Charing Cross. A memorial of royal love.
The Victorian reproduction of the Eleanor Cross outside Charing Cross Station.
When Charing Cross is mentioned, most people will tell you that name relates to the railway station of the same name, or the vague area near the junction of the Strand and Trafalgar Square. And of course, they're perfectly correct. However, there is a very precise site that can claim to be the true Charing Cross.
If we travel back in time to the middle of the eleventh century, Edward the Confessor had moved his Palace to Westminster. Why? Because this pious King intended to oversee ambitious building project that was to become the first Westminster Abbey. On his way from the old Roman City in the East, he would have passed through the tiny hamlet of Charing. There were perhaps one or two rudimentary dwellings here but that was about it.
And so it remained a sleepy backwater until the untimely death of Queen Eleanor of Castile, beloved wife of Edward I in 1290. The Queen died in Lincolnshire and it took twelve days to bring her mortal remains to her final resting place at Westminster Abbey. The King commanded that a memorial cross should be erected at every place where the funeral cortège had stopped overnight. The last of these was at an insignificant hamlet located about a mile from Westminster Abbey. Charing Cross was now firmly and permanently on the map.
The Cross was described as being the most elegant of all the Eleanor Crosses, constructed from Caen stone and decorated with many statues. John Stow writing in 1598, described it as "a fair piece of work".
The Eleanor Cross was located very precisely at the junction of what is now Whitehall and Trafalgar Square. The site is now occupied by the poignant equestrian statue of King Charles I. (See my previous blog). In 1647 in an act of cultural vandalism, that was sadly to become commonplace during the period of puritanical zeal displayed by the followers of Oliver Cromwell, the Cross was destroyed. Nothing remains of that magnificent monument but the Victorians decided to have a go at reproducing their own version. This is the splendid stone edifice that you can now see in the forecourt of Charing Cross Station.
As for Eleanor, most of her remains continued to Westminster Abbey where they were interred in a magnificent tomb adjacent to the Shrine of Edward the Confessor. However, her heart was removed and buried in an elaborate monument at the now lost Blackfriars Monastery on the edge of the City.
Copyright Richard Ing. Photography by Richard Ing.