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Centre of Empire – or least London
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.
- Historical Travel
Trafalgar Square is the geographical centre of London. It is also one of the best known places in the city - a mecca for tourists and the occasional pigeon.
The square is always filled with people, no matter what the weather or time of day. Touristy maybe, but beautiful definitely.
With a backdrop of the National Gallery, the pedestrianised square is filled with photo opportunities. There are 2 large fountains and in the centre is the 43.5 metre high Nelson's Column.
The column commemorates Admiral Nelson's victory over Napoleon off Cape Trafalgar (in Spain) in 1805. It was erected in 1843. At its base are 4 bronzed lions, which were added in 1867. When you visit they will no doubt be covered in photo-taking tourists.
Trafalgar Square is a must see. Make sure you stop by at different times of day - it is particularly stunning at night.
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
- Historical Travel
Eleanor’s Cross at Charing
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.
- Historical Travel
The lost dignity of a national monument.
For me, as well as many tourists, Trafalgar square with the column of Nelson is one of Britain's most magnificent commemorative spaces like the Lincoln Memorial, or the Arc de Triomphe.
At least that's what Trafalgar square looked to me on my previous visits when I overlooked the column and fountains from the Portico entrance of the National Gallery.
This July 2009 Trafalgar square looked a mess.
About a quarter of the square is occupied by building structures from contemporary artist Antony Gormley's new work called "One and Other".
This consists in occupying the empty fourth plinth in the north-west corner of Trafalgar Square by volunteers who during one hour can do whatever they like on that plinth. And that goes on for 100 days, around the clock, seven days a week. It started begin July. I saw one of these volunteers on the platform a few meters high (a safety net protects from falling) making a speech which I couldn't understand because of the noise of the traffic.
There was a time where people would stand on a box in Hyde Park to make a speech.
Thanks to Antony Gormley this is now possible under Nelson's column and it is a "work of art".
NOTE: Londoners are also irritated by whats going on at Trafalgar Square.
From the Times: "The director of the National Gallery complains that the "bloody awful" state of Trafalgar Square, the noise in particular is destroying the viewing enjoyment of those whom he wishes to serve."
From the Sunday Telegraph, a comment by Janet Daley: " We have had enough of con artists".
Is there a London tourist who doesn’t come at some point to Trafalgar Square? It’s rightly one of the best-known and most iconic places in the city, and on a sunny day is a great place to linger a while and enjoy the sights. These include:
~ Nelson’s Column, of course – a granite column 185' high, crowned by the statue of Lord Nelson
~ the wonderful bronze lions, by Edwin Landseer, at the 4 corners of the monument (one of my earliest memories is of my law-abiding father being told off by a policeman for letting me sit on one of them!)
~ the fountains, adorned with mermaids, dolphins and tritons – a cooling sight on the hottest of days
~ the smallest police box ever built, on the SE corner of the square (now sadly used only for storage but once a facility for the famous Scotland Yard)
~ the Imperial Standards of Length, marking the point from which all distances from London are measured
The square is surrounded by great buildings, including the National Gallery on the north side, St Martin in the Fields (a beautiful Wren church, currently undergoing renovation) to the north-east, South Africa House (for years the site of a permanent anti-Apartheid protest, now thankfully no longer necessary) on the east and Canada House on the west. To the south, wonderful views can be had down Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament at the end – check out my general tips for a suggested walk that will take you through much of this area.
At Christmas the square is extra-special, with the large tree donated every year by the Norwegian government (in gratitude for Britain's assistance during WW2) a focal point for carol singing and in recent years a European-style Christmas Market. The square is also the centre for major celebrations (when London was awarded the Olympic Games, for example, and when England won the Rugby World Cup) and for demonstrations. In fact, there is nearly always something going on here - so do come and join in!
Everyone visits Trafalgar Square on their trip to London, so take a few minutes to sit by the fountains on a warm summer's day, do some people watching, take pics of Nelson's Column but don't be tempted to feed the pigeons! I should really get a pic of Nelson myself to put on this tip but somehow I am always drawn to the activity around him and the fountains.
In June 05 we had the hottest summers day so far in London. A few weeks previously the powers that be decided that paddling in Trafalgar Square fountains was forbidden. The tourists didn't know this and were having a great time in the water.
There were no signs telling them they couldn't indulge in a cooling dip and the Square Security certainly weren't enforcing it - in fact they would probably have enjoyed it themselves instead of wandering about in those stifling uniforms! Well done guys - why stop people having a bit of fun if they aren't doing any harm??
Admiralty Arch is a large office building in London which incorporates an archway providing road and pedestrian access between The Mall, which extends to the southwest, and Trafalgar Square to the northeast.
The gate through which you walk – Admiralty Arch – may look like a monument, but it is actually an office block with rooms inside.
The inscription along the top reads ANNO DECIMO EDWARDI SEPTIMI REGIS VICTORIÆ REGINÆ CIVES GRATISSIMI MDCCCCX, which is Latin for In the tenth year of King Edward VII, to Queen Victoria, from most grateful citizens, 1910.
Trafalgar Square is a square in central London, England. With its position in the heart of London, it is a popular tourist attraction; its trademarks are Nelson's Column, which stands in the centre, the four lion statues that guard the Column, and the large number of pigeons that live in the square. Other statues and sculptures are also on display in the square, including a fourth plinth displaying changing pieces of contemporary art, and it is a frequent site of political demonstrations.
Every visitor to Trafalgar Square will spot this grand arch leading from its south west corner, but relatively few know its history. Admiralty Arch was built in 1910, commissioned by King Edward VII in memory of his mother, Queen Victoria. The Latin inscription along the top of the arch 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 arch leads from Trafalgar Square to the Mall, and as you pas through it you are faced with an excellent view of that road and at its end Buckingham Palace, with (if you look carefully) a statue of that same queen in front of it. But unlike some famous arches elsewhere in the world, this one also includes offices above the archways, which currently house the Cabinet Office and other government departments. None of these rooms is open to the public, which is a shame as I imagine the views, especially along the Mall, must be excellent.
One famous feature of Admiralty Arch is the so-called “nose”, a small protrusion the size and shape of a human nose which can be found on the inside wall of the northernmost arch. The nose is at a height of about seven feet (that is waist height for anyone riding through the arch on a horse). There is a tradition that the nose is there in honour of the Duke of Wellington, who was known for having a particularly large nose, and that soldiers would rub the nose for good luck as they rode through.
The main hub of acitivity in central London is TRAFALGAR SQUARE which was built in 1843 in honour of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson and his great naval victory in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar.
The Square is bounded by The National Gallery, St. Martin in the Fields, the South African and Canadian Embassies, the Admiralty Arch and Whitehall.
When I was there the first time, I do remember there being so many pigeons and people feeding them and what a mess they made there. It seems that is discouraged now and only a handful of pigeons are present now.
- Family Travel
In the centre of things
Trafalgar Square, one of London's many icons. In the centre of the square stands Lord Nelson's Column (Lord Nelson was an Admiral of the British Navy, the column is as tall as the highest mast on the ship he commanded, the H.M.S Victory: 185 feet high). There are fountains and it is a popular place for tourists and locals alike (although there are mainly tourists here in the summer).
At the time when I was at Trafalgar Square (the first time) the 2004 Athens Olympics were on - so they had numerous mini-Olympic sporting events set up around the square.
When I was here in August 2007 there were some book stalls set up in the square, nice to have a bit of a look through.
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
LIONS IN TRAFALGAR SQUARE
The four bronze LIONS IN TRAFALGAR SQUARE that surround Nelson's Column, were sculpted by Sir Edward Landseer. The metal used supposedly came from the old cannons of the French Fleet.
It is a fun place for kids and kids at heart like my Hansi, to sit on or be photographed, beside the LIONS.
- Family Travel
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.
This busy and very central square that is such a significant London landmark gives tribute to Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, born 1758, who became a hero after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 fighting the French.
Lord Nelson was made a Baron Nelson of the Nile in 1798 and Viscount in 1801.
This square is handy for buses(which is also part of what makes bus passes such good value for tourists!esp the weekly passes), including night buses - a bus from home travels directly to or from here so is very handy for me when i need to come into the city or depart from as the New Zealand shop is nearby! or the British Tourist Office for monthly updates of the London Planner (see the relevant tip!) from whereever Ive needed to be in the city centre - up the mall from work to here or down from Tottenham Court if at our employer's education centre - and not far Charing Cross station or the tube stations of the Embankment or Picadilly Circus or Leceister Square.
Right here at the Square is the National Gallery and St Martins-in-the-Fields church which has lovely classical music evenings and its daily Cafe-in-the-Crypt in its historic Brass Rubbing Centre.
Just around the corner is the National Portrait Gallery and Covent Garden and just up further is Leceister Square.
Just south is St James Palace and the Horse Guards, Whitehall, Banqueting House, the well guarded entrance to 10 Dowling Street, and Westminster with Big Ben and just over a little is Embankment tube station and the Hungerford Bridge over to Waterloo Station and the busy South Bank area!!
- Family Travel
- Historical Travel
SAINT MARTIN IN THE FIELDS
Located on the corner of Trafalgar and Charing Cross Road, the present SAINT MARTIN IN THE FIELDS was erected in 1721 and designed by the Scot, James Gibbs who was influenced by the Italian Baroque style.
- Family Travel
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