The Bargain Stone and others like it
The Bargain Stone as it is known is in the High Street; the Harwell Book just says “the stone outside Winterbrook House, known as the bargain stone, is said to have been used at these horse-fairs for paying the money; some people believe that it may have been an earlier altar-stone.” Left is the view from the footpath side:
There are a number of similar stones in Harwell, for example on the corner opposite The White Hart, and in the footings of the Cherry Barn, and of the barn at the corner of High Street and Grove Road, shown in the photo to the right.
They are all about 60cm high and some have clearly been worked. For example, viewing the Bargain Stone from the road, below, it has a large indentation on the underside; maybe it was thought not good enough for barn footings. Other bargain stones are known with holes in where the bargain was struck by shaking hands through the hole. Perhaps with this one they shook hands underneath?
Regarding their origin, these stones are Coral Rag. Examples of the fossil coral can be seen in the Bargain Stone, and more clearly in a stone in the wall of the Cherry Barn, beside the entrance steps, with remains of the coral as well as the imprints, as shown in the photo below:
So where has the stone come from? It probably came from Abingdon Abbey. A lot of Coral Rag can still be seen in what remains. The Abbot and monks signed a deed of surrender to the Crown on February 9th 1538, after being assured of decent pensions. It’s been estimated that the Abbey was the sixth wealthiest in England, and John Wellsbourne, the King’s man in charge of winding up Abbey affairs, found the Abbey had been stripped of all its furnishings . The community had made careful preparations for the surrender! Within weeks the Church was dismantled and all the good quality building stone barged down the Thames. So it is likely that the pieces in Harwell were among the left-overs and came soon after this date.
To find out more, get the book The Geology of Oxfordshire by Philip Powell; the library has copies. If you have comments, corrections (I’ve only done an evening class in the subject) or more information please contact me, Martin Ricketts.