The Students Who Stole the Stone of Destiny

Four Glasgow students with a burning passion for Scottish nationalism pull off the heist of the century.

Vintage & Historical
3 min
Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco
The Students Who Stole the Stone of Destiny
All stories
Vintage & Historical

It’s almost Christmas 1950, and while most folks are merrily sipping their eggnog at home, four Glasgow students with a burning passion for Scottish nationalism are about to pull off the heist of the century.

To understand how things got to that point, we need to go back a few centuries. Enter the Stone of Destiny (also known as the Stone of Scone), a 336lb slab of pale-pink sandstone that had been used in the coronation of Scottish kings for centuries. Legends about it abound — perhaps the stone is the Biblical Jacob’s Pillow, perhaps it was part of the Roman Antonine Wall .

Either way, King Edward I stole it from the Scotts during the Independence Wars in the 13th century and brought it to England’s Westminster Abbey — where this unassuming block of stone was mounted under an oak coronation chair and, you guessed it, used during the coronation of English monarchs from then on.

Enter the Stone Raiders

So let’s go back to December 1950 , when a team of four Scottish students (Ian Hamilton, Kay Matheson, Gavin Vernon, and Alan Stuart) set out to “reclaim” the stone and bring it back home.

This wasn’t an easy task and on the first night they tried breaking into Westminster Abbey, Hamilton was caught by a security guard — who let him off with a warning. The group returned on Christmas Day and this time, it all worked out so well, it was almost like an old Hollywood heist movie. After jimmying the Abbey’s door open in the middle of the night, the group managed to remove the stone from under the throne — only to have it break in two.

In a bit of a panic, Hamilton grabbed the smaller 90lbs piece and ran out of the Abbey — only to realize he had lost his car keys inside the Abbey. So back in he went, grabbing not only his keys but also the larger piece of stone they had left behind.

Hide and Stone-Seek

Quickly realizing the whole thing could have serious consequences, the group decided to hide the stone. The larger piece was buried near Kent, while the smaller bit found a temporary home in a Birmingham garage. Soon, police were out in force searching for the stone and looking for “ a man and a woman in a Ford Anglia car… with Scottish accents.

Despite the chaos and uproar, however, the police were not able to find any trace of it, and Hamilton and the gang eventually moved it to Scotland and gave it to the Scottish Covenant Association (an organization campaigning for a Scottish Parliament) for safekeeping.

The Association soon decided the now-repaired stone should be returned since it had already served its purpose (serve as a symbol of Scottish independence) and left it at the ruins of Arbroath Abbey, from where it was then transported back to England and eventually became part of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953.

Thieves? More Like National Heroes

The stone was eventually returned to Scotland in 1996 and now resides in its rightful home inside Edinburgh Castle.

Despite all the trouble, the daring thieves were never charged because “ no one had been harmed, even if the stone had a bumpy ride.

Hamilton went on to become a successful criminal lawyer who continued to campaign for self-government in Scotland. He died in 2022 at the age of 97, just months before the coronation of King Charles III in May 2023. For the grand event, the Stone of Destiny traveled back to London, where it was once again placed under the coronation chair to welcome the new king — and then returned to Scottland right after the ceremony.

One can only hope this ride was a lot less bumpy than the previous one.

About The Author

Diana Bocco

Diana Bocco

From teenage fascinations to adult obsessions, Diana Bocco has been delving into the realms of the s…

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