There are those who say that the city of London was founded on the London Stone, others who say that hundreds of years oaths were sworn on it and deals made. Some even say that it was the stone that king Arthur withdrew his sword from. Certainly it seems that the Romans used it as a central marking point for London, and used it to measure distances from. There is a legend that London’s prosperity depends on the stone remaining safe, which is a shame, as we have not looked after the thing well.
It stood for centuries in Cannon Street and was once much larger, perhaps as tall as 2.5m in height. It was a local landmark, used as a point of reference in the 10th century, with local residents being referred to as being ‘de Londonstane.’ Over the years it has shrunk, perhaps due to being exposed to the wind and rain until the 1960s, being knocked by traffic, tourists nabbing bits on their way past and being bashed repeatedly by the Worshipful Society of Spectacle Makers. When the thing began go get in the way of the traffic, they shifted it from the centre of Cannon Street and used it as part of the structure of St. Swithin’s church. Not that the parish council was that chuffed about that, they tried to get it moved again in 1798. It is doubtless a complete coincidence that St. Swithin’s was bombed in the second world war, with the stone being the main thing to survive.
Head turned by the history of the thing, I resolved to track down said stone. To be honest, unobtrusive is too grand a word for the London Stone. It took a wee bit of googling to realise I’d even seen it, but see it I did. It is tucked into a wall opposite Cannon Street station, and it a fairly large rock, tucked behind a grille. It is entirely uninspiring, and impossible to photograph. My attempts to photograph it did at least encourage a number of other tourists to photograph it too, which I thought was a great game (look, I got four people to take snaps, a record, thus far).
Despite all that though, the stone is worth a quick peek. There is a limit to how exciting a rock can reasonably be expected to be, so it won’t be a life altering experience. But nevertheless, if you are in the City anyway, give it a look. It has been hanging around this ancient site for at least 3000 years, the British Museum and Museum of London are both slightly snooty about it. So, I think it deserves a steady flow of people to come and say hello every once in a while, rather than walk straight past it on the way to somewhere else. Don’t you?
H2g2, downloaded 29 July 2011 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A863309)
Wikipedia, downloaded 30 July 2011 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Stone)
“I never knew that about London”, Christopher Winn, Ebury Press 2007. (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Never-Knew-That-About-London/dp/009191857X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316771796&sr=1-1)
1000 things to do in London, Time Out Guides ltd, Ebury Publishing, 2010. (http://www.amazon.co.uk/1000-things-London-Time-Things/dp/1846701767/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316771834&sr=1-1)