The local legend goes that 7 Saxon Kings were crowned in Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey, and all sat upon The Coronation Stone, currently standing outside Kingston’s Guildhall, during the ceremony. A multi-storey car park and spur road have been named on this basis – it must be true. However, a trip to the local history rooms revealed a very different story. Much of what follows is thanks to the work of Shaan Butters, local historian and author of ‘That famous place – A history of Kingston Upon Thames’(Ref 1). If you love Kingston and want to know a little more of it’s history then put that book on your Xmas list!
Fig 1: Beautiful carving of the 7 Kings stuck out of the way on the back of BHS. The kings in order are Edward the Elder (900AD), Athelstan (925AD), Edmund (940AD), Edred (946), Edwyn (959), Edward the Martyr (975AD) & Aethelred the unready (979)
two or three kings?
In the 16th century there was a tradition amongst the townsfolk that 2 or 3 Kings were crowned here in Kingston. These were first documented in a travel guide as Athelstan, Eadwig and Aethelred. Yep, a travel guide. Some dude came to Kingston in 1545, possibly by mule, and asked the locals if anything amazing had ever happened and they said “Oooo yeah, there were some Kings crowned here, maybe 2 or 3. We think they might be buried in the church yard (now All Saints Churchyard – the big church opposite John Lewis). Now are you going to buy that turnip or not?” (Ref 2)
In the 17th century John Aubrey records in his travel guide that there were drawings of 5 Saxon Kings crowned in Kingston’s St Mary’s chapel which at that time stood in the churchyard of All Saints church (Ref 3). Edwin and Edward the Martyr are added to the list of Athelstan, Eadwig and Aethelred. There was also a painting of King John who gave the town it’s royal charter.
There is no mention of a coronation stone.
Fast forward to the Victorians and the story really takes off. The antiquarians of the time loved a bit of history and as Queen Victoria was such a popular ruler any kind of royal connection was an extra special treat. A new source was discovered – the medieval Chronicle of Ralph de Diceto , which stated that 7 Kings were crowned in Kingston, naming Edmund and Edward the Elder in addition to Athelstan, Eadwig, Aethelred, Edwin and Edward the Matyr (Ref 4). My god they were excited. They kept looking for more sources.
In the book “The History and Antiquities of the Ancient and Royal Town of Kingston Upon Thames compiled from the most authentic documents by WD Biden” we are told, in terms that make clear if we question it we will be put to death, that 9 kings were crowned in Kingston! (Ref 5) WD Bidden names the nine kings as
Edward the Elder – Athelstan – Edmund – Eadred – Edwyn – Edgar – Edward the Martyr – Ethelread – Edmund Ironside (Yes, Perry Mason was a Saxon).
It’s an extraordinary book which really encapsulates the Victorians approach to history – keen as mustard but not too worried about how accurate the sources are! I can’t recommend reading it highly enough.
so how many kings then?
Only Athelstan and Aethelred are properly chronicled as being crowned in Kingston, in this case in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle (Ref 6). The Anglo Saxon Chronicle is not a travel guide, is a much easier read than you’d think and is available online! Eadred is recorded as being crowned in Kingston in a 946AD Latin charter (Ref 7) but only a copy survives today. These charters were drawn up when land was transferred from one person to another. When they were copied occasionally a couple of extra bits were added in so the person getting the land got an extra bit of hedgerow (or occasionally an entire field if he had something on the scribe!). For that reason a copy can’t be relied upon to be completely accurate.
The other sources are unfortunately not reliable so it cannot be conclusively stated that the other four Kings were crowned here in Kingston. For a source to be reliable it really needs to be chronicled at the time it was happening, or at least the person writing it should have been alive when it happened. Travel guides just don’t cut it.
However there is no evidence that states that these Kings were crowned somewhere else. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle doesn’t say where they were crowned which tends to imply that they were probably crowned somewhere else and they chronicled Kingston because it was different to the norm. It could have been Kingston. It more likely was Winchester, capital of Wessex. We will never know (until time travel is more widely available). Until there is conclusive evidence that the Kings were definitely not crowned in Kingston the car-park keeps it’s name.
The Coronation Stone
If this is indeed a stone of national importance why is is out in the rain? How come we don’t have to pay to look at it? I guess at least it’s proximity to the police station might mean something. Is it all that it seems?
Fig 2: The Coronation Stone in it’s Victorian enclosure outside Kingston’s Guildhall
The first mention of a coronation stone is in a tour guide published in 1793 (Ref 8); it refers to both the stone and the pictures in St Mary’s chapel. However the chapel fell down in 1730! It’s not a good start!
In his memoirs published in the Surrey Comet in 1913 (Ref 9), George William Ayliffe recalled that The Coronation Stone stood by the Old Town Hall in the market place (the Old Town Hall stood on the site of the Market House). The stone was “then used as a mounting-stone for horsemen and by the boys of the town as a play-place”. It was moved to Assize-courts when the Old Town Hall was pulled down where it remained until Alderman Gould and Mr Fenner, local antiquarians, thought it to be The Coronation Stone.
Prior to being used as a mounting block for horsemen the stone was sat on the site of the fallen down St Mary’s chapel. Could this be a clue as to what the stone actually was?!
The men were successful in raising funds to relocate The Coronation Stone to Eden Street at the south end of the market place (just outside Zizzi’s), mount it on a sandstone base and enclose it in railings. The curator of the British Museum gave a coin of each sovereign which was inserted in the face of the pyramid base above each sovereign’s name (the coins are still there!). A grand procession of Freemasons was arranged and in 1850 the whole town came together to celebrate their shared Royal Saxon Heritage. Medals were given to all the children and the City Banners were brought out.
It was relocated to its current position outside the Guildhall when cars were invented and came round that corner a bit too fast!
On the plus side it is the right type of stone to have been used in a ceremonial fashion and would have been quarried outside of the local area.
SO WHO’S BOTTOM PRINT IS ON IT?
Is The Coronation Stone the genuine article? The honest answer is that nobody really knows for sure either way. The lack of documented evidence tends to lead to the conclusion that it may just be a foundation stone from the old St Mary’s chapel.
Athelstan is chronicled as having been crowned on a big wooden platform. No mention of a stone. I would have thought the effort to get the stone onto the platform would have warranted a mention.
It might not be a fundamental piece of England’s history but it’s still a fundamental piece of Kingston’s Heritage because it tells us so much about the Victorians. They truly believed that they’d come across an ancient relic and used it to bring the whole town together to celebrate. The people of Kingston took great pride in their town on the day of the unveiling of the stone which continued for many years. If it can do that then does it matter whether a king sat on it or not?
It’s most likely that 2 or 3 Kings were crowned in Kingston and that the coronation stone was still in the side of a mountain at the time. The Two Kings carpark just doesn’t have the same ring to it though. The Three Kings carpark however…….or is that all a bit nativity?!
The Coronation stone, which is a Grade 1 listed monument, is being relocated to the John Lewis side of the All Saints Church Yard to be part of the Heritage Centre that the church are opening soon.
1. Shaan Butters, ‘That Famous Place’ A History of Kingston Upon Thames, Kingston University Press (2013).
2. John Leland, The Itinerary, ed. L. Toulmin Smith, vol. 4(1964), p. 85.
3. Aubrey, John, ‘A Perambulation of the County of Surrey, July 1673 – September 1674’ , (Bodleian Library, MS Aubrey 4)
4. Ralph de Diceto, Abbreviationes Chronicorum, ed. W. Stubbs (Rolls Series 1876)
5. WD Biden, ‘The History and Antiquities of the Ancient and Royal Town of Kingston Upon Thames’, (Kingston 1852)
6. Anglo Saxon Chronicle, http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/925-41.html
7. W. de G. Birch, ed., Cartularium Saxonicum (3 vols, 1885-93), no. 815: ‘qui denique rex in villa qui dicitur regis, Cynges tun, ubi consecratio peracta est, plura plurimis perenniter condonavit charismata;.
8. Ambulator, p. 153; Universal British Directory, p490.
9. G. W. Ayliffe, Old Kingston (reminiscences published originally in the Surrey Comet, and then in 1914 collected as a separate volume, reprinted 1972), p. 56