The small village of Aldwark is located 10 miles north-west of York. The name Aldwark is Anglo Saxon and thought to refer to some ‘old work’ (possibly a roman structure) associated with the river crossing near the village.
A narrow lane on the south side of the village leads past Aldwark Manor and down towards the old ferry crossing over the river Ure. Just outside the village there is a dip in the road known as the ‘Hollows Hole’, where a low bridge crosses a stream flowing westward over fields to the river. On the east side of the bridge the stream flows through a small copse called the Manor wood and here on the north bank of the stream can be found the large boulder known as the Conjuring Stone.
For many years the Hollows Hole was regarded as a haunted place, some believing a troubled ghost hung about the spot, while others suspected the place was bewitched and under the spell of witch-craft. Either way the supernatural presence caused much trouble and fear in the horses would be spooked on the bridge or refuse to cross it, and unexplained ‘accidents’ occurred in the vicinity etc. Eventually the villagers decided something must be done, but as Aldwark had no church or priest at that time they had to look further a field for help.
So a priest ‘experienced’ in such matters was brought in and performed the rite of exorcism in the area around the bridge and stream. With chanting and ceremony he ‘conjured’ the spirit, bringing it under his control before transfixing it under a flat rock located alongside the stream and trapping it there forever. From that day on the stone became known as the Conjuring or Witches Stone.
Although the Conjuring Stone still exists today, things have changed a little around it. The stone is in the grounds of Aldwark Manor which is now a Hotel and golf club. In the 1970’s most of Manor wood was cut down leaving only a few mature trees alongside the stream. Then in the late 1980’s it was decided to cover the stream and landscape the area, but in the process the Conjuring Stone was also buried. It was only through the efforts of Mr Stephen Watson (a native of Aldwark) that the stone was located and uncovered and the hotel owners then generously offered to build a retaining wall around the stone to preserve it.
Credit must go to the late Mr Stephen Watson, who for many years was the unofficial ‘guardian’ of the Conjuring stone and without him the stone would probably now be lost and buried. A booklet in the Easingwold library records his efforts to keep the stone and its tradition alive in the village and safeguard its future with the hotel owners. (The Conjuring Stone S.W. Watson 1987).
The following reference to the Conjuring Stone was taken from The Modern Antiquarian website themodernantiquarian.com
Who knows if this stone is still here. Or indeed whether it might be legitimate TMA fare. But let’s be optimistic. It’s a big stone with magical connotations. It’s named at this grid reference on some old maps. And now it might be too tucked away for anyone at the manor (now a hotel) to be worrying about.
A field adjoining the site of the mansion is still known by the name of Chapel-garth. A short distance from Chapel-garth in a hollow place, is a large stone called the “conjuring stone.” In the days of superstition and witches, a troubled ghost supposed to be
‘Doom’d for a certain time to walk the night,
And for the day confin’d to fast in fires;
Till the foul crimes done in his days of nature
Were burnt and purged away,”*
frequented this lonely spot and the neighbouring road and so terrified the natives, that it was deemed necessary for the peace of the town and the comfort of the “poor ghost” to ease it of its troubles by the aid of the priest, who after various ceremonies, exorcised the spirit and fastened it down with what is now designated, the “conjuring stone” which remains to the present day.
From Vallis Eboracensis by Thomas Gill (1852).