On the death of his long time wife, Eleanor of Castile, at Harby in Nottinghamshire, close to the city of Lincoln, in 1290, King Edward I, commonly known as Edward Longshanks due to his tall statue for the time, was grief stricken and distraught and spoke of his “Queen of Good Memory” as he referred to her thus: “whom living we dearly cherished, and whom dead we cannot cease to love”.
Edward married, a prearranged marriage, Eleanor when she was 13 in 1254 and over the next 36 years the couple appear to have grown very close, a closeness that produced 16 off-spring. Of the 16 children only five lived to adulthood with the 16th being the only son so to do. By virtue of this he became Edward II. Unlike most medieval Edward I had no known bastard children or mistresses.
Very little is known of Eleanor, women of the day, even Queens, were not considered to be terribly important.
On her death Edward had Eleanor’s body embalmed and dissected at the Priory of St Catherine with her viscera (stomach and guts) buried in Lincoln and the rest of her body returned to London.
The lavish procession took twelve days to reach London and at each place the body stopped overnight Edward had a memorial cross built in her honour– the 12 Eleanor Crosses. While the crosses were a mark of Edward’s love and respect for his wife they were also undoubtedly erected to encourage his subjects to pray for Eleanor’s soul. The final stop for the cortege prior to reaching London’s Westminster Abbey, where the remainder of Eleanor, excluding her heart, was buried, was the then hamlet of Charing. Here a final cross was erected. For those intrigued, Eleanor’s heart is buried in Blackfriars’ monastery also in London.
The Eleanor Cross (pictured) at Charing Cross Railway Station is not the Eleanor Cross of Charing but rather a much-embellished replica of the original cross. Nor is the replica actually at Charing. The real Charing is a few hundred metre’s from Charing Cross Railway Station in Trafalgar Square at the point where Whitehall enters the south of the Square. It was here that the final Eleanor Cross was originally constructed at the location which is nowadays most generally accepted as being the centre of London (see my separate tip - Centre of Empire – or least London for more details on the ongoing significance of this location).
While the original Eleanor Cross at Charing was not as elaborate as the current replica it was the most elaborate of those built. While the other crosses were built of cheaper stone this one was built in marble and was much larger and grander than the others. The original cross was destroyed on the orders of Parliament during the English Civil War in 1647. The current equestrian statue of Charles I replaced the cross in 1675.
The Victorian Gothic design replica cross outside Charing Cross station is 70 feet high and was built in 1865 by the South Eastern Railway Company when they built the railway station and hotel. While based on drawing and fragments of the original cross, held by the Museum of London, the current cross is rather more ornate. It is of Portland stone, Mansfield and Aberdeen granite and was designed by the station/hotels architect, EM Barry, perhaps better known for his work at Covent Garden.
Of the twelve original Eleanor Crosses only three remain – those located at Geddington, Hardingstone and Walthan Cross.
Where exactly is the centre of London and indeed is there any such thing?
If one were the try and draw the limits of “London” on a map and somehow managed to establish a geographic centre today, by tomorrow it would have moved.
While the geographical centre of London cannot be defined what is generally agreed upon are various points from which distances from London were and are measured including the Marble Arch, St Paul’s Cathedral, Hicks Hall in Clerkenwell and the doors of St Mary-le-Bow church among others. In Roman times and for some centuries afterwards the London Stone (see separate tip) fulfilled this role.
While the above points have been and indeed still are used as points from which to measure distances the best known and accepted as the main point (perhaps the official unofficial point!) is Eleanor’s or Charing Cross. That said some official documents do refer to Charing Cross when discussing the centre of London. What is not well known is the location of this, in so far as it relates to measuring distances. Most people will automatically think of the Eleanor’s Cross outside Charing Cross Railway Station – my fourth picture and separate tip thereon.
What fewer people realise is that the cross outside Charing Cross station is in fact a “replica” (I will explain more on that term in a separate review on the cross) of the original cross which was located a couple of hundred metres to the west in Trafalgar Square at the point where Whitehall enters the south of the Square.
Specifically the original Eleanor’s Cross ( erected in the 1200s) and thus the point from which distances from London are measured is where the equestrian statute of King Charles I has stood since 1675 looking down Whitehall (to his place of execution!). A few metres back from the statue and easy to miss unless you are looking for it is a plaque (picture three) on the ground which reads:
“On the site now occupied by the statue of King Charles I was erected the original Queen Eleanor's cross a replica of which stands in front of Charing Cross station. Mileages from London are measured from the site of the original cross.”
The chap in my first picture appears to be taking a picture of it!
Given its acceptance as the point from which distances are measured, the statue of Charles I is also now generally accepted as representing the centre point of London – if only for want of general agreement on any other point.
Trafalgar Square is the most famous square in London. Named in honour of the most famous naval figure in British history, the square is dominated by a large 44m column called Nelson's Column. Trafalgar was the naval battle fought by Nelson against the French and Spanish fleets in 1805. Nelson won the battle but paid the ultimate price as he was mortally wounded. The battle is considered to be one of the most strategically important in military history as it cemented Britian's control of the seas during the Napoleonic Wars.
The square is where Londoners like to congregate when important events take place such as New Year's Eve celebrations and political demonstrations. A highlight of the visit here is the surrounding buildings. On the northeast corner is St Martin' Academy in the Fields, on the northside is the National Gallery and on the northwest corner is Canada House. All are wonderful examples of Victorian architecture and gives the square a very regal atmosphere.
This regal feel can be spoiled then they set a television screen to show football matches as they did when I visited London in 2010 for the World Cup. The square is also frequently used for live free concerts.
Why is one of London's most famous squares named after a quiet cape off Cadiz on Spain's Atlantic coast? The answer lies in Nelson's Column. Today the great man fights daily bombardment from the square's feral pigeon population, but in 1805 Horatio Nelson defeated the combined fleets of Spain and France in the Napoleon wars. The battle sealed Britain's reputation as master of the seas, and paved the way to victory over Napoleon at the later Battle of Waterloo. Despite his great victory, Nelson died at Trafalgar to a French sniper, uttering his famous final words: "Kiss me, Hardy".
Today Trafalgar Square is a British Times Square - here the biggest New Year's Eve party is held every December 31st. It's popular for gatherings of people for events both celebrated and reviled. Victory in Europe was celebrated here, thousands gathered to watch England play Brazil in the 2002 World Cup, but also some of the biggest protests have centered here, notoriously the Poll Tax Riots of 1990, but later protests against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It's no surprise then that the fountains in Trafalgar square were not built by the original designers to brighten up the square, but rather to discourage the rebellious rabble from gathering.
Trafalgar Square is a public space and tourist attraction in central London, built around the area formerly known as Charing Cross. It is in the borough of the City of Westminster.
The name commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), a British naval victory of the Napoleonic Wars over France.
Trafalgar Square, at the heart of London, is one of the city’s most vibrant open spaces.
No visit to London would be complete without spending some time in Trafalgar Square. It is home not only to Nelson's Column but also to other statues and historic features.
When somebody asks me:”What did you like most in London?” and I say: "Trafalgar square." I can’t explain it, I just felt freedom and – people sitting and reading there, others laughing and talking. The fountain there and in addition – architecture and nice buildings around and Bib Ben in the distance. I’ve visited so many squares but that one just grabbed me.
Particularly during the summer there are festivals and special events to bring the communities here in London together - Poland Day, Canada Day, Holi Day, the Passion of Easter, the list is quite long but to see what is coming up when you are going to be in London and what you could mark in your diary to not miss check out the London Planner monthly magazine either online or pick one up from various locations around London and the UK.
A must see square in the heart of London.
Trafalgar square is dominated at its centre by Nelson's Column, which is guarded by four lion statues at its base. If you look closely at the lions, then you might notice that they more resemble dogs than lions; I think the sculpture at the time didn’t really know what a lion looked like.
Horatio Nelson stands atop of the 170 feet column and the square commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), a British naval victory of the Napoleonic Wars over France.
It used to be overrun with pigeons, until the early 2000's, when laws were passed to help eradicate the pests. They had mainly disappeared by 2008.
The square has been traditionally been a place for New Year celebrations, although the fireworks at the London Eye have now spread the crowds, at that time of year.
On a sunny day, its a good place to relax on the steps of the national gallery and munch on your sandwiches.
Admiralty Arch provides a ceremonial entrance via road or path to the Mall from Trafalgar Square, it adjoins the Old Admiralty Building.
The building was commissioned by King Edward VII in memory of his mother Queen Victoria, it was designed by Sir Aston Webb, constructed by John Mowlem & Co and completed in 1912, Sadly Edward VII did not live to see its completion.
A Latin inscription along the top reads:
: ANNO : DECIMO : EDWARDI : SEPTIMI : REGIS :
: VICTORIÆ : REGINÆ : CIVES : GRATISSIMI : MDCCCCX :
'In the tenth year of King Edward VII, to Queen Victoria, from most grateful citizens, 1910'
The building is now to become a Luxury Hotel
Charing Cross Station is, like Paddington and Victoria and so many other stations in London, both historic and a part of the city’s modern infrastructure. The station was constructed in the 1860s with a richly decorated façade in the French Renaissance style, although, given its location, it was fairly cramped and compact. A complete reconstruction of the roof was required in 1905 after it collapsed during maintenance work. Further restorative work to the station was completed in the 1990s, although this did not seriously affect the aesthetic ensemble of the station. Charing Cross also features a replica of what is known as the Eleanor Cross, which was originally in front of Whitehall and used to determine official distances from London. Given that this is just a replica, it is no longer used to calculate distance.
St. Martin in the Fields is an 18th century church that stands on what is presumed to have been hallowed ground since the 5th century, when London was under Roman control. The current structure was constructed in Renaissance style, with a westerly façade that contains six Corinthian columns. While the church stands firmly on the eastern edge of Trafalgar Square, today a particularly busy part of the core of the city, it was once in a field between the cities of London and Westminster, from which it gets its name. The spire must have been quite impressive at the time, but with the creation of the square and other building around the church, it has lost some of its imposing stature. The interior of the church, while rectangular in shape, nevertheless presents an interesting and rich décor thanks to the various mouldings and the Corinthian columns that create bays alongside the nave of the structure. Today, the church offers a variety of classical concerts.
Nelson’s Column was decided upon separately from the renovation of Trafalgar Square, but nevertheless meshes together with it in a combined memorial to the naval battle that helped establish British supremacy during the 19th century. It was completed in the 1840s, although the massive lions that guard the base were a later addition, having been commissioned and placed in the 1860s. The column is marked on the four sides of its plinth with bronze reliefs that depict scenes from the life and death of the illustrious Lord, and were cast from French guns captured by the British. The committee that was formed in order to build the memorial ran out of money prior to its completion, which was only achieved through the assistance of the state. Today, the column is an important component of the ensemble of Trafalgar Square, despite reports that the excess of visitor damage to the lions at its base is causing considerable harm to the longevity of this London landmark.
Trafalgar Square, named after one of Britain’s most celebrated naval victories, the Battle of Trafalgar, which allowed the British to secure their defeat of Napoleon’s forces. While the square has been in existence since the 1730s, the current development plan stems from the 1840s. It was redesigned in order to give more prominence to the National Gallery, which stands on its northern side. In the course of the rejuvenation of the Square, a column was erected in honour of Lord Nelson, the Commander of the Naval Forces during the Battle of Trafalgar. This commemorative column was commissioned and erected independently of the Square’s makeover, and thus it still stands slightly independently from the series of statues and the fountains that were incorporated in the initial renovation plan. The Square’s central location in Westminster – opposite the Mall from Buckingham Palace, beside Charing Cross station and not far from the Embankment – helped to convert it to an important urban space. A number of Common wealth High Commissions are now present in the Square (South Africa, Malaysia, Canada, Australia) as well as the National Gallery. It is here that Londoners gather for important events, as well, such as New Year’s Eve. For meager visitors, of course, the Square provides a useful landmark to navigate an otherwise labyrinthine urban core.
The Admiralty Arch, standing at the eastern edge of the Mall, separating it from Charing Cross Station, is a monumental structure erected in 1912 to commemorate the Empire’s prolific monarch, Queen Victoria. Although the name of the structure might lead to associations with the Navy or the Armed Forces, it is actually derived from the Old Admiralty Building next door, which is currently sits empty. The Admiralty Arch is an impressive example of neo-Classical architecture in London, and its tall arches and measured, exact replications of Greek columns seem somehow out of step with the traditional view of a grimy, Dickensian London, although they do mesh well with the ensemble of nearby Trafalgar Square.
A memorial to Edith Cavell (1865-1915) stands across from Trafalgar Square on the north east corner. Around the memorial are the words " HUMANITY, FORTITUDE, DEVOTION and SACRIFICE". Edith Cavell saved hundreds of lives during WWI in German occupied Belgium. She helped 200 allied soldiers escape from Belgium and was subsequently arrested by the Germans and shot soon after despite appeals for clemency.