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London Stone

Standing Stone / Menhir


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:
0.53m wide
0.42m high
0.305m thick
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"
tuesday Posted by tuesday
23rd February 2006ce

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