The sacred stone … press

If you’ve ever walked to the very edge of Cresswell along Cresswell Old Lane, you’ll have found yourself at the small, but historic, Catholic church of St Mary’s.
And you may have wondered why a stone slab is mounted on the bank by the front of the church.

Ancient cheese press

The stone is mounted on a grass bank just in front of the entrance to St Mary’s. The markings are quite distinct

A strange discovery

Neville Mountford, who worships at St Mary’s, was the man who found the slab – and we went to his house in Saverley Green to ask him what it was all about…

Neville Mountford

Neville Mountford

“Sometime around the year 2000, I was out walking with a friend on land behind Blythe Colours in Cresswell – and we came across an old stone trough on Painsley Farm’s land.

“The base of the trough had strange markings on it, which really did arouse my interest: I thought, and others also agreed, that the main marking looked a bit like the cross-in-a-circle, what we call a Christian ‘pax’ sign.”

In fact, it would not have been unusual to find an ancient church fitting re-used in this kind of way!  Medieval fonts (the stone bowls in which babies are baptised) have been found on farms in other places of the Midlands used as planters, not to mention troughs…
History tells us that, 500 years ago, zealous Protestant reformers often stripped the churches of the day of decorative ‘Catholic’ items – which they found inappropriate – and, if they could not otherwise dispose of them, they would simply throw them away.
So, Neville’s reaction was to wonder if this was something similar.

Catholic tradition

Also, Cresswell has had a long tradition of families who have clung to the old Catholic faith despite the difficulties that being a Catholic presented down the centuries.
In fact, the families at Paynsley Hall had been Catholic for centuries, right into the 20th century.

Neville continued: “I asked if I could have it for St Mary’s, and Colin Bostock, the famer then at Painsley, agreed to bring it over in his tractor some time, which he did a couple of years later.  Father Novotnik, who was our priest then, didn’t mind.
“So we erected it, using steel supports, on a plot just outside the church”.

What did local historians say?

“Well, somebody had a theory which was that the slab might have been the altar-stone from the private chapel which was known to have been at Paynsley Hall before the hall was destroyed – but we couldn’t get it properly dated”.

Mystery… solved

But… an historian did turn up after all.

“This man was just visiting the church, and when he looked at the stone, he said, no – it’s a cheese press!!
The way he said it worked was that the raw curds were pressed; and the slab caught the whey that ran off.  The deep holes are something to do with the way the slab was mounted on struts or poles, and maybe the markings are to do with the press’s movement.”

Cresswell cheese press notice

This notice, which explains how the ‘stone’ worked, as a cheese press, hangs outside the church

Are you disappointed then, Neville?

“No, not really.  It’s still historical; because we later found out that cheese-making had been known to have been a speciality at Paynsley estate for centuries, so it’s all part of the area’s history.”

(Indeed, a nineteenth-century bishop actually once described Painsley as “a mere cheese-making place” ! – see History of Cresswell Community)

Story over?

So, if ever you pass the church, just glance in through the gates of the drive, and there you will see Neville’s find.

However, we have a strange feeling that the full history of this slab has still yet to be told…

Can you add anything to this story?
Just use the comments box – near the bottom of this page.

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6 responses to “The sacred stone … press

  1. Drainage channels...

    The marks on your cheese press are I am sure you will know are common. They are the drainage channels cut to drain the whey from the cheese surely.
    David Arden


  2. Hi. Just come across this Cresswell cheese-press article – wonderful.
    I have just uncovered one in Glossop, Derbyshire – broken, alas, but nonetheless a cheese press, and carved in the same fashion as your own and others.
    I’ve written a little about it on my own blog, but will do some more research. Please feel free to have a look here –
    Robert Hamnet


  3. Cresswell stone detective

    Hello all,
    My name is Alan Salt from Leek, and I make Stilton cheese near Hartington in Derbyshire.
    – I’m the chap who called at the church one day and wondered why a cheese press base was in a churchyard and went to see the vicar. It must have been fate or “ordained ” as I was lost and really looking for St Margarets Church up the road.
    I’m sorry I spoiled the story but I do think it could have been used as a “hidden” altar .
    It was interesting to read of other people’s finds – if anyone else knows wheres there a Cheese press stone please email me at
    many thanks
    Alan S.


  4. Historic cheese press

    I have just bought a 500 year old farm house and have found a similar stone, as well as the large stone to match, which makes up the cheese press
    Terry Boardman


  5. Fr. Babbington memorial?

    It probably is a cheese press… but it would be romantic to think that it could possibly be the stone erected to commemorate the martyrdom locally of Fr. Babbington by brigands in the 17th century.
    Matt Pointon


    • The Cresswell cheese press

      Just found a picture online of the St Mary’s Church stone cheese press.
      I also have a base, with matching stone weight, that is almost identical. It’s in my garden in Perthshire, which I am renovating.
      Do you have an idea of the age of the Cresswell cheese press?
      R Cunningham


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