Henry's Songbook

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Wee Magic Stane

  • (Trad / Johnny McAvoy)

    The Dean o' Westminster was a powerful man
    He held a' the strings o' the State in his hand
    But wi' a' his great business it flustered him nane
    When some rogues ran away wi' his wee magic stane
    Wi' a too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay

    The Stane had great powers that could dae sic a thing
    That withoot it it seemed we'd be wantin' a king
    So he sent for the polis and made this decree
    Go hunt oot the Stone and return it tae me
    Wi' a too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay

    So the polis went beetlin' away up tae the North
    They hunted the Clyde and they hunted the Forth
    But the wild folk up yonder just kidded them a'
    For they didnae believe it was magic at a'
    Wi' a too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay

    Noo the Provost o' Glesca, Sir Victor by name
    Wis awfy put oot when he heard o' the Stane
    So he offered the statues that stan' in George Square
    That the High Church's masons might mak' a few mair
    Wi' a too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay

    When the Dean o' Westminster wi' this was acquaint
    He sent for Sir Victor and made him a saint
    But it's no good you sending your statues down heah
    Said the Dean, But it gives me a jolly good ideah
    Wi' a too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay

    So they quarried a stane o' the very same stuff
    And they dressed it all up till it looked like enough
    Then he sent for the press and announced that the Stane
    Had been found and returned tae Westminster again
    Wi' a too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay

    But the cream o' the joke still remains tae be telt
    For the bloke that wis turnin' them aff on the belt
    At the peak o' production was so sorely pressed
    That the real yin got bunged in alang wi' the rest
    Wi' a too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay

    So if ever ye cam' on a stane wi' a ring
    Just sit yersel' doon and proclaim yersel' king
    There's nane will be able tae challenge yer claim
    That ye've crooned yersel' King on the Destiny Stane
    Wi' a too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay

    (as sung by Robin Hall & Jimmy Macgregor)

Susannes Folksong-Notizen

  • german [1858:] Dunstaffnage Castle ist noch von größerer Bedeutung. Hier befand sich ursprünglich der schottische Krönungsstein, der später nach Scone und von dort aus, nach der Vereinigung beider Königreiche, nach der Westminsterabtei geschafft wurde. Über den eigentlichen Ursprung dieses Steins existierten und existieren noch allerhand Sagen und Legenden. Jakob (wohlverstanden, keiner der schottischen Könige, sondern der Sohn Isaaks) sollte darauf geschlafen und seinen Traum von der Himmelsleiter gehabt haben. Jetzt weiß man zur Genüge, daß das vorgebliche Kopfkissen des Patriarchen aus demselben Kalkstein besteht, den die nachbarlichen Felsen von Dunstaffnage Castle aufweisen, und daß mithin guter Grund vorliegt, den schottischen Königsstein als echt schottisches Landesprodukt anzusehen. (Fontane, Reise nach Schottland 241)

  • english [1950:] Is nothing sacred to these criminals? (Daily Mail, c. Dec 26)
    The grim humourless English ruling classes cling more and more to its obsolete ceremonies and symbols because they are fearful the whole monstrous system is going to crash about their ears. (Daily Worker, c. Dec 26

    [A] senseless crime, carefully planned and carried out with great cunning. A truly squalid affair! (The Dean of Westminster on BBC Home Service, c. Dec 26)

    Sacrilege at Westminster! A coarse and vulgar crime. (London Times, c. Dec 26)

    There was still no news last night of the whereabouts of the Stone of Destiny removed from under the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey early on Christmas Day. News of the disappearance of the Stone was telephoned to the King on Christmas morning at Sandringham House where he is spending Christmas with other members of the royal family. (The Scotsman, Dec 27)

  • english [1958:] Fact and legend are inextricably mingled in folk-song. It is pretty certain, however, that most of the 'incident' ballads were based on fact. And for the creation of the ballad the incident had to appeal to the imagination of the whole community. [...] There is little doubt that the famous Christmas Day exploit of the removing of the Stone of Destiny had such an appeal. From the Borders to the Pentland Firth a ripple of amused pleasure arose, even among those who felt constrained publicly to deprecate the action. Stories - embryonic folk-tales in another period - were going the rounds within a couple of days, and before long the songs were being produced. [...] The best of them all, I think, and certainly the one most likely to endure was The Wee Magic Stane by a Clydeside singer, Johnny McAvoy. He used for the tune the ever-green Villikins and his Dinah which has served a thousand songs from the Western prairies to the East End of London. (Norman Buchan, Weekly Scotsman, Oct 9)

  • english [1958:] Is the Stone of Destiny that reposes beneath the Coronation Chair at Westminster the real one? Professor W. Douglas Simpson, in his book "Dunstaffnage Castle and the Stone of Destiny" [...] makes out a good case, but one which is not rigid in its interpretation.

    Now, the renowned Scottish novelist, Nigel Tranter, has an intriguing new theory which he exploits (somewhat light-heartedly, I suspect) to the full in his new novel, "The Stone" [...]. The novel is based on the theory that the Coronation Stone so jealously guarded at Westminster is in fact a 700 year old fake and that the real Scottish Stone of Destiny - the Lia Fail in the Gaelic - is still hidden or lost somewhere in Scotland, probably not far from Perth.

    Nigel Tranter has some photographs [...] showing from ancient Scots Royal Seals that the original Stone was of seat height, whilst the Westminster one is only 11 inches high. Original research on this theme was carried out by Dr J. L. Richardson, late Inspector of Royal Monuments.

    The author suggests that the Stone which Edward of England removed from Scone Abbey was not the Stone of Destiny, but just a block of red sandstone dug from a local quarry and left suspiciously at hand for the English invaders. Dr Simpson, the Historical Monuments Commission, and Mr Tranter - to say nothing of fervid believers that the Westminster Stone is a fake - quote early chroniclers saying that the Stone was in the shape of a rounded chair, richly carved and decorative, and possibly of marble or other very hard stone. Constant references are made to the "merbill chìar" in the various chronicles of the time, and Mr Tranter insists that the authorities in London should allow masonry experts to examine the chiselling on their stone. This would establish whether it was done by medieval tools - in which case it will prove the Hammer of the Scots [...] to have been himself chiselled. It would be an excellent idea if a proper and scientific examination of the Stone in Westminster were carried out and a thorough excavation made of Scone Abbey, Scotland's sacred coronation church. (Robert Vacha, Weekly Scotsman, Nov 6)

  • english [1959:] Last week the B.B.C. stated that a song about the Stone of Destiny - "The Wee Magic Stane" - recorded by the Scottish folk-singing group, The Reivers, has been restricted to "suitable programmes." Among the many people angered by the B.B.C.s action is Mr Norman Buchan, manager of the group.

    So the B.B.C. have virtually banned The Reivers' recording of "The Wee Magic Stane." That, I take it, is the real meaning of their official term, "restricted." After all these years, one would have thought that English sensibilities would have calmed sufficiently for them to take it in their stride. I have been asked why The Reivers have objected so strongly to this action when four of the five songs on their disc, "The Work o' The Reivers," have been accepted. That is just the point. It is not to The Reivers that exception has been taken, but to this song - and since the author Johnny McAvoy, is in Canada we felt the onus was on us to protest.

    I would make two points. (1) The song is funny. Please, please, please, can't we sometimes just laugh at our institutions? As Jimmy Logan commented on the restriction - "Somebody has no sense of humour." (2) The action raises one serious point. All censorship is dangerous. When it is in the hands of a monopoly it is doubly dangerous. When a decision is reached on a Scottish product by an English committee it is totally dangerous. We have our own traditions and humour and I think Scotsmen are tough enough to take mild satire in their stride.

    May I humbly suggest to the powers that be that they are in grave danger of making themselves as ridiculous over this "ban" as they did with their exaggerated solemnity over the original incident. I would like to hear a wave of laughter from the Borders to John O'Groats that would sweep this ridiculous restriction aside. Perhaps the best answer would be another song. I would be glad to hear of any written around this incident. (Weekly Scotsman, Sep 10)

  • english [1959:] The B.B.C.s banning of "The Wee Magic Stane" is highly comical and might not sound very important politically - but all these small, silly, unimportant and trivial things add up over the years to the formation of a climate of opinion. It is like the centuries-old whisper campaign about the Celtic Fringe of Britain - the Scots are mean, the Irish mad or fools, and the Welsh thieves - but the Englishman is the pattern of the perfect gentleman [...]. This is all good clean fun and not to be worried about. But try it on the other way, for a change. "The Wee Magic Stane" is all good clean fun too - is it not? Nothing to take seriously there, is there? "Ah well, you know," says the official English British Broadcasting Corporation. "It's not just [sic!] quite suitable for every occasion" - "as a matter of fact, it's not really quite suitable at all for any occasion. We'll just restrict it - not BAN, you understand, just 'restrict' its use on the air."

    A correspondent from Australia tells me that in Australia, Canada, U.S., and other countries, when he objects to the use of "English" for "British" he is declared to be "touchy". The B.B.C. in banning "The Wee Magic Stane" is presumably not being touchy. Think of another word! No prizes.

    The fact of the matter is the song pokes fun at certain respectable members of the community in high places and mocks gently at their pretensions. This is not the thing at all, you know. Be good, do what Auntie tells you and you'll get jam to-morrow. Everything is for the best in this best of all possible Englands - I mean Britains. Brither Scots, bow down, kow tow, bite the earth, eat dust. DROP DEAD! (Sydney Goodsir Smith, Weekly Scotsman, Sep 17)

  • english [1959:] Sir: - The tune of "The Wee Magic Stane" is the tune of "Villikins and His Dinah." It may be traditional, as there is no composer mentioned in the book I have. The lyric is very funny, and as Scone is only two miles from here it is of especial interest. The original Stone is still supposed to be buried on Bonhard Hill, Scone, but while in Toronto I visited "Casa Loma" (a millionaire's home which is now a showplace), and saw there the "original Coronation Chair and Stone of Destiny," complete with carved names of Westminster choirboys of the period. So what are we to believe? (Mrs A. H. Calder, Perth, letter to Weekly Scotsman, Sep 24)

  • english [1965:] This is almost the only song of the many written after the reiving of the Stone of Destiny to gain a secure foothold among songs likely to last. It was first published in the 'National Weekly' on 17 March 1951, and was shortly afterwards included in the Scottish Secretariat anthology 'Sangs o' the Stane'. Printers, in both cases, were the Argyle Street teuchters Calum and Kenny Campbell [...]. As Leslie Shepard has pointed out, commenting on the poster offering £2000 reward for information leading to the identification of Elizabeth I of Scotland DEAD OR ALIVE, this was all in the direct line of descent from an earlier broadside and chapbook tradition. (Henderson, Alias MacAlias 13)

  • english [1972:] In accordance with the custom of his ancestors a King of Scots was not crowned at the beginning of his reign, but 'set upon the stone' which, though it came to be at Scone, was alleged to have accompanied the Scots in all their mythical journeyings. The stone was sometimes called the 'Fatal Stone' or the 'Stone of Destiny'; a prophecy recorded in Latin by the first formal historian of Scotland foretold that 'wherever the stone should rest a King of Scots would reign'. [...] One legend, told by an English chronicler, made it 'Jacob's Pillow', another made it 'Columba's Pillow', but the standard Scots tradition brought it with Gaythelus to Spain and thence to Scotland by way of Ireland. Some accounts gave it homes at Iona, Dunstaffnage and Dunkeld, before it came to Scone, and it may well have come into Pictland after Kenneth MacAlpin mounted the Pictish throne. The old stories generally described it as of marble, and in the shape of a chair, but the stone now in Westminster Abbey is of coarse-grained sandstone fitted at each end with iron staples and rings, arrangements for carrying it, which may have been added by Edward I. From its geological composition it may have come from the neighbourhood of Scone, but this seems to be unlikely. The stone may at first have been a fixture; [...] it stood for permanence - standing or sitting upon it the new ruler formally assumed the power and the obligations of his predecessor. Latterly it was moveable, as appears from the full account of the coronation of young Alexander III in 1249. (Mackie 56f)

  • english [1980:] [The stealing of the Stone of Destiny] brought about a booklet, 'Songs o' the Stane', to which Morris Blythman persuaded a number of leading poets to contribute anonymously [...]. But it was symptomatically a singer (Johnny McEvoy), not a poet, who contributed the most lasting song about the Stone, The Wee Magic Stane, with its fine comic idea about a multitude of stones being turned off on a production line so that, in that confusion, the 'real yin got bunged in alang wi' the rest'.

    This incident captured the imagination - and sense of humour - of Scotland. [...] For example, the story went that one suspect was hauled in for questioning. After hours of fierce examination under a bright light he at last said wearily:

    'All right, all right. Turn that thing off and I'll tell you who stole it.'
    They leaned forward eagerly. 'Right, who stole it?'
    'Edward the First!' he replied.'

    (Norman Buchan in Cowan 174f)

  • english [1984:] The ancient Scottish Coronation Stone was alleged to have been brought from Ireland not later than the ninth century. It found a home in Scone, near Perth, and the central act in the inauguration ceremony was the placing or seating of the new king on the Stone. It had been removed [...] to Westminster in 1296 by Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots. Its cleverly executed "theft" on Christmas Day 1950 and its speedy return to Scottish soil (in the abbey of Arbroath eventually), was regarded by many Scots as the righting of an ancient wrong, as a symbol of their re-emerging national identity. This bold act inspired a spate of poems and songs, most of them written to Scottish tunes; the best known of all became John McEvoy's The Wee Magic Stane, to the tune of The Ould Orange Flute (also known as Villikins and his Dinah). This clever and attractive song is in Scots dialect [...]. Reference is made later in the song to strong rumours that replicas of the Stone of Destiny had been made, and to the morale-raising idea that possibly the wrong stone was returned to Westminster. (Munro, Revival 49f)

  • english [1989:] The Stone of Destiny, that controversial and highly disputed lump of sandstone on which Scotland's kings were crowned at Scone Palace, is coming to Glasgow. Appropriately, it will appear in the city on November 30, St. Andrew's Day. Where it will come from is being kept secret. It will, however, not be coming from Westminster Abbey. That one, the people who have organised this appearance say, is a fake. The constitutional effect of that is interesting - it could mean that the Queen is not the Queen if a fake stone was used at her coronation in 1952 [...].

    The claim that the one shown in Glasgow will be the real stone has unearthed an astonishing story of the aftermath of one of the most famous thefts in British history. [...] The greatest manhunt in British history then ensued. Every police force was involved. One hundred days after the theft, a stone covered in the Saltire was found on the altar of Arbroath Abbey. Police said the Stone of Destiny had been recovered. It was returned to Westminster.

    "That was a fake", said Michael Donnelly, the assistant curator of the People's Palace, today. "The real stone was brought to Glasgow by the students and taken to Bertie Gray, a master stonemason, at his yard at Sauchiehall Street next to what was then the Locarno. Bertie made at least two copies of it. It was a copy which was left at Arbroath Abbey and returned to Westminster."

    Bertie Gray was a bailie in Glasgow and also a member of the Knights Templar, an ancient chivalric order. He died about six years ago. In 1972, it was decided that the Stone should be placed in St. Columba's Church, Dundee. The minister, the Rev. John Mackay Nimmo, is a Knight Templar. [His] wife told me: "There was a service of installation and dedication and I said to Bertie Gray, 'Come on, Bertie, is this the real stone?' He replied, 'Dae ye think I'd say prayers o'er the wrang yin?' Our church was condemned earlier this year because of dry rot and we moved the Stone to a Scottish castle and it's from there that it will go to Glasgow."

    Back at the People's Palace I asked Michael Donnelly if the police were likely to take an interest once the Stone was on display. He said: "They've had 20 years in which to remove it from Dundee. In any case that would be a tacit admission that the one at Westminster is a fake and that the Queen hasn't really been crowned." (Evening Times, ? Nov)

  • english [1990:] Morris Blythman wrote that when on Christmas Night 1950 the Stone was removed from Westminster Abbey and returned to Scotland, 'For the first time in generations Scotland had asserted herself in an active way. This was a departure from the passive whining about what England was doing to us and a real blow for freedom. Within days Scots were writing quite independently at all levels about this great event.' Satirical song was used strongly. [...] When Morris led seven others to Central Station, Glasgow, to welcome with song a new batch of police searchers, the authorities feared a riot and diverted the train.

    This most popular and enduring of the many Stane songs features the then Provost of Glasgow. The mason who made the fake one which was returned to Westminster and still lies beneath the throne was also a Glasgow Councillor - Councillor Bertie Grey. He later presented to a church in Dundee a stone which he stated was the original he had copied. This stone was on show in the People's Palace on Glasgow Green in 1990 as the real and original Palace of Westminster Stane. (It is not of course the Stone of Destiny on which the Kings of Scotland were formerly crowned. That stone was of black basalt, not the sandstone item featured in the song and under the throne in the Abbey. People believe that the original Stone was successfully hidden from the advancing English in 1296. It is still being sought. There's a rumour it is in Saudi Arabia.) (McVicar, One Singer One Song 68)

  • english [1990:] I had in 1949 decided to attempt to remove the Stone of Destiny from Westminster. Do not ask me the motive. Before that event became overlaid with publicity and hype it was a clear thing, yet intensely private. Since then it has become public, and not so clear. I quite simply wanted to make a gesture for my country, like a lover who sends flowers, however hopeless his love. This I now state. Songs and poetry had far more to do with it than reason. Homer is greater than Hercules. Songs and poetry have launched more ships than Helen of Troy. [...]

    To the poet [Christopher Murray Grieve, aka Hugh MacDiarmid ]

    I now took my problem. I had been to Westminster Abbey a month or two before to see if it was possible. It was and I was determined to do it. Decisions taken like this are very lonely ones. I had not told a soul. There was not a soul to tell. Now I went out to Dungavel ostensibly to invite [Grieve] to the [Glasgow University] Union, actually to try to find what to do next. Scotland was as lonely as that in the 1950's. There were very few of us who thought it was worthwhile going on. [...]

    As for the Stone of Destiny, it was not the first time the suggestion had been made to him. Yes, it would be a wonderful thing to do. Yes, it would be an act of great symbolism, an almost poetic gesture. But as to the doing of it he was only mildly encouraging, probably because he felt that it was for a young man to decide to take his own risks. That is the sort of gentleman he was. The thought simmered with me for another year. (Hamilton, A Touch of Treason 37ff)

    How Westminster Abbey first came into my mind is a curious story. Take away a country's history, and the country withers. England is not daft, and every time the English invaded they took whatever historical records they could find. In the 1930's, under pressure from Scottish historians, England returned some of the medieval Exchequer Rolls. [...] When the Exchequer Rolls arrived in Edinburgh, Wendy Wood, God bless her, paraded along the Royal Mile bearing a placard inscribed, 'England disgorges some of the loot, but where is the Stone of Destiny?

    A picture of this was published in 'The Bulletin', and I saw it as a small boy, just newly and proudly able to read. My mother [...] told me how it had been brought to Iona along with the first Scots settlers, long ago, and how ever since it had been the symbol of the Scottish people. [...] All the Scottish kings had been crowned on it. 'And there have been among us one hundred and ten kings and not one foreign-born among them', she said, not knowing that she was quoting directly and accurately from The Declaration of Arbroath. [...]

    In those days Westminster Abbey was a gentlefolk's church, not a Disneyland theme park. I joined the respectful visitors and moved round with them until we came to the Chapel of Edward the Confessor where the coronation chair sits. It is reputed to be the oldest piece of furniture still used for the purpose for which it was made. That purpose was to contain the Stone of Destiny. It is a high-backed chair, made of oak, and underneath the seat is a shelf which contains the Stone. Every English sovereign since 1306 has been crowned on it. It should have been daunting, but it wasn't. It was high adventure. Closer examination showed that there was an oaken cornice round the stone, which would have to be jemmied away, but after that the stone would slip out easily. Well, comparatively easily.

    It was a great rough piece of sandstone, as big as a sack of coal and it weighed more than four hundredweight. The route from the Edward Chapel was a poser. The way in was up a few wooden steps and manhandling such a weight down these steps would be awkward. The other way was through into the nave past the high altar. I did not dare to try the doors to the high altar to see if they were kept locked. This would have drawn attention [...]. All was done with reverent circumspection. Circumspection is all right but I had to take a risk with the door from the outside of the Abbey into Poets' Corner. A good kick and a shove when no one was looking showed that it could be jemmied open from the inside, and outside there was a lane with no apparent barrier to stop a car being backed up to the door. That part seemed simple.

    What was not so simple was recruiting the team. [...] Three seemed the ideal number. The more people who knew, the more chance there would be of someone talking. [...] Kay Mathieson could drive a car, which not many of us could do in those days. [...] Ideally two cars are needed for this sort of enterprise. One to do the job, and one to make off with the loot. [...] One was hired, and the other was provided by Alan Stewart, a fellow student. He volunteered at the last moment to join his friend Gavin Vernon who was our number three. Number four was a supernumerary. He was never a supercargo. Without him we would have failed. Both cars were Ford Anglias of considerable vintage. [...] In these two cars the four of us set off on a bleak December day in 1950, down the black narrow road to London, to hurt no one and nothing except England's vanity, to save no one and nothing except the ruined hopes of our own country.

    It was all as casual as that. We had no money for hotels, and barely enough for food and petrol. Indeed we ran out of our meagre supply of money, and at one point had to phone home and beg for some more. Looking back after 40 years the naivety of it takes my breath away, although the young will not think it is naive. Truly we did not know the size of what we were taking on. None of us thought that it would still be talked of all these years later, and it is still with a sort of astonishment that I realise that it is. [...] Of course we knew that we would go to jail, but that was never discussed. [...] We feared ridicule more than jail, and if we had failed we would have been ridiculed to this day. [...] The public aspect of what we did concerned us very little if at all, and certainly not until much later. For my part at least I had to invent the motive later. [...] We never sang Scots Wha Hae. Flower of Scotland was not written then, and if it had been, I do not think any one of us would have known the words. [...] In later years the temptation to talk of saving the soul of our country, of giving back its identity to our nation, was thrust upon us by others. [...]

    It took us 18 hours to reach London, alight with Christmas decorations. My English friends maintain it was a dirty Scotch trick to come down on them at Christmas, an English festival, but not then a Scots one. [Our] deed needed darkness and the Christmas holiday was the only time we would not be missed from our usual haunts.

    The plan called for darkness not only to conceal our activities outside the Abbey, but to conceal me in a hiding place inside. A jemmy hung from a sling beneath my coat, and various other housebreaking tools were stowed in my pockets. The Poets' Corner door was to be jemmied open from the inside at midnight, and the other three would then enter and help me carry out the enterprise. It did not go like that. Soon the Abbey was deserted and I lay down in a nook behind a statue [...]. My hiding place would have been perfectly safe, but a more remote part where some war damage was being repaired seemed safer. Half an hour passed and I was creeping my way to this sanctuary, my shoes in my hand for the sake of silence, when a torch light came round the corner and the night-watchman confronted me. 'I'm locked in,' I said. A statement of the truth is the most disarming gambit.

    He looked at me for what seemed ages, and I sensed he was as surprised and afraid as I was. [...] This seemed to be the end, a fatal fall right at the start. But he was a kindly man. Seeing he was in no danger he relaxed, and asked me for my name and address. I replied with a false and humble agility. Sensing there was something wrong in my manner he asked if I was homeless, and offered me money before he bade me put my shoes on and turned me out the west door. [...]

    This early setback did nothing to dismay us. [...] If we could not break out from the inside, we would have to break in from the outside. Further reconnaissance was needed. In these days the streets round Westminster were deserted. [...] A lane led up to the door [of Poets' Corner], and between the Abbey and the lane, over against the flying buttresses, a line of builder's scaffolding hid a builder's yard [...]. This yard was not secured, and it offered good cover. If we could force the door to Poets' Corner, we could take the Stone into the yard. A small car backed into the top of the lane would not be conspicuous from the roadway, and the Stone could be loaded from the yard, without too much fuss and danger. [...]

    We waited two days to let things quieten down, and that took us to Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve we parked one of the cars on a bombed site, and backed the other up the lane to the unlocked door of the builder's yard, adjacent to the door of Poets' Corner. We left Kay sitting in it as the driver. [...] Jemmying a door is not as easy as it sounds. [...] The door opened with a great splintering creak, and we were into the Abbey. [...] The barrier before the throne was pulled back in an instant, and I jemmied away the wood holding the Stone in its place. The three of us heaved at the Stone, tugging and pulling, getting in each other's way. It came out with a thump on to the floor, and broke into two pieces, one bit being a quarter of the whole. It was a good thing it broke. As later events were to show, I had to heave the whole stone into the car by myself, and I doubt if I would have managed it in its entirety.

    [...] Having laid our sacrilegious hands on the Coronation Stone, upon which sovereigns are crowned, we broke the thing [...]. We should at least have had the decency to be horrified. [...] We had no such thought. Nor did we think then, although the thought is with me now, that the very moving of the Stone from its ancient seat constituted more than a touch of treason. [...]

    I whipped off my coat and laid it on the chapel floor. We put the larger bit of the Stone on the coat and dragged it through the doors to the area beside the high altar, the doors I had thought might be kept locked. Then we bumped it down the steps to the nave. It was heavy, and the three of us could not have carried it between us. I picked up the broken quarter, which weighed about a hundredweight and ran with it to the car. Kay was there and wordlessly she opened the boot. The boot closed on it, and Kay got into the driving seat. To my surprise she started the engine, and I realised it must be a signal. I glanced up and saw a policeman's helmet glimmering in the wan gaslight that briefly lit the lane. I got into the car and swiftly got into a clinch with Kay. It was our only defence. [...] He asked us what we were doing, and I told him a monstrous lie about being too late to go to a hotel, and we sat and held hands before him. Poor fellow. He offered his cigarettes to us and we smoked with him and chatted. As we chatted I heard a rumble and thump from behind the builder's scaffold. So did he. It was the other two manhandling the large part of the stone down as arranged. The policeman stiffened. I gave a great cough and laugh and the noise stopped. The policeman slowly relaxed, and [...] bade us farewell. We drove off, leaving him standing watching us. [...]

    Kay and I drove God knows where and she set off alone with her part of the Stone. I found my way back to the Abbey and went in again. All was silent and darkness. I had left my torch, I forget where. [...] Then I went into the builder's yard and found the other part of the Stone. But of the other two, not a sign. I broke into a run to where we had left the other car, and careless of discovery ran through the empty streets. The car was there, abandoned. [...] I had not even the keys of the car. I broke into a run back the way I had come. If the car was still there the other two did not have the keys of the car either. They had been in my coat pocket, and if they had not found them, they must have fallen from my pocket as we dragged the Stone along on my coat. I went into the Abbey for the third time that night and began to crawl on my hands and knees all along the way we had come, feeling with my hands before me. Nothing. Then in desperation I struck matches, whose brief light did nothing at all to illuminate the vast darkness. As despair came over me I put my foot on something and went racing back to the car. I had found the keys. I got the car and backed it up the lane again. That was the fourth time that lane had seen me that night. The police seemed to be blinkered, and not one did I see. [...] There was only one thing to be done, and with a great heave and a crunch that brought the old Ford's springs down on to their bearers, the Stone was in the back of the car and I was driving away. I cared not where I went and I sang as I drove. [...] By luck, in a street not far from the Abbey, I came upon [the other two], walking disconsolately away. The car [...] was clearly no vehicle to carry three people as well, so [...] we pooled our money, leaving Gavin to telephone home for his train fare, and Alan and I drove away and left him. [...]

    The first thing was to hide the Stone. This was not easy. [...] Our journeyings took us as far west as Malborough [sic] and as far south as Rochester. First we left the Stone wide open in a field, sure that we would be arrested that morning, and certain that we could pass word to someone else to finish what we had started. Would not the police be stopping every Ford Anglia? Remember, in those days the roads were empty. [...] But as the day went on and no police car stopped us, we [...] returned, retrieved the Stone from its open hiding place and hid it in a wood beside the main road north from Rochester in Kent. It was not until we were well on our way home that we were stopped by a grumpy police patrol [...]. We bluffed our way through.

    Our arrival in Scotland astonished us. [My friend Bill Craig] told us that everyone was talking about it. That we had been on the news. That it was the talk of the town. Nothing prepared us for the sensation when the newspapers came out. In these days Scottish newspapers published on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Since their English colleagues were on holiday there was only Scottish news for them to publish. [...] But when the English newspapers resumed publication everything else, and I mean everything else, was banished from the front pages. Scotland had become news.

    [...] Two weeks later, accompanied by Bill Craig and another friend, Johnny Jocelyn, I again took the road south. [...] If our adventures on Christmas Eve and the early hours of Christmas morning were unusual enough, the finale was plain picturesque. A road ran beside the trees where the Stone was hidden, and between the road and the trees was a grassy balk, about 50ft across. [Some] gypsies were stationed like a guard on the Stone. It was clear they would not move that night, and indeed they might be in semi-permanent encampment. [...] There was no basic assumption that gypsies would be on the side of what Mrs Thatcher loves to call 'Law and Order'. We parked the car 100 yards away and walked down to the fire. An ancient gypsy couple sprawled against the fence, their feet outstretched to the blaze. [...] We sat down beside them in silence. They glanced at us but said nothing. At length one of my two companions, Bill Craig started to speak. He explained that we came from a small northern country many hundreds of miles away, where the gypsies were our own people. He spoke of Johnny Faa and Kirkletham, and of the broken clans, of the MacDonalds and the MacFees and the Townshends, and of the country that had never pestered or persecuted any travelling people, whatever their race. [Sic!]

    [...] 'We need something out of that wood', said Bill. 'It's illegal, but it's not wrong.' [...] 'You can't get it just now', [the male gypsy] said. 'There's a stranger at the next fire.' We sat through a long silence [...]. Then a man rose from a fire some distance away, got on a bicycle, and rode away. 'You can get it now', said the gypsy as though it was the most natural thing in the world. [...]

    We woke Scotland. The newspapers of that period wrote of little else, Scottish and English alike. Rewards were offered by the press and withdrawn when the public refused to buy newspapers which tried to sell themselves by selling us. One policeman summed up the Scottish attitude when he went on record as saying, 'Aye we're looking for them, but no' so damned hard that we'll catch them.' Meantime the Stone lay hidden. [...] What to do with the Stone was the problem. All sorts of negotiations went on. Predictably the Church of Scotland would have nothing to do with it. They had their invitations to the Royal garden party to think of, and the Royals were said to be very vexed. Every Scot wanted it to stay in Scotland. No one in power would stand up and say so. [...]

    After the police questioned us, when all hung fire, it was known who was responsible. The press in this country could not publish for fear of contempt proceedings, should prosecution follow, as was expected. [...] No deals were done. And still the problem persisted. It was growing a bit stale. [...] If the Stone of Destiny was Scotland's great totem, it could not be hidden for ever. It had to be produced. Two things could happen then. It could be whipped south immediately, or England could bend in moderation, and let it stay. False hope. England never bends in moderation, particularly after the lion's tail has been twisted until it comes out by the roots. They were laughed at by the world, and laughter is a more potent weapon than armies. But the problem remained. We solved it in as moderate a way as we had created it, and with an eye to history. [...] On Wednesday, the 11th April 1951 we laid the Stone of Destiny, now repaired and in its entirety, on the ruined high altar of Arbroath Abbey. It was whipped south immediately. No prosecution followed. The people of Scotland judged us and the Home Secretary intimated in the House of Commons that the 'thieves and vulgar vandals' were known, but it would not be in the public interest to prosecute. [...]

    Counterfeit stones have turned up. One is in the People's Palace on Glasgow Green. [...] But is it the real Stone? The Stone we took from Westminster is the one we returned. I give my personal guarantee on that. But was it the real Stone? There is still a mystery that the Stone does not fit the ancient description [...]. There is a lot of red sandstone around Scone from where Edward stole it, and he may have been palmed off with a counterfeit. If so, why was it not produced when Bruce, ever a stickler for tradition, particularly where his Gaelic people were concerned, had secured our country? To that mystery I can give no answers. (Hamilton, A Touch of Treason 49ff)

  • english [1996:] A stone at the centre of Scotland's history is rolling home after 700 years in exile in England. Stolen by the invading Edward I in 1296, the Stone of Destiny has been kept under the Coronation Throne in Westminster Abbey ever since - apart from one Christmas morning in 1950, when it was pinched by Scottish nationalists. Now it's on its way back again - although the announcement to that effect by John Major in the Commons yesterday was not given the serious reception many felt it deserved. Some dismissed the matter as a joke. Scottish Labour backbenchers jeered. Others simply continued the controversy that has surrounded the stone - an ancient symbol of kingship - for centuries. But Labour leader Tony Blair said the return of the stone would be warmly received by people in Scotland. And a stern Mr. Major told him:

    "I'm glad you treated the matter with the seriousness it deserved, and not the levity which so many of your MPs seemed to regard a matter that will be regarded as of very great importance in Scotland." [...]

    Despite claims by nationalists that the stone in the Abbey is in fact a clever fake, and the real stone is hidden in Scotland, Mr. Forsyth said the Government was satisfied with ist authenticity. "Detailed tests of authenticity were done to establish the real stone had been returned," he said. "The files will now be released to stave off arguments. It has long been regarded in Scotland as an important symbol of Scotland's nationhood. It is the property of the Queen and we wanted to return it this week because it is Royal Week in Scotland. But I was appalled at the behaviour of some of the neo-nationalists in the Labour party [...]." The Scottish Secretary [Michael Forsyth] told the Prime Minister that he had always believed the stone should be returned to Scotland. He convinced Mr. Major that it was possible to be a Scottish patriot and still believe in the preservation of the Union.

    Glasgow Cathcart MP John Maxton described the Stone as a "feudal, medieval symbol of tyranny". But SNP president Mrs. Winnie Ewing said: "When the Stone comes home the people of Scotland will be out in force to give it a rousing reception." (Daily Express, 4 July)

    The Stone of Destiny is a block of sandstone and has two iron rings on the top. It is 26in long, 16in wide and 11in high. It weighs 336lbs. Irish kings sat on it during coronations. It groaned aloud if the claimant was of royal race but remained silent if he was a pretender. [...] The Stone is mentioned in Genesis chapter 28, verse 18. [...] For centuries it has been the symbol of Scotland. The Stone of Destiny or the Stone of Scone was the throne on which ancient Scottish kings were crowned. Reputedly dating from biblical times, it arrived in Scotland in the 9th century. A piece of metal was attached to it, inscribed with the words:

    "Where'er this sacred stone is found, the Scottish race shall reign."

    In 1292, John Balliol became the last Scottish king to sit on the stone. Four years later Edward I seized it from Scone after crushing William Wallace's army at the Battle of Falkirk. He took it south to Westminster Abbey where it remained until 1950 when it vanished during a daring Christmas Day raid. [...] But four months later it was found in the ruins of Arbroath Abbey and taken back to Westminster. Since then frequent attempts have been made to right what many Scots consider to be a historical injustice. Earlier this year a consortium of businessmen offered "the people of England" £250,000 to hand it back so they could put it on show in Skye. (Daily Express, 4 July)

  • english [1996:] I have a special interest in the Stone of Destiny. With some other young Glasgow students I risked my liberty in 1950 to bring it back to Scotland. Let me tell you what our motive was and then compare it to Mr Major's. In 1950 anyone who spoke up for Scotland was considered a crank. The only flag to be seen was the Union Jack. It was to demonstrate against this attitude that the four of us went to London [...]. I ask you to remember that we were all very young. At 24 I was far and away the oldest. Young people should have dreams and our dream was to restore the lost soul of our country. We dreamt of a Scotland taking its place as an equal partner in the recently formed United Nations.

    Now look at Mr. Major. He insults our country almost every time he opens his mouth. He denies us the only badge of nationhood worth having, which is the right to run our own affairs. [...] Mr Major's cheap election trick may be shameful but will it work? He must think we Scots are daft.

    I have wept for my country for so long, yet suddenly I have stopped weeping. Things have changed. Everywhere I go I find my views, once thought extreme, are the currency of everyday conversation. One conversation I would like to overhear is the one that went on in the Palace. I am no lover of the House of Windsor. Yet the matter is a royal one. John Major yesterday put the Stone of Destiny into politics. Will he stoop to putting the Queen there too?

    I have had experience of the Stone of Destiny. It works both wonders and tragedies as Mr Major may find out to his cost. Does he know the ancient Gaelic saying about the thing he is tinkering with in the hope of gaining a handful of votes? In translation the saying runs as follows:

       Unless the fates shall faithless prove and prophet's voice be vain
       Where e'er this sacred Stone is found the Scottish race shall reign.
    (Ian Hamilton, Daily Express, 4 July)

  • english [1996:] The Stone of Scone, ancient symbol of Scotland's kings, is to be returned north of the border. John Major pledged last night that the Scots would have it back by the end of the year - seven centuries after Edward I wrested it from them. The sandstone slab, also known as the Stone of Destiny, has lain beneath the Coronation Throne in Westminster Abbey ever since and Scottish nationalists have campaigned incessantly for its return. Tories hailed the surprise announcement as further confirmation of the Government's commitment to the Union and it was widely interpreted as a gesture aimed at upstaging Labour's offer of a home rule referendum. But Scots MPs dismissed it as a naked political act which could add impetus to nationalist feelings. [...] Scottish Nationalist MP Margaret Ewing warned:

    'The people of Scotland will see through this Tory gesture and greet the announcement with a resounding "Thanks for the Stone - but what about our Parliament?" The Stone was first promised to Scotland in the Treaty of Northampton of 1328 - which shows it takes London governments 670 years to honour their promises to Scotland.'
    The Prime Minister [announced] it would be placed in an 'appropriate setting' in Scotland. This is likely to be alongside the historic Scottish regalia in the Crown Room of Edinburgh Castle, or in St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh. The Queen was consulted on the plan and had agreed to its return, although it will be brought back to Westminster Abbey to play its traditional role in future coronations. [...]

    The Stone was stolen by four young nationalists on Christmas Day 1950 and smuggled north. Ports were watched, King George kept informed, and the BBC banned jokes about it. It turned up in April 1951 at Arbroath Abbey and was returned to Westminster. Rumours persisted that the returned stone was a fake with the genuine one concealed in Scotland. But Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth said he would release files demonstrating its authenticity. (Daily Mail, 4 July)

    To be sure, there is a lot to be said for returning the stone to Scotland. Scone, near Perth, was the site of the castle where all the early kings of Scotland were crowned. The local monks claimed the stone was the actual pillow on which the Biblical Jacob rested his head when he had his famous dream [...]. So the Scots believe it had magical, or at any rate sacramental, properties. That is why the English King Edward I, who believed he was the rightful king of Scotland, seized it in 1296 and brought it to the sacral place of the English kings in Westminster Abbey. [...]

    The Scots care about this stone. The English are indifferent. So Major's spontaneous act of restoration suggests there is an election ahead and Scottish seats to be won. But where will such generosity end? [...] Some people believe the Stone of Scone was not originally Scots but Irish, brought to Scotland by a ruffian called Fergus. Its rightful name, they say, is the Tanist Stone, and in an entirely just world it should be returned to Dublin. In short, the moral of the story is: Let sleeping stones lie. Perhaps the time has come to draw a line under all these ancient rights and wrongs and let the great museums of the world keep their plunder in peace. (Paul Johnson, Daily Mail, 4 July)

  • english [1996:] Scotland is to get back its Stone of Destiny, 700 years after the English stole it. The 336lb coronation stone, symbol of Scottish nationhood, will leave Westminster Abbey, probably for Edinburgh Castle. Mr. Major's move yesterday was condemned as a sop to Nationalists. (Daily Mirror, 4 July)

  • english [1996:] On the outside, little had changed. The latest in a long line of reviled English Tory Prime Ministers who travelled to Scotland to bribe the rebellious natives and convince them he was listening, before returning to Middle England and forgetting all about the wretched North. [...] But behind the flag-waving, there is a new political atmosphere in Scotland. [...] Mr Major modestly pointed to himself as proof that the Conservatives had rediscovered their Scottish roots. He had listened to demands for greater autonomy and had given the Scottish Grand Committee the right to question Cabinet Ministers and tackle legislation: 'For the first time in 300 years, a British Prime Minister is coming to Scotland to speak to Scottish MPs and answer questions.' [...] Mr Major and [Scottish Secretary Michael] Forsyth have won unlikely allies. Jim Sillars, the fiery nationalist who won the Glasgow Govan by-election in 1988, praised the Prime Minister. 'He has shown a sensitivity to Scotland which would have been impossible in his predecessor,' he says. 'This will do no harm to the Tories' efforts to correct their anti-Scottish image.' Others are less sure. Ian Hamilton QC, the veteran nationalist who led the conspiracy to steal the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey in 1950, dismisses the Tories' new face as 'cynical political chicanery'. He said: 'Major is trying to save his skin and is so hard up for votes that there is nothing he will not do to win support for his discredited government. If he really cared, he would come out and apologise publicly for past injustices before being deported as an undesirable alien.' (John Arlidge, Observer, 7 July)

  • english [1996:] As the sunlit Saltire flew over Edinburgh Castle, the most powerful totem of Scottish nationhood - a 458 lb lump of reddish sandstone known as the Stone of Destiny - went on show in the Scottish capital. It was a day of pride, patriotism and more than a little politics. The St Andrew's Day costume drama was the biggest state occasion north of the border since the Queen's coronation visit in 1953. [...] There were no tears and little dancing in the streets; this was Edinburgh, after all. But the 10,000-strong crowd that lined the Royal Mile applauded politely. There was even the odd "Braveheart" cry of 'Freedom'.

    In a service at St Giles's Cathedral, the moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Rev John McIndoe, formally welcomed the Stone. [...] As this was Scotland's national day, the auld enemy were not invited - not even John Major, who announced the relic's return in the House of Commons in July. Instead, the Scottish Secretary, Michael Forsyth, accepted the Stone from the Queen's representative, Prince Andrew, and promised to look after it until his family wants it back for a coronation. [...] Observers - including three of the four students who outraged the English establishment by stealing the Stone from Westminster's coronation chair on Christmas Eve 1950 - were raw with pride. [...] Mr Forsyth, a son of Arbroath, where the most important declaration of Scottish sovereignty was made, echoed the popular mood. Fixing the crowds with a proud gaze, the newly-crowned parliamentary Wizard of the North assured them it was an historic day. Right enough, most agreed. But yesterday was not just about making amends for the sins of England's medieval fathers; it had a modern purpose too.

    As many who turned out to watch pointed out, the ceremony was more about politics than history. Just as Edward stole the Stone to subdue rebellious Scots, Mr Forsyth hopes to achieve the same result by returning it. With the number of Tory MPs north of the border set to slip into single figures at the next election, he is determined to rid his party of its damaging English image and buy off Scottish hunger for self-government. His faith in royal magic is touching. 'I, kilted Forsyth of Arbroath', yesterday's spell went, 'am returning our mythic symbol. Now we can celebrate our identity without resorting to troublesome devolution or worse. The Union of Crowns and nations is flourishing. Rejoice!'

    But will his sorcery work? On the streets yesterday, representatives of Scotland's five million new geological stakeholders were not so sure. Most described the return of the Stone as a condescending act of appeasement. [...] Some even suggested the historic sweetener could turn sour. [...] As Mr McIndoe pointed out in his sermon: 'The recovery of the object does not change anything in itself, but it serves to make us think.' Scots are thinking again and Mr Forsyth will find out what they have decided next May when he has his own date with destiny. (John Arlidge, Observer, 1 December)

  • english [1997:] It didn't work. After 1 May there was not a single Tory MP left north (or west) of the border. (Pr. comm., yrs. truly)

  • english [1999:] On St Andrew's Day, 30th November 1996, Scotland's greatest and most historic treasure finally came home. Seven centuries after Edward I took it to Westminster Abbey in London, the Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, or the Coronation Stone, was sited with great ceremony at Edinburgh Castle.

    For many centuries the Stone has been seen as the symbol of Scotland's power, and its most famous talisman, ever since the coronation of MacBeth in the 11th Century, the first of a long line of Scottish monarchs to be crowned while seated on the Stone.

    The history of the Stone has been riddled with adventure, rumour and subterfuge, one of the most famous episodes being its removal from Westminster Abbey on Christmas morning 1950 by a group of Glasgow students. One of those students, Kay Matheson, a trainee teacher, was born in Inverasdale in December 1928 - appropriately, for a committed nationalist, the year the Scottish National Party was formed. Together with Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon and Alan Stuart, she planned to remove the Stone from the Abbey and return it to its rightful home in Scotland - the Scots have never agreed that this was in any sense a case of theft, for how can you steal your own property, that was stolen away from you in the first place?

    The exact events of that Christmas period are obscure, mainly because of the misleading trails deliberately laid by the protagonists. The police were making enquiries in places as diverse as Birmingham, Glasgow, Rochester in Kent and - yes, Inverasdale. They visited her at her parents' home beside Firemore beach and demanded to know where the stone was. Kay, very obligingly, told them it was in the peat bank. In their efforts to unearth the stone, she had all her peats cut for her that year!

    The police also searched industrialist John Rollo's factories in various parts of the Highlands, in particular the tractor factory sited on the Matheson croft at Firemore. Rollo himself admitted having looked after the stone for a time during its disappearance and had indeed mended the Stone at one of his factories, which was broken in two during the process of retrieval from Westminster Abbey. The factory building, although now disused, still stands today.

    Eventually, after many months, the Stone mysteriously 'reappeared' at Arbroath Abbey, abandoned on the High Altar draped in the Scottish flag. It was re-instated in Westminster Abbey in February 1952, shortly after King George VI's funeral. But was it the real Stone of Destiny? It is well documented that during the period while the stone was missing from Westminster Abbey, at least one copy of the Stone was made. Many people assert that the Stone, which was returned to England, was a copy, and that the original is still hidden somewhere in Scotland - maybe even in Inverasdale.

    If any of our readers are visiting Edinburgh, you can see the Stone of Destiny at Edinburgh Castle. Then you can decide for yourself if the one displayed, having been returned from England, is the real stone or if the Scots are far too clever to have handed back our heritage! You decide. (Fraser Eadie, The Edinburgh Newsletter, No. 1, 17 Aug)

  • See also Ian Hamilton, The Taking of the Stone of Destiny; Pat Gerber, The Stone of Destiny

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