The London Stone, Staines

It is from the Saxon word stana, or stone, the town of Staines most probably derived its name.

Church Island

Right Bank Island.  The church can be seen in the background of the London Stone print of 1859 below.

The London Stone

Right Bank. [See the Crowstone and the London Stone in the Estuary section, marking the other end of the Port of London’s area.]
1280:  Original inscription -

God preserve the city of London. A.D. 1280

1620:  The stone was moved further into the meadow away from the water
1781:  A new stone provided (according to Cooke in 1811)

1792: Picturesque Views on the Thames, Samuel Ireland -

ON the bank of the river, at Colne ditch, not far from the church of Staines, stands what is called London-Mark-Stone, which is the ancient boundary to the city jurisdiction on the Thames.
ON a moulding round the upper part of the stone (which is much decayed by age) is inscribed, "God preserve the city of London. A.D. 1280."
THIS stone was, during the mayoralty of Sir Watkin Lewes, in 1781, placed on a new pedestal, on which is inscribed, that it was erected exactly over the spot where the old one formerly stood.
From hence the jurisdiction of the city of London extends over the river Thames as low as Yendal, or Yenleet, to the east, including part of the rivers Medway and Lea ; and it is the office of the Lord Mayor's Deputy, the Water Bailiff, to search for, and punish all persons who infringe the laws made for the preservation of the river and its fish.
And in order to maintaintain the rights and privileges of this river, the Lord Mayor holds a Court of Conservancy eight times in the year, in the four counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, and Essex, when a Jury for each is charged on oath to make inquisition after all offences committed on the river, in order to proceed to judgment against those who shall be found guilty.

1802: Report of certain Impediments and Obstructions in the Navigation of the River Thames, William Tatham

THE CITY STONE. This land-mark terminates the jurisdiction of the City of London over the River Navigation, inasmuch as it marks the extent of the First District, as laid out by Act 2 Geo. III. which was afterwards placed under the jurisdiction of the City of London by Act 14 Geo. III.
...[a detailed legal discussion follows] ...
The City Stone, it seems, is placed somewhat in the middle way of a shoal or gull, which Philip Rosewell says, has three feet at low water; and hence arises a doubt whether it shall be repaired at the expence of the First or Second District. This circumstance cannot be otherwise than injurious to the general improvement of the river navigation; for if all the rest was made perfect, both above and below, this would still be a broken link in the chain of commercial communication, and must always have a tendency to-injure the work next below it.
Just below this stone, on the northern bank of the river, there is some little mischief done by a breach, which seems to be of long standing ; and the injury is evidently accumulating. Both Districts ought to join .heartily in this repair, and they should take .into consideration every part .of the subject .matter which may combine to prevent an increase of the breach during high floods, and tend to bring the water to an easier leivel. If the gentlemen of the Upper District should not think proper to lend their aid, or combine to do this at joint expence, I should recommend to the City District to ballast out a sufficiency of the main channel at the foot of the shallow part, near the Stone, to give water to barges till past their boundary ; securing such excavation in the best possible way which so compulsory, a restriction will permit, for their own safety here and below ; and raising the water, by means of one of our proposed side-gates, to be selfacting, placed across the narrow stream which runs round the adjoining ayte on the Middlesex shore; so that the same may be either used as a stop-gate to turn the water into the main channel when such help may be needed, or to act as a gauge gate to relieve the press of the current, whenever the land floods swell too high.

1818: Havell's View of the London Stone -

London Stone Staines 1818
The London Stone, Havell, 1818. Manual dredging.

1821: Arnald’s view of the London Stone –

London Stone Staines 1821
the engraving by W B Cooke
after the painting 'Stone at Staines' by G. Arnald, A.R.A. Novr 1, 1821
[with fourth Staines Bridge in background, see above]

1825:  Repairs to the boundary stone.

The Lord Mayor took a view of the City’s boundary at Staines, when a procession was formed round the same and the usual ceremony of claiming the jurisdiction took place;  and after drinking ‘God preserve the City of London’ and distributing money to the numerous assemblage on the spot his Lordship went on board the shallop and proceeded down the river.

1839:  Trotter’s view of the London Stone.  It may be on the occasion of a Lord Mayor’s visit  –

Staines Bridge 1839 Marshall
Staines Bridge Midddlesex. C. Marshall. J Henshall.
London, Simpkin, Marshall & Co., C. Tilt
and the Proprietors, 1 Cloudesley Terrace, Islington. A Asher, Berlin

1846:  Illustrated London News, 15th August –

The State Barge being moored close to the edge of the meadow a procession of the Watermen, Lord Mayor, the Water Bailiff’s eight watermen in full uniform bringing up the procession.  The ceremony was commenced by walking round the stone.  Alderman Moon then ascended to its summit, and then drank ‘God bless the Queen, and Prosperity to the City of London’.  Three cheers were then given;  the band played ‘God save the Queen’;  cake and wine were distributed among the party, and small coin was thrown among the crowd.
There is an old custom of bumping at the stone the Sheriffs and Aldermen who had not been made ‘Free of the Waters’;  accordingly four watermen seized upon Sheriff Laurie, and while they were bumping the worthy sheriff his colleague Sheriff Chaplin, made his escape, and was followed by the Aldermen, with the exception of Alderman Hughes, who declined to answer to his name when called, and had, indeed, refused to land from the barge.  Upon Alderman Moon descending from the stone, he was instantly bumped.  Those who had been so served then paid certain fees, and were declared Free Watermen of the River Thames.  The Lord Mayor gave the usual direction that his name, as a record of the visit, should be painted on the stone.

1859: The Thames, Mr & Mrs Hall


We are now approaching the ancient town of Staines; — its bridge and its church steeple are in sight; but before we reach them there is an object standing on one of the aits that claims our especial attention. We must step ashore to examine it, for it is the Boundary Stone of the City of London; and here its jurisdiction ends — or did end, we should rather say, for by a recent enactment all its rights and privileges, as regard the river Thames, were transferred to "a Commission".
The conservancy of the river Thames was vested in the Lord Mayor and Corporation of the City of London by long prescription, confirmed by various charters and acts of parliament. Apart from the Courts of Conservancy, which were held by the Lord Mayor in person, attended by the Recorder and other officers, with much state, most of the administrative duties of Conservator of the Thames have long been performed by a committee of the corporation, known as the "Navigation and Port of London Committee", consisting of twelve Aldermen and twenty-nine Common Councilmen. Their jurisdiction extended from Staines, in Middlesex, to Yantlet, in Kent. Their duties were to prevent encroachments on the bed and soil of the river, or anything being done on its banks to impede navigation; to regulate the moorings of vessels in the port, deepen the channel, erect and maintain public stairs, keep in repair the locks, weirs, and towing paths, regulate the fisheries, and seize unlawful nets, &c. In the performance of these duties they were aided by four harbour-masters, an engineer, water-bailiff, and other officials appointed by the corporation.
The revenue arose principally from two sources, viz. the tonnage dues on ships frequenting the port, and the tolls paid by vessels passing through the locks, or using the landing-piers. The corporation also received, not as conservators of the river, but as owners of its bed and soil, rents for wharfs, piers, and landing-places, which they granted licences to erect. The produce of the tonnage dues was about £18,000 per annum — a sum more than sufficient to cover the expenses charged upon them, as the corporation were in possession of a surplus of about £90,000; but as the application of these dues was, by act of parliament, strictly limited to the river below London Bridge, no benefit could be derived from the possession of such surplus to the upper portion of the river, where the amount received from tolls was small, and, in consequence of the great competition of the railways with the carrying trade of the river, had latterly become so much diminished as to fall far short of the annual expense.

Notwithstanding the difficulty in which the corporation were placed, with a surplus below bridge, which they were unable to appropriate, and a deficiency above bridge, which they had no means of making good but by pledging their corporate estates — they have shown no hesitation in the performance of the duty cast upon them. Meanwhile circumstances had arisen to prevent that efficient management of the Thames which it has ever been the constant object of the corporation to secure. A claim was set up by the crown to the bed and soil of the river. The right to the conservancy of the Thames had been contested in the time of Queen Elizabeth, by the then Lord High Admiral, and decided in favour of the city; but the right to the bed and soil of the sea-shore, and of navigable rivers, between high and low-water mark, is comparatively a recent claim on the part of the crown. A bill was filed against the corporation to enforce this claim, and requiring them to show their title; and after protracted proceedings, extending over a period of thirteen years, a compromise was effected. The city, with a view to the interests of the public, consented to acknowdedge the title of the crown to the bed and soil of the river, and the crown consented to grant a title to the corporation, stipulating, at the same time, that a scheme, suggested by Government for the future management of the river, should be adopted and embodied in an act of parliament, which act has recently come into operation.
The Thames Conservancy Act, 1857, placed the authority over the river Thames — within the limits of the ancient jurisdiction of the city — in a board consisting of twelve persons, viz. the Lord Mayor for the time being, two Aldermen, and four Common Councilmen, elected by the Court of Common Council, the Deputy-master of the Trinity House, two persons chosen by the Admiralty, one by the Board of Trade, and one by the Trinity House. The members are severally to remain in office for five years, unless otherwise removed, and are eligible for re-election. The revenue arising from the tonnage dues below bridge, and the tolls and other receipts above bridge, together, form one fund for the management and improvement of the navigation of the river; and of the receipts arising from embankments, or other appropriation of the bed and soil, one-third is paid to the crown, and the remaining two-thirds added to the general fund above mentioned.

Thus was almost regal authority, enjoyed for ages by the citizens of London, and exercised by their chief magistrate and corporation in a spirit of munificent liberality that did honour to their administration, quietly supplanted and absorbed by the greater power of the crown. Our hope is, that public interest may not suffer by the change. Those who have visited the Thames above "the city stone" cannot fail to lament that the whole of the river has not been under their jurisdiction: between Staines and London all matters have been admirably and liberally managed; from Staines upwards they have been shamefully neglected. There are numerous "Boards of Conservancy" from Cricklade downwards, not one of which seems to have the least idea of cleansing the river, repairing its banks, or facilitating its navigation and traffic. If we are to judge of other "reforms" which the corporation of the metropolis is doomed to undergo by this reformation of the conservancy of the Thames, we fear we may not anticipate a change that will be advantageous.
It is to be hoped that the "improving" spirit of the age will not proceed so far as to remove this ancient boundary mark; but that the inscription it still retains — "God preserve the City of London" — will be uttered as a fervent prayer by generations yet to come: for, of a truth, upon the prosperity of the metropolis of England depends the welfare of the kingdom.

1870:  The London Stone, Henry Taunt -

London Stone, Henry Taunt, 1870
London Stone, Henry Taunt, 1870
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; HT01125

1883:  Swan Uppers at the London Stone, Henry Taunt -

Swan Uppers at the London Stone, Henry Taunt,1883
Swan Uppers at the London Stone, Henry Taunt,1883
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; HT03991

The original stone is now held in the Old Town Hall Arts Centre near Staines Bridge. In place of it is a replica.