In search of the Apostle Stone.
The small sleepy village of Swettenham in the county of Cheshire is not the sort of place where you expect to come across references of a religious artifact dating back to the time of Christ, however the following story may in fact convince you that there is an element of truth to this claim.
Recently I have been working on a web site which would trace the river Dane from its source on Axe Edge close to Three Shires Head where the counties of Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Cheshire meet, following it on its journey and writing about the history and places it passes through on its 22 mile course. I happened to mention the fact that I was working on this website to someone I know and he told me he had a rare book that I could borrow titled “The Dane Valley story” written by Clifford Rathbone written in the early 1950s.
It was while I was reading this book that I came across the first reference of the Apostle Stone, it was in the section of the book dealing with the village of Swettenham which is only about 2 miles away from where I live. The account goes into detail regarding Swettenham Mill and its owner and operator Wilfred Lancaster who was a colorful character and an avid collector of fossils and unusual things, and it was he who had come into possession of the Apostle stone which was claimed to be the preaching stone used by Christ’s disciple Paul.
The following account is taken from the “Dane Valley story” by Clifford Rathbone and refers to Wilfred Lancaster:
“His greatest joy is his collection of fossils. This is his one hobby and during his travels he has collected many fine specimens. He has parts of trees, a pear, a foot, a frog and scores of other fossilised specimens. He will display to you a stone which he obtained from Biddulph Grange some years ago. It is a very special stone, for he states that Robert Heath of Biddulph Grange, brought it from the Holy land. It is said to be the stone on which the Apostle Paul stood when preaching.
With the death of Wilfred in 1988 and the sale of the mill in 1989 the question remains what happened to the stone? The mill has now been turned into a private residence which has electronic gates at the end of the drive. I thought that maybe with the construction work which had taken place here that the stone may have been overlooked and inadvertently buried along with Wilfred’s collection of fossils. However in a stroke of luck I came across a listed building website which had Swettenham Mill listed on it, and in the comments section I came across the following piece of information:
the last owner of the mill and mill house is a very dear friend of mine,ALF& SALLY LANCASTER they sold the house and dell,after there son IAN died and they had no one too take over the work which was getting to much for ALF to cope with him and sara now live in a bungalow in congleton they quite often meet people who knew them from the days of the daffodils
eric slater, 16 March 2012
After coming across this information I tried tracing Alfred Lancaster, Wilfred Lancaster’s son using the electoral role but without any success. After this I tried to find him using the local phone book and found around a dozen Lancasters in the Congleton area. I started at the top of the list and the first Lancaster I phoned turned out to be Alfred Lancaster, after a short discussion I arranged to go to meet him and his wife later in the week. When I went round to see him he very kindly lent me a huge stack of documentation and photographs regarding the mill which dated back to 1265 and which I intend to upload onto a website so anyone can view it. I managed to steer the conversation back on to the Apostle stone and Alfred is probably one of the few people alive who was able to give me a description of what it looked like. He described at as being around twenty four inches in length on each side and its thickness was around six inches. He told me that it is claimed to have been used by the Apostle Paul to stand on while he preached to the crowds along the Appian Way.
Alfred claims that after his Father died someone from the National Trust came and removed the stone along with a marble font and part of Wilfred’s fossil collection, the rest of which got ground up and mixed in with the hardcore that was used in the construction of a new drive leading to the house.
I contacted Biddulph Grange in the hope that the Apostle Stone and the other items may have made their way back there, unfortunately they claim they have no knowledge of the items in question. At the present time I am trying to trace the stone through the National Trust Archives and Records Department, however I don’t hold out a lot of hope that I will find it, perhaps it has made its way into someone’s private collection, or perhaps like the Ark of the Covenant in the Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark it is sitting on a shelf somewhere collecting dust never to be seen again!