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Friday, 11 July 2014

End of the line for Eleanor

Charing Cross, Victorian memorial, Edward I, Eleanor, London
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.

Charing Cross Station, Trafalgar Square, visit London
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.

So there it is.  It is lovely.  But each time I pass it, it has been surrounded by cars, bikes, contractors’ rubbish – even a skip.  You have to ask why such a fuss was made about renovating the thing if it’s going to treated with such little respect.  The real villains of course, were the members of parliament who ordered the first Charing Cross to be pulled down.  There are three surviving original Eleanor Crosses, at Waltham, Hardingstone and Geddington.  You can read a bit about two of them, and the love story, by visiting Eleanor’s Cross, Hardingstone and Eleanor’s Cross Geddington.



7 comments:

  1. A striking memorial. And so that's the origin of the placename...

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  2. The things we learn on blogs! ;-))

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  3. I've always wondered how some areas got their names.

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  4. Great post and thank you for the historical facts. Little did we know!
    Blessings,

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  5. I love the story of Eleanor and the crosses. What a thoughtful husband. Edward must not have been in a hurry to get to London. Were they built while they were 'resting,' or were they built afterwards? Don't mean to sound silly, but Charing and Ashford sound to me like settlements that were previously burned down, but then I know that English is not an easy language.

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  6. You're knowledge always amazes me!!!
    I love visiting your blog and soaking it all in!
    I hope you're having a great weekend,
    Tammy x

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.