Ancient Rock in a Modern City–The London Stone

"LondonStone". Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“LondonStone”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

England is home to many wondrous and strange bits of history. Spring-heeled Jack–a mysterious figure well known for his propensity to spit blue fire and leap over walls in a single bound–prowled the area around London nearly two hundred years ago (and some say he does until this day.) London was home to Jeremy Bentham, a noted philosopher, whose remains still reside within the city limits to this day. And there was the story of Samuel Pepys, whose diary helped reconstruct events of the Great Fire of London, and his wheel of cheese.

There are far older things in London, though, things of which very little is known. Take, for example, the London Stone. The hunk of limestone, about 27 inches wide, 17 inches high, and 12 inches front to back, now resides behind a grate attached to, of all things, a sporting goods store. A rather inglorious fate for something whose destruction, according to legend, would mean the end of London.

 

Mysterious origins

The earliest mention of the London Stone comes from around 1100, when it was known as “Londenstane.” But even then, the stone was considered ancient and was believed to have some sort of mystical power. At the very least, it was considered the heart of ancient London.

In more recent times, experts have postulated that the stone might be the remains of an important Roman building. It may also have been the central milestone of Britannia, from which all others were measured. Some have suggested that it might be an Anglo-Saxon way marker or the remains of a stone cross. Others say it was placed in the center of London by Brutus the Trojan, the legendary founder of London. No one really knows for certain how old the stone even is, as even today there is no way to date it.

 

A link to London’s ancient past

"Jack Cade on London Stone" by editor:Howard Staunton; artist Sir John Gilbert (1817-1897) - Works of William Shakespeare (London:Routledge, 1881) vol 8. Licensed under Public domain v

“Jack Cade on London Stone” by editor:Howard Staunton; artist Sir John Gilbert (1817-1897) – Works of William Shakespeare (London:Routledge, 1881) vol 8. Licensed under Public domain

For as little as is known about the stone, it still bears the weight of history. The stone could well have been a part of London since its start. At the very least it has survived civil wars, fires, two world wars, the Cold War, and still exists into the 21st century. Shakespeare mentioned the stone in several of his plays, including one involving the Kentish rebel Jack Cade, who entered London with his followers and struck the stone with his sword, proclaiming himself “Lord of London.” Grooves remain on the stone where Cade allegedly struck it.

After the Great Fire of London, Christopher Wren spotted foundations below the stone, and was convinced it was merely a part of a much larger structure. While today that idea is regarded as fanciful thinking, it shows just how much the London Stone has inspired the imagination of generations of people. Even the bit about the stone being linked to the fate of London (“So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London Flourish.”) comes to us from 1862; hardly an ancient prophecy.

But then the stories themselves are what make the Stone, which is really nothing more than a big hunk of limestone, so fascinating. It is a tangible link to London’s ancient past, a reminder of the ages since a tiny town built in swampy land became a metropolis respected all around the world.

 

Sources:

Coughlan, Sean. “London’s heart of stone.”  BBC.co.uk. May 22, 2006. BBC News. September 27, 2014. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/4997470.stm

“London Stone.” Museum of London. http://archive.museumoflondon.org.uk/Londinium/Today/vizrom/08+stone.htm