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All Saints Kingston

The Kingston Coronation Stone by Marion Blockley, May 2010 History and context- The ‘Rolling Stone’ Local legend has it that seven Saxon Kings were crowned on the ‘Coronation Stone’, a hard sandstone (or Sarcen stone) boulder, which is currently sited on a concrete raft over the Hogsmill, sandwiched between the Guild Hall and the police station. The stone was retrieved from the rubble of St Mary’s chapel, when Esther (or Hesther) Hammerton, miraculously survived the collapse of the chapel . However whether it was originally sited in the chapel as a ‘Coronation Stone’ is highly debatable. John Leland in the 16th century noted ...that wher their toun chirche is now was sumytime an abbay’. This may well be a folk memory of the Saxon Minster Church, perhaps built of timber with an adjacent chapel. He makes no reference to any traditions regarding the Coronation Stone. The antiquary John Aubrey on his visit to Kingston in 1673 makes no mention of the Coronation Stone, although he describes the portraits of the Saxon Kings in St Mary’s chapel in some detail. It would appear that the stone was not in the chapel or anywhere else of prominence at this time. The first record of the stone is from the Court of Assembly (equivalent to Royal Borough of Kingston Council) minute book for 1703, which stated that ‘the smooth square stone in Court Hall be delivered to Mr Bayliffe Reeves to make an inscription there on for ye Free Grammar School’ the forerunner of the Kingston Grammar School. The Court Hall was the forerunner of the Town Hall and was at this time sited in the Market Place. Over time the stone became an encumbrance and they asked that it be removed. In 1724 the Court of Assembly ordered the Chamberlain to ‘forthwith remove the Pebble Stone that now lyes near Doctor Cranmer’s doores’ and to put it back under the Court Hall there to remain till further orders’. At some point it was dumped in St Mary’s chapel, which although a late Saxon/Norman building, was by the 18th century relegated to use as a store house for the timber from the church spire which had recently been taken down, as well as the large pebble stone itself. The chapel collapsed in dramatic fashion in 1730, when graves were being dug inside it, killing the Sexton, although his daughter Hesther miraculously survived and took over his role.The stone was recovered from this disaster, along with Hesther, and may perhaps have lain unnoticed in the churchyard for a while. In 1825 it was placed outside the town’s Elizabethan Guildhall in the Market Place, and used as a public mounting block. When the Guildhall was rebuilt in 1838 (the current Market House) the stone was dumped in a yard behind the Assize Courts, and used as a mounting block by the county magistrates. Eventually a visitor to Kingston took an interest in this large pebble stone. The Times reported in June 1850: www.marionblockley.co.uk


All Saints Kingston Mr Young of Leamington, a gentleman fond of antiquarian pursuits happening to pass a few weeks last year in the town, was surprised and concerned at observing the apparent disregard shown to so interesting a relic, and after speaking privately on the subject to several gentlemen of the town, endeavoured to excite the members of the town council to agree with him on the propriety of placing it in a more conspicuous position.’ They appointed a committee to consider it, and eventually selected a ‘suitable and beautiful plan for its preservation’, designed by Mr. C.E. Davis of Bath, and also made a grant of money towards the cost with the remainder provide by private contribution. The Times described the setting designed by Mr Davis: ‘the Coronation Stone will be placed on a septagonal block of stone six feet by six feet in diameter, and 15 inches thick, standing in the centre of seven stone pillars, connected together by an iron railing moulded in the correct character of the period. These pillars and the septagonal form of the monument, are in allusion to the seven kings crowned in the town and, thanks to the Bank of England, and of Mr W.Hawkins, a penny of each monarch will be placed under their respective names....The shafts of the pillar are of blue Purbeck stone, polished and the capitals are of Caen stone carved with Saxon devices’ This is no longer the case as the blue Purbeck columns appear to be have been replaced by rather cheaper concrete columns . The coins if they were indeed original Saxon Sceattas are very badly worn and impossible to read. The report added that the location chosen for the monument was: ‘most appropriate because tradition has always fixed it was the site of the palace of Saxon monarchs...it is in the open space near Clattern Bridge, in front of the Assize courts, at the entrance to the Market Place.’ There is no evidence to suggest a ‘palace’ in this location, and in fact a strong candidate for the Saxon royal estate centre of Cynges Tun is actually the large oval enclosure, which originally extended beneath what is now John Lewis and which survives, in a reduced form as the All Saints churchyard. The Stone was formally ‘inaugurated’ on September 19, 1850, when a public holiday was declared in the town. Thousands of visitors flocked in from all over the UK, and the Times was on hand to report the event. It began with the Mayor, Corporation and the Freemasons of Surrey making a stately procession round the town. Then the Freemason’s Provincial Grand Master unveiled the stone and anointed it with oil and wine. There followed ‘a public dejeuner for ladies and gentlemen’ tickets were 7s.6d. (75p) and included wine and a commemorative medal held in the grounds of Kingston Hall, a Georgian mansion demolished to make way for St James’ road.

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All Saints Kingston The Times reporter noted that later ‘the children belonging to the schools assembled at the monument to sign the National Anthem with a very pleasing effect, after which they were presented with books and medals struck by Mr. Taylor to commemorate the event. A series of aquatic sports at Town’s End followed, and the festivities concluded with a grand display of fireworks’ In 1933 Clattern House and the Assizes Court were demolished to make way for the current Guildhall, which opened in 1935. The Coronation Stone had to be moved and was placed temporarily in the Memorial Gardens before being erected alongside the new building. If it wasn’t the Coronation Stone what else might it have been? The stone boulder is a lump of hard sandstone, often known as Sarcen Stone. As it is so hard it is not really suitable to be worked as building stone. Sarcen stone boulders are perhaps most well known for their use in prehistoric monuments such as Stonehenge, or as boundary markers throughout history. An alternative thought is that it might even have formed the plinth for a tall Saxon Cross in the Market Place. The fragment of decorated stonework in the church is only part of the shaft of a much taller late Saxon cross (see photos and reconstruction drawing). The Coronation Stone is slightly tapered, and perhaps if inverted, might actually form an ideal plinth for a tall Saxon Cross. If it were dismantled it would be interesting to see if there was a socket in its base, suitable for receiving a cross shaft. There is considerable precedent for objects, buildings and places perceived to be pagan, being later adopted for Christian symbolism (Canterbury Cathedral is sited on the site of a Roman temple). St Mary’s Chapel As stated previously, St Mary’s chapel collapsed in dramatic fashion in 1730, killing the Sexton, although his daughter Hesther survived. The building stone from the collapsed chapel was salvaged and sold for use in other buildings around Kingston. Excavations by Finney in 1926 uncovered the foundations of the chapel , heavily damaged by grave digging. They also uncovered traces of a Tudor porch and decorative floor tiles. The excavators marked the extent of the chapel with commemorative metal plaques set into the graveyard and perimeter walls of the path. Looking at the 18th century Manning and Bray illustration of St Mary’s chapel prior to its destruction, the doors and windows suggest that it was actually Norman in date rather than late Saxon. However it could have replaced an earlier timber church. The Norman date for St Mary’s chapel would mean that it could not have been the site of the coronation of the Saxon Kings, unless there was an earlier late Saxon church on the same site, or elsewhere within the graveyard. We just don’t know, and the Victorians made such a good job of destroying the Norman All Hallows and any trace of potential late Saxon fabric, that we probably never will know the answer. The portraits of the Saxon Kings in St Mary’s Chapel The Antiquarian John Aubrey made notes on St Mary’s Chapel during visits in 1673 and 1692. These notes were also published in an amended form by Cox in his history of Surrey, published in 1730, but written before the dramatic collapse of the chapel in that year. www.marionblockley.co.uk


All Saints Kingston Aubrey describes 6 portraits of Saxon Kings crowned ‘here’, the inscription beneath the portrait if Athelstan states ‘crowned in the market place in this town’ That beneath the portraits of Edward the Martyr, ‘Ethelred, rather Eldred’, and Ethelred 978 states ‘crowned in this chapel of St Mary the Virgin’ Aubrey describes these portraits as ‘recent’ and it would appear that they were painted in ovals, which he has sketched in his notes. They may have been a present to the town from royalist sympathisers or even the King himself during the restoration after the upheaval of the civil war. Alternatively they may have been Tudor in date and belong to the phase of the addition of the Tudor porch. Sadly the churchwarden’s accounts for period leading up to and after the collapse of the chapel have not survived, and they are not mentioned in the Court of Assembly minutes, so we cannot say what happened to the portraits. There are some wonderful early Tudor portraits of Saxon Kings in the Library of the Society of Antiquaries of London, which came from a house in Kent. Several authorities have in the past suggested that these might be the portraits from Kingston, but sadly for reasons too complicated to go into here, it seems unlikely. Aubrey makes no mention of the Coronation Stone. In the 18th century a local man who published Woodward’s Miscellany, or the Kingston Atlantis wrote: Kingston the fair, the celebrated Town I sing, which six great Saxon Kings did crown In days of Yore: their Pictures still are seen, In that large Church, just at the Entrance in; The Church full thirteen hundred Years has stood, The Walls tho’ old are tolerably good This was published around 1727-8 before St Mary’s chapel collapsed in 1730. The interesting thing to note is that he describes ‘that large church’, might this suggest that they were at that time in All Saints rather than in St Mary’s chapel, or is this just a mistake?

The Stone of Scone in Westminster Abbey The fact that (at least three and possibly as many as seven) Saxon Kings were crowned at Kingston makes a genuine and fascinating connection with the World Heritage Site of Westminster Abbey, which, like the royal estate centre at Kingston, was sited on an island (Thorney Island) next to the Thames.

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All Saints Kingston The Stone of Scone was a much smaller flat rectangular stone, sacred to the Scots, on which all Scottish Kings were crowned. Edward I seized it and placed in the base of the wooden coronation throne, in order to subjugate the Scots. In the 1950s a group of Scots Nationalists retrieved the stone, and at that time a police guard was placed on the Coronation Stone at Kingston too, although it would have been much harder to steal had they been minded to do so. Kingston, King’s Stone or Cyninges Tun As stated before Kingston means ‘royal estate or enclosure’, not ‘King’s Stone’, as the Victorians may have fondly imagined. There are many places with the name Kingston spread across the country, and none of the others were sites of Coronation or of any great significance. Kingston upon Thames was different, and this may have something to do with its location on two islands beside the Thames. The Thames at Kingston formed the border between the kingdoms of Merica on the north bank and Wessex on the south bank. We know that in Saxon times the river was wide and shallow at this point and surrounded by marshland, and this could well have been the first fording point. It is also near the head of the river, the high point at which the incoming tide turns twice a day. The two islands on which the Saxon settlement, that became Kingston, developed, are very similar to Thorney Island, the site of Saxon Westminster Abbey. Interestingly Hampton Wick (Hamtun Wic) on the north side of the river next to the old ford/bridging point may well have been a small trading or specialised industrial settlement established in support of Cyninges Tun. The suffix Wic usually means trading settlement (as in Lundenwic) or a specialised settlement (dairy, industry) supporting a larger more important place. The Cyninges Tun would have been an important place, probably a seat of local administration, a forerunner of the later Hundred Court. In 838 King Egbert of Wessex held a Great Council at ‘that renowned place which is called Cyninges-tun in the region of the Suthridge’ (Surrey), this suggests that it was already well establishes as a Royal Vill and that meetings had already taken place at Kingston by this date. The Council was attended by the King’s noblemen and by the Archbishop of Canterbury and 24 bishops (perhaps they camped on the riverside site directly facing the west entrance to the church which was later used by the bishop of Winchester for his palace?). At this Great Council the secular kingdom and church formally agreed to support each other. Minsters were often established by the bishops and royal families, and staffed by communities of clergy who organised the religious life of a wide surrounding area. They were often associated with royal vills. The large size of Kingston’s medieval parish suggests it was the site of an early minster. The church in which Athelstan was consecrated could well have been made of timber rather than stone. The large oval churchyard is very interesting probably preserves the boundary of the original royal and ecclesiastical enclosure, or Cyninges Tun. Over the years this has been encroached on by houses and shops built around the boundary of the graveyard. In medieval times both the graveyard and the church itself would have also served as a meeting place and market (the old St Pauls cathedral housed a brewery and ladies of ill repute plying their trade!). The temporary market stalls would www.marionblockley.co.uk


All Saints Kingston have been gradually converted into permanent shops around the edge of the graveyard, the plots sold off to raise income for the church. If we look at the historic maps it is clear that the original oval enclosure and cemetery was much larger and extended across what is now Clarence Street and beneath John Lewis. In the lateMedieval period, houses (later known as ‘the Rookery’) were built along the northern edge of the cemetery fronting onto Horsefair facing the lucrative route to the bridge across the Thames. This would have been a very valuable plot and street frontage, the John Lewis and Bentalls of its day! No doubt the church received a substantial sum for handing over this valuable plot of land. Excavations carried out by the Museum of London in the 1980s showed that the pathway known as birdcage walk, and usually shown as the northern boundary of the churchyard, was in fact a later feature cutting across the churchyard. Burials were found extending beneath birdcage walk, to the north beneath Clarence Street. Birdcage walk is probably contemporary with the rat infested alleyway that still exists running behind the shops backing onto the graveyard along Thames Street.

The Coronation Ceremony There is a document in the Louvre, written in Latin, which describes the late Anglo- Saxon Coronation Ceremony, and this makes no reference to the Coronation Stone. It does however describe the king prostrating himself in front of an altar, which suggests that the ceremony may have taken place in a church, ( the Saxon All Hallows, or the earliest phase of St Marys chapel?) although it could equally have taken place in an important open space, with an altar (The great grandstand structure at Yeavering Northumberland comes to mind). After the coronation ceremony the king was raised on high and shown to the people (perhaps in the market place, although this is not mentioned in the Anglo Saxon chronicle). We have aspects of the Coronation Ceremony from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle: Before Athelstan entered the church at Kingston for the religious ceremony he was ritually acclaimed and enthroned by the nobility, probably in the area of today’s market place. Inside the church the service began with the petition of the bishops and the response of the King that he would uphold the privileges of the church and maintain the law and justice. The people acclaimed him; the Te Deum was sung; the benedictions given. Then came the sacred ceremony of the anointing, the king’s acceptance of the ring and sword, followed by the crowning. The King then received the sceptre and rod, followed by further blessings and prayers he was enthroned and stated his commitment to rule according to three precepts. After the church ceremony there would have been a great feast and storytelling in the nearby Royal hall ( perhaps a long timber building sited within the roya villl enclosure/ modern graveyard?). This was a key element of the inauguration process drawing on a long Anglo Saxon tradition going back to Beowulf. The King would offer generous hospitality and generous gift giving, and in so doing secure the loyalty of his lords. www.marionblockley.co.uk


All Saints Kingston Immediately after he was made King, Athelstan , according to tradition,freed a slave called Eadhelm and his heirs. This act was witnessed by Aelfheah The priest and his community, this may be a reference to the staff at the Kingston minster. There is also a reference to Aelfric the Reeve, who may well ahve been the local royal official based at the vill. If we can assume that Florence of Worcester is a reliable source (and I think the story is too good not to use it!) then this same royal residence ( perhaps within the graveyard of all Saints) was the site of a famous quarrel between the young King Edwig and Abbot Dunstan. The day after the consecration, when Edwig was meant to preside over the coronation banquet ‘ the lustful man suddenly jumped up and left the happy banquet and the fitting company of his nobles for the ...caresses of loose women’ These women, a noblewoman and her daughter were trying to entice Edwig into marriage. Dunstan found Edwig ‘repeatedly wallowing between the two of them as if in a vile sty’ the royal crown ‘which was bound with wondrous metal, gold and silver gems, and shone with many-coloured lustre’ ‘was carelessly thrown down on the floor far from his head’. Ethelred The Unready (lacking in ‘rede’ or good counsel) was the last Saxon King crowned at Kingston. He gave the following pledge: ‘in the name of the Holy Trinity, I promise these three things to the Christian people and my subjects: first that God’s church and all Christian people of my dominions observe true peace; the second is that I forbid all robbery and all unrighteous things to all orders; the third, that I praise and enjoin in all dooms justice and mercy..’ He also acknowledged that the duty of a hallowed king was to ‘protect widows, orphans and strangers,...to extirpate witches and enchanters... feed the needy with alms, and have old, wise and sober men for counsellors’. Mind you that didn’t seem to work for him when the Danes came, perhaps he would have been better served by a council of ‘young, wise and drunk women’! The Seven Saxon Kings Crowned at Kingston The main sources for the Coronation of the Saxon Kings at Kingston are the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, which refers to Kingston in early texts dating from around 1000 and 1050. It only refers to Athelstan and Aethelred the Unready being crowned at Kingston. However it only refers to one other Coronation Site at Bath. It may well be that the other coronations took place in Kingston, but they just didn’t bother to mention it! The other good early sources is the chronicle of the monk Florence of Worcester ( died 1118), which seems to refer to another (lost) version of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. Edward the Elder was crowned on Whit Sunday (8 June) 900. The date is recorded in the chronicle of St Ethelweard, but the chronicle does not state where it took place Athelstan was crowned at Kingston on 4 Sept. 925. The consecration is recorded in the Anglo Saxon Chronicles ( C and D) in the annal for 924 which is a year too early. The exact date is known from a record of a grant he made to St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury on the day of his consecration.

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All Saints Kingston Edmund succeeded King Athelstan who died on 27 Oct 939 ( recorded 940 in Anglo Saxon Chronicles since the year was reckoned to begin on 24 September). The coronation of Edmund is not recorded. It is likely to have occurred late in 939 or in 940. Edred in the chronicle of Florence of Worcester, it is recorded that Edred was crowned at Kingston on Sunday 16 August, 946. Edwy succeeded King Edred, who died 23 Nov. 955. According to the chronicle of Florence of Worcester, he was crowned at Kingston in the same year,ie late November or December 955. ( his is an interesting and scandalous story, of cavorting with loose women after his coronation much to the annoyance of the archbishop!) Edgar was crowned on 11 May 973 at Bath ( Anglo- Saxon chronicles). Edward the Martyr was consecrated at some date after King Edgar’s death on 8 July 975. The coronation probably took place later in the year 975, but neither the exact date nor place is known. Ethelred II (the unready) was crowned at Kingston in 979 but the exact date cannot be determined. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle describes the Coronation of Ethelred : A.D.979. In this year was Ethelred consecrated King, on the Sunday fortnight after Easter, at Kingston. And there were at his consecration, two archbishops and ten diocesan bishops’ The chronicles state that the crowning took place very soon after the murder of King Edward. We don’t know whether Edward was murdered on 18 March 978 or 979, so Ethelred’s coronation either took place on 14 April 978, or 4 May 979. Footnote I am most grateful to June Sampson for drawing my attention to the notes of H.Cross the Borough Librarian, who in 1956 noted the references to the Stone in the Court of Assembly minute books, and to Emma Rummins, Jill Lamb and Anne McCormack for tracking down his original notes in the Local History Room; June also discovered the fascinating account in the Times of the initial idea for the presentation of the Coronation Stone.

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Kingston Coronation Stone  

A history of the Saxon coronation stone in Kingston

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