Removal of the Stone of Scone in 1950
On Christmas Day 1950, four Scottish students from the University of Glasgow (Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Kay Matheson and Alan Stuart) removed the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey in London and took the Stone back to Scotland. The students were members of the Scottish Covenant Association, a group that supported home rule for Scotland. In 2008 the incident was made into a film called Stone of Destiny.
The Stone of Scone, the ancient Stone upon which Scottish monarchs had been crowned, was taken from Scone near Perth, Scotland by King Edward I of England (Longshanks) in 1296 during the Scottish Wars of Independence as a spoil of war, kept in Westminster Abbey in London and fitted into King Edward's Chair. Subsequent English and then British monarchs were crowned sitting upon the chair and Stone. At the time, the Stone was viewed as a symbol of Scottish nationhood, by removing the Stone to London, Edward I, was declaring himself, 'King of the Scots'.
In 1950, Ian Hamilton, a student at the University of Glasgow, approached Gavin Vernon with a plan to remove the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey in London and return it to Scotland. The plan was funded by a Glasgow businessman, Robert Gray, who was a councillor on the Glasgow Corporation. Vernon agreed to participate in the plan along with Kay Matheson and Alan Stuart who were also students in Glasgow. By removing the Stone the group hoped to promote their cause for Scottish devolution and to reawaken a sense of national identity amongst the Scottish people.
Removal of the Stone of Scone
In December 1950, a few days before Christmas, the four students from Glasgow drove to London in two Ford Anglias, a journey which took them eighteen hours. On arrival in London they had a brief meeting at Lyons Corner House and decided to make an immediate attempt at removing the Stone from the Abbey. Later that day Ian Hamilton hid under a trolley in the Abbey, but was caught by a nightwatchman after the Abbey doors had been closed, briefly questioned, and then let go.
The following day Vernon and Stuart returned to Westminster Abbey and learned some information on the watchmen's shifts. In the middle of that night, the three men entered a works yard and gained entrance into Poet's Corner. Reaching the Chapel containing the tomb of Edward I and King Edward's Chair, they pulled down the barrier. On removing the Stone from under the Chair, it crashed to the floor and broke into two pieces The three men, using Hamilton's coat, dragged the larger piece down the high altar steps, then Hamilton took the smaller piece to one of the cars waiting outside.
Ian Hamilton placed the small piece of Stone in the boot of the car and got into the passenger seat. As he did this, Kay Matheson noticed a policeman in the gaslight; Hamilton and Matheson immediately fell into a lovers' clinch. The policeman stopped and the three proceeded to have a conversation even though it was 5 A.M. Having shared some jokes and a cigarette Matheson and Hamilton drove off to Victoria, Hamilton getting out on the way to walk back to the Abbey.
The stone was so heavy that the springs on the car were sagging, so Vernon, fearing the alarm had been raised, made his way to Rugby, Warwickshire. Hamilton and Stuart drove to Kent, hid the large piece of stone in a field and made their way back to Scotland. Matheson left her car, containing the small piece of the Stone, with a friend in the Midlands, and like Vernon made her way back to Scotland by train. On discovering that the Stone was missing, the authorities closed the border between Scotland and England for the first time in four hundred years.
A fortnight later Hamilton and some friends – including John Josselyn, whose 21st great grandfather was, ironically, Edward I  – recovered the two pieces of stone and brought them to Glasgow. They hired a stonemason, Baillie Robert Gray, to mend the Stone. Gray placed a brass rod inside the Stone containing a piece of paper. To this day, nobody knows what was written on the piece of paper.
In April 1951 the police received a tip-off and the Stone was found on the site of the High Altar at Arbroath Abbey where in 1320 the assertion of Scottish nationhood was made in the Declaration of Arbroath. The Stone was returned to Westminster Abbey in February 1952.
The police conducted an investigation with specific focus on Scotland. All four of the group were interviewed and all later confessed to their involvement with the exception of Ian Hamilton. The authorities decided not to prosecute as the potential for the event to become politicised was far too great. Sir Hartley Shawcross, addressing Parliament on the matter, said: "The clandestine removal of the Stone from Westminster Abbey, and the manifest disregard for the sanctity of the abbey, were vulgar acts of vandalism which have caused great distress and offence both in England and Scotland. I do not think, however, that the public interest required criminal proceedings to be taken."
To understand the implications of the raid, one must understand the political landscape in the United Kingdom just after the end of the Second World War. The United Kingdom was a unified nation and even in an era of post-war austerity, devolution was not on the political agenda. At the time, the Scottish National Party had 0.7% of the vote, the Labour Party had withdrawn its commitment to devolution, and the Conservative Party was at the high point of its popularity in Scotland. The raid was completely unexpected and gave the cause of Scottish devolution and nationalism a brief sense of prominence in the public conscience throughout the United Kingdom and beyond.
The students became notorious for the daring heist and in Scotland they achieved nigh-on hero status, while in contrast the English were somewhat bewildered. The heist and the students became synonymous with the devolution and nationalist political movements in Scotland from 1950 onwards.
Over time the incident encouraged a belief in change, throwing open to scrutiny the Union, which had existed since 1707. For most Scots the incident was an inspirational event, both at the time and for generations to come. Long before the Stone was officially returned to Scotland in 1996 and the Scottish people voted for devolution in 1997, the removal of the Stone of Scone in 1950 contributed to those events.
- "Gavin Vernon". The Daily Telegraph. 26 March 2004. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
- "Defining our destiny". The Scotsman. 29 March 2004. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
- "Film review: Stone of Destiny". The Scotsman. 3 October 2008. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
- "Stone of Destiny". Historic Scotland. 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
- "Gavin Vernon Engineer who helped return the Stone of Destiny to Scotland". The Herald (Glasgow). 1 April 2004. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
- "First Stone raider meets his final destiny". The Scotsman. 29 March 2004. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
- "Ian Hamilton on Stone of Destiny: I felt I was holding Scotland's soul". Daily Mail. 14 December 2008. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
- "John Rodney Josselyn - Overview - Ancestry.co.uk".
- "Gavin Vernon". The Times. 2 April 2004. Retrieved 4 January 2013.