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Who Stole Oswald's Stone, the Magic Middlesex Monolith?
It disappeared from central London in 1869, after an archeological magazine praised its historical value
Millions live in or near Ossulstone, but only a handful have ever heard of it. Why and how has this place disappeared from common memory? Perhaps the when is easier to trace - to 1869, the year in which the mysterious object that lent its name to the area was stolen.
Marking the intersection of two ancient London roads , at a place formerly called Tyburn but now known as Marble Arch, a monolith called Oswald’s Stone once stood. Until 1783, Tyburn was the place for public executions in London ; undoubtedly in part to erase that location’s lurid reputation, it was chosen as the relocation site for a large monument that was deemed out of place in front of Buckingham Palace .
Ossulstone, with its 4 constituent districts (Kensington, Holborn, Finsbury and Tower divisions), 2 territorial exceptions (the City of London and the City and Liberty of Westminster), and the area annexed by London in 1889 (in grey). [Image taken here at a website for the Oliver-Paull family tree]
Nobody remembered what the stone was meant to mark  or even who Oswald was. Indeed, the rock was also called Oswulf's Stone. Unsure about what to do with the ancient monolith, the authorities interred it in 1819 - only to dig it up again in 1822. In later years, it was found leaning against Marble Arch. After an archeological journal highlighted its historical importance, Oswald’s Stone disappeared. It has never been seen since that fateful day in 1869.
Presuming that the stone was removed by someone alerted to its value by the archeological article, it is not unthinkable that someone somewhere, perhaps a descendant of that 19th-century thief, is still holding Oswald’s Stone. Although, judging by the facility with which the last remnants of ancient names and meanings vanish from knowledge, perhaps he or she no longer knows why that stone was so important to great-grandpa.
I accidentally stumbled across Oswald’s Stone - figuratively speaking of course - while looking for an answer to a question that had bothered me for some time: Where is Middlesex? Half a dozen Middlesexes survive as place-names in the US, Canada and Jamaica. But the original Middlesex , once one of England’s counties is defunct: small enough to begin with, it had the additional bad fortune to be encroached upon by London, and in the end be gobbled up piecemeal by the metropolis. The last vestiges of the county, whose name was first attested in 704 AD, were abolished on 1 April 1965, when nearly all that remained of Middlesex became part of Greater London .
Middlesex may be dead, but it is not entirely forgotten: it leads a phantom existence in the names of Middlesex University, the Middlesex County Cricket Board, and the Middlesex County Football Cup. There’s even a Middlesex County Day (May 16th ) and a Middlesex County Flower (the wood anemone). You can still address letters to a number of postal towns  by adding Middlesex to the address, but adding the county is no longer required by Royal Mail.
At its greatest extent, Middlesex, its southern border being the Thames, stretched from the river Lea in the east  to the river Colne in the west . Middlesex’s only land border was to the north, and followed a ridge of hills , including Oxhey Hill (438 ft.), Harrow Weald Common (475 ft.), Bushey Heath (504 ft.), Deacons Hill, Edgware (478 ft.), and Highwood Hill (443 ft.).
Like the other 38 historic counties of England, Middlesex was divided into hundreds. In Saxon times, a hundred defined an area large enough to sustain 100 households. Until they were replaced by districts in 1894, hundreds were the only administrative unit between counties and parishes, and were the essential locus for dispensing justice, raising soldiers and discussing the affairs of the day. They were usually named after the place where the men of the area gathered to witness the dispensing of justice, the raising of armies, and the debating of matters of state.
One such place was Oswald’s Stone, the other five Middlesex Hundreds being Edmonton, Elthorne, Gore, Hounslow and Spelthorne. The City of London, nominally part of Ossulstone, became a self-governing county in the 13th century. From 1585, the City and Liberty of Westminster also attained a degree of autonomy from Middlesex.
London, and to a lesser extent Westminster, would become the names attached to the capital of England, and later of Britain, and of the urban growth that this position allowed. Middlesex was merely the canvas over which this expansion was poured - its only option to absorb the growing metropolis, and retreat from it.
In 1889, county councils were introduced in England. About 20% of the area, and 33% of the population of Middlesex - taken from Ossulstone, the most densely populated hundred - was transferred to the new County of London. Ironically, the new Middlesex County Council met in the Middlesex Guildhall, located in… the County of London .
London’s expansion proved unstoppable, due to better transport links, especially the extension of the Metropolitan Tube line to the northwest of London into a rapidly suburbanising area known as Metroland. This cut right into what remained of Middlesex exceptionalism - which in the context of the expanding city meant: a rapidly rarefying ruralism. The death blow came in 1965.
Middlesex nevertheless lives on. Some even dream of a Greater Middlesex, encompassing not just the historical County of Middlesex (which preceded the much smaller Middlesex County Council), but also ‘tribal areas’ from the Chiltern Hills in the west, to “somewhere near Luton” in the north.
"The current Government are keen to bring in regional government for England. This will almost certainly mean the abolition of all County Councils, so from Herts to Surrey everyone will end up in the same boat as Berks and Middlesex. It is possible that with the current review the regions of England will be based on the kingdoms and provinces of the Anglo-Saxons."
Well, why not? But something tells us they’d have to find Middlesex’s ‘palladium’ first. As yet, however, the only tangible remnant of the missing monolith is Ossulston Street, leading off the Euston Road past the British Library.
So if you have an antique stone in your basement that emits a strange glow at night and low moans at full moon, let us know: it might be Oswald’s Stone, pining for Tyburn.
A modern, practical interpretation of ancient county: the catchment area of the Middlesex Association for the Blind.
Strange Maps #605
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 The prehistoric names of these pathways are lost. They were renamed and upgraded by the Romans. The north-south road was labeled Iter III (Road Number Three) in the Antonine Itinerary, later called Watling Street by the Anglo-Saxons and locally known as Edgware Road (to the north of Marble Arch) and Park Lane (to the south of it). The east-west one was called Via Trinobantina, connecting Colchester with Hampshire, now better known around these parts as Oxford Street (east of the Arch) and Bayswater Road (west of it).↩
 Traditionally by hanging, from a gallows often called ‘the Tyburn Tree’. The prisoner(s) would be led from Newgate Prison (or the Tower, if they were nobility) through the city, enjoying a last ale at St Giles in the Fields (or, again if they were nobs, a glass of sherry at the George and Blue Boar, a now defunct pub in Holborn). The prisoners’ option of saying a few uncensored last words gave rise to Speakers’ Corner, now in the part of Hyde Park closest to Marble Arch. It is estimated that throughout the centuries, as many as 50.000 people were put to death at Tyburn. The highwayman John Austin was the last person to be executed at Tyburn. Later executions took place outside Newgate Prison. The last person to be executed in public in Britain was a Fenian bomber, Michael Barrett, in 1886, after which executions moved indoors to Newgate Prison itself. Curiously, no single person was the last person hanged in Britain; that dubious honour goes to two men, both convicted for the murder of the same man, and hanged at the same time: Peter Anthony Allen at Walton Prison in Liverpool, and Gwynne Owen Evans at Strangeways Prison in Manchester, both hanged at 8.00am on 13 August 1964. The death penalty for murder was abolished in 1965 in Great Britain (only in 1973 in Northern Ireland), and for all other offences (notably treason) in 1998. ↩
 The arch, in white Carrara marble and based in part on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, was designed in the 1825 as the ceremonial front gate to Buckingham Palace. Construction was completed in 1833, but the gate was considered a less than perfect addition to the Palace - soon losing much of its whiteness due to pollution by the famous (and then still quite vicious) London smog. In 1851, it was moved to its present location. The arch contains three rooms which were used as a police station from 1851 to at least 1968. Passage through the arch is limited to members of the Royal Family and the King’s Troop; in 1953, on her way to coronation, princess Elizabeth drove through the arch in the gold state coach. ↩
 Oswald’s Stone is not the only mysterious marker of great antiquity in London. The London Stone has been associated with King Arthur, who according to some pulled Excalibur from this rock, and/or with Brutus, the mythical founder of London. Some consider it London’s ultimate safeguard (‘So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish’) - in other stories, the Raven of the Tower are London’s ‘palladium’ (i.e. magical protection). Other myths, of London Stone’s Roman or Druidic origin and use, abound, but the truth is that, like Oswald’s Stone, nobody knows what it stood for. But unlike Oswald’s Stone, the London Stone, although probably greatly reduced from its ancient size, has not been lost, and is still on public display. It is visible in a niche at a front of 111 Cannon Street. ↩
 As in: land of the Middle Saxons, between the lands of the East Saxons (i.e. Essex), South Saxons (Sussex) and West Saxons (Wessex). The latter geographic entity has also has disappeared off the map, although Thomas Hardy used a (fictionalised) version for his novels, and a regionalist movement exists with the aim of reviving Wessex as a political entity. One of their many problems: defining the boundaries of that entity. We’ll keep the question Where is Wessex for a later post, shall we? ↩
 Small parts were transferred to Hertfordshire (Potter’s Bar), Surrey (Staines, Sunbury-on-Thames). ↩
 The anniversary of the Battle of Albuera (1811) during the Peninsular Campaign, at which the Middlesex Regiment (the ‘Die-Hards’) fought valiantly against the Napoleonic Armée du Midi. The Regiment got its nickname at Albuera when their commander, severely wounded and his horse shot from under him, urged his outnumbered soldiers to “Die hard, 57th, die hard!” In a evolution typical of all things Middlesex , the regiment lost its name when it was amalgamated in 1966 into the Queen’s Regiment. ↩
 Middlesex just doesn’t seem a viable proposition, not even as a noble title. The Earldom of Middlesex was created twice, in 1622 and 1677, but died out on both occasions. ↩
 At least some of the area covered by the post codes beginning with EN (for Enfield), HA (Harrow and environs), TW (Twickenham and surroundings) and UB (Uxbridge &c.) ↩
 Flowing through the Olympic Park in Stratford and debouching in the Thames opposite the O2 Arena (formerly the Millennium Dome) in Greenwich. ↩
 The Colne, one of a handful of rivers so named, flows into the Thames in the marshlands that still constitute a border - these days between Greater London and Buckinghamshire. ↩
 A marker near the northern border, sometimes used as pars pro toto its entirety, is the Grimsdyke (or Grim’s Ditch), stretching some 2 miles from Harrow Weald to Bushey Heath. Several Grimsdykes exist throughout southern England, all earthenworks possibly thrown up as boundary markers by Celtic tribes in the last centuries BC. ↩
 On Parliament Square, facing Big Ben. Since 2009, Middlesex Guildhall is home to the UK’s Supreme Court. ↩
The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
The next era in American history can look entirely different. It's up to us to choose.
- The timeline of America post-WWII can be divided into two eras, according to author and law professor Ganesh Sitaraman: the liberal era which ran through the 1970s, and the current neoliberal era which began in the early 1980s. The latter promised a "more free society," but what we got instead was more inequality, less opportunity, and greater market consolidation.
- "We've lived through a neoliberal era for the last 40 years, and that era is coming to an end," Sitaraman says, adding that the ideas and policies that defined the period are being challenged on various levels.
- What comes next depends on if we take a proactive and democratic approach to shaping the economy, or if we simply react to and "deal with" market outcomes.
A new MIT report proposes how humans should prepare for the age of automation and artificial intelligence.
- A new report by MIT experts proposes what humans should do to prepare for the age of automation.
- The rise of intelligent machines is coming but it's important to resolve human issues first.
- Improving economic inequality, skills training, and investment in innovation are necessary steps.