07-16-2013, 02:35 AM #1
Kay Matheson, whose Stone of Scone Abbey theft in 1950 rallied Scotland, dead at 84
Kay Matheson. (Telegraph)
Kay Matheson, who has died aged 84, was one of four students who, on Christmas Day 1950, “reclaimed” from Westminster Abbey the Stone of Destiny (also called the Stone of Scone), on which the ancient kings of Scotland were crowned.
Weighing about 152 kilograms, the block of red sandstone had been forcibly removed in 1296 from its seat in the monastery of Scone, a few miles north of Perth, by Edward I as a spoil of war. It had since resided under the royal throne in the Abbey, emphasising the role of English kings as overlords of Scotland.
But the election of a Scottish Nationalist MP in 1945 had sparked renewed interest in the Stone’s ideological significance.
It was against this political background that Ian Hamilton, a 25-year-old student at Glasgow University, recruited Kay, then a 22-year-old domestic science teacher, and two other nationalist students, Gavin Vernon and Alan Stuart, to retrieve the Stone in the name of Scottish independence.
Hamilton planned to conceal himself in the Abbey at closing time and admit his accomplices under cover of darkness , forcing open the door of Poets’ Corner. They would then carry the Stone to Kay, waiting in one of the two getaway cars, and make their escape to Dartmoor.
A first attempt, on the evening of December 23, ended abruptly when a watchman discovered Hamilton and ejected him. The next day Kay was taken ill with influenza, so Hamilton arranged for her to stay at a nearby hotel until the crew needed her. Then, just after 4am on Christmas Day, they entered the Abbey while Kay remained outside.
As they prised the Stone loose, about a quarter of it split off. Hamilton ran to the car with the smaller piece and returned to help the other two lift the rest. Then Kay started the engine, raising the alarm. A policeman had spotted the car and come to investigate. Hamilton dashed back to the front seat, and the pair posed as lovers to allay suspicion.
Touched by this amorous display, the policeman warmed to them, and despite the lateness of the hour he stopped to chat. Scraping noises emerged from the Abbey, but Kay and Hamilton overlaid them with loud merriment at their companion’s jokes, holding his attention until the danger had passed.
The theft of the Stone launched a nationwide police hunt, during which the border between England and Scotland was closed for the first time in nearly 400 years.
Although the police issued a description of Kay’s Ford Anglia, the Stone vanished from public view for the next four months. In the interim Hamilton arranged for the two parts to be reunited, and on April 11 1951 the authorities discovered it, draped in a Saltire, on the altar of Arbroath Abbey, Forfarshire. The police subsequently detained all four perpetrators, but no charges were brought, and they were soon free to pursue their individual careers .
Resuming her career a teacher, Kay Matheson’s political resolve never left her, and she bore a permanent and personal reminder of their endeavours: during one of the lifting operations, the Stone had fallen on her foot, breaking two toes.
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