Falstone Early Medieval Stonework : Hroethberht's Memorial Stone
Another, altogether more unusual, monument, in the form of an inscribed, house-shaped memorial stone, was found by the Rev. James Wood, the Presbyterian Minister of Falstone, in c. 1813, a short distance west of the village, near the confluence of the Hawkhope Burn and the North Tyne. The diminutive stone is incomplete on every face and measures no more than 32.4 cm long, 17.6cm high and 15.2 cm deep.
One of the long faces and part of one of the narrow ends have survived relatively well, but the other long face, in particular, has been severely damaged. The stone appears to have been carved in the shape of a house and was initially interpreted as a small hogback, one of the house-shaped funereal monuments of the Viking period, however further analysis suggests a different parallel. The surviving long face is divided by a central moulding into two panels. The left panel bears an inscription carved in insular majuscules whilst the right-hand one contains a runic text, both of which may be translated as 'in memory of Hroethberht (i.e. Robert), a monument of the uncle: pray for (his) soul'. The central moulding continues up over the top or 'roof ridge' of the stone house, its terminal strongly resembling a handle.
This has led the most recent thorough studies of the piece (Corpus, Falstone 2; Cramp & Miket 1982, no. 60) to conclude that it was a copy in stone of the type of metal or bone reliquaries or shrines known from the British Isles and on the continent from the 7th and 8th centuries. Surviving examples of such caskets feature handles with clasps of the type depicted on the Falstone carving. On the basis of these stylistic parallels, the stone monument is dated to AD 750 - 850. It could have stood on a small pediment and might, like some other inscriptions, have been built into the wall of a church.
The stone's exact findspot is less easily identified than in the case of the cross shaft. In the initial report by the Rev. James Wood (Wood 1822; cf. NCH XV (1940), 256) it was stated, in a footnote apparently appended by the distinguished local historian John Hodgson (‘J.H.’), that the stone was found at the site marked ‘ruins’ on Armstrong's 1769 map of Northumberland. The ruined site - whatever it was - is depicted to the west of the village near the confluence of the Hawkhope Burn and the North Tyne.
However Wood himself simply states that the stone was found during the removal of ‘a low sloping bank, overgrown with thorns and brambles’, that divided a one acre plot of land on the north side of the North Tyne, which he rented from Thomas Ridley of Park End. The plot of land fell within Hawkhope Hill farm grounds, then owned by Thomas Ridley, which narrows the find spot down to a defined stretch of land north west of Falstone village.
The slightly later tithe map (NRO DT 375 (1841) clearly shows that the grounds of Hawkhope Hill farm estate stretched from the Falstone Burn as far as the Carshope Syke, but did not extend as far as west as the confluence of the Hawkhope Burn and North Tyne (which fell in Hawkhope grounds), where the unspecified ‘ruins’ are shown on Armstrong’s map. The Rev. Wood can be relied on to know who he was renting off and where their estate was (the latter being confirmed by the tithe award in any case).
Moreover the other detail provided by Wood, namely that the English and Scots chapels of Falstone (i.e. the Anglican and Presbyterian chapels) were both within a quarter of a mile of the spot where the stone was found’ corresponds with Hawkhope Hill lands, but not with the site marked by Armstrong.
Hence we must conclude that either Armstrong misplaced the ‘ruins’ on his map and they actually lay closer to Falstone or the ruined structure and the findspot of the carved monument represent entirely separate sites. The latter is perhaps more likely. The wording of the footnote wherein the locational details are contained indicate that it was Hodgson rather than Wood who made the equation between the field where the stone was found (pointed out to him by Wood in 1814) and the site of the ruins on Armstrong’s map. The stone was reportedly found about three feet below the surface during work to clear and level the site for cultivation. No traces of in situ masonry were noted.