Hidden East Anglia:


The Puddingstone Track: Deconstructed

  Puddingstone Track





This is an examination of the claim, first made by Dr. Ernest Rudge in 1949, that a prehistoric track once existed between Norfolk and Wiltshire. Its purpose was the trading of flint, and travellers used it by sighting from point to point along a series of boulders of one specific type of stone. Only 137 stones - or groups of stones - remained into the modern era as virtually the sole evidence of its former existence.


I know I'm not using the word 'deconstructed' in its usual literary or philosophical sense, but it seemed to fit my intention in this study. The Puddingstone Track was constructed either by prehistoric flint traders, or by Dr. Rudge and his wife Lilian in the mid-20th century. I'm convinced it was the latter, and have been for at least 40 years. For this project I decided finally to examine, dissect, and indeed 'deconstruct' the Rudges' theory into its constituent parts, for my own benefit if no one else's. Their logic and methods of searching needed to be questioned, and the hypothesis had to be considered within its historical, archaeological and geological contexts.


In recent years, as I located and recorded glacial erratic rocks for another section of this website, the subject of the Puddingstone Track kept cropping up. With retirement approaching, I decided that the time had come to research the subject in depth. This is that study, which I know will interest few, but which has kept my mind busy since 2011, and has taken me to parts of the country I would otherwise probably never have visited.


Although much could be discovered from printed works, archives and online searches, fieldwork was needed to confirm the continued existence and composition of the stones. I had already visited a few in my younger days, but since then both the landscape and my levels of knowledge had changed, so everything had to be double-checked. Over the past few years my forays into the field have accrued several thousand miles of travel by motorbike, from north-west Norfolk to Oxfordshire, but particularly in the Rudges' home county of Essex.


As suggested above I began from a position of doubt, and my research has only served to confirm that stance. For example, I now know that at least 15 of the stones weren't puddingstone at all. I don't suppose for one moment that this study will lay Dr. Rudge's theory to rest once and for all, but I felt compelled to try. By nature I'm a sceptic. While the idea of the Puddingstone Track isn't exactly an esoteric or arcane mystery, it tries to read into the landscape something that simply isn't there. In my somewhat credulous youth I was guilty of the same thing, and now feel the need to atone by adopting a more rigorous approach.


I had hoped to be able to consult Dr. Rudge's original field notes and photographs for this project. After his death in 1984, they were deposited with the Passmore Edwards Museum in Stratford, which closed ten years later. I managed to track them down firstly to a warehouse in Plaistow that wasn't open for public access, then in 2018 to the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford. Unfortunately my attempts to visit failed due to illness (twice), then to the closure of the ERO because of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. It's open again as I write this, but the spread of the virus is rising once more, and as I'm in a high risk category, it seems unwise to go. So, there are nine boxes of notes, note books, index cards, slides and photographs - all still uncatalogued - just sitting in Chelmsford waiting to be examined. Someone else would have to do it though; this project has gone on long enough for me.


Luckily I was able to obtain copies from the former Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies of letters from Rudge to one of his early followers, and from her to others. These are now available from Buckinghamshire Archives (see the Bibliography.)


For help, information and advice on this endeavour over the years, I'd like to thank the following (in no particular order):


Tim Holt-Wilson, Essex Field Club, Newham Archives & Local Studies Library, Mike Thorogood of Drakeston Farm, the Forestry Commission, Suffolk Record Office (Bury St. Edmunds), Professor John Catt, Jacqui Farrants, Wendy Upton of St. Albans, Herts Archives & Local Studies, Henley Archaeological & Historical Group, David Chapman of Holyfield Farm, Clinton Lewin of Canes Farm, Essex Record Office, Ian & Steph Hall of Grimston, Sarah Ellis of Gayton, Chris Philpot of Boyton Hall Farm, Clive O'Sullivan of Chesham, Sue Andrews, Norfolk Record Office, and Buckinghamshire Archives.


The Birth and Growth of a Theory

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