Rock Pond - Standean
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ROCK POND, STANDEAN

By HERBERT S. TOMS, 
Curator of Brighton Museum.

Lying well away from beaten tracks, and but little known, there is a deeply-scooped pond with which all Downland lovers should become familiar; for it is surrounded by large sandstones that have aroused the curiosity of archaeologists, agitated the pens of romantic writers, and even caused a revered Sussex poet to burst into song. Situated four hundred yards north of Lower Standean, and a mile south-west of Ditchling Beacon, the pond, known locally as " Rock Pond, " should not be difficult for the Down-tramper to locate.

The writer was prompted to visit this pond by suggestions that its adjacent boulders once formed part of an ancient stone circle,

Where " ghostly shades of Druid priests arise 
And pace their mystic measures o'er and o'er 
From avenue to altar; and devise 
Midsummer rites to greet the orient sun." 

The survey (above), made by the writer and his wife in 1905, shows that the pond, in which there was then little water, is pitched on a nearly oblong piece of ground. Except on the east, the sides of this oblong are fringed by arable land. East, south, and west, the pond is bordered by a broad and high bank ; and the black masses outside represent the sandstones, several of which have been rolled to other positions in more recent years. The largest boulders lie near gorse at the South-west corner. Fragments of boulders, which were easily moved and too small to note in detail, are shown by small dots within dotted circles on the plan.

That some of the sandstones have long been in situ was ascertained by the Rev. E. Ellman, a noted botanist, during his interview with the man who made the pond many years ago. Apparently, too, only a few of the stones were then displaced.

But, in 1906, the writer was informed by the late Mr. Ernest Robinson of Saddlescombe who at that time was very frequently over Standean Farm, that the 1905 survey was already out of date, more sandstones having meanwhile keen ploughed up on the adjoining land and placed with the others by the pond.

Again, in February, 1910, considerable interest was aroused by the appearance in " Knowledge and Scientific News," of an article on Rock Pond, in which the author stated, " It is impossible to conceive that it would have paid a farmer to bring them (the sandstones) all together . . .
and I am bound to fall back upon the theory that they are the relics of a great circle or series of circles, which may have an origin in the rites and ceremonies of some ancient form of religion similar to the uncontroverted religious origin of our more famous Druidic or other circles. The South Downs are remarkably free from evidences of the religion of pre-Roman races, and it may be that here we have what many have been so long searching for."

A very rough sketch plan, illustrating the " Knowledge " article, certainly supported its author's statement that " the arrangement of the stones does not give much resemblance to a circle. It is rather one of straight parallel lines, and there is a suggestion about them of avenues leading to a central spot."

In February, 1906, the writer visited Rock Pond armed with "Knowledge" and his own survey of 1905. He first went round and com-pared the " Knowledge " plan with the disposition of the stones, and, much to his astonishment, found that even this later plan was out of date - a heap of about thirty sandstones having been piled within the dotted oval shown east of the compass points. Four other large blocks, which had " arrived " since 1905, were also noted on the present illustration.

A talk with one of the farm hands disclosed the fact that other large sandstones have been located under the comparatively deep soil of the adjoining field, and that ultimately it will be necessary to get these dug out and removed.

On hillsides and sloping hill-crests, there is ever a certain amount of soil movement, or soil drift, from higher to lower levels. And, as such drift is accelerated by the loosening agency of cultivation the surface is gradually lowered until the plough finally strikes any boulder hidden beneath. Agricultural operations then: become dangerous; for sharp contact of a ploughshare with the buried obstacle may not only break the plough but cause the handles to give the ploughman a violent and prostrating blow.

In the light of the above observations, the Rock Pond boulders will doubtless pardon archaeologists who, addressing them in the words of the late Mr. A. Stanley Cooke's poem, say that they -

" In you see only blocks of senseless stone
Hauled from the neighb'ring land lest they should thwart
The progress of the plough."

On the other hand, the antiquary with a geological sense will not admit that -

' . . . . . your lone
Forsaken forms no deeper thoughts inspire 
To lift the veil of time that hangs between 
Those days and ours; awaken no desire
To know more of your past than may be seen."

The Rock Pond sandstones are the harder remnants of geological beds (probably far older than the human species) which once capped the Downs in this district. Evidently many, if not all, of these big stones were unearthed from neighbouring land under cultivation, and then hauled by oxen on to the waste ground by the pond. Indeed, that such boulders have been visible, or impeded agriculture in this locality for many centuries, is suggested by the place name "Standean".

Standean Gazetteer

From The Downland Post, 1st April 1926


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Last modified: February 25, 2006