6 Myths of the London Stone

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Visit London

No one would blame the tourists who walk right past the London Stone. Measuring less than two feet on its longest side and encased behind a white iron grate on Cannon Street, it's one of the most unassuming attractions in London. However, this rock is much more than a rock.

The piece of oolitic limestone, which was once much larger, is thought to be as old as the city itself. It's included on a list of property belonging to the Canterbury Cathedral from the early 1100s, and the first mayor of London, Henry Fitz Ailwin, was referred to as the son of Ailwin of “London Stone,” a reference to the neighborhood in which he lived.

The stone has withstood two World Wars, the Great Fire of London, and countless changings of the guard. Developers who tried to move London Stone from its location at 111 Cannon Street in 2012 found themselves between a rock and a hard place, so to speak, and the stone stayed put. 

However, no one is 100 percent sure why London Stone is so important. The plaque on the monument itself reads: “its origins and purpose are unknown.” This hasn’t stopped researchers and writers throughout history (including Shakespeare) from offering up their opinions. Below, some of our favorite myths surrounding the stone:

1. IT’S THE PLACE THAT ALL ROADS LEAD FROM.

William Camden's 1586 Britannia, a key text on the archeology and topography of Britain, references the stone as the “milliarium” of London. Camden believed the stone was the marker from which all the distances in Britain were measured, like a similar monument in Rome. There's no real evidence that supports this conclusion, but Camden’s reputation has kept this theory around for centuries. 

2. IT HAS THE POWER TO NAME THE LORD OF THE CITY.

Henry VI was not a popular king. In early 1450, Jack Cade, armed with a list of grievances against the king’s corrupt administration, started a movement against the government. The uprising began in Kent, then spread to other cities. Upon entering London, Cade is said to have hit London Stone with his sword and declared himself the Lord of the City.

Shakespeare wrote the incident into history in Henry VI, Part 2. In Act IV, Scene VI, Cade strikes a stone with his staff and then sits upon it like a throne while taunting passers-by to dare call him anything but the Lord of the City. However, even London Stone couldn’t protect Jack Cade, in either real or theatrical form; the rebellious leader was captured in the summer of 1450.

3. AND THE POWER TO NAME THE RIGHTFUL KING

One of the newest legends surrounding London Stone involves England’s perhaps most famous and celebrated monarch: King Arthur. The stone is considered by some to be the one from which Arthur pulled the sword in the stone, which identified him as the heir to the throne of England. The story is highly unlikely, especially since the answer to the question of whether King Arthur actually existed is still up for debate.

4. IT WAS WORSHIPED BY THE DRUIDS.

Not only does London Stone receive its own entry in John Stow’s 1598 The Survey of London, one of the first guidebooks to the city, but the monument is used as a marker on the book's maps and its location as a reference point to other areas of London. The idea that the stone was used as part of ancient religious ceremonies was first included in historian John Strype's updated version of Stow’s survey. “Perhaps this Stone may be of greater Antiquity than the Times of the Romans, and was an Object or Monument of Heathen Worship,” Strype wrote. William Blake would later describe the rock as an altar stone for Druidic sacrifices in his works.

5. IT HAS MAGICAL POWERS.

Another one of the modern legends surrounding the stone says that John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I’s adviser on all things occult and astrological, believed the London Stone possessed magical powers. He became obsessed with the rock and supposedly lived close to it for a while. The 1993 novel The House of Doctor Dee by Peter Ackroyd depicts Dee chipping away parts of London Stone for his experiments in alchemy. 

6. IT IS ESSENTIAL TO THE SURVIVAL OF LONDON ITSELF.

Writers at the end of the 1700s proposed the idea that there was a connection between the well-being of the stone and the well-being of the city of London. Thomas Pennant, in his History and Antiquities of London, compares London Stone to the Palladium of Troy, which was a statue of Athena upon which the safety of the city was thought to depend.

The theory became more popular after the discovery of the supposedly historic statement, “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish.” However, the phrase is now thought to be the invention of Richard Williams Morgan, an unorthodox Welsh historian with a firm belief in the also-historically-questionable legend of Brutus, the mythical Trojan founder of London, who supposedly brought the London Stone from the base of the original Trojan Palladium. 

This $49 Video Game Design Course Will Teach You Everything From Coding to Digital Art Skills

EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images
EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images

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10 Secrets of Ice Cream Truck Drivers

asiafoto/iStock via Getty Images Plus
asiafoto/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Ever since Good Humor founder Harry Burt dispatched the first jingling ice cream trucks in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1920, kids and adults alike have had a primal reaction to the sight of a vehicle equipped with a cold, sugary payload. Today, ice cream trucks spend May through October hoping to entice customers into making an impulse beat-the-heat purchase. To get a better idea of what goes into making ice cream a portable business, Mental Floss spoke with several proprietors for their take on everything from ideal weather conditions to police encounters. Here’s the inside scoop.

1. IT CAN GET TOO HOT FOR BUSINESS.

The most common misconception about the ice cream truck business? That soaring temperatures mean soaring profits. According to Jim Malin, owner of Jim’s Ice Cream Truck in Fairfield, Connecticut, record highs can mean decreased profits. “When it’s really hot, like 90 or 100 degrees out, sales go way down,” Malin says. “People aren’t outside. They’re indoors with air conditioning.” And like a lot of trucks, Malin’s isn’t equipped with air conditioning. “I’m suffering and sales are suffering." The ideal temperature? "A 75-degree day is perfect.”

2. THEY DON’T JUST WANDER NEIGHBORHOODS ANYMORE.

An ice cream truck sits parked in a public spot
Chunky Dunks

The days of driving a few miles an hour down a residential street hoping for a hungry clientele have fallen by the wayside. Many vendors, including Malin, make up half or more of their business by arranging for scheduled stops at events like weddings, employee picnics, or school functions. “We do birthday parties, church festivals, sometimes block parties,” he says. Customers can pay in advance, meaning that all guests have to do is order from the menu.

3. SOME OF THEM DRIVE A MINIBUS INSTEAD OF A TRUCK.

For sheer ice cream horsepower, nothing beats a minibus. Laci Byerly, owner of Doodlebop’s Ice Cream Emporium in Jacksonville, Florida, uses an airport-style shuttle for her inventory. “Instead of one or two freezers, we can fit three,” she says. More importantly, the extra space means she doesn’t have to spend the day hunched over. “We can stand straight up.”

4. THEY HAVE A SECRET STASH OF ICE CREAM TO GIVE AWAY TO SPECIAL CUSTOMERS.

A picture of an ice cream truck menu.
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

The goal of any truck is to sell enough ice cream to justify the time and expense of operation, so freebies don’t make much sense—unless the truck happens to have some damaged goods. Malin says that it’s common for some pre-packaged bars to be broken inside wrappers, rendering them unattractive for sale. He sets these bars aside for kids who know the score. “I put them in a little box for kids who come up and ask if I have damaged ice cream,” he says. “Certain kids know I have it, and I’m happy to give it to them.”

5. THEY’RE CREATING CUSTOM ICE CREAM MENUS.

An ice cream nacho platter is shown
Chunky Dunks

While pre-packaged Popsicles and ice cream sandwiches remain perennial sellers, a number of trucks are mixing up business by offering one-of-a-kind treats. At the Chunky Dunks truck in Madison, Mississippi, owner Will Lamkin serves up Ice Cream Nachos, a signature dish that outsells anything made by Nestle. “It’s cinnamon sugar chips with your choice of ice cream,” he says. “You get whipped cream, too. And for the ‘cheese,’ it’s a caramel-chocolate sauce.” The nachos work because they’re “streetable,” Lamkin’s label for something people can carry while walking. “The next seven or eight people in line see it, and then everyone’s ordering it.”

6. THEY DON’T ALWAYS PLAY THE ICONIC JINGLE.

Before most people see an ice cream truck, they hear that familiar tinny tune. While some operators still rely on it for its familiarity, Malin and others prefer more modern tracks. “Normally we play ‘80s rock,” he says. “Or whatever we feel like playing that day. We rock it out.”

7. POP CULTURE CHARACTERS ARE SOME OF THEIR BEST SELLERS.

A Captain America ice cream treat
Doodlebop's

While adult customers tend to favor ice cream treats they remember from their youth, kids who don’t really recognize nostalgia tend to like items emblazoned with the likenesses and trademarks of licensed characters currently occupying their TV screens and local theaters. “Characters are the most popular with kids,” Byerly says. “SpongeBob, Minions, and Captain America.”

8. THEY KEEP DOG FOOD HANDY.

At Doodlebop’s, Byerly has a strategy for luring customers with pets: She keeps dog treats on hand. “The dog will sometimes get to us before the owner does,” she says. “If the dog comes up to the truck, he’ll get a Milkbone.” That often leads to a human companion purchasing a treat for themselves.

9. SOMETIMES RIVALS WILL CALL THE COPS.

Though there have been stories of rogue ice cream vendors aggressively competing for neighborhood space over the years, Malin says that he’s never experienced any kind of out-and-out turf war. Ice cream truck drivers tend to be a little more passive-aggressive than that. “I have a business permit for Fairfield, so that’s typically where I’m driving,” he says. “But sometimes I might go out of town for an event. Once, a driver pulled up to me and asked if I had a permit. I said ‘No, I’m just here for an hour,’ and he said, ‘OK, I’m calling the cops.’ They try and get the police to get you out [of town].” Fortunately, police typically don’t write up drivers for the infraction.

10. SOME LUCKY CUSTOMERS HAVE AN APP FOR HOME DELIVERY.

An ice cream truck driver.
George Rose/Getty Images

Technology has influenced everything, and ice cream trucks are no exception. Malin uses an app that allows customers to request that he make a special delivery. "People can request I pull up right outside their home," he says. If their parents are home, there’s one additional perk: "I accept credit cards."

This article originally ran in 2018.