6th February 1951
Guernsey watchmaker helps Stone of Scone manhunt
A Guernsey watchmaker came to London on 6 February 1951 to help police with inquiries into the theft of the Stone of Scone. The Stone, part of the chair used to crown Britain’s kings and queens, had been stolen by supporters of Scottish independence, on Christmas day 1950.
There were very few clues to go on. This was the pre-CCTV era, after all. Police shut the border between England and Scotland for the first time in 400 years, but didn’t manage to stop it being transported to Scotland, perhaps because it wasn’t taken there directly.
Its theft was an audacious and brave operation. Four students from the University of Glasgow had broken in to Westminster Abbey and stolen it from the Coronation Chair. They had dropped it as they took it out of the chair’s based, and it had broken into two unequal parts, which they loaded into a car.
They buried the larger part in a field in Kent for a few days, before taking both pieces across the border to Scotland.
The police had only one lead: a wrist watch found on the floor by the chair. “JGC 148” was scratched into the back of the case.
JCG were the initials of James Griffiths. He was a 28-year-old watchmaker in Guernsey who had cleaned the watch in late December 1947. The number 148 signified that the work had been completed in January 1948: three years before the Stone’s theft.
A million to one chance
He came to London on 6 February 1951 and poisitively identified the marking as his own. The Coventry Evening Telegraph reported that he’d stated “the chances of there being any other repairer’s markings being idencical with his are about a million to one [and] that it was highly unlikely that any other watch repairer with the same initials would have cleaned a watch on the very same day as himself”.
Unfortunately, Griffiths couldn’t remember who had brought in the watch, or claimed it.
The stone returned to England in April 1951. It had been left on the altar at Arbroath Abbey, where Scotland had declared its independence in 1320.
Police charged the four students who had taken it, but didn’t prosecute.