Saturday, December 1, 2012

The London Stone.

by Grace Elliot

Behind this metal grating lies the London Stone.

Have you heard of the London Stone?  A post by Grace Elliot.

The London Stone is believed by some to be the most historically significant piece of masonry in the city and yet hundreds of commuters walk past it everyday without seeing it.
Whatever the claims for the London Stone, it is certainly one of the oldest building stones to be found above ground. References to it extend back through the centuries and one 16th century chronicler, John Stow, claimed to find it mentioned in a book dating back to the Saxon king Ethelstane (925-940). There are numerous casual references throughout the centuries and although its exact history is unknown, there are several conjectures as to its historical importance.

The London Stone.

The first and oldest story about the stone is that it was used by the Romans as the central milestone from which all distances in England were measured, and that it marked the exact centre of the ancient city of Londinium. If this is true or not, it was certainly an important landmark for it was said people met at the London Stone to settle debts, to pin important notices or indeed that it was the last remaining stone of the first Lord Mayor's house.

Wilder theories imbue the London Stone with mythical powers, including the stone embodying the soul of the city and that if it is destroyed, London will fall. The origin of this theory perhaps comes from stories of the stone being the last evidence of a sacred monolith (a sort of London Stonehenge), or brought by Brutus when he founded the city.

Legends concerning the stone are many and varied but one of my favourites concerns the significance of 'striking the stone.' In Shakespeare's Henry VI, part 2, the leader of the Kentish Rebellion, Jack Cade, strikes the stone with his sword and declares:
"Now is Mortimer lord of this city."

This goes in some way to back an ancient belief that striking the stone was a key part of a ritual which legitimized a leader's claim to authority (echoes of King Arthur and the sword in the stone?), in particular the idea that no Lord Mayor could take office without striking the stone with his sword.

So considering the rich history surrounding the London Stone, what became of it?

Is it royally housed in a shrine, surrounded by security cameras and subdued lighting? Sadly, not. It sits sadly overlooked, embedded in the wall of a betting shop in Cannon Street, behind dirty glass and shielded from the pavement by an iron screen. Come to think of it, perhaps hiding it in plain sight is a good idea - a great way to disguise mythical powers…don’t you think…

The London Stone, Canon Street -
currently residing in the wall of a bookmakers.

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