An ancient and obscured piece of limestone has long guarded Cannon Street. It's called simply London Stone (never 'the' London Stone). It might be a Roman milestone or druidic monument. Nobody knows. Very few people ever notice the venerable rock, which has long languished in a woefully unworthy niche opposite the station... continues...
"It now appears the the Stone will be on its travels once again, although this time not across the road, but a few doors along. Diamond Geezer, one of the prolific London bloggers, has been delving into the planning application from the owners of the building where the stone now resides:"
The Evening Standard ran a story yesterday to confirm that the stone will finally be moving - to the Museum of London. The building in which it is presently housed is being demolished (thankfully)... continues...
On 23rd July 2002, the City of London Corp. approved planning permission for the current building on 111 Cannon Street to be demolished. It will be replaced with an 8 story building containing office and retail space.
The stone will be relocated to the "retail frontage" of the new building... continues...
I visited the Stone on the 19th March 2012 CE.
It's now very dimly lit. The entire building empty, a To Let sign hangs from the building. Through the window to the stone I could see abandoned display and merchandising displays, perhaps left behind by the sports shop that last occupied this space. The stone deserves more. Opposite the space aged facade of the new loo Cannon St station, mood lit in comparison to the empty and forgotten space that the stone resides in on the other side of the road.
There are barriers and road works currently slightly dividing a symbol of the ancient past and the modern reality of modern commuters passing buy with take away coffee and laptops unaware of the almost hidden stone. If you stop though, even just for a second then you can still spend time at the stone, consider it's past, hope for a better custodian than an empty shop space to let.
If the remainder of the stone is still beneath ground level and you believe in the ley line theories by Iain Sinclair and others then this is still a magical place, albeit one that requires as healthy dose of imagination and romantic thought.
I visited the Stone again on Saturday. The ex Bank of China is now virtually derelict - although with a sign saying "To Let'. The ground floor is presently - and hopefully, temporarily - occupied by a cut-price sports shoe retailer - so presumably in the week it is possible to go in and see the side of the stone not visible from the street.
It truly is a bizarre, sad - and telling - sight to see one of London's only significant megalithic remains caged in an ugly box under a giant NIKE sign....
The planning application for the redevelopment of the site and the Stone's relocation has been approved although there is no news of any pending activity.
What also struck me this time is that the mooted original site of the Stone - outside the entrance to Cannon Street Station - would have placed it on the banks of the hidden river Walbrook - a waterway also sacred to the Romans (witness the now also relocated Temple of Mithras).
The vicissitudes of highway management and commerce will never see the remaining fragment restored to its original supposed location so the best that can be hoped for now is that it is removed from its present dismal setting and properly housed in the Museum of London.
Have to agree with the other comments here. A very undignified way for the Stone to be treated. People in the lunchtime rush looked at me as if I were mad, taking photos of a wall of a bank! I'm sure none of them had ever looked to see what was there...
The Stone seemed to be screaming to be let free. Given the planning permission mentioned in the News Article last year, it looks as if its wish may be granted, but I couldn't see any signs or notices in place, so maybe they've put the plans back. Does anyone have a better notion of timing for the demolition?
I'll have to make sure I get down here a bit more regularly in the lunch hour, now I know exactly where it is, to make sure the Stone isn't forgotten and doesn't get lonely, trapped in its cage.
[visited 15/04/2002] I went and found the London stone after work one day. Poor bastard thing that it is, trapped in a glass cage in the wall of some bank, some trophy antiquity claimed by foreigners, walked past by uncaring and unknowing wageslaves. Uprooted from its ancient home to ensure clear passage for more cars, more trains.
Its not even whole anymore, I see at some point in the past a magnificent menhir. Yet it was chopped up, torn apart and now a piece barely 50cm high is all that is left. Its said if the stone ever leaves London then London will fall. For some reason I find this quite ironic.
Worth visiting for two reasons, first so its memory lives on despite its forlorn state. Secondly as a reminder that this could happen to other sites unless we pay more attention.
The saddest sight ... a captive stone. The London Stone sits near it's original site across the road from Cannon Street tube station, in the front of the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation.
Once a considerable landmark megalith, all that remains is a tastefully lit micro-wave oven sized lump. It is "preserved" behind bars and toughened glass, tamed, humiliated, ignored. Just the act of stopping to look caused passers-by to look at me curiously ... getting out my camera led to outright derision, pitying looks from the sophisticated city-set to the easily-impressed out-of-towner ...
''standing in Walbrook, on the south side of this High Street, neere unto the Channell, is pitched upright a great stone called London Stone, fixed in the ground very deep, fastened with bars of iron, and otherwise so stronlglie set that if cartes do runne against it through negligence the wheeles be broken, and the stone itself unshaken. The cause why this stone was there set, the verie time when, or other mermorie thereof, is there none. "
One legend - quoted by Theo Brown in "Trojans in the West Country" - suggests that the London Stone was an altar set up by Brutus in honour of Diana. "So long as the stone of Brutus is safe, so London shall flourish."
Jean Hall of the Museum of London provided me with the following notes. They only talk of the stone as a Roman / Saxon Artefact - but it provides background information. Perhaps this stone should be regarded as 'debatable' on this basis. It does not ruled out a pre-historic origin - there just isn't much evidence to support that at the moment.
A clue might be in the limestone but there aren't many other London prehistoric remains to make a judgement
"The London Stone
Description of surviving fragment:
Artificially rounded corners at top. Back and front faces of stone are fairly flat and featureless, but the top has two grooves running parallel with its longer axis.
In 1967, a sample of the stone was identified by the Geological Museum as limestone, possibly Clipsham limestone from the Inferior Oolite zone extending from Dorset to the Wash. This is used in both the Roman and late Saxon periods and there is much re-use of Roman building material in later periods. It was clearly part of a much larger monolith.
The Romans created the first major urban settlement on the site of the City of London. The Roman town began no earlier than about AD47, some few years after the Claudian conquest of AD43. There is no evidence of either for a lineal predecessor or for a pre-urban settlement on the site of Londinium and none at all for London being the site of the legendary Trinovantum, a suggestion put forward by early historians in an attempt to reconstruct their past.
Much discussion has gone on over the centuries as to the origin of the London Stone. It may have originated in the Roman period and been part of the front entrance to the so-called governor's palace, a large public administrative building on the waterfront where it originally stood on the line of the central axis of the building. If the building had had a large gateway fronting on the Roman street, the stone would have stood at its centre or more probably immediately in front of its central point beside the main Roman road. This would be precisely where an important Roman monument might have been placed. The suggestion has been made that it was the central milestone, from which all others were measured in the province, though it will never be known whether it served as a milestone and measuring point or was merely commemorative.
It is possible that the lower part still remains under Cannon Street, although antiquarian reports suggest that it was all removed. J E Price in 1870 quotes the following :'In 1742, as part of a road-widening scheme […] the stone was beheaded and that part of it that had protruded above road-level was placed by the wall of St Swithin's Church.' Its most likely position would have been under the existing road and as Victorian metropolitan improvements included constructing sewers and the underground railway (which was built in this area by the cut-and-cover method rather than tunneling), this would indicate that the remaining portion of Stone was all that survived.
It has also been suggested that it may have been an Anglo-Saxon wayside marker or cross but there is no evidence for this. In the medieval period it was regarded as the very heart of the City of London. It was a venerated antiquity but its original purpose was already forgotten by the 12th century when it was called 'Londenstane'. According to John Stow, it was deep-rooted in the ground. He states that it was mentioned in a Gospel book given by King Athelstan to Christ's Church, Canterbury.
In the 16th century William Camden believed that it was a Roman milestone, the central milestone from which all distances were measured in the province. In the 17th century Christopher Wren saw foundations below it during the rebuilding after the Great Fire and was convinced it was not a mere pillar but something more elaborate, which he suspected was connected with the mosaic pavements and walls of the Roman building seen to the south.
In 1742, it was moved to the north side of Cannon Street (which would now be in the middle of the widened road). It was again moved in 1798 when the small portion of the London Stone was incorporated in the south wall of St Swithin's Church until 1960. It is now preserved in a niche in the front of a building in Cannon Street (111 Cannon Street).
A Roman origin?
The surviving apex of the London Stone is likely to have had a Roman origin but it could also be later in date as Clipsham limestone was in general use throughout the early periods. Perhaps the origin of its veneration in London history is due to its having had a special significance in the Roman city but as yet its purpose is unknown.
Future display plans
The building is now due for redevelopment and discussions are in hand about the future re-display of the London Stone. It is not part of the Museum of London collections and responsibility and ownership for the London Stone remains with the Corporation of London.
Clark, John, 1981, 'Trinovantum – the evolution of the legend' J Medieval Hist 7, 135-51
Kissan, B W, 1938, 'An early list of London properties' Trans London & Middlesex Archaeol Soc n.s. 8, 57-69
Marsden P, 'Excavation of a Roman Palace site in London 1961-1972' Trans London & Middlesex Archaeol Soc 26 (1975) 63-64
Merrifield R, 1965, The Roman City of London, 123-4 and Gazetteer
Merrifield R, 1983, London City of the Romans, 75-77
Price, J E, 1870, A Description of the Roman Tessellated Pavement Found in Bucklersbury, London
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, 1928, Vol 3, Roman London
Stow, Survey of London 1 (Kingsford edition, 221)
Wren, Parentalia, 265ff"
The 16th century antiquarian John Stow wrote about the "very tall" stone (before it got smashed up that is):
"A great stone called London Stone, fixed in the ground very deep, fastened with bars of iron, and otherwise so stronglie set that if carts do runne against it through negligence the wheeles be broken, and the stone itself unshaken"
(quoted in J&C Bord's 'Mysterious Britain')
John Stow also found the earliest written record of the stone in 'a fair Gospel book' once belonging to Ethelstone, an early 10th century king of the West Saxons. It described how certain lands and rents were "described to lie near unto London Stone."
Slightly later in the late 12th century the first mayor of London was known as Henry Fitz-Ailwin de Londonestone. The stone already symbolised the power and authority of the city.
A short excerpt from William Blake's Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion.
"They groan'd aloud on London Stone
They groan'd aloud on Tyburn's Brook
Albion gave his deadly groan,
And all the Atlantic mountains shook."
The accompanying notes say the following;
"The ancient stone in the east central part of London and the site of public execution in the western part form a London Stonehenge, a place of druidical sacrifice where Albion is tortured."
It is believed that the stone used to be used to make proclamations from. Also in 1450 when Jack Cade, leader of a rebellion against Henry VI entered the city he reputedly struck it with his sword and said, “Now is Mortimer [the name Cade had assumed] Lord of this City”.
I would like to add that though the "tea-cosy" shaped fragment of the London Stone sits imprisoned in the walls of the Overseas Chinese Bank of Singapore, there is every reason to believe that this is not the end of the story. This fragment was hacked off the stone as part of a road-widening scheme of the 18th century. This being so, there is every reason to believe that the remainder of the stone — by all accounts a large menhir — is still buried under Canon Street.
Now wouldn't it be a great project for Londoners to see about retrieving "our" stone and bringing it up to the light of day? Never mind Time-Team digging uselessly for treasure in open fields, I would like to see Cannon closed for at least a weekend while the main body of the stone is lifted. A suitable new home might be in St Paul's Churchyard. Now whilst this would mean it was no longer in situ, (under the road) at least we could look at it and admire the omphalos of London. A dig could confirm that the stone is older than Roman London and, who knows, it might even carry a pre-Roman inscription. Now wouldn't that be fun?
The London Stone is the Omphalos of London and the Navel of Albion. The sacred centre of the capital city. Its origins are shrouded in mystery, one legend tells us that it was set there by Brutus to magically protect the city, another legend claims it was the Ancient Stone from which King Arthur pulled Excalibur.
The Stone was originally a tall monolith that lay at the centre of the city. Some authorities claim it pre-dates the Roman conquest, whilst others claim it was a Roman Milestone used for measuring the distances of journeys. But most sources agree that for centuries The London Stone was the site where proclamations would be made, laws would be passed and lords would be inaugurated.
And where does this mythical stone reside today? Its remaining fragment can be found unobtrusively tucked into a glass case, behind a metal grill, and set in the wall of the Overseas Chinese Banking Company opposite Cannon Street tube station. Forgotten and neglected by the millions who hurriedly pass it everyday without ever even noticing it's there.
E. Cobham Brewer 1810Ð1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
The central milliarium (milestone) of Roman London, similar to that in the Forum of Rome. The British high roads radiated from this stone, and it was from this point they were measured. Near London Stone lived Fitz Alwyne, who was the first mayor of London.
London Stone was removed for security into the wall of St. SwithinÕs church, facing Cannon Street station, and secured from damage by an iron railing.
There are two inscriptions, one in Latin and one in English. The latter runs thus:Ñ
ÒLondon stone. Commonly belleved to be a Roman work, long placed about xxxv feet hence towards the south-west, and afterwards built into the wall of this church, was, for more careful protection and transmission to future ages, better secured by the churchwardens in the year of OVR LORD MDCCCLXIX.Ó