Coltsfoot & London Stone February 24th

Coltsfoot by Andreas Trepte Wikipedia

Coltsfoot is a daisy-like plant which is flowering about now and Gerard’s Herbal of 1633 suggests that the ‘fumes of the dried leaves taken through a funnel’ is good for those with coughs and shortness of breath. He suggests that it is smoked like tobacco and it ‘mightly prevaileth.’

This idea, Mrs Grieves says in her herbal, is endorsed by ‘Dioscorides, Galen, Pliny and Boyle’. and Coltsfoot is ‘nature’s best herb for the lungs’. (This is historic information re herbs not current medical advice!).

engraving of a man smoking
Lobspruch deß edlen hochberühmten Krauts Petum oder Taback Nuremberg, 1658 New York Public Library Public Domain
Lobspruch deß edlen hochberühmten Krauts Petum oder Taback Nuremberg, 1658 New York Public Library Public Domain

My grandson and parents found a 19th Century pipe bowl by the Thames and, yesterday I had a walk along the River at Rotherhithe including a time on the foreshore where there were many fragments of clay pipe. For more on 17th Century smoking have a look here

Blossom is also coming out in London, a little early. (2022 we had a false spring when Cherry Blossom came out and I think we are now just getting used to it so I don’t think it is being noted so much in 2024). Blackthorn (I think) is coming out in profusion in my local park. Left February 2022, Right Feb 23.

London Stone

On February 18th I wrote about the famous London Stone as one of London’s palladiums i.e. an object that keeps a place safe from invasion. The story I told was about an ‘ancient proverb’ surfacing in 1862.:

“So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish”

But it was attributed to Richard Williams Morgan, and so I followed the prevailing belief that Morgan made it up. Then, through my inbox came a copy of an article from which addresses the issue! Published in 2018 (when I must have read it!) It is by John Clark who is the Emeritus Curator at the Museum of London and an excellent academic who checks his facts much more scrupulously than either Morgan or I.

Brut Sett London Stone’: London and London Stone in a 14th-Century English Metrical Chronicle‘ This article tells the story of Morgan’s London Stone claim but notes that a medieval reference to Brutus setting up London stone exists. John says ‘In the 1330s an anonymous London author, in a versified history of England‘ (the Short Metrical Chronicle) wrote:

Brutus set up London Stone
And these words he said anon:
‘If each king that comes after me
Makes this city wide and roomy
As I have in my day,
Still hereafter men may say
That Troy was never so fair a city
As this city shall be.’

(Burnley & Wiggins 2003b, lines 457—64 (John Clark’s modern English version))

So, the Medieval quotation doesn’t claim London Stone is the base of the Palladium but it does say it was set up by the legendary Trojan founder of London and is part of the City’s history that would lead to it becoming fairer than Troy. Clark thinks it possible that Morgan came across this reference, but its significance is that it shows there was speculation about London Stone in Medieval London.

Please leave me a comment - its great to hear what you think.