Cannon Street

Cannon Street, City of London

One of the City’s longest streets and the site of its most symbolically important relic

Looking Down Cannon Street - Garry Knight

Link­ing the Mon­u­ment to St Paul’s Church­yard, Can­non Street traces the route of the ancient river­side track that ran along­side the Thames towards the Strand. It was first record­ed in 1183 as Can­delewrith­stret – the street of the can­dle-wrights. The City ward of Can­dlewick takes its iden­ti­ty from the same root.

Can­non Street used to stretch only as far west as Wal­brook. It took its present form in the mid-1850s, when a path was cleared through a net­work of small lanes south-east of St Paul’s and the whole route was widened.

Can­non Street sta­tion and its accom­pa­ny­ing bridge over the Thames opened in 1866. The sta­tion served as the new ter­mi­nus of the South-East­ern Rail­way, which had orig­i­nal­ly run into Lon­don Bridge. British Rail recon­struct­ed the bridge in 1981 and an office block was built over the sta­tion lat­er in the same decade.

Lon­don Stone is a block of oolitic lime­stone on exter­nal dis­play at 111 Can­non Street. The pho­to below shows the stone in 2003. It is an ancient rel­ic of uncer­tain his­to­ry. The present stone is mere­ly a chunk (per­haps the upper­most part) of the orig­i­nal, which was described as a ‘pil­lar’, set deep into the ground. There is no record of how or when it came to be frag­mented or what hap­pened to the rest of it, but the diminu­tion must have hap­pened many cen­turies ago; a wood­cut of c.1700 shows a stone of the same size as it is today.

Hidden London: London Stone, seen before its removal to the Museum of London

Lon­don Stone has been the sub­ject of var­i­ous leg­ends, includ­ing that Bru­tus brought it here from Troy, that it marked the site of Druidic sac­ri­fices, and that London’s pros­per­i­ty depend­ed on its safe­keeping. The anti­quary William Cam­den thought it to be the point from which the Romans mea­sured dis­tances. Anoth­er the­o­ry is that it was an Anglo-​​Sax­on cere­monial stone or a focus for judi­cial pro­ceed­ings. Edward III made it the axis of the city’s trade in 1328, when he grant­ed Lon­don­ers the right to hold mar­kets with­in a 7-​​mile (11-​​km) radius of Lon­don Stone, as it had by then come to be known.

Accord­ing to Holinshed’s Chron­i­cles (1577), the 15th-cen­tu­ry rebel Jack Cade struck the stone with his sword when pro­claim­ing him­self mas­ter of the city, and the inci­dent is men­tioned in Shakespeare’s Hen­ry VI, Part 2. The vision­ary artist and poet William Blake regard­ed Lon­don Stone as the hid­den cen­tre of Lon­don and of the world, the mod­ern equiv­a­lent of the Ompha­los at Del­phi, and he allud­ed to it repeat­ed­ly in Jerusalem: The Ema­na­tion of the Giant Albion (c.1821). Blake seemed to believe that it should be the foun­da­tion stone upon which a new and divine city must be built.

Lon­don Stone was placed against the wall of St Swithin’s Church in 1798 as a safe­guard against its destruc­tion. When a bomb destroyed the church in 1940 the Cor­po­ra­tion of Lon­don moved the stone to Guild­hall. In 1962 it was relo­cat­ed to the Bank of Chi­na build­ing that belat­ed­ly replaced St Swithin’s.

From ear­ly in the 21st cen­tu­ry the post-war block was repeat­ed­ly the sub­ject of rede­vel­op­ment pro­pos­als, none of which got off the draw­ing board until plan­ning per­mis­sion was final­ly grant­ed in March 2016. The Bank of Chi­na build­ing has since been demol­ished and replaced by an office block com­mis­sioned by Lon­don & Ori­en­tal. Dur­ing the recon­struc­tion process the Muse­um of Lon­don exhib­it­ed the stone. Lon­don Stone was restored to 111 Can­non Street in Octo­ber 2018, housed in a sim­i­lar unit to its St Swith­in’s antecedent.

Postal district: EC4
Station: Circle and District lines and Southeastern and Kent Coast terminus (zone 1)
Website: London Stone
* The picture entitled ‘Looking Down Cannon Street’ at the top of this page – which shows the view down the entire length of the street – is cropped from an original photograph, copyright Garry Knight, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.