Not far from the borders of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, and within the latter county, is the pretty village of Rollright and near the village, up a hill, stands a circle of small stones and one larger stone, such as our Celtic antiquaries say were raised by the druids.
As soon as the druids left them, the fairies, who never failed to take posses- sion of their deserted shrines, seemed to have had an especial care over these stones, and anyone who ventures to meddle with them is sure to meet with some very great misfortune.
The old people of the village, however, who generally know most about these matters, say the stones were once a king and his knights, who were going to make war on the King of England. And they assert that, according to old prophecies, had they ever reached Long Compton, the King of England must inevitably have been dethroned, and this king would have reigned in his place. But when they came to the village of Rollright they were suddenly turned into stones in the place where they now stand.
Be this as it may, there was once a farmer in the village who wanted a large stone to put in a particular position in an outhouse he was building in his farmyard, and he thought that one of the old knights would be just the thing for him. In spite of all the warnings of his neighbors he determined to have the stone he wanted, and he put four horses to his best wagon and pro- ceeded up the hill. With much labor he succeeded in getting the stone into his wagon, and though the road lay downhill, it was so heavy that his wagon was broken and his horses were killed by the labor of drawing it home. Noth- ing daunted by all these mishaps, the farmer raised the stone to the place it was to occupy in his new building.
From this moment everything went wrong with him. His crops failed year after year. His cattle died one after another. He was obliged to mortgage his land and to sell his wagons and horses, till at last he had left only one poor broken-down horse which nobody would buy and one old crazy cart.
Suddenly the thought came into his head that all his misfortunes might be owing to the identical stone which he had brought from the circle at the top of the hill. He thought he would try to get it back again, and his only horse was put to the cart. To his surprise he got the stone down and lifted it into the cart with very little trouble, and, as soon as it was in, the horse, which could scarcely bear along its own limbs, now drew it up the hill of its own accord with as little trouble as another horse would draw an empty cart on level ground, until it came to the very spot where the stone had formerly stood beside its companions.
The stone was soon in its place, and the horse and cart returned home, and from that moment the farmer’s affairs began to improve, till in a short time he was a richer and more substantial man than he had ever been before.
• Edwin Sidney Hartland, English Fairy and Other Folk Tales (London: Scott, 1890), pp. 151-52. Hartland’s source: Folk-Lore Record, vol. 2, p. 177.
• The Rollright stone circle was probably erected about 3,000 B.C.E. and thus predates by millennia the druids to whom it is here attributed. This monu- ment is near the town of Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire. There are three parts to the Rollright complex: the circle itself (about 100 feet in diameter and consisting today of seventy-seven upright stones), a nearby solitary monolith (the king stone), and a group of five standing stones (the whispering knights) about 400 yards from the circle. The king stone has been severely deformed by countless individuals who have—for centuries—chipped off fragments to serve as good-luck charms, suggesting a belief quite contrary to the views reflected in the above legend.
[From Greenwood, Fairy Lore pp84-86]