The audacious raid of Westminster Abbey to bring the Stone of Destiny home

The Stone of Destiny was taken from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1950.The Stone of Destiny was taken from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1950.
The Stone of Destiny was taken from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1950.
Some say it was merely the liberation of Scotland’s ancient property.

This Christmas Day marks the 70th anniversary of the taking of the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey, when four Glasgow University students broke into the royal church in order to bring home the coronation stone of Scotland’s Kings.

It had been taken almost 700 years earlier from Scone by Edward I in his bid to wield total authority over Scotland.

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The four students- Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Alan Stuart and Kay Matheson, all members of the Scottish Covenant Association which campaigned for a devolved Scottish assembly, planned to get it back.

They drove to London in two Ford Anglias a few days before Christmas to map out their plan with Mr Hamilton then hiding in the abbey on the 23rd. He had tools hidden in his pockets to unscrew the locks on one of the doors and let the rest of the group in.

But after being spotted by a nightwatchman, he had to talk his way out of the church and then returned two days later with his accomplices to crow bar open a side door.

In a 2019 interview with the BBC World Service, Mr Hamilton, now 95, said: “We knew where the Stone was, it was kept under a coronation chair, a chair that had been made especially for it.

“There was a hollow ledge underneath that we had to prise the stone out from.”

However, while moving the stone the group dropped it, cracking it in two with a piece falling on Ms Matheson’s foot and breaking one of her toes.

After the stone was discovered missing, a nationwide manhunt was launched with the Border closed for the first time in 400 years.

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The group went separate ways after leaving the abbey, with Mr Hamilton and Mr Stuart dumping their piece of stone in a Kent field before returning to Scotland.

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Ms Matheson left her car, containing the smaller piece, at a friend’s place in the Midlands and made her way home to Scotland by train with Mr Vernon also returning by rail.

The students later returned south and drove the two pieces up to Scotland, sneaking them through Border road blocks.

What happened next has slipped into urban legend, with it claimed the four returned to Glasgow and celebrated their acquisition at the Arlington Bar in Glasgow, where the stone was hoisted upon the bar.

The repaired Stone of Destiny was found in Arbroath Abbey in 1951, draped in a saltire, and then returned to Westminster for the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953. It remained there until 1996, when it was returned to Scotland to go on display at Edinburgh Castle

No one was ever charged in connection with the break in at Westminster Abbey.

Mr Hamilton, who described the theft as a “liberation”, told The Courier last year: “Everyone believed (what we did) was impossible, and once the impossible had been done, they were looking for a very remarkable man.

“But I’m just an ordinary person who wanted to do something for my country.”

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