The Leper Stone


Leper Stone-2010

In a cleft in the scarp slope of the Cleveland Hills, surrounded on three sides by steep tree-clad hills, now part of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, lie a small number of houses. Now highly desirable properties, two miles from the nearby market town where I grew up. It is said that this secluded spot was, in medieval times, inhabited by a small community of lepers. In past times leprosy was thought to be both highly infectious and incurable. Lepers were required to remain within the confines of their village and never to come into direct contact with other human beings. Well meaning townsfolk would, from time to time, leave food beside a stone set up to mark the limit beyond which all lepers were never to venture. Such a ‘Leper Stone’ still stands at this spot as do several similar stones in other parts of the British Isles.  Whilst there is some dispute over the truth of this story, there does appear to have been a leper colony here in medieval times and certainly such places and such stones can be found in other parts of the country.  My verse below attempts to convey something of the desolate, bleak, despairing nature of existence for those who in past times were afflicted with this dreaded wasting disease. 


The LEPER STONE

I live
a lazar
isolated
shut off from life
from the world’s reality
in that ancient Chernobyl
as a hermit monk
an eremite

my path
not of my choosing
but chosen for me
by disease
by circumstance
life’s throw of the dice
or perhaps it was death’s
for my existence is
a living death
my isolation
whilst I wither
unknown
untouchable
confined
in this cleft in the hills
one carucate of land
one oxgang
to roam
to till
to survive

let no one in
lest I corrupt all
contamination’s child
my daily burden
to see what morsels
of discarded waste
have been left for me
on the leper stone
pig swill yesterday
nothing today
tomorrow
I may not be here tomorrow

my family
similarly afflicted
now passed on
released from
their sentence
myself
inheriting
their misfortune
their bleak history
their misbegotten future


Two further photographs – as the stone was approximately  60 and 40 years ago
(Courtesy of British Historical records websites)

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