The London Stone
Until 2016, thousands of Londoners walked daily past an anonymous grille at 111 Cannon Street without realising that they were inches away from London's oldest treasure, even blissfully unaware of its very existence.
Behind this grille sat a fragment of limestone; the remains of the London Stone, at last, albeit temporarily, on display in the Museum of London while its former home is demolished and a plinth is erected to house it. This stone sat at the centre of Roman Londinium, which is believed to have been around the entrance to Cannon Street station. It is thought (though without evidence), that measurements of distance were taken from the stone, and that in Roman times people would meet at the stone to conduct business, gossip and assemble for important proclamations and events. However Christopher Wren claimed its base was too wide for it to be a simple milestone. It is not native to the city, and is believed to have been quarried in Rutland or Somerset, and set before the residence of the Governor of Londinium. It is unlikely that it was brought from Troy by Brutus as the legend, which states London will flourish as long as the stone remains in place, suggests. It is also thought to have stood at the centre of the new street plan established by Alfred the Great, and to have got its name around this time.
The story goes that Jack Cade struck the stone with his sword during his march on London in 1450 and declared himself Lord of the city; an event portrayed by Shakespeare in Henry VI part II. This has led people to believe that this was how civic leaders were sworn in during Medieval times, but there is no credible evidence to support this. Like his depiction of Richard III as a deformed psychopath, Shakespeare, a Tudor propagandist as well as a dramatist, has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Nor is there any record of Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson or Sadiq Khan doing the same in modern times.
Any object as old as the London Stone is believed by some to have intrinsic, even magical powers. William Blake believed it to have been a druid sacrificial altar. Some even believe it be be the stone Arthur pulled Excalibur from. Again, a very unlikely story, but the stone is possibly the inspiration for the myth. One legend states that if the stone is destroyed, London will fall, like the kingdom of Albion if the ravens leave the Tower of London. The stone has in fact been damaged rather than destroyed, as only a piece of less than half a metre square remains today. First cracked during the Great Fire of 1666, it is unknown to what extent and how it became the fragment it now is. In more recent times, despite the church upon which it was mounted being gutted during World War Two, the remains of the stone survived intact and was put behind the Cannon Street grille in 1962 until 2016.
It is a travesty that such an important historical item has suffered such an ignoble fate as it has over the last fifty or so years, being virtually hidden behind a grille in a basement behind a WHSmiths magazine rack. In other cities it would be worshiped. It can only be a good thing that it is finally being rehoused where people can see it. People ought to know their history, and an item like this that has witnessed Boudicca's destruction of London, the Great Fire and the Blitz is as historically important as the Magna Carta.
- London, The Biography-Peter Aykroyd
- The Museum of London Website
- Henry VI pt 2, Act 4 scene 6-William Shakespeare
- The Guardian 12/3/2016
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