The end of the line for Eleanor

Last updated on January 15th, 2024 at 06:03 pm

Charing Cross station, Charing Cross, London

Network Rail, the people that own and operate Britain’s rail infrastructure (after someone sold it by mistake) once wrote that that 37 million people pass through London’s Charing Cross Station every year.  That’s equivalent to the entire population of Morocco.  It’s probably not 37 million different people passing through, though; I like to imagine one or two risk doing it several times, out of sheer devilment.  But in any event a lot of them will also walk past the handsome monument outside the station entrance, which commemorates a 700-year old love story.

Charing Cross, London, monument, detail

When Eleanor of Castile, beloved queen of Edward I, died in the village of Harby, near Lincoln, in 1290, the tough King of England, conqueror of the Welsh and Hammer of the Scots, was distraught.  He spent three days in Harby, mourning his lost wife.  And he ordered that a memorial should be set up at every point where his wife’s body was rested overnight on its long journey south, to London for burial.  Twelve memorials – or crosses – were commissioned, and built by the finest masons in the land – at Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Hardingstone, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St Albans, Waltham and Cheapside.  The twelfth and final cross was in the hamlet of Charing, just outside the King’s Palace of Westminster.  It originally stood where Trafalgar Square is now.  The exact location marks the spot from which distances to London were calculated, but the Cross itself was pulled down by order of Parliament in 1647.  Four of the regicides, those who signed King Charles I’s death warrant in 1649, were hanged, drawn and quartered on the site in 1660 and, in 1675, a statue of King Charles I on horseback was erected there – where it remains to this very day.

Charing Cross, hotel, Victorian, monument, London

Although Eleanor’s Charing memorial had gone, the name of the area, ‘Charing Cross’, stuck.  It was not derived from cher reine (‘dear queen’) as some fancifully suggest but, as mentioned earlier, 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 little village.)  In any event, it was natural to name the nearby railway station, when it eventually arrived, 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.  It stood 70 feet (about 21 metres) 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.  Take a look at the 8 mini statues of Eleanor set up near the top of the cross, the heraldic symbols and elaborate decoration.  But so often when I have passed 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 be treated with such little respect.  I hope you can get a good view of it.  The real villains of course, were the members of parliament, early examples of heritage hooligans, who ordered the original Charing Cross to be pulled down.

Of the original 12 crosses, only three have survived – at Geddington, Hardingstone and Waltham.  The remainder have vanished, many pulled down during the Civil War, though some have markers to show where they once stood.  Eleanor herself was buried in three tombs – her viscera (or entrails) still lie in a tomb in Lincoln Cathedral, her body is close to that of her husband’s, in Westminster Abbey, and her heart was buried in the monastery of the Blackfriars, near where present-day Blackfriars station is. You can read a bit about two of them, and the love story between her and Edward, by visiting Eleanor’s Cross, Hardingstone and Eleanor’s Cross Geddington. I have often wondered what Eleanor of Castile looked like; I imagine she must have been very beautiful.


Charing Cross, Trafalgar Squar, Eleanor of Castile, London


26 thoughts on “The end of the line for Eleanor”

  1. Born and brought up in Kent, Charing Cross was my portal to London, so I was one of the frequent travellers moons ago. I am very happy to now know the history of the monument and will enjoy it all the more when (if?) I ever get to travel to England from Scotland again. So very pleasing to learn about Eleanor.

  2. I will take the cue from you and assume that Eleanor was beautiful. Be that as it may, you’ve told a beautiful tale here – even if elements of it (Parliament, construction debris, etc.) aren’t lovely. It’s quite a story!

  3. Thanks so much for this, Mike. I can’t remember if I said this in my comment on the Edward post (which I loved) but my partner Rick’s family traces back to one of the Edwards (so they say!) so it’s especially interesting! I’m catching up before I disappear again with a post or two but thanks especially on this! (And the Beatles!)

  4. I remember very well your previous posts about Eleanore of Castile and her story. But now I blame myself. I know I have walked past Charing Cross and I had no idea what the monument stood for. It would be much more meaningful to pass it now for me! I need to go back!

  5. Yes, beautiful she must have been. You wonder about these famous beauties in history: Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Mary Magdalene. And what did Eleanor of Aquitaine look like; how about Maid Marion, Queen Guinevere? The woman who inspired the Taj Mahal?

  6. Boy I wish I could see back into time to see what those twelve crosses and the country and London looked like then. I’ve always loved that sweet gesture of the King for his beloved queen.

  7. Hi Mike – what an exquisitely carved monument – even if a Victorian replica. I’ll be glad to see it cleaned up – pity it couldn’t be put into a more prominent position … as you say not hidden behind a skip or perhaps two by now. Still it is being restored and that is something … I’m glad to have seen the map of the route down to London from Lincoln where her body rested before its final stop in London itself at Westminster Abbey … brings her to life a little – thanks and cheers Hilary

  8. How lovely, thank you for this piece of history. I hadn’t realised that the monument at Charing Cross was not original. I was in Geddington trying to “dig up” ancestors 5 years ago and have been in Hardingstone on the way to visit someone in Collingtree, and was at Charing Cross a couple of years ago…. only Waltham Cross to go!
    Eleanor must have been a very much loved wife.

  9. I so admire the talent of the Brits for keeping bits of beauty and history out there in public view. Here in the US, all the monuments, except those in DC that bring in the tourists’ cash, are eventually–and usually– torn down to make way for some ugly excretion of a building that ought not be foisted on people. Or a road widening project. I’ve never looked for Eleanor’s memorials in my travels there, but if I’m lucky, I’ll get another chance and will have the info to hand for finding these beautiful memorials.

  10. You’re right about the clutter round the Charing Cross; I don’t think I’ve ever seen the base of it properly. It has been nicely restored, though! Thanks for this post, Mike.

  11. Glad to hear they were hanged, drawn and quartered. I didn’t know it was a village name, I did think it was cher reine.

    1. Being hanged, drawn and quartered was barbaric – terrifying; how far we’ve come. As for Charles, he was an absolute monarch and had to go – though it would have been preferable if he’d gone quietly into retirement.

A Bit About Britain welcomes visitors. What do you think?

Scroll to Top