The West End location of Charing Cross is named after the large stone cross that once stood at the top of Whitehall on what is now the southern side of Trafalgar Square – a site currently occupied by a statue of King Charles I.
The cross – an embellished Victorian-era replica of which can be found standing outside Charing Cross Station in the Strand – was one of a series of 12 erected by King Edward I in 1291-94 to commemorate his wife Eleanor of Castile.
They marked the sites where her funeral cortege rested overnight as it made its way from near Lincoln where she died south to Westminster Abbey where she was to be buried (for more on the cross and the Victorian replica, see our previous post here).
The final of these ‘Eleanor Crosses’ – which were originally made from wood before being replaced with stone ones – was erected on a site which stood in the medieval village of Charing, located between the City of London and Westminster. The cross was pulled down in the 1640s by order of Parliament. Since 1675, the statue of King Charles I (pictured, with Trafalgar Square, once the site of the royal mews, in the background) has occupied the site.
The word Charing is an Anglo-Saxon or “Old English” term and is believed to relate to the nearby bend in the River Thames.
Between the mid-1700s until the mid-20th century, the former site of the Charing Cross was the point from which all distances from London were measured. There was also a famous pillory located here.