valley far below. A spiral dust cloud, in the shape of a monk, however rose from the hill following John's proclamation, whilst all below cowered under the curse thereafter.... His body was never found. Within a month, the Prior had died of wasting disease. The Priory itself soon after seemed to die, and by 1480 Bishop Alcock found it to be in a state of ruin. The remaining monks and their Prior were sent to Gloucester Abbey for two years ‘by reason of their demerits’ in allowing the Priory to fall into such a state. Now take heed! Dismiss this tale as idle legend at your peril!
Pathway to the top of Ragged Stone hill