They claimed it had already been cracked when they grabbed it. Whatever the truth, Ian Hamilton lugged the smaller part outside via the door in Poets’ Corner. He had just reached the getaway car when Kay Matheson, the driver, warned him that they had been spotted by a policeman:
‘I got into the car beside her and silently closed the door. I reached forward, and switched on the lights. I fought breath into myself and wiped the dust of the Abbey off my hands onto Kay’s coat. I put one hand over the back of the seat and groped for Alan Stuart’s spare coat. Carefully I draped it over the fragment of the Stone. Then I took her in my arms.’
They were snogging when the policeman arrived. Bored at 5 a.m. on Christmas morning, he lit a cigarette and stood chatting with them while unexplained thumps came from inside Poets’ Corner, where their accomplices were struggling with the other half of a very heavy Stone.
The Scots got away with it in the end. The two halves of the Stone reached Scotland a fortnight later. The repaired stone was returned to Westminster Abbey in time for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, but the whole shabby episode was hardly Scotland’s finest hour.
In April 1597, a Jesuit priest was tortured here after refusing to reveal the whereabouts of other Jesuits, allegedly in the pay of Spain:
‘We went in a sort of solemn procession, the attendants preceding us with lighted candles, because the place was underground and very dark, especially about the entrance. It was a place of immense extent, and in it were ranged divers sorts of racks, and other instruments of torture. Some of these they displayed before me, and told me I should have to taste them every one…
‘Then they led me to a great upright beam or pillar of wood, which was one of the supports of this vast crypt. At the summit of this column were fixed certain iron staples for supporting weights. Here they placed on my wrists gauntlets of iron, and ordered me to mount upon two or three wicker steps. Then, raising my arms, they inserted an iron bar through the rings of the gauntlets, and then through the staples in the pillar, putting a pin through the bar so that it could not slip.’
HISTORIC LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 87. See next post for what happened next. Who was the priest?
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