Monday, March 19th 2012
There has recently been some discussion of an inscribed stone found near the north door of Westminster Abbey and West door of St Margaret’s (see for example, Peter Berthoud’s excellent blog, Discovering London). Here is a picture of the stone.
Various theories have been put forward as to the stone’s origin and purpose. A popular suggestion is that it is a Roman boundary stone. Is this correct?
Trying to answer the question by means of the usual techniques of searching the Web and looking in any reference books I had to hand, I drew a complete blank. So, what do you do when you fail to achieve your goal by legitimate means? Well, if you are me, you cheat! I asked a friend, Alan Thompson, for help. An archaeologist with many years’ experience of specializing in Roman finds, he seemed to me the obvious person to help me if the stone was indeed Roman.
The first point that Alan made was that if the stone were in any way “important”, it wouldn’t have been left where it currently is. It would have been rescued and preserved. That straightaway suggested that the stone isn’t a leftover from the Roman period. Beyond that, he couldn’t give me an immediate answer from his own extensive knowledge of Roman artifacts in London. We were not going to leave the question there, however, and Alan promised to do further research on the matter.
To cut a long story short, the answer is in and it is definite: the stone is not Roman. Roman stone carvers had a definite “house style” with deeply cut characters that is immediately recognizable to the expert. This inscription does not fit that pattern. The style of the inscription dates it to the 16th or early 17th century. Why the stone was thus inscribed and what the inscription means is not known but its post-Roman and early modern origin is beyond doubt.
1. R.G. Collingwood & R.P.Wright, The Roman Inscriptions of Britain, Vol I, Inscriptions on Stone, Oxford 1965 p. 748, Item 2393.
2. Journal of Roman Studies XII (1922) ‘Roman Britain in 1923’, p.284 no. 107.
3. Roman London RCHM, 1928, p. 177, Item 107.