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. 

5 Controversial Facts About Melvil Dewey and the Dewey Decimal System

iStock/TerryJ
iStock/TerryJ

Melvil Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System, was born on December 10, 1851. Among other things, Dewey was a self-proclaimed reformer, so when working for the Amherst College library in the 1870s, he began to reclassify the facility’s books and how they were organized.

Though the system has gone through plenty of changes over the years, it’s still in wide use all over the world today and forever changed how libraries categorize their books. It has also caused a handful of controversies. In honor of Dewey Decimal Day, we dug into the organizational system—and its creator’s—dark side.

1. Melvil Dewey co-founded the American Library Association, but was forced out because of offensive behavior.

Melvil Dewey was an extremely problematic figure, even in his time. Though he co-founded the American Library Association (ALA), his often-offensive behavior—particularly toward women—didn’t make him a lot of friends.

In Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey, author Wayne A. Wiegand described Dewey’s “persistent inability to control himself around women” as his “old nemesis.” In 1905, Dewey and several fellow ALA members took a cruise to Alaska following a successful ALA conference, with the purpose of discussing the organization’s future. Four women who were part of the trip ended up publicly accusing Dewey of sexual harassment—a rarity for the time. Within a year, Dewey was forced to step down from his involvement with the organization he helped to create.

2. Dewey required applicants to his School of Library Economy to submit photos.


A History of the Adirondacks, by Alfred Lee Donaldson (1921) // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1887, Dewey founded the School of Library Economy at Columbia College, where 90 percent of his students were female. It was long rumored that in addition to basic information like name, age, and educational background, Dewey required that prospective female students also submit their bust sizes. While this rumor was eventually proven to be false, Dewey did ask women to submit photos, often noting that “You cannot polish a pumpkin.”

3. A Howard University librarian reorganized Dewey's original system because of its racial bias.

Dewey’s personal biases spilled over into his creation, too, and it has taken sincere effort and work to right those wrongs. In the 1930s, Howard University librarian Dorothy Porter helped create a new system to undo the racist way Dewey’s system treated black writers. As Smithsonian reported:

All of the libraries that Porter consulted for guidance relied on the Dewey Decimal Classification. “Now in [that] system, they had one number—326—that meant slavery, and they had one other number—325, as I recall it—that meant colonization,” she explained in her oral history. In many “white libraries,” she continued, “every book, whether it was a book of poems by James Weldon Johnson, who everyone knew was a black poet, went under 325. And that was stupid to me.”

In addition to charges of racism, the DDS has also been accused of being homophobic. Early editions of the system classified books on or regarding LGBT issues under Abnormal Psychology, Perversion, Derangement, as a Social Problem, or even as Medical Disorders.

4. Its 'religion' section is skewed heavily toward Christianity.

The DDS section on religion starts at 200, and no other religion besides Christianity is covered until 290. Given that there are more than 4000 religions in the world, saving a mere 10 numbers for their classification doesn’t leave a lot of room for thorough coverage or exploration. Though some changes have been made as new editions of the system have been introduced, the process of restructuring the entire 200s is a project that has yet to be undertaken.

5. Critics of the system would prefer libraries take the Barnes & Noble approach.

The Dewey Decimal System is the most used library classification system, with the Chicago Tribune estimating that more than 200,000 libraries in 135 countries use it. But it’s far from a perfect system. As such, many libraries are experimenting with other organizational techniques, and many are dropping the DDS altogether.

The main complaint that public libraries have is that the Dewey Decimal System does not make reading exciting, and that there are other ways of categorizing and organizing books that are more like that of general bookstores. By doing away with the numbers (which are hard to remember for general library patrons), some libraries are classifying books simply by category and organizing by author—a system they've begun referring to as "Dewey-lite."

6 Fast Facts About Nelly Sachs

Central Press/Getty Images
Central Press/Getty Images

Today, on the 127th anniversary of her birth, a Google Doodle has been created in memory of writer Nelly Sachs, who died of colon cancer in 1970 at the age of 78. The German-Swedish poet and playwright wrote movingly about the horrors of the Holocaust, which she narrowly escaped by fleeing her home and starting a new life in a foreign land. Here are six things to know about Sachs.

1. She was born in Germany.

Sachs was born in Berlin on December 10, 1891. As the daughter of a wealthy manufacturer, she grew up in the city's affluent Tiergarten section. She studied dance and literature as a child, and also started writing romantic poems at age 17.

2. She almost ended up in a concentration camp.

Sachs's father died in 1930, but she and her mother Margarete stayed in Berlin. In 1940, the Gestapo interrogated the two women and tore apart their apartment. They were told they had a week to report to a concentration camp, so they decided to flee the country. Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlöf, with whom Nelly had corresponded for years, saved their lives by convincing the Swedish royal family to help the two women escape to Sweden.

3. She worked as a translator.

Once Nelly and her mother reached Stockholm, Sachs began learning Swedish and ultimately took up work as a translator. She translated poetry from Swedish to German and vice versa.

4. She was nearly 60 when she published her first book of poetry.

Sachs’s first volume of poetry, In den Wohnungen des Todes (In the Habitations of Death), was published in 1947. In this anthology as well as later poems, she used religious imagery to evoke the suffering of her time and the Jewish people.

5. She won the German Book Trade's Peace Prize.

In 1965, Sachs won the Peace Prize from the German Book Trade. She shared a message of forgiveness when she accepted the award from her compatriots. “In spite of all the horrors of the past, I believe in you,” she said.

6. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature on her 75th birthday.

Sachs and Israeli writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966. According to The Nobel Prize’s website, Sachs was recognized "for her outstanding lyrical and dramatic writing, which interprets Israel's destiny with touching strength.”

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