In October 1986 Ben Stocker wrote an article entitled ‘Medieval Grave Makers in Kent’ which was published in Kent Archaeological Review in 1988. His article presented an interim report of 66 discoid-shaped stones found in Kent churchyards, which appeared by the designs up on them to date to medieval times, and which he suggested were early grave markers. Aided by Patricia Stead, Stoker surveyed 90% of pre-Victorian churchyards in Kent and plotted their locations. Each discoid was incised with a cross on the face of the head (usually on both sides) and Stocker clearly illustrated the 20 different styles of cross found.
The discoids found by Stocker and Stead were (in his own words) ‘…confined to an area bounded by Stone in Oxney in the west and Stodmarsh in the north and are most numerous in an area about six miles of Folkestone. An arc of seventeen miles long with its centre at Hythe would encompass them all.’
Only twelve of the discoids found in 1986 were still set in the ground, with others being located loose in the churchyard or church or reused as building material in later church alterations. Some of those he found no longer appear to survive, such as that at New Romney.
Sadly, Stocker died without ever publishing a further report, but more recent research by Andrew Linklater and Celia Heritage has shown the presence of further discoids not located by Stoker which push the boundaries of Stocker’s defined area considerably further; also the revival of a counter argument (only briefly mentioned by Stocker) that the discoids were actually churchyard boundary markers and in fact it is now believed that they might actually be consecration crosses set into the ground when the churchyard was consecrated, although further research is needed and their original purpose is still unclear. The latest new discoid to be found is at Lamberhurst on the Kent Sussex border which moves Stocker’s projected radius significantly further west. This is pictured below. Others have now been located at Folkestone, Newington (Longport House), Ickham and Northbourne.
The main identifiable features of the discoids are:
• A ‘lollipop’ or discoid shaped stone. The head of the stone has frequently been severed from the shaft through damage or wear and tear
• The head of the stones are incised with a cross. These can be of varying designs and are often on both sides
• Many have been reused in the fabric of later church alterations or have been found loose in the churchyard or in church porches
• Unlike gravestones there is no inscription or initials on these stones
• If you think you have spotted a discoid in any churchyard please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org