Network Rail, the people that own and operate Britain’s rail infrastructure (after someone sold it by mistake) say that 37 million people pass through London’s Charing Cross Station every year. (That’s equivalent to the population of Uganda.) It’s not the same 37 million people passing through every year, though I daresay one or two risk doing it several times, but in any event a lot of them will also pass by this monument outside the station entrance, which commemorates a 700-year old love story.
When Eleanor of Castile, beloved queen of Edward I, died near Lincoln in 1290, the tough but distraught King of England ordered that a memorial should be built at every point where his wife’s body was rested on its long journey south for burial in London. Twelve memorials – or crosses - were built and last in line was one in the hamlet of Charing, just outside the King’s Palace of Westminster. The original Charing Cross stood where Trafalgar Square is now. The location marks the spot from which distances to London were calculated, but the Cross itself was pulled down by order of Parliament in 1647. At least three of the regicides, those who signed King Charles I’s death warrant, were executed on the site and, in 1675, a statue of King Charles I on horseback was erected there – where it remains to this very day.
Though the memorial had gone, the name of the area, ‘Charing Cross’, stuck - though not derived from ‘cher reine’ (dear queen) as some fancifully suggest but, as I mentioned, from the little settlement that once stood between the City of London and Westminster. (There is another Charing in Kent, by the way, near Ashford – a lovely village.) So it was natural to call the nearby railway station, when it came, Charing Cross. The South East Railway commissioned a recreated Eleanor Cross to celebrate the opening of the Charing Cross Hotel in 1865 and the result was a typically magnificent Victorian Gothic Thing in Portland and Mansfield stone, with Aberdeen granite, that stood 70 feet high and cost about £1,800.00. By the turn of the millennium, that monument was in a poor state of repair and Network Rail, successors to the South East Railway, set about renovating it at a reported cost of £350,000. The original cost Edward I about £700 at 13th century prices.