The Eleanor Crosses
When you see road signs telling you the distance to London the distance given is to a point at the South of Trafalgar Square where a statue to Charles I currently stands. A plaque on the floor tells you that this was the location of the original Charing Cross (a replica of which now stands outside Charing Cross Station.
To find out how the original hamlet of Charing came to get such a monument and the addition to it’s name, we have to go back to the end of the 13th Century.
England at that time was ruled by Edward I (Edward Longshanks, the Hammer of the Scots) who at the age of 14 had been married to Eleanor of Castile as a way of averting an invasion of the English province of Gascony.
Despite being an arranged marriage, the relationship was close and Eleanor travelled extensively with her husband even joining him at Acre during the 8th Crusade.
In 1290, the King and his wife made a tour of Eleanor’s lands in the North of England. During the tour, Eleanor’s health started to decline and slow their journey. Edward was forced to summon his lords to Clipstone in Nottinghamshire for his Autumn parliament. Once matters of state were completed, the journey resumed but her health meant they were travelling less than 8 miles a day.
Just 7 miles from their destination of Lincoln, the journey was abandoned at the villiage of Harby. The ailing Queen was lodged in the house of Richard de Weston where she died on the evening of 28th November, her husband at her side.
After being embalmed at Lincoln (her viscera removed at the embalming are buried in Lincoln Cathedral), her body was taken in state back to Westminster Abbey for her funeral which took place on the 17th December. Her heart was buried separately at the Dominican priory at Blackfriars along side that of her son Alphonso who had died 6 years earlier.
The King ordered memorial crosses of immense hight to be erected at the places where the funeral procession from Lincoln had stopped each night. (Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford, Geddington*, Hardingstone* near Northampton, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St. Albans, Waltham Cross*, Westcheap and Charing Cross) He also ordered that two wax candles were to burn for all time beside her tomb in Westminster Abbey.
The candles burned for two and a half centuries until the Reformation brought the practice to an end.
Three of the crosses have survived at Geddington, Hardingstone and Waltham Cross, although they have been restored over the years. Some were lost to neglect, others destroyed in a purge of Monuments of Idolatry and Superstition during the Civil War.
At Charing Cross, it’s original site usurped by the statue of Charles I, an embellished replica was erected in 1865 outside the newly built Charing Cross railway station.
In 2007 a modern memorial was built in Stamford to commemorate the original cross, the tall slender spire is carved with roses a reference to the small piece of the original cross that still remains.