On the south side of this high street, near unto the channel, is pitched upright a great stone called London stone, fixed in the ground very deep, fastened with bars of iron, and otherwise so strongly set, that if carts do run against it through negligence, the wheels be broken, and the stone itself unshaken. (Stow 1598)
London Stone is now approximately eighteen meters from its probable, original, Roman location having moved at least six times since its foundation. It is also six metres above Roman street level, a datum coinciding almost exactly with the floors of the underground trains passing directly below (Fig.1).
Fig.1: Chimaeric reconstruction of London Stone. [detail 1]. 2011-2013.
By the time of its first written mention in the early tenth or possibly early, but more likely late, twelfth-century in connection with either Æthelstan, King of England or Henry Fitz Ailwin, the first mayor of London, respectively, (Clark 2015, 14-16) it had found itself surrounded on all sides by the ever-widening Cannon Street. A hazard to traffic, the Stone was first encased in the seventeenth-century. Burned and reduced in the Great Fire it was moved, and moved again, bombed and then moved twice more, ultimately to be put behind glass and grille. Temporarily on display at the Museum of London it currently awaits a return to a new building at 111 Cannon Street. Over the centuries a loose and largely oral collection of folkloric fragments began to cleave to it, culminating in 1882 with what became a much repeated mythic fabrication tying the fate of the Stone to the fate of the City and their (Stone and city) origins in Brutus’s flight from Troy. (Clark 2007) “For many centuries it was popularly believed to be the stone of Brutus, brought by him as a deity. ‘So long as the stone of Brutus is safe,’ ran one city proverb, ‘so long shall London flourish.’” As the myths grew so the Stone gradually disappeared from view, hidden in plain sight. Forgotten and displaced, it had become, and remains, all but invisible.
Fig.2: Various authors, The gradual disappearance of London Stone. Photomontage: Alessandro Zambelli.
- Anon., London Stone, Cannon Street with two figures [detail]. c.1700 London Metropolitan Archive.
- Jacob Smith, View of St. Swithin London Stone from Cannon Street [detail]. c.1700, engraving. London Metropolitan Archive.
- Anon., View of London Stone, Cannon Street with figure [detail]. c.1820 London Metropolitan Archive.
- W. Whiffin, The London Stone, St. Swithin’s, Cannon Street [detail]. 1920s, Photograph. London Metropolitan Archive.
- The Cannon Street Coster [Rebecca Daisy’s sweetstuff stall]. From: Anon. 1901. ‘The Cannon Street Stall-Keeper’, The Daily Graphic, 24 April. London Metropolitan Archive.
- Bomb damaged St Swithin’s church. 1946, Photograph. Time Life.
- Fin Fahey, The enclosure to London Stone, 111 Cannon Street, London, between 1962 and 2016. 2005. Digital photograph. Available from: Creative Commons, http://bit.ly/1JLC7B0 (accessed 31 December 2015).
Measuring only, “21 inches wide, 17 inches high and 12 inches front to back,” (Clark 2007, 169) other than this, almost everything else we think we know about London Stone has been demonstrated by its unofficial ‘biographer,’ John Clark, to be false or, as he puts it, “since it is so difficult to prove a negative, it is perhaps fairer to say that there is no evidence to support most of this farrago of myth.” (Clark 2007, 170) These mythologies adhere to the Stone so readily, it seems to me, precisely because of its unprepossessing physical presence – a mythology which grows in proportion to the extent that the Stone itself withers away; hidden by the erosions of time, the accrual of myth and the grilled housing which surrounds it.
The Moves of London Stone, was a critical guided tour which I led during the afternoon of Friday, 18 October, 2013 and whose object was the bathetic re-enactment of the Stone’s on-going, imperceptibly slow (and extremely local) journey.
Fig.3 The Moves of London Stone tour. Tour and Stone movements superimposed. 2015. Based upon: pdf map, Scale 1:500, Ordnance Survey, Mastermap, 2015. From: EDINA Digimap Ordnance Survey Service, http://edina.ac.uk/digimap
That Friday afternoon, for a couple of hours, we moved with our invisible partners – not just London Stone but also with the ghostly company of those who have, or might have, accompanied it across the centuries: Brutus, Los, Henry Fitz Ailwin, Jack Cade, Rebecca Daisy, Chris Cheek – backwards and forwards, over and, at times, under Cannon Street. Fig. 3 records this intertwined dance, producing a choreography of lightly scripted movement; walking and talking, reconstituting, reconstructing, re-making through analogical acts of offer and proposition. (Latour 1999)
During the walk I read this:
PRELUDE: ORIGINS TO ENCASEMENT
It will be remembered that the other day an effort was made to “move on” Mrs. Rebecca Daisy, the old woman who keeps a sweetstuff stall on the pavement close to St. Swithin’s Church, in Cannon Street. __________ (Anon. 1901)
The Stone before the Fire of London, was much worn away, and as it were but a Stump remaining. But is now for the Preservation of it cased over with a new Stone handsomely wrought, cut hollow underneath so as the old Stone may be seen, the new one being over it, to shelter and defend the venerable one. __________ (Stow and Strype 1720, 200) […] some have supposed [it] to have been British; a stone, which might have been part of a Druidical circle, or some such other object of the ancient religion […] Others have conjectured it to be a milliary stone […]. It seems preserved like the Palladium of the city… __________ (Pennant 1793) London Stone may have only survived because it was the most important part of London’s megalithic complex, the omphalos stone of the capital. __________ (Street 2000, 76)
It is so sure a stone that that is upon sette,
For though some have it thrette
With Manases grym an grette
Yet hurte had it none:
Chryste is the very stone
That the citie is set uppon,
Which from al hys foone
Hath ever preserved yt. __________ (Fabyan 1516, 624)
Can any of your scientific correspondents supply me with the geological character of the above stone, by far the most ancient monument in the city of London, and held by tradition to be its foundation stone? __________ (Williams Morgan 1858) It was […] the altar of the Temple of Diana, on which the old British Kings took the oaths on their accession …it was brought from Troy by Brutus, and laid down by his own hand as the altar-stone of the Diana Temple, the foundation stone of London and its palladium __________ (Merrion 1862, 13) [for] so long as the stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish __________ (Anon. 1888, 241-242) When we were setting up the shop, there were cowboy builders here, and one of them was just about to take a chisel to the stone. I told him “Woah. Stop right there”. __________ (Coughlan 2006)
At length he sat on London Stone, & heard Jerusalem’s voice. __________ (Blake 1804, 4)
FIRST MOVEMENT (13th December 1742)
And she has seen many changes. [Mrs. Daisy] can remember the introduction of milk chocolate and the underground railway, and many other things. __________ (Anon. 1901)
These, however, are but conjectures; nor can we say more, than that it is very singular, so much care should have been taken to preserve the stone, and so little to preserve the history of its origin. __________ (Lambert 1806, 491) On the south side of this high street, near unto the channel, is pitched upright a great stone called London stone, fixed in the ground very deep, fastened with bars of iron, and otherwise so strongly set, that if carts do run against it through negligence, the wheels be broken, and the stone itself unshaken. __________ (Stow and Thoms 1842 , 84-85) which I take to have beene a Milliarie, or Milemarke, such as was in the mercat place of Rome: From which was taken the dimension of all journeys every way, considering it is in the very mids of the City, as it lieth in length. __________ (Camden and Holland 1610, 423) foot of it laid in Rom. Mortar (so hard as the workmen could scarce in 3 days beat it thro) […] 10´ deeper than the Roman level __________ (Stukeley 1717-, fol.25)
Its foundations, which were uncovered during the operations which took place after the great fire, were found to be so extensive that Wren, who does not appear to have doubted that they were Roman, was inclined to think that they must have supported some more considerable monument __________ (Stow and Thoms 1842 , 84) For before this it stood close to the edge of the kerb-stone on the same side of the street, to which it seems it had been removed from its original position on the opposite side in December 1742. __________ (Stow and Thoms 1842 , 84) That the Stone, commonly called London Stone, be placed against the Church, according to the churchwardens’ discretion __________ Vestry Minute Book, St. Swithin’s Church, May 13, 1742 in (Price 1870) Under what innovating name can we term the cause that has removed the London-stone, in Cannon-street, the awful informant of the antiquity of this town, some yards more to the East of the church? __________ (Architect 1798, 765)
SECOND MOVEMENT (1798-1801)
Mr. Thomas Marden, of Sherbourn Lane, printer, when that church was about to undergo a repair in 1798, prevailed on the parish-officers to consent that the stone should be placed where it still remains, after it had been doomed to destruction as a nuisance __________ (Stow and Thoms 1842 , 84)
the Drapers man at London-stone
Was in your bed, and what sweet work he made there. __________ (Glapthorne 1874, 193) Pray, Gentlemen, when was London Stone first Erected, and what was the design of its erection? __________ (Anon. 1708, no.104)
Soft I smell: Oh pure Nose.
Delio. Wat do you smell?
Frisc. I haue the scent of London-stone as full in my nose,
as Abchurch-lane of mother Walles Pasties: Sirrs feele a-
bout, I smell London-stone.
Alua. Wat be dis? __________ (Haughton 1616)
THIRD MOVEMENT (1801-1829, but probably in 1824)
The central division contains a large window with an arched head, the lateral divisions smaller windows of the same form, with elliptically arched doorways beneath them, the easternmost being walled up: below the central window is a hollow pedestal, containing the last fragment of the famous London stone __________ (Allen and Wright 1827, 765)
INTERVAL: GRILLED (1869)
“Lor’ love yer – yes,” said Mrs Daisy.
Mrs. Daisy’s stall is set up close beside what is probably the oldest piece of Old London now in existence. This is the Saxum Londiniense, or London Stone, a rounded block of stone of which a glimpse can be seen through the ornamental ironwork. __________ (Anon. 1901)
LONG PLACED ABOVT XXXV FEET HENCE TOWARDS THE SOVTH WEST AND AFTERWARDS BVILT INTO THE WALL OF THIS CHVRCH WAS FOR MORE CAREFVL PROTECTION AND TRANSMISSION TO FVTVRE AGES BETTER SECURED BY THE CHVRCHWARDENS IN THE YEAR OF OVR LORD MDCCCLXIX. __________  While Los spoke, the terrible Spectre fell shudd’ring before him […] Groaning he kneel’d before Los’s iron-shod feet on London Stone, __________ (Blake 1804, 4)
FOURTH MOVEMENT (1961)
Fortunately for Mrs. Daisy, the Chief Commissioner of the City Police, Sir Henry Smith, refused to allow her to be sent away from the position she has held for so many years, and she therefore remains. __________ (Anon. 1901)
thereafter the church shall be wholly demolished by the Board and the site thereof shall be sold, let or exchanged by the Board; provided that the monument known as London Stone, now incorporated in the south wall of the church, shall be carefully removed and preserved by the Board and re-erected as near as possible to its present site. __________ (England 1958) Dear Mr Cook… Thank you for your letter of the 22nd March. I will be very pleased to arrange to have the stone transported to the Museum in the Royal Exchange as soon as the demolition of the remains of the Church is commenced. I think that your suggestion to keep the stone until it is required on site is an excellent one, and you may rest assured that we shall endeavour to assist you in every way possible. __________ (Robinson 1960)
FIFTH MOVEMENT (October 1962)
Here begynneth the maryage of London Stone and the fayre pusell the bosse of Byllyngesgate. __________ (Halliwell-Phillipps 1860 , 9) and there he went around a great stone striking it with his sword, and there he set the three heads on a tower __________ (Jones et al. 1972, 201) He rode thorough dyvers stretes of the cytie, and as he came by London stone, he strake it with his sworde, and sayd, “Nowe is Mortymer lorde of this cytie.” __________ (Fabyan 1516, 624)
Enter Iacke Cade and the rest, and strikes his sword
vpon London stone.
Cade. Now is Mortemer Lord of this Citie,
And now sitting vpon London stone, We command,
That the first yeare of our raigne,
The pissing Cundit run nothing but red wine. __________ (Shakespeare 1594)
Enter Iacke Cade and the rest, and strikes his
staffe on London stone.
Cade. Now is Mortimer Lord of this City,
And heere sitting vpon London Stone,
I charge and command, that of the Cities cost
The pissing Conduit run nothing but Clarret Wine
This first yeare of our raigne. __________ (Shakespeare 1623 [reprinted 1807])
by a jury were found badd and deceitful and by judgement of the Court condemned to be broken, defaced and spoyled both glasse and frame the which judgement was executed accordingly in Canning Street on the remayning parte of London Stone where the same were with a hammer broken all in pieces. __________ (Makers 2014)
Where Albion slept beneath the Fatal Tree,
And the Druids’ golden Knife
Rioted in human gore,
In Offerings of Human Life?
They groan’d aloud on London Stone, __________ (Blake 1804, 4)
and how I visited London Stone, and struck my staff upon it, in imitation of that arch rebel, Jack Cade. __________ (Irving 1820, 237-238) There are one or two long cuts or indentations in the top, which are said to have been made by Jack Cade’s sword, when he struck it against the stone __________ (Hawthorne 1941, 289)
Cade. Fling all my dead Subjects into the Thames. Now say, what place is this?
Butcher. ‘Tis London-Stone. __________ (Crowne 2005)
following the completion of the new building on the site to house the Bank of China, the stone was placed without ceremony in the specially constructed grilled and glazed alcove that it occupies today. __________ (Clark 2007, 177)
It has no healing properties; it was not dropped or thrown by a giant, nor yet by the Devil; it is not a petrified dancer who profaned the Lord’s Day. It is not ‘countless’, nor has it grown in size. It played no part in the death by hanging of a sheep stealer. It is not the haunt of fairies; it does not bring good luck or visions to those who walk round it three times; it does not go down to the Thames to drink when it hears the clock of St Swithin’s church strike midnight, nor (apparently) has it ever resisted the efforts of a team of forty oxen to move it from its original site __________ (Clark 2013)
That, just now, is her strong point. [Mrs. Daisy] says she isn’t going until she is removed in a narrow box – which shall not be more than twenty-four inches wide. __________ (Anon. 1901)
London Stone Part 3: a propositional reconstruction, will follow… after some other posts.