What are these strange structures punctuating Cotswold cottage gardens?
These stone “mushrooms” are called staddle stones or saddle stones. They have been used for hundreds of years by famers as the base for temporary barns to store crops through the winter. Their shape not only lifts the crop off the ground keeping it dry, it balances the load but also most importantly prevents rats navigating the overhang and making their way into the barn. Rats and mice not only pinch the harvest but between you and me, are incontinent, so spoil the rest too.
Eww not so picture postcard so why do they end up in gardens today?
Well, farmers have a better sense of humour than most, probably as they don’t to talk to many folks, they also have a keen eye for an opportunity and watching incomers buying up cottages and spending time and money on them they made their unique staddle stones available to provide punctuation and presence in said gardens, and invested in warfarin instead.
So how are they made?
They are made in two parts, the bottom stalk and the top ‘sroom. I made that last bit up – it’s not technical so don’t quote me you will get funny looks. The important bit is… the top bit falls off if you lean on it. So don’t ..unless you can afford the time to find an A&E department somewhere off the countryside (usually at least 20 miles away) . Don’t lean, sit, stand on them.
Ok I’m now interested enough ask why they have that funny name?
This is quite cool, Staddle is a derivation of Old English “stathol” which means foundation, support or trunk of a tree. (thanks Wikipedia) So we should call them Staddle stones at every opportunity not saddle stones (lazy pronunciation) or worse mushrooms – which should be reserved for the awful concrete replicas.
So is this unique to the Cotswolds?
Funnily enough, no. They turn up in other arable agricultural areas which has access to a workable stone across England, France and Spain. The clever Spanish also worked out that barns on stones did not touch the land so belonged to the tenant and never the landowner. So it was also a good way to protect an asset.
Are they only garden features or do they still get used properly today?
They do still hold up structures. They are very rare and usually listed to protect them. Stanway Cricket club is a perfect example of a building that is still in use.