Hidden East Anglia:
The Puddingstone Track: Deconstructed
Puddingstones That Aren't, and other failings
1. "One kind of stone only"
Of all the features of the Puddingstone Track, the one that defines it most clearly, and sets it apart from any other trackway, is the one contained within its name. As Dr. Rudge explained to the press in 1950, the Track "is marked out by one kind of stone only - conglomerate or puddingstone".1 With even greater emphasis, he later declaimed that "The most important feature of this trail of boulders is the uniformity of the material used. Without a single exception every trackstone is of conglomerate rock".2 When he found the route entering regions where there was no available 'true' Herts Puddingstone, he said that "the track-builder kept to his original plan, using without exception a local recognisable conglomerate in which the pebbles could be clearly seen".3
Rudge repeated versions of this mantra five times in 'The Lost Trackway', asserting that the boulders are "easily recognisable by even the most ignorant of geology".4 And to those who might want to follow in his footsteps in completing the Track's route: "Most important of all, every stone must be a puddingstone, without exception, recognisable as such without the slightest hesitation".5
Right from the start, he knew that the whole concept of the Track hinged upon the sole use of this particular type of rock. He knew that "no useful conclusions could be drawn from the distribution of sarsens, since many appeared to have been moved in recent times...we therefore turned to the much less frequently occurring conglomerate boulders".6 A mix of different rock types would also be less notable, and far more susceptible to arguments about random distribution. Those Track-stones which are now known NOT to be conglomerates are detailed in the 'Along the Track: county by county' section of this study, but I thought it useful to collate them here
It's true that the sarsens at Beauchamp Roding and St. Albans do have pebbles in them, but to a very minor extent. More than 99% of the visible surface of both stones is pure sarsen, and are classed as such by all geologists. Neither "the most ignorant of geology" nor the prehistoric traveller would look at them and instantly think 'puddingstone'. Two others are no longer extant but were identified by geologists, while the rest have no visible pebbles in them at all.
If Rudge himself could get it wrong, what then of his informants? 11 stones were buried, lost or destroyed before Rudge was told about them. 18 others were reported, but never seen by him. In total that's just over 21% of the 137 stones on the final version of the Track whose actual composition we can never be sure about. More importantly, neither could Rudge - but that didn't stop him including them. For 16 of them he didn't even have an exact location. More than 50 of the boulders on the 'final' Track no longer exist, and others are almost certainly lost, so we can't be certain of their composition either - but the central tenet of the Track theory is already on shaky ground.
The picture is much the same with the stones featured on versions of the Track throughout the 1950s and 60s, that were omitted from 'The Lost Trackway'. 47 sites were discarded, but of those, two never held stones at all. Of the remainder, six are or were NOT conglomerates:
Nine (20%) were definitely never seen by Rudge, with six having no precise location.
1. Letter from Dr. Rudge in the 'Bucks Examiner', 21/7/1950.
2. E.A. & E.L. Rudge: 'The Conglomerate Track' in 'Essex Naturalist' Vol.29, part 1 (March 1952), p.17.
3. E.A. & E.L. Rudge: 'A Stone Age Trade Route in East Anglia' in 'Discovery' Vol.13, No.7 (July 1952), p.209.
4. E.A. Rudge (ed. John Cooper'): 'The Lost Trackway' (Cooper, 1994), p.3-4.
5. Rudge (ed. Cooper): op cit, p.9.
6. E.A. & E.L. Rudge: 'Evidence for a Neolithic Trackway in Essex' in 'Essex Naturalist' Vol.28, part 4 (March 1950), p.172.
2. Point and Counterpoint
With that key feature of the Track placed in doubt, what of the other defining claims as listed in 'The Birth and Growth of a Theory'?
· The Track ran for 193 miles from the Grime's Graves flint mines in Norfolk to Stonehenge in Wiltshire.
The route outlined by Rudge stops short of Stonehenge by 20 miles. After Great Bedwyn, he records no stones or any other evidence to show that it continues, or is headed for Salisbury Plain. Moreover, Rudge admits in his book that the preceding 31 miles between Stoke Row and Great Bedwyn is purely conjectural, based on ten widely-dispersed stones that were reported, but never seen by him. In Suffolk there is a 14 mile gap between Fornham St. Martin and Bildeston where the course, even at the end of his life, "has not been resolved." Other gaps of up to five miles exist, showing that the Track is less of a long-distance continuous route, and more like a series of disconnected fragments.
· Its course was marked out by boulders composed solely of puddingstone or other conglomerates.
As listed above, at least 15 of the 137 stones (11%) are or were not conglomerates at all. Another 21% were never even seen by Rudge, so even he couldn't have been certain - rightly or wrongly - of their composition.
· It was laid out in late Mesolithic/early Neolithic times (c.4000BC.)
It's shown in 'The Age & Purpose of the Track' that Rudge's chronology is completely wrong. There is also no archaeological evidence of the Track's existence, and it simply doesn't fit what is known of the culture and practices of that period.
· The purpose of the Track was for trade, to bring high-quality flint from Grime's Graves to the south-west.
The mines at Grime's Graves were not in operation in the early Neolithic, and flint of all kinds, including high-grade, was available much closer to the Stonehenge area. In addition, trade was far more likely to have been by 'down the line' exchange rather than via long-distance trackways.
· The route was designed to keep to gravelly and sandy soils, unfriendly to trees and vegetation.
Apart from the fact that only 30% of Rudge's 137 sites actually occur on those types of soil, there's little doubt that there would be trees and wild vegetation of various kinds along the way that would potentially obscure many of the stones. The resulting route also ignores contours, creating a long and arduous trek for any traveller, with or without a load of flint to carry.
· Travellers followed the Track by sighting from stone to stone, with smaller rocks more closely-spaced.
With Rudge admitting that hundreds of stones are now missing, this is pure conjecture. Also, such a system would be open to continual failure by stones being obscured or displaced, or other objects in the landscape being sighted upon in error. Rudge never actually gives the full dimensions of any of his Track-stones, portraying only 43 of them as 'small', 'large', 'very large', 'huge' or 'enormous'. No more than 12 of these are still known to exist, and none are those described as 'small', so size comparisons are impossible. On the sandy Brecks south of Thetford he records a short series of four 'small' boulders, each about three-quarters of a mile from the previous one. To sight from one to the next, even at an extreme distance of 200m, would probably require an extra five stones between each pair. Maintaining such an alignment on those wind-blown soils would be entirely impractical.
· Some boulders were placed on strategic points such as hilltops, raised mounds and beside fords.
The section on 'Issues of Geology & Topography' demonstrates the paucity of evidence for any of these assertions. Only 11 stones are sited on hilltops. Another 11 are said to mark fords, but three aren't conglomerates, and six are nowhere near the actual fording points. Not a single stone was found on a raised mound, and none of the mounds noted are Neolithic in date.
· Sometimes the stones became a focus for markets and meetings, and settlements formed around them.
Rudge gives only three examples: Bildeston, Chesham and St. Albans. In each case it's now known that the earliest market and settlement were somewhere else, not where the stone was located. At St. Albans the stone stood next to the 'Old Moot House' and thus according to Rudge was the site of the ancient moot or meeting place - except that the House was misnamed and was never the site of the moot at all.
· Puddingstone itself was revered by the Anglo-Saxons and earlier cultures, and some of the boulders incorporated into church fabric, on ancient pagan sites.
Apart from a few post-medieval country superstitions, there's no evidence that puddingstone was ever held in regard, let alone 'revered' by anyone. Rudge only suggested seven 'pagan' stones at or near churches on the Track, and three of them aren't even conglomerates. None are demonstrably Saxon foundations, or on ancient sites.
· Chesham in Bucks. was a cultural centre of the Track-builders, with its church built on a circle of puddingstones.
Not only is Rudge's description of the church and its stones wildly inaccurate, but he provides no evidence that a circle ever existed.
Below I've assembled a few other claims made by Rudge, along with my responses:
· Rudge, 1950: "The trackway consistently avoids passing through towns or villages".1
In fact, at least 49 stones on the final track (35.7%) are situated within villages, towns or cities.
· Rudge, 1954: "Nowhere have we discovered branching trails or duplicated tracks".2
His articles and letters show at least ten occasions when he found conglomerate trails that departed from, merged with, paralleled or met
his Track, often misleading him.
· Rudge, 1950: "At many points there is evidence of cross-tracks branching off at right-angles, for instance at Epping Upland,
Magdalen Laver, Pepper's Green and Whitestreet Green. In every case these branches are marked out by alignments of sarsen stones".3
If this is so, one can only assume that the prehistoric flint trader could somehow distinguish sarsen from puddingstone at a distance, or
they would end up following the wrong track.
· Rudge, 1950: "Moreover, it [the Track] rarely coincides with a modern road, and never with a Roman road".4
Since nothing of the trackway itself survives, we can only judge by the location of the stones. 50 of them (36.5%) are located by the side of a modern public road. Even now the full extent of the Roman road system is unknown, so the second part of Rudge's assertion remains unproven. Nevertheless he contradicted himself by saying that the Bildeston boulder was at the crossing point of two Roman roads (although it actually wasn't.) At Cheshunt, the Track crosses the river Lea at a spot where two suspected Roman roads converge.
1. E.A. & E.L. Rudge: 'Evidence for a Neolithic Trackway in Essex' in 'Essex Naturalist' Vol.28, part 4 (March 1950), p.180.
2. E.A. Rudge: 'Statistical Evidence for a Conglomerate Alignment in Essex' in 'Essex Naturalist' Vol.29, part 3 (1954), p.184.
3. Rudge & Rudge: 'Evidence...' op cit, p.180.
3. End of the Road:
Along with many other flaws in his theory, Rudge had no evidence that a single one of his Track-stones had been in place since prehistoric times. My own research has shown that two weren't even in place before the 19th century (at Leavenheath, and at Belsteads, Little Waltham.) Even those few in the fabric of churches only show that they were in situ in the 12th century at the earliest.
He frequently knew (or guessed) that a Track-stone wasn't on its original site. But he had no idea where it actually came from, so how could he include it on the Track? An example would be the 22 stones (5 of which aren't puddingstone) clearly placed to serve as wheel-guards at the corners of buildings and walls, and beside gateways. The slow development of wheeled transport means they wouldn't have been used as such until the 15th century at the very earliest. Rudge might have speculated that the stones originated nearby, but he didn't know it. They could have come from anywhere.
Twice, in 1951 and 1954, Rudge rejected stones taken from prolific sources of puddingstone, because they were so often used on rockeries. Yet he included on his Track two from just such a place, St. Albans, both of which were found on a rockery. In similar vein, he dismissed a stone at Leaden Roding in Essex because it was put there as a mounting-block, yet admitted to the Track one at Barnham (Suffolk), that he thought had been used for the same purpose.
Twelve of the Track-stones were discovered accidentally, buried below the ground - ten in fields, one in a farm garden, and one in a modern chapel graveyard. These are only the ones Dr Rudge heard about, because they were along the line he was searching. It seems not to have occurred to him that there could be hundreds more elsewhere, either missed, or too deep for plough or spade to strike.
Factors like these, and the other aspects of the Track examined in this study, show that Dr. Rudge did little more than 'connect the dots' where puddingstones were concerned. He ignored all other stones in his path, following a course that fit his ill-conceived notions of a 'featureless' landscape in which his 'sign-posts' - even some of the smallest - had survived through the millennia, only for he and his wife to be the first to realise their meaning.
In summation: not only were some of his boulders not puddingstone, but many were never seen and/or located by him. Dr. Rudge's history, geology and topography were wrong, and he contradicted himself on multiple occasions. He used faulty reasoning to 'prove' his thesis, and extrapolated conclusions from very limited data. He invented details that never appeared in some of his source material, showed distinct bias in his approach to 'discovering' the route, and failed to carry out the intensive searches that he claimed. Logic and practicality failed him in imagining both the purpose and design of his Track.
Even if the concept of the Puddingstone Track was sound - which it certainly isn't - it falls to pieces under close examination of its construction and constituent parts.