by Albert Resonox, Heritage Action

In Cannon St. London, set in a small alcove in a wall behind a piece of iron railing sits a block of white stone going largely unnoticed by the daily troupe of workers who pass it everyday.

The London Stone behind its Victorian grill
Image credit AlanS>

Sometimes tourists will stop to photograph it, whether or not they are aware of the many legends behind this unremarkable piece of stone, is neither here nor there, for they sense it has some significance to London’s history and indeed it has, for many years it was a symbol of London itself… originally being set into the wall of St. Swithins church it remained unscathed after said church was bombed in WWII before being moved to its present site.

This stone has many names, the most popular being The London Stone and its purpose has, over many centuries, been subject to much speculation and each different theory has only served to create an aura of mystique which has hidden the truth from us for all of these centuries.

Some legends call it The Brutus Stone, after Brutus an exiled son of Troy who left his adoptive home in Italy after being told in a vision to sail to a land ruled by giants, where he must set up a colony called New Troy. His travels took him to Albion where he defeated the ruling giants, and had the country renamed Britain in his honour and the first stone he set foot upon was revered and cut out to be the altar piece of a temple dedicated to Diana in what is now London. There is a stone marked in Totnes, Devon which commemorates this landing. However it is more probable that Brutus actually alighted in what is now Cornwall, as there were frequent visitors there being a centre for the tin and copper trade. The young Jesus was also said to be a frequent visitor to Cornwall; no doubt there are claims and counter-claims of the authenticity of these tales, depending on who you ask, but without any actual proof… we will never know for sure!

The Brutus Stone
Wikimedia Commons

Some say that the locals sacked the temple and razed it to the ground but this sacred stone was carried to safety by Brutus’ loyal supporters and the hiding place was uncovered during building work but the workmen being of a superstitious nature were afraid to move this stone and it remains in situ to this very day.

Another legend naming it as The Druid Stone claims that this stone was the grave marker on the mound/tumulus over which the White Tower (Tower Of London) was built, this was said to be the grave of a mighty and revered Druid warrior or perhaps even Brutus. This mound was known as Bryn Gwn, possibly meaning White Mound and was said to stand long before Romans invaded, let alone Normans. Oddly enough Romans and Saxons had never built over this land, preferring to build around it, why the stone was moved in the construction of The White Tower has never been explained as it would have been a handy ready-made building block, perhaps it was re-sited to appease the populace who surely would have objected strongly to their holy of holies being built over.

The stone has also been called The Roman Stone and the theory being that it was a marker to indicate the exact centre of Roman London, personally I have never heard of the Romans doing this in any other city but perhaps it was indeed a widespread practice or as some claim merely a central point to measure the distance to all other cities.

With echoes of the Brutus legend, it has also been claimed that this stone was the one on which a young Jesus first placed “those feet in ancient times” on these isles on what is said to be the first of his many visits here as a boy and the stone was taken and used as the altarpiece of an early Christian church… no doubt after Jesus’ posthumous fame had become a phenomena. As with the Brutus tales it is often claimed that this alighting also took place in Cornwall.

One post Roman legend claims that the area around Bryn Gwn was used as a site where young warriors would be sent to test their mettle in combat and try to pull a sword from this stone. This mighty sword had been placed there by magic only to be removed by the true ruler of these isles. A young serf managed to perform this task and thus became Arthur (The Once And Future King) yet examination of the stone shows no signs of having been the sheath for a mystical sword but I suppose it wouldn’t if it was placed there by arcane arts. A strange tradition was once that every new king had to strike the stone with his sword as a symbol of his sovereignty, a residue of Arturian legend perhaps?

Yet another name was The Helios Stone and it was said to have originally stood on the peak of what is now known as Primrose Hill where it was worshipped on sacred days in the druidical calendar. Oddly enough the Heel Stones in Stonehenge are so called because of their association with the sun (Helios) and not podiatry.

There was said to have been a druid temple dedicated to sun worship in what is now the graveyard of St. Pancras Church, that land itself was said to have been granted to nuns after they were told (in July) that they could have any land on which snow fell overnight; long story shortened… the weather obliged and the church was built… so obviously it has always been deemed a place of mystery, nice to visit if ever you are passing and a haven from the bustle of Marylebone. The centre piece of the altar has a stone inset which is claimed to be the symbol of Pancras, brought here by his mother and is said to radiate warmth, though I didn’t experience any stone heat numerous others claim to have.