The housing of the top of the London Stone, as seen from Cannon Street
The top of the London Stone, from inside the Bank of China
These days, the London Stone (also called the Brutus Stone) is set into the wall of the Bank of China on the south side of Cannon Street, EC4. Well, part of it is. Just the tip. The entire Stone stood originally in Candlewick Street (Cannon Street) on the south side near the gutter, facing the door of St Swithin’s church on the north side of the street.*
Made from Clipsham limestone, the displayed portion is roughly shaped and round-topped, with two grooves worn in the top. Its origin and purpose are no longer known, but it was always of some importance to Londoners, who, as far back as 1198, referred to it as the Lonenstane. What we see today is only a fraction of the original Stone, the rest of which still lies beneath Cannon Street. There must surely be something of great interest awaiting discovery. Starting with how tall the Stone was in the beginning.
One suggestion put forward is that the Stone was of Druidic origin. The most popular theory is that it is Roman. Oh, dear, isn’t everything linked to the Romans these days? It’s as if no one in Britain had a clue about anything before they were invaded and taught how to breathe and set aside the woad. A present-day rising against those pesky Romans might not go amiss! Where is Boudicca/Boadicea when we need her?
However, I digress. One of the Roman theories is that perhaps it was a central milestone, one from which all mileage measurements in the province of Britannia were taken. A sort of Greenwich Meridian for the length of journeys. Maybe it was, we may never know. Unless they dig up the rest of it, which is still deep underground.
Excavations at Cannon Street Station have revealed the remains of the governor’s palace, which may have some bearing on the Stone. Or not. The same goes for it being the top of a Roman wayside funerary monument. Without examining the rest of the Stone, we aren’t going to know.
Stones have always been of importance in our history. For instance, there is the Stone of Scone, or Stone of Destiny, which many believe to be the stone that Jacob raised to bear witness to his covenant with God. Whatever that particular stone’s original history, it was for centuries fixed into the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. Our kings were crowned upon it. As had been Scottish kings before them. It has, of course, now been returned north of the border.
Another stone, less factual perhaps, is the one from which Arthur drew Excalibur, but this story is best approached with caution. Why? Because we have no idea if it is fact or fiction. As is the case with so much where Arthur is concerned. But swords and stones have an ancient connection. In his 1450 rebellion against the corrupt government of Henry VI, Jack Cade struck the London Stone with his sword, and declared that he was now the Lord of the City.
London was not founded by the Romans, they merely expanded on what was there already. A favourite myth these days is that London was actually commenced by Brutus and the Trojans, who left their own land to find somewhere to found a New Troy. They did, the name was confused into Trinovantum, and then the Romans happened along. It is wondered if the London Stone was the foundation stone of New Troy.
An exciting fact is that excavations at St Swithin’s Church revealed Roman levels some 4’-6’ below the surface. But also revealed massive stone walls some 15’ below the surface, therefore considerably predating the Romans. So, who is to say that the London Stone wasn’t from this earlier period? Just how far back might it go? Just how sacred might it have been? And to whom? Whatever, it should not be left, forgotten, in its underground tomb. Liberate it, and it may have important things to tell us.
To learn more on the London Stone, I recommend reading Appendix I of The Holy Kingdom by Adrian Gilbert, Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett. It is from this that I have taken much of the above article.
*This is how I understood its perambulations, but there are slightly differing accounts and new developments. All I can say is that as far as I now know, the top of it was in the wall of the Bank of China, but is now temporarily in the Museum of London. I think. It is a very mobile object!