‘Standing Stone’ (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – TQ 282 804
Also Known as:
- Oswald’s Stone
- Ossul Stone
Archaeology & History
Described as far back as 1086 in Domesday — as Osulvestane — this old stone was mentioned in numerous old documents, but its ancestral importance had long since been disregarded by modern Londoners. Probably heathen in nature, the stone was referenced in various texts as Osulfestan (1167 and 1168), Osolvestone (1274), Oselstone (1290), Ossulstone (1610) and variants thereof all the way through literary accounts until the emergence of the self-righteous judaeo-christian Industrialists in the 19th century, bringing about its destruction. (they’ve never really stopped to be honest) The grand place-name masters Gover, Mawer & Stenton (1942) told us a bit about the old stone, saying:
“This was probably a stone marking the meeting-place of the Hundred. It has been surmised that its site was near the present Marble Arch, but in 1484…there is mention of Westmynster lane leading between Tyburn and les Osilston Pyttes. Westmynster lane is the later Park Lane…and in a Grosvenor Estate map of 1614… Osolstone is marked as a field-name about halfway down Park Lane on the east side just beyond the present South” Street.
According to the Victoria County History of London (volume 1), the stone was actually in position up to 1822, “but was then earthed over.” However, it was resurrected during the construction of the modern Marble Arch in 1851 and stood up against the monument for several years until its eventual demise around 1869.
One intriguing commentator on Oswulf’s Stone suggested a more recent Roman origin, due to him finding that the monolith played an important part in a precise isosceles triangle. In a talk given to a meeting of the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society on 10 January, 1870, William Black (1871) reminded his audience that he had,
“already shown that the sculptured and inscribed marble sarcophagus or sepulchral monument…at Clapton had served as a geometric point from which numerous measures extended to boundary points of Hackney and its neighbouring townships.”
And when he explored this potential at Oswulf’s Stone he found even more geometry. Alexander Thom and Alfred Watkins would have been proud of him! His research led him to compare two relative antiquities, both of which he deemed to be Roman:
“Of these two monuments the first is Ossulstone, from which the great Hundred…derives its name. Its position and identity I had discovered some years ago by reversing my method of determining the uses of geometric stones: that is, by finding, from the proper boundary points, a centre where lines of proper quantities unite, so as to make them serve as radii from such centre to the said boundary points…
“Ossulstone is figured in Sir John Roque’s great map of 1741-1761, sheet XI, in the very spot to which my process on other maps had led me; and it is there called the ‘Stone where soldiers are shot,’ situate near the northeast angle of Hyde Park. It was afterwards covered with an accumulation of soil, and is now dug up and lies against the Marble Arch, as stated in my petition, presented last session to the House of Commons, for the protection of ancient uninscribed stones, mounds and other landmarks…
“The second line leads to the well-known sculptured stone, undoubtedly of Roman work, formerly uninscribed, but now bearing an English inscription below the sculpture dated ‘1685’, which (now) forms part of the front wall of a house on the eastern side of Payner Alley… I had already found…that this stone had geometric uses… Now I find that this stone is equally distant from the newly-discovered Sepulchre as that is from Ossulstone.”
But the position of William Black’s stone and that mentioned in the early records described by Gover, Mawer & Stenton, are two different sites—albeit by only 700m—meaning that Black’s triangle never initially existed even if it was a Roman milestone. The likelihood is that the stone was moved about as London slowly grew on top of the once fair Earth. (the OS grid-reference given for the site is an approximation based on the 1614 Grosvenor map) Does anyone know owt more about the place, have any old drawings, or have copies of the old maps showing where the stone once stood?
- Black, William Henry, “Observations on the Recently Discovered Roman Sepulchre at Westminster Abbey,” in Transactions of the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society, 4:1, 1871.
- Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, Allen & Stenton, F.M., The Place-Names of Middlesex, Cambridge University Press 1942.
- Sharpe, Montague, Middlesex in British, Roman and Saxon Times, G. Bell: London 1919.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian