London Stone

Most modern readers of Shakespeare will recognize London Stone as the place where Jack Cade declares himself lord of London and christens himself Lord Mortimer. 4.6 of Henry VI, Part 2 begins at London Stone, where Cade proclaims:
Now is Mortimer1 lord of this city. And here, sitting upon London Stone, I charge and command that, at the city’s cost, the Pissing Conduit run nothing but claret wine this first year of our reign. And now henceforward it shall be treason for any that calls me other than Lord Mortimer. (4.6.1–6)
The 1594 stage direction in the first quarto (Q1) text of The First Part of the Contention Betwixt the Two Famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster reads Enter Iacke Cade and the reſt,and ſtrikes his ſword on London ſtone (Shakespeare sig. G1v). In the 1623 Folio stage direction, Cade ſtrikes his ſtaffe on London ſtone (Shakespeare sig. O1r). The incident is recorded in contemporary chronicles. Fabyan’s Chronicle records that Cade rode thorough dyuers ſtretes of the cytie / and as he came by London ſtone, he ſtrake it with his ſwerde, and ſayd now is Mortymer lorde of this cytie (Fabyan sig. 2I5r). Likewise, Holinshed’s Chronicles record that After that, he [Cade] entred into London, cut the ropes of the draw bridge, & ſtrooke his ſword on London ſtone; ſaieng, Now is Mortimer lord of this citie (Holinshed and Harrison sig. 3O3v). Clearly, London Stone had some cultural significance that made it an appropriate place for a royal challenger to stake his claim. (See also Stow 1:25.)
London Stone was, literally, a stone that stood on the south side of what is now Cannon Street (formerly Candlewick Street). Probably Roman in origin, it is one of London’s oldest relics. On the Agas map, it is visible as a small rectangle between Saint Swithin’s Lane and Walbrook Street, just below the nd consonant cluster in the label Londonſton.
Stow frequently assumes his readers’ familiarity with London Stone. He invokes it as a landmark to orient his readers when describing potentially unfamiliar places. In fact, he mentions it at least five times in A Survey before giving a detailed description of London Stone when he gets to Walbrook Ward, where Candlewick Street marks the boundary between Candlewick Street Ward on the north side of the street and Walbrook Ward on the south:
On the south side of this high streete, neare vnto the channell2 is pitched vpright a great stone called London stone, fixed in the ground verie deepe, fastned with bars of iron, and otherwise so strongly set that if Cartes do runne against it through negligence, the wheeles be broken, and the stone it selfe vnshaken.
The cause why this stone was there set, the time when, or other memorie hereof, is none, but that the same hath long continued there is manifest, namely since (or rather before) the time of the conquest: for in the ende of a faire written Gospell booke giuen to Christes Church in Canterburie, by Ethelstane king of the west Saxons [925–940 A.D.], I find noted of landes or rentes in London belonging to the sayd Church, whereof one parcell is described to lie neare unto London stone. Of later time we read that in the yeare of Christ 1135. the first of king Stephen a fire which began in the house of one Ailward, neare vnto London stone consumed all East to Aldgate, in the which fire the Priorie of the holy Trinitie was burnt, and west to S. Erkenwalds shrine in Paules Church: and these be the eldest notes that I reade therof.
Some haue saide this stone to be set, as a marke in the middle of the Citie within the walles: but in truth it standeth farre nearer vnto the riuer of Thames, then to the wall of the Citie: some others haue saide the same to be set for the tendering and making of payment by debtors to their creditors, at their appoynted dayes, and times, till of later time, payments were more vsually made at the font in Powles Church, and now most commonly at the Royall Exchange: some againe haue imagined the same to bee set vp by one Iohn or Thomas Londonstone dwelling there agaynst, but more likely it is, that such men haue taken name of the stone, rather then the stone of them, as did Iohn at Noke, Thomas at Stile, William at Wall or at Well, &c.
(Stow 1:224–225)
Even in Stow’s day, then, the stone was a bit of a mystery. According to A Survey, early modern Londoners thought it might have been a marker of London’s centre, a place for debt repayment, or a personal memorial erected by a man named Londonstone. Stow discredits the first and third theories on the origins of the stone and reserves judgement on the second theory. He is probably most correct when he asserts that there is no cultural memory of the origins of the ancient stone.
Its original purpose has been the subject of much speculation by archeologists and historians. It may have been a Roman measuring marker. Smith notes that in 1833, during the construction of London Bridge a section of Roman road was discovered that led in the direction of London Stone (33). Theories going back to the historian William Camden (1551–1623) have it that the Romans measured all distances throughout the island from London Stone (Kingsford 2:316; see also Weinreb and Hibbert 477). Camden took London Stone to have beene a Milliary, or Milemarke, ſuch as was in the Mercate [i.e., market] place of Rome: From which was taken the dimenſion of all journies every way, conſidering it is in the very mids of the City, as it lyeth in length (Camden sig. 2M6r). Camden thought the stone predated the wall, thus implicitly addressing Stow’s objection that the stone was not at the midpoint of the city’s north-south axis. Weinreb and Hibbert wondered in 1983 if the stone might be the rounded top of an early wayside Roman funerary monument, whose base may still await discovery on the south side of Cannon Street (Weinreb and Hibbert 478). They describe the stone’s current appearance as weathered Clipsham limestone with no markings except a pair of grooves worn in the top (Weinreb and Hibbert 478). However, archeological evidence from the 1980s seems to confirm Camden’s theory. Shepherd notes that it stood on the line of the central axis of the supposed [governor’s] palace and on the probable site of the principal entrance to it, where may well have stood a monument or milestone from which distances throughout the province were to be measured (29n).
The first mayor of London, Henry Fitz-Alwin, lived at London Stone, and the site of his house has been associated with the temporal governance of the city and the livery until the twentieth century. Kingsford traces the history of the site back to Henry Fitz-Alwin (1189?-1211) (Kingsford 2.315–16; Stow 2:149–152). In the possession of the Prior of Tortington for a time, Fitz-Alwin’s house passed to the Earls of Oxford at the dissolution of the religious houses in the sixteenth century. The fifteenth and sixteenth Earls of Oxford (both named John de Vere) made their London home here. Stow tells us in Of Customs and Orders that the latter rode to this house with a great retinue of 80. Gentlemen in a liuery of Reading Tawny Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents.[…] and 100. tall yeomen in the like liuery (Stow 1:89). The earl’s homecoming must have been quite the spectacle, sure to have made an impact on the denizens of Candlewick Street. Known to Stow’s contemporaries as Oxford House or Oxford place by London Stone (Stow 1:224, marginalia), the house was then home to two other mayors. Stow tells us: In this Oxford place sir Ambrose Nicholas [a Salter] kept his Maioralitie [1576–1576], and since him the said sir Iohn Hart Sheriff in 1579-80, Mayor in 1589–90] (Stow 1:224; see Stow 2:184 for dates of office). Sir John Hart’s daughter married Humphrey Smith, Alderman of Walbrook Ward (Kingsford 2.316), and they continued to live at the London Stone address. The house was purchased by the Salters’ Company in 1641 and became the site of their company hall until 1941 (Kingsford 2.316; see also the Salters’ Company online history of their hall).
London Stone was a convenient shorthand address for nearby shops and houses. Stow reports several times that in 1136 a fire began in the house of one Ailewarde, neare vnto London stone. This fire burned much of London, spreading to Aldgate in the east and to Paul’s Church in the west, and damaging the timber bridge over the Thames (Stow 1:22; see also Stow 1:139 and Stow 1:224–225). At least two seventeenth-century booksellers lived near London Stone, as we can learn from the addresses they included on the title pages of their stock. Phillip Waterhouse had a shop at the signe of St. Pauls Head in Canon Street neare London Stone (Cobbes sig. π1r). The title pages of books dated from 1629 to 1631 indicate the proximity of his shop to London Stone. A slightly later bookseller worked in the vicinity from at least 1643 to 1649. George Lindsey sold books from his shop overagainst [sic] London-stone (Englands deadly disease sig. A1r). Richard West’s Newes from Bartholmew Fayre indicates that there was a tavern named the Bores head, néere London ſtone (West sig. B1r).
London Stone is mentioned throughout the literature of the period. One of the odder texts in the corpus of early modern London literature is a poem anthropomorphizing London Stone and the Boss at Billingsgate (a water conduit) as a man and woman wishing to marry. London Stone, described as curtes and gente (i.e., courteous and gentle) (Bosse of Byllyngesgate sig. A5v), defends the reputation of the Boss from those who would slander her. Another text tells us that London Stone was known across the country to be one of London’s principal sites. The honeſt Country foole in Samuel Rowlands A straunge ſighted Traueller is taken by his tour guide to the main tourist attractions of London, which included Great tall Pauls Steeple and the royall-Exchange: / The Boſſe at Billings-gate and London ſtone (Rowlands sig. D3r).
Stow’s frequent invocations of the stone indicate its importance as a literal and imaginative landmark for Londoners. Like Jack Cade, the fictional Cavaliero Pasquil in Thomas Nashe’s Marprelate countertracts takes London Stone as the ideal place to launch a challenge. At the end of Pasquils retvrne to England, Pasquil asks his imaginary interlocutor Marforius to post a challenge to Martinists on London Stone: ſet vp this bill at London ſtone. Let it be doone ſollemnly with Drom and Trumpet, and looke you aduance my collours on the top of the ſteeple right ouer againſt it [St. Swithin’s church steeple], that euery one of my Souldiers may keepe his quarter (Nashe sig. D3v). The bill that follows is Pasqvils Protestation Vppon London Stone:
I Caualiero Paſquill, the writer of this ſimple hand, a young man, of the age of ſome few hundred yeeres, lately knighted in Englande, with a beetle and a bucking tub, to beat a little reaſon about Martins head, doe make this my Proteſtation vnto the world, that if any man, woman, or childe, haue any thing to ſay againſt Martin the great, or any of his abettors, of what ſtate or calling ſoeuer they be, noble or ignoble, from the very Court-gates to the Coblers ſtall, if it pleaſe them theſe dark Winter-nights, to ſticke vppe their papers vppon London-ſtone, I will there giue my attendance to receiue them, from the day of the date heereof, to the full terme and reuolution of ſeuen yeeres next enſuing. Dated 20. Octobris. Anno Millimo, Quillimo, Trillimo, Per me venturous Paſquill the Caualiero. (Nashe sig. D3v)
This passage suggests that London Stone might have functioned as a gathering place for popular protest and dissemination of information, even though Pasquil does characterize his act of diſplaying my Banners vpon London-ſtone as an act of Soldateſcha bravur (Nashe sig. D4r; i.e., soldier’s courage or bravura). The Earl of Bulloigne’s sons in Thomas Heywood’s The Four Prentices of London (performed 1594; printed 1615) also represent London Stone as a gathering place, although they imagine it as a military recruiting point. When the four brothers, who have left their city apprenticeships to fight for distinction in the crusades, wish for London reinforcements in the battle to come, they think of Eastcheap, Candlewick Street, and London Stone as places where young men might be found in abundance:
Oh that I had with mee
As many good lads, honeſt Prentiſes,
From Eaſtcheap, Canwicke-ſtreete, and London-ſtone,
To end this battell, as could wiſh themſelues
Vnder my conduct if they knew me heere;
The doubtfull daies ſucceſſe we need not feare.
(Heywood sig. D4v)
In the subsequent city comedies and citizen romances that stage London in topographical particularity, the site is a common point of reference. In William Haughton’s Englishmen for My Money (performed 1598; printed 1616), a play widely taken by modern critics to be the first city comedy, a central development of the plot entails leading the foreign suitors away from the usurer Pisaro’s house. Once the English suitor Heigham has misled the Italian and French suitors to believe they are in Leadenhall Street and Fenchurch Street respectively, Frisco (servant to Pisaro), although outwitted himself, has a bit of fun with the foreign suitors’ lack of local knowledge. Pretending to lead them from Tower Street to Crutched Friars, Frisco can tell them that their route takes them past London Stone (south-west of Pisaro’s house), Ivy Bridge Lane (far west of the city, running south off theStrand en route to Westminster), and Shoreditch (far north of the City, accessed via Bishopsgate Street). In the late evening dark, Frisco finds his way by touch and smell.
I haue the ſcent of London-ſtone as full in my noſe, as Abchurch-lane of mother Walles Paſties: Sirrs feele about, I ſmell London-ſtone. (Haughton sig. G1v)
Frisco is here representing local topographical knowledge as being imbricated in sensory experience that the foreigners do not have.3 In Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday (1599), Firk invokes the ubiquitous knowledge of London Stone. Having been told that his nephew intends to marry the next day, Oatley questions Firk’s knowledge:
But art thou sure of this?
Am I sure that Paul’s Steeple is a handful higher than London Stone?
Firk’s reply contains a truism of London cultural knowledge, that Paul’s Steeple is the highest structure in the City. The second item in his comparison has to be equally well known – and known to be much shorter than Paul’s Steeple – in order for his question to be rhetorical.
Over the centuries, London Stone has been moved several times. Stow’s description suggests that its location in the middle of Candlewick Street was a hindrance to traffic flow, but it remained in place until after the Great Fire, which it survived intact. A 1666 elegy for the burned city, Londinenses Lacrymae, mourns the loss of All things of beauty, ſhatter’d loſt and gone; / Little of London whole but London-ſtone (Crouch sig. A3v). In the post-fire rebuilding, the stone was moved to the north side of Cannon Street, where it was embedded in the wall of St. Swithin’s Church (designed by Sir Christopher Wren). St. Swithin’s was destroyed by bombing in 1941, but London Stone survived (Weinreb and Hibbert 766). (Note that the footnote to the Jack Cade passage in Ronald Knowles’s Arden3 edition of Henry VI, Part 2 erroneously indicates that the stone is still embedded in the wall of the now non-existent St. Swithin’s Church [317 n.0.2].) The Stone was moved to the south side of Cannon Street, where it can be seen today, embedded in a case in the wall of a bank building. Now relegated to a foot-level display case, London Stone has nonetheless played an important part in the cultural imagination of Londoners over many centuries.


  1. I.e., Cade. (JJ)
  2. I.e., the gutter, in the middle of the street in Stow’s day (JJ)
  3. See my analysis of this passage in Jenstad, Using Early Modern Maps. (JJ)


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Jenstad, Janelle. London Stone. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 6.6, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 30 Jun. 2021,

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Jenstad, Janelle. London Stone. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 6.6. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed June 30, 2021.

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Jenstad, J. 2021. London Stone. In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London (Edition 6.6). Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from

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Provider: University of Victoria
Database: The Map of Early Modern London
Content: text/plain; charset="utf-8"

A1  - Jenstad, Janelle
ED  - Jenstad, Janelle
T1  - London Stone
T2  - The Map of Early Modern London
ET  - 6.6
PY  - 2021
DA  - 2021/06/30
CY  - Victoria
PB  - University of Victoria
LA  - English
UR  -
UR  -
ER  - 

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