London’s most travelled artefact has moved yet again. London Stone, a Grade II* chunk of limestone some 20″ wide, 16″ high and 17″ deep of a substance (oolitic) that is not local to the London area and is thought to be imported by the Romans.
For years it has remained behind an iron grill in an unprepossessing 1960’s office building at 111 Cannon Street, which originally housed the Bank of China in Cannon Street.
Like the Tower’s ravens, legend has it that London’s very existence relies on a lump of rock remaining with the M25. Its providence is unknown, but as with these things, legends have attached themselves to this ironic artefact.
Here are some of my favourites:
It was a ‘millennium’, a Roman milestone that all distances from London could be measured and stood close to Cannon Street Station fortuitously outside the provincial governor’s palace.
Or, King Alfred in 886 decided to stand it at the centre of the grid of streets being built after Vikings had sacked the settlement.
Another is that Druids sacrificed virgins upon it using the rock as an altar. If this was true as John Stow’s Survey of London asserts, a supply of dwarf vestal virgins would have been needed annually as the ‘altar’s’ size is about that of a modern washing machine.
Another myth perpetrated by England’s greatest playwright is that the Stone is a ceremonial object which conquerors of London would lay claim to the city by striking the stone. Rebellion leader Jack Cade was purported to have struck the Stone with his sword. Unfortunately, Will Shakespeare included this event in Henry VI, Part 2.
In the 1862 publication ‘Notes and Queries’, a riveting read if ever there was one, claimed that: ‘So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish’. This myth is that England’s first King Brutus lugged the base of the original statue of Athena from Troy to a wet outpost in north-west Europe. And there was me thinking Athena was a poster shop selling pictures of knickerless tennis players which went broke.
Another curious myth that surrounds London Stone is that guardians have been assigned over time to protect this ancient piece of rock. The current Mayor of London being appointed the latest in a very long line.
Or it is a mark stone for several leylines.
This last fallacy was alluded to in the title of the post, in that the Stone has never been moved from its original position for fear of retributions. But is has been very mobile over the years, from facing the door of St. Swithin’s Church on the north side of Cannon Street, the Great Fire of London destroyed the surrounding buildings, the damaged Stone then had a cupola built over it. This proved a traffic hazard and it was moved adjacent to the new Wren designed St. Swithin’s Church.
London Stone behind bars opposite Cannon Street Station
Then after two more moves, it ended up in the south wall of St. Swithin’s Church, which German bombs then put pay to that sanctuary. It migrated to the Royal Exchange and then back to be opposite Cannon Street Station. Now it has been moved to the London Museum.
But for how long?