London Stone restored to visibility

The London Stone, so aptly described by author Iain Sinclair as “an object that everyone agrees is significant, even if no one quite knows why,” finally has the place in the wan London sun it so richly deserves. After a legendary history going back to the founding of the city by Brutus, a grandson of Aeneas of Troy who medieval chroniclers basically invented as the namesake of Britain and its first king, and a documented history going back to the 12th century when it was already a famous city landmark, London Stone suffered from centuries of obscurity. It was struck by swords and hundreds of “badd and deceitful” spectacles, cracked apart by the Great Fire of 1666, moved around the street three times, bombed in the Blitz, and moved again to a dent in the wall of a bank/sporting goods store/book store so obscure you couldn’t even see it walking by. 

London Stone was removed from its sad niche of neglect in May 2016 while a new office building was constructed on the site. For more than two years, the stone took up residence at the Museum of London where it was conserved, studied and displayed. In October of 2018, London Stone returned to 111 Cannon Street, but it was no longer hidden behind a grating that made it basically invisible from the street and a random, shin-level non-entity inside the store. 

To this day, the exact origin of this 53cm-by-43cm-by-30cm piece of rock, known as London Stone, remains a mystery. Studies undertaken in the 1960s revealed it was likely Clipsham limestone, probably extracted from the band of Jurassic-era rock that runs from Dorset in England’s south-west to Lincolnshire in the north-east. In 2016, results from tests conducted by the Museum of London Archaeology suggest London Stone could be from the Cotswolds, 160km west of London.

The new enclosure is very similar in design to the shrine in which it was installed when it was first moved out of the middle of the street to the wall of St. Swithin’s church in 1742. The stone is behind a glass window, not covered up, and even has its name inscribed into the wall above it. It’s still quite dark and could conceivably be ignore by busy passersby, but that’s because the front of it has absorbed centuries of coal smoke, Great Fire soot and assorted city grime.

6 thoughts on “London Stone restored to visibility

  1. The location directly north of the Roman predecessor of London Bridge and its ‘documented history going back to the 12th century’ might suggest a ‘Milarium’ milestone:

    In the Roman Empire, a miliarium (gr.: miliárion; pl.: miliaria) was a distance pillar on a Roman road. Stones of this type had already been around since the 3rd century B.C. They apparently experienced their first peak during the road construction programme of Gaius Sempronius Gracchus. The stone columns, which were as tall as a man and with a diameter of 50 to 60 cm, carried as an essential element information on location and distance. The distance is given in Roman miles (1000 double steps, “milia passuum”, abbr. MP).

    romanmile = 1.48 km
    romanmile = 0.91962936 mile

  2. I’d like to think it was King Lud’s throne.

    But more likely it is perhaps a surviving piece from the London’s Roman Amphitheatre that did not get repurposed as building material after the Romans left. Wasn’t that amphitheatre also built of limestone?

  3. It’s an unremarkable stone. Watching conservators Wearing gloves cleaning it as if was a Faberge Egg is a bit much.

  4. The American philosopher was right. Nelson Goodman in ‘Ways of World-making'(1978) writes, “a stone lying on the driveway is only a piece of a bigger stone and is of no significance. But if that very stone is displayed in a museum, it gains meaning and more meaning, as it extends its stay in that place”.

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