(In the mid 1970s several dozen large sarsen stones – sandstone boulders – were removed from below the riverbed a short distance upriver from Stoke Bridge. They had impeded the driving of steel piles for a flood protection scheme and were placed on ground beside the former yeast works, most being arranged to form a seating area.)

The 30 January 1977 was a cold and very frosty day when, well wrapped up, members of the Ipswich Geological Group enjoyed a walk looking at a wide variety of stone in our town’s buildings. Of particular interest was an impressive new artwork at the Riverside Walk near Stoke Bridge. Peter Underwood, wearing both his Geological Group and Ipswich Society hats, told us that the three largest sarsens had been arranged by Bernard Reynolds, two of them on end and well dug in, as part of a landscaping scheme by the Ipswich Society. A fine example of local sculptor and local natural material. (There is an early photograph of them in Newsletter no.137, October 1999 – shown on page 2 of this Newsletter.)

This impressive work of art soon attracted attention. I noted on 10th January 1978 that the largest stone had received minor graffiti work but that there was no litter on site. They were becoming much more colourful by the Millennium as local ‘artists’ spray-painted the surfaces. Some of the graffiti were removed or painted over, but some is of a sensitive nature, recording the death of a young man. The surface of the largest stone has also received mechanical distressing, causing even more damage to surfaces.

The site continued to receive visitors. The Greenways Project 2002-03 report on the adjacent skatepark noted that ‘vast quantities of litter have been collected around the sarsen stones by the river.’ Ipswich Borough Council’s River Path User Surveys 2009-10 at the sarsen stone site noted ‘socialising; drinking; toileting; some drug-taking.’ Indeed one stone has suffered chemical discolouration apparently from urine. For a period a fixed seat was placed in front of the artwork but this has been removed.

Photograph: the Sarsen stones in April 2021

So is all of this ‘street art’ or vandalism? The skatepark informs us ‘This park has zero tolerance of graffiti, which is an act of vandalism.’ And is it heritage crime and what can be done about it? It is possible to take legal action against heritage crime. Education is part of the answer - Greenways provide an information panel, but this has been subject to vandalism.

The sarsen stones are of great interest to geologists and GeoSuffolk has designated Stoke Bridge Pocket Park as a County Geodiversity Site. The sarsen stones are well worth visiting. There are quite often local youths, or young men speaking Eastern European languages at the site. Talk to them, tell them you have come to look at the sarsen stones – most are, of course, quite friendly. Take your own friend if you are nervous. Or you could visit the sarsens in the Lower Arboretum in Christchurch Park, but Stoke Bridge Pocket Park is more of an adventure. Enjoy the rocks.

Bob Markham

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