Outraged locals rushed to stop “health and safety” workmen digging up a lump of stone in the middle of their village - and saved a million-year-old piece of history.
The highways gang arrived to remove the stone outside a row of medieval timbered cottages in Kersey after council chiefs ruled it was a dangerous “trip hazard”.
Local historians say the ancient puddingstone - so called because it looks like a plum pudding stuffed with fruit - was probably deposited in the Pleistocene age more than a million years ago and the village, which dates back to the 13th century, has grown up around it
But in spite of its extraordinary history, the workmen were about to start breaking up the three-foot by two foot lump with pick-axes and dig it out of the ground when concerned villager Ray Attridge took action.
Mr Attridge, a retired businessman who lives with his wife Sue in a former pub opposite the stone, said:”I arrived home and was opening my front door to go in when I happened to notice a group of three blokes in hi-vis jackets and hard-hats. Then I saw they were about to attack the stone with a pick axe and when I asked them what was going on they said they had been told to dig it up.
“Apparently it was a hazard to people walking along the pavement and that pedestrians might have to step out into the road to get round it.
“I couldn’t believe they were serious - I told them to stop and called the chairman of the parish council who immediately called the highways people and got them to leave the stone.
“But if I had arrived home ten minutes later it would have been too late and the stone would have been broken into pieces and lost forever.
“It is part of Kersey’s heritage - it is very old and the idea of digging it up and destroying it is just appalling. We get a thousands of tourists in the village every year and they all want to take photographs of the ford, the thatched houses, the timbered pub - and the stone.”
Parish council chairman John Hume said: “Any threat to the heritage of this beautiful village will be met with stiff resistance. It was only by chance that a disaster was prevented by an alert local resident.
“The parish council will demand from Suffolk County Council that any future activities will only take place after consultation and agreement with the parish council.
“When I spoke to the county council, I was told that they were understaffed, had a high-turnover of staff and were appointing people in roles who were not as experienced as they would like them to be.
“The workmen were very polite and understanding once we had explained the importance of the stone - but I wonder how it came to be on a list of things to be torn up and removed. Someone must have approved it which I find very worrying.”
A spokesman for Suffolk Highways said: “While inspecting the area for reported defects and hazards, this stone was identified in error by a member of the Highways team. We would like to thank the local residents who stepped in to speak to the Suffolk Highways team on site for their vigilance.”
The three-foot by two-foot Kersey stone, one of more than a hundred scattered throughout the county, was formed millions of years ago when flint pebbles in river beds were turned into quartzite stones. under immense pressure from glaciers.
When the glaciers melted, the boulders were left behind in a debris of mud, gravel and clay until they were recovered by Ancient Brits and used as signposts and boundary markers. Some historians also believe that the puddingstones as they are called may have been worshipped as pagan religious objects.
It is not the first time Kersey - population just 300 - has been at the centre of a controversial health and safety row. Four years ago angry cyclists demanded warning signs each side of the village’s water splash - a favourite spot for tourists’ pictures - after one rider was injured riding through it.
The shallow ford is a well-known landmark and has featured in the “Lovejoy” series and in TV commercials, but after cyclist slipped and fell on the wet cobbles local riders called for large warning signs to be put up.
Barry Denny, chairman of the West Suffolk Wheelers and Triathlon Club, claimed that the splash posed a risk to cyclists and there had been several instances of riders falling off and injuring themselves.
But the village rejected their call for warning signs. A parish council member said:”If you can’t see the splash, you won’t see warning signs. And if you take up a slightly dangerous sport, you have to face the consequences if something goes wrong.”
The Highways Authority refused to put up new signs and instead advised cyclists to use their “common sense and appreciate that the surface of fords will be slippery when wet and possibly uneven”.