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The Blowing Stone

The Blowing Stone

Photo: Ballista at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Blowing Stone of Kingston Lisle

19 April 2021 (Updated 1 March 2024)

The mysterious Blowing Stone is a 3ft high sarsen stone that stands in the garden of 2 Blowing Stone Cottages, on Blowingstone Hill near the village of Kingston Lisle.

The stone is perforated with natural holes which produce an eerie booming sound if blown into in the correct way. It is said that the sound can be heard seven miles away!

The Blowing Stone of Kingston Lisle

The Blowing Stone of Kingston Lisle Credit: Rob Bradford, via Wikimedia Commons

There is a local legend that the sound of this stone was used by King Alfred the Great to alert his troops, camped a mile away atop White Horse Hill, to the arrival of the Danish forces before the Battle of Ashdown in AD 871.

The stone may have reached its current location by a rather circuitous route. It is thought that the stone was originally situated up on the Ridgeway, and that it was brought down to Kingston Lisle by the Atkins family who owned the estate between 1749 and 1901.

The earliest mention of the stone is cartographic, appearing on John Rocque's 1761 map of Berkshire. Felix Rolt points out that any reference to the stone's existence is conspicuously missing from earlier texts such as Elias Ashmole’s The Antiquities of Berkshire (1719), suggesting that the stone may have reached its current location at some point after that date.

The Blowing Stone inn

The row of cottages outside which the Blowing Stone stands was previously an inn, the Blowing Stone Inn (not to be confused with the modern day Blowing Stone Inn in the centre of the village). This rather remote inn used to at least provide welcome rest and refreshment for any tourists making their way too or from the Ridgeway, and no doubt having a curiosity such as the Blowing Stone helped make the inn worth a detour.

According to Curious Oxfordshire by Roger Long, the landlord of the pub used to plug the holes with wooden blocks to discourage drunken revellers from waking up the neighbourhood by blowing the stone at closing time!

The Blowing Stone illustration by Richard Doyle (1859)

An illustration of the Blowing Stone and revellers by Richard Doyle. From 'The Scouring of the White Horse' by Thomas Hughes (1859).

In reality, from the mid-19th century until as recently as the 1960s, the stone's blowing hole was protected by a padlocked lid (visible in the illustration above), and a small fee had to be paid at the inn (later the cottage) for the right at lifting the lid and attempting to elicit a sound from the stone.

There are a number of illustration of the Blowing Stone from the mid-19th century that make it clear that the stone once rested against the trunk of a large and rather fine elm tree that stood outside the inn.

The clue's in the name (or is it?)

Given the legend of King Alfred the Great, it would be easy to imagine that the first part of the village name Kingston Lisle is a reference to the 'King's Stone'. Some additional legends about the stone back this up. In The Veiled Vale, Mike White mentions a belief that if anyone is able to use the stone to produce a sound loud enough to be heard from the White Horse Hill then he or she is entitled to be King of England!

Unfortunately, the name 'Kingston' is quite a common one (there are a number in Oxfordshire) and the 'ton' part of the name refers to a hamlet or farmstead rather than a stone. Thus, the name Kingston is commonly used to referred to land owned by the King. This sadly debunks the suggestion that the village is named after the famous stone, and perhaps even suggests that the legend concerning King Alfred may have been invented to fit the name rather than the other way around.

Tom Brown's Schooldays

The blowing stone was well known in the local area, but was brought to the attention of the wider public when it was mentioned in the opening chapter of Thomas Hughes's best-selling 1857 novel Tom Brown's Schooldays.

The novel describes the author paying a visit to the Blowing Stone inn and having the unusual properties of the stone demonstrated to him by the pub landlord.

Hughes describes the landlord putting his mouth to the stone and producing 'a gruesome sound between a moan and a roar, [that] spreads itself away over the valley, and up the hillside, and into the woods at the back of the house, a ghost-like, awful voice.'


  1. Blowing Stone (Wikipedia)
  2. The Blowing Stone (www.kingstonlisle.net)
  3. 'Curious Oxfordshire' by Roger Long (Sutton Publishing, 2008, ISBN: 0780750949576)
  4. 'The Veiled Vale' by Mike White (Two Rivers Press, 2016, ISBN: 9781909747173)
  5. 'Oxfordshire Place Names' by Anthony Poulton-Smith (Amberley Publishing, 2009, ISBN: 9781848681712)
  6. 'Blowing a Trumpet for a Stone: The Blowing Stone at Kingston Lisle' by Felix Holx, article in Oxoniensia volume 84 (2019)