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14 Oct: Fairy loaves - good luck or bad luck?

Known as ‘Fairy Loaves’, these star-shaped stones are filled with magic, according to centuries-old folklore – although whether it is good or bad depends whether you are from Norfolk or Suffolk.

Fairy bread, stone heart or snake egg? CREDIT: Zoutedrop/ flikr

Some believe they are the hearts of children that have turned to stone, others that the star represents the one seen in the sky in the Nativity story while a persistent belief is that these echinoids, a sea urchin, are actually petrified snake eggs. It was said the eggs formed on Midsummer’s night from the froth of snakes which, if shaped into a ball, could protect you from deadly poisons.

But in our part of the world, they are another example of the lively rivalry between the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.

In Suffolk, the ‘fairy loaves’ – so named due to their similar appearance to a traditional loaf of bread - were kept in household hearths, polished with black lead and believed to be lucky charms. Meanwhile, over the county border in Norfolk, bringing a fairy loaf indoors was considered to be the height of reckless stupidity.

In the New London Gazette in 1827, the following article ran from a correspondent:

“Being lately in Norfolk, I discovered that the rustics belonging to the part of it in which I was staying, particularly regarded a kind of fossil stone, which much resembled as sea-egg petrified and was found frequently in the flinty gravel of that county,” it read.

“They esteemed such stones sacred to the elfin train and termed them ‘fairy loaves’ forbearing to touch them, lest misfortunes should come upon them for the sacrilege.

“An old woman told me, that as she was trudging home one night from her field-work, she took up one of these fossils and was going to carry it home with her, but was soon obliged to drop it and take to her heels as quick as might be from hearing a wrathful voice exclaim, though she saw nobody: ‘Give me my loaf! Give me back my loaf, I say!’"


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