6 Myths of the London Stone

Visit London
Visit London

No one would blame the tourists who walk right past the London Stone. Measuring less than two feet on its longest side and encased behind a white iron grate on Cannon Street, it's one of the most unassuming attractions in London. However, this rock is much more than a rock.

The piece of oolitic limestone, which was once much larger, is thought to be as old as the city itself. It's included on a list of property belonging to the Canterbury Cathedral from the early 1100s, and the first mayor of London, Henry Fitz Ailwin, was referred to as the son of Ailwin of “London Stone,” a reference to the neighborhood in which he lived.

The stone has withstood two World Wars, the Great Fire of London, and countless changings of the guard. Developers who tried to move London Stone from its location at 111 Cannon Street in 2012 found themselves between a rock and a hard place, so to speak, and the stone stayed put. 

However, no one is 100 percent sure why London Stone is so important. The plaque on the monument itself reads: “its origins and purpose are unknown.” This hasn’t stopped researchers and writers throughout history (including Shakespeare) from offering up their opinions. Below, some of our favorite myths surrounding the stone:

1. IT’S THE PLACE THAT ALL ROADS LEAD FROM.

William Camden's 1586 Britannia, a key text on the archeology and topography of Britain, references the stone as the “milliarium” of London. Camden believed the stone was the marker from which all the distances in Britain were measured, like a similar monument in Rome. There's no real evidence that supports this conclusion, but Camden’s reputation has kept this theory around for centuries. 

2. IT HAS THE POWER TO NAME THE LORD OF THE CITY.

Henry VI was not a popular king. In early 1450, Jack Cade, armed with a list of grievances against the king’s corrupt administration, started a movement against the government. The uprising began in Kent, then spread to other cities. Upon entering London, Cade is said to have hit London Stone with his sword and declared himself the Lord of the City.

Shakespeare wrote the incident into history in Henry VI, Part 2. In Act IV, Scene VI, Cade strikes a stone with his staff and then sits upon it like a throne while taunting passers-by to dare call him anything but the Lord of the City. However, even London Stone couldn’t protect Jack Cade, in either real or theatrical form; the rebellious leader was captured in the summer of 1450.

3. AND THE POWER TO NAME THE RIGHTFUL KING

One of the newest legends surrounding London Stone involves England’s perhaps most famous and celebrated monarch: King Arthur. The stone is considered by some to be the one from which Arthur pulled the sword in the stone, which identified him as the heir to the throne of England. The story is highly unlikely, especially since the answer to the question of whether King Arthur actually existed is still up for debate.

4. IT WAS WORSHIPED BY THE DRUIDS.

Not only does London Stone receive its own entry in John Stow’s 1598 The Survey of London, one of the first guidebooks to the city, but the monument is used as a marker on the book's maps and its location as a reference point to other areas of London. The idea that the stone was used as part of ancient religious ceremonies was first included in historian John Strype's updated version of Stow’s survey. “Perhaps this Stone may be of greater Antiquity than the Times of the Romans, and was an Object or Monument of Heathen Worship,” Strype wrote. William Blake would later describe the rock as an altar stone for Druidic sacrifices in his works.

5. IT HAS MAGICAL POWERS.

Another one of the modern legends surrounding the stone says that John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I’s adviser on all things occult and astrological, believed the London Stone possessed magical powers. He became obsessed with the rock and supposedly lived close to it for a while. The 1993 novel The House of Doctor Dee by Peter Ackroyd depicts Dee chipping away parts of London Stone for his experiments in alchemy. 

6. IT IS ESSENTIAL TO THE SURVIVAL OF LONDON ITSELF.

Writers at the end of the 1700s proposed the idea that there was a connection between the well-being of the stone and the well-being of the city of London. Thomas Pennant, in his History and Antiquities of London, compares London Stone to the Palladium of Troy, which was a statue of Athena upon which the safety of the city was thought to depend.

The theory became more popular after the discovery of the supposedly historic statement, “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish.” However, the phrase is now thought to be the invention of Richard Williams Morgan, an unorthodox Welsh historian with a firm belief in the also-historically-questionable legend of Brutus, the mythical Trojan founder of London, who supposedly brought the London Stone from the base of the original Trojan Palladium. 

8 Surprising Facts and Misconceptions About Recycling

iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz
iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

If you pat yourself on the back for just remembering to separate the recycling or haul that big blue bin to the curb each week, you're not alone. Despite the strides we appear to be making toward eco-consciousness as a country, we have a long way to go in helping the Earth, as evidenced by our complicated relationship with recycling. These facts about the most prevalent of the three Rs will make you pause the next time you throw anything away.

1. The United States's recycling rate is low—really low.

Figures from the Environmental Protection Agency show that America recycles about 34.7 percent of the garbage it produces. (The world's top recyclers—Germany, Austria, Wales, and South Korea—report a rate between 52 and 56 percent.) But Mitch Hedlund, founder and Executive Director of the organization Recycle Across America isn't even sure the recycling rate often quoted is accurate because there is so much junk mixed in with actual recyclables.

Recycle Across America is currently working to encourage the use of standardized labels for recycling bins to eliminate the confusion over what actually belongs in these receptacles. "If the U.S. gets the recycling number up to 75 percent, which we believe is completely possible once the confusion (over what to place in the bins) is removed, it will be the CO2 equivalent of removing 50 million cars from the roads each year in the U.S. and it will create 1.5 million permanent new jobs in the U.S. (net)."

2. Proper recycling can result in monetary savings.

Businessman stepping on green squares with recycling symbols
iStock.com/Rawpixel

While Hedlund admits the idea of providing universal labels clearly stating what should be placed in the bins is a simple one, it's making a serious impact on those who have jumped on the bandwagon. "Many schools are seeing dramatic increases in their recycling levels since using the society-wide standardized labels on their recycling bins," she says. "For instance, in the pilot program at Culver City schools in Los Angeles [County], their recycling levels doubled when they started using the standardized labels and the materials they were collecting in their recycling bins were so much less contaminated with garbage." Another story, she says, is that "as a result of a donation from Kiehls (who makes a donation to Recycle Across America each April in the sum of $50,000), all of the schools in the San Diego Unified School District and San Diego County started using the standardized labels. San Diego Unified School District reduced their landfill hauling fees by about $200,000 (net) in the first year."

3. Recent changes from China have severely impacted the recycling industry.

Until 2018, China took 40 percent of the United States's recycled paper, plastic, and metal. But in January of that year, China imposed strict new rules on the levels of contamination (think food or other garbage mixed in with the recyclables) it's willing to accept—standards American cities are largely unable to meet. Because of that, and a lack of suitable destinations closer to home, many cities have been forced to incinerate or stockpile recyclables until they can find a better solution.

4. Only 9 percent of plastic is recycled in the U.S.

The nation recycles less than 10 percent of its plastic, compared to 67 percent for paper materials, 34 percent for metals, and 26 percent for glass. And China's restrictions have especially affected plastic—while exports of scrap plastic to China were valued at more than $300 million in 2015, they amounted to $7.6 million in the first quarter of 2018, down 90 percent from the year before.

5. Clothing can be recycled, but it rarely is.

Clothing at a garage sale
iStock.com/alexeys

Unfortunately, most curbside haulers don't accept textiles, and America has a serious problem with old clothes ending up in the trash. In 2019, the nation is on track to throw away more than 35 billion pounds of textiles, according to the Council for Textile Recycling—almost double the number from 1999. On the plus side, some cities have set up drop-off points for unwanted clothes, and there are a variety of ways to sell or donate unwanted items. Some brands, including Eileen Fisher and Patagonia, have also introduced buy-back programs for their items.

6. Aluminum is the world's most-recycled packaging product.

Crushed aluminum cans
iStock.com/hroe

Nearly 70 percent of aluminum cans are recycled internationally, according to Novelis, a leader in rolled aluminum products and recycled aluminum. Aluminum is infinitely recyclable without degrading, meaning it can be reused in a way completely different from what it was in its previous life, or recast into its original form. Not only is aluminum the world's most-recycled product, it's also the most profitable and the most energy-efficient. Using recycled aluminum instead of virgin materials saves about 95% of the energy, compared to 60% for paper and 34% for glass [PDF].

7. That soda can you're drinking from could find its way back to you more quickly than you think.

According to Novelis's research, an aluminum can that is recycled can be back on a grocery store shelf within 60 days [PDF]. That's a seriously speedy turnaround.

8. Scrap recycling is big business.

While the words scrap recycling might have you humming the Sanford & Son theme song, it's far from being a junkyard industry. According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), in 2017 U.S. scrap recyclers processed more than 130 million tons of scrap metal, paper, plastic, glass, textiles, and more—material that was sold back to industrial consumers in the U.S. and around the world, generating close to $18 billion in export sales. All told, scrap recycling was a $117 billion industry in 2017 [PDF].

This list first ran in 2015 and was updated by Mental Floss staff in 2019.

From Cocaine to Chloroform: 28 Old-Timey Medical Cures

YouTube
YouTube

Is your asthma acting up? Try eating only boiled carrots for a fortnight. Or smoke a cigarette. Have you got a toothache? Electrotherapy might help (and could also take care of that pesky impotence problem). When it comes to our understanding of medicine and illnesses, we’ve come a long way in the past few centuries. Still, it’s always fascinating to take a look back into the past and remember a time when cocaine was a common way to treat everything from hay fever to hemorrhoids.

In this week's all-new edition of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is highlighting all sorts of bizarre, old-timey medical cures. You can watch the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

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