The Forgotten History of the London Stone, an Artifact Linked to Aeneas, King Arthur, and John Dee
The London Stone is a historic artifact that can be found on London’s Cannon Street. This mysterious relic is basically a block of limestone. This type of limestone does not occur naturally in or around London, and that the nearest place where it can be naturally found is in Kent. Therefore, the London Stone was likely to have been brought to London from somewhere outside the area. Nobody knows for sure, however, as to where the stone actually came from. Equally puzzling is the original purpose. Regarding this matter, much speculation has been made.
A bronze plaque on the sloping top of the casing in front of the stone, dating from 1962, reads:
“LONDON STONE: This is a fragment of the original piece of limestone once securely fixed in the ground now fronting Cannon Street Station. Removed in 1742 to the north side of the street, in 1798 it was built into the south wall of the Church of St. Swithun London Stone which stood here until demolished in 1962. Its origin and purpose are unknown but in 1188 there was a reference to Henry, son of Eylwin de Lundenstane, subsequently Lord Mayor of London”
But there must be more than can be said about this artifact…
Roman or Before?
There are a few things that can be said with certainty regarding the London Stone. For example, the London Stone is of a type of stone known as oolitic limestone. This type of stone was often brought to London during the Roman period for building and sculptural purposes.
Still, the Romans were not the only ones who used this stone, as it was also utilized in the city during the Saxon and Medieval periods as well.
The London Stone. ( Public Domain )
The location of the London Stone has led to one speculation that it was once part of a monument erected in the forecourt of a palace. The London Stone is found towards the southern end of the medieval Candlewick Street (which is known today as Cannon Street), and opposite St. Swithin’s Church. This would place it in front of a Roman building commonly identified as the provincial governor’s palace. Thus, the London Stone may have been part of a monument that once stood in the forecourt of this palace.
However, there are those who have suggested that the London Stone predates the arrival of the Romans. One of the most well-known of these speculations was made by the 18th / 19th century English poet and painter, William Blake.
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Church of St Swithin, London Stone, in Cannon Street, London; engraving after Thomas H. Shepherd, 1831. The church is by Christopher Wren, 1678. A prominent stone casing in the middle of the church's south wall housed the London Stone. ( Public Domain )
According to Blake, the London Stone was used as an altar by the ancient Druids to sacrifice their victims. A similar assumption can be found in an updated version of John Stow’s 1598 The Survey of London . The historian John Strype, who updated this piece of work during the 18th century, entertained the possibility that the London Stone was used during ancient pagan worship.
The stone's former casing. ( Public Domain )
Links with Troy
The London Stone is sometimes called the Brutus Stone, and is said to be a link between Britain and Troy. According to one legend, London was founded by a man by the name of Brutus of Troy, a descendant of the hero Aeneas.
This legend is said to have its origins in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th century History of the Kings of Britain . The connection between the London Stone and Brutus, however, can only be traced back to the 19th century for certain. In 1862, an ‘ancient saying’ appeared in an article in the periodical Notes and Queries .
A 1553 representation of Brutus of Troy, a legendary descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas, was known in medieval British legend as the eponymous founder and first king of Britain. ( Public Domain )
This saying claimed that “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish”. The article further claimed that the stone was brought from Troy, and was originally erected as an altar in the temple of Diana. It seems that, apart from the author of the said article, no one else knew about this legend.
A King Arthur Connection?
Without any definite answer as to the original function of the London Stone, it is likely that this issue will continue to be speculated on. One of the seemingly newer legends surrounding the London Stone is that this was the stone from which King Arthur pulled out Excalibur (assuming that Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone are one and the same).
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King Arthur as one of the Nine Worthies, detail from the "Christian Heroes Tapestry" dated c. 1385. ( Public Domain )
Another modern legend asserts that John Dee, an adviser of Queen Elizabeth I, believed that the London Stone had magical powers.
A Forgotten Artifact
If the London Stone was indeed an important object, it does not seem so today. About 10 years ago, it was displayed in a curbside cage that was stuck on the wall of a Sportec sports shop (111 Cannon Street, London, EC4N 5AR). Surrounded by modern sports equipment, the London Stone must have presented a strange site to visitors. The sports shop was later replaced by a WH Smith, though the stone was left in place.
111 Cannon Street and the London Stone. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )
It has been reported that permission for the demolition of this building has been granted, and “a special raised plinth so that the artifact can be viewed by the public” will be included when the new premises are built. In the meantime, the stone will be displayed in the Museum of London during the construction period.
Featured image: The London Stone, seen through its protective grille. Photo source: CC BY SA 3.0
By Wu Mingren
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