The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

The Charing Cross (Eleanor Cross), Westminster, London E.C.2

The Charing Cross or The Eleanor Cross.

NGR: TQ 30197 80498. On the forecourt of Charing Cross Railway Station on the Strand, in Westminster, London E.C.2., is the sculptured monument known as ‘The Charing Cross’ or the ‘Eleanor Cross’ which        is a replica of the original one that stood nearby, and one of only four such crosses to remain, although the other three are originals. It was named after Queen Eleanor of Castile, the wife of King Edward I, and was erected as a memorial to her in 1291 the year after her death at Harby in Nottinghamshire at the age of 49. Queen Eleanor was buried in Westminster Abbey. However, this 70 foot (21 metre) high richly decorated monument dating from 1865 is made of granite and Portland stone. But it is said ‘not to be as good’ as the original, which was pulled down and broken up about 1647. A statue of King Charles I on horseback was erected where the original Charing Cross used to stand, near Trafalgar Square. The present Charing Cross was recently restored. Charing as a place-name is thought to be derived from ‘cerring’, an Early English word meaning “bend or turn in the road.” The monument is Grade II listed.

Arthur Mee (1949) says that: “…….in the courtyard of Charing Cross Station is the lovely Eleanor Cross, a copy of the last of that pathetic series set up by Edward the First to mark the resting-place of his Queen Eleanor on her last ride through our countryside. She came from Harby in Notts, the village where she died, and rested nine nights on the way. Three of the nine crosses remain in the country; this is a copy of the old one destroyed in 1647. It stood where Charles Stuart sits on horse-back a little way off,  and this copy of it was designed by Edward Barry and sculptured by Thomas Erpe.  The cross is seventy feet high and rises in two stages surmounted by a spire. Below are coats of heraldry, and above are eight statues of the queen with a kneeling angel at the foot on each statue. The figures are all under canopies, and four show Eleanor as a sovereign and the others as a gracious lady.”

Eleanor Cross, Charing Cross Railway Station.

Mary Fox-Davies (1910) says that: “You know, I expect, the story of these crosses: how King Edward I. brought the coffin of his dead queen, Eleanor, from Nottinghamshire to her burial-place in Westminster Abbey, and on each spot where the coffin was placed to rest during the long, weary journey the King erected one of these crosses, and the little village of Charing was the last halt on the way. The original Charing cross stood nearer to White-hall, on the spot now occupied by the statue of Charles I.; it was removed in 1647, when the copy was placed in its present position. Ten of these ”Eleanor Crosses“ were erected by King Edward, but only three now remain — one at Geddington, one at Northampton, and one at Waltham Cross.” 

Garry Hogg (1968) tells us the locations of the other Eleanor Crosses, saying the: “Eleanor Cross, Geddington, Northants, three miles north-east of Kettering. Only three of the original eleven memorial crosses erected by Queen Eleanor’s funeral cortege between Hardby, Lincolnshire, and West-minster Abbey survive today (the third is at Waltham, Essex). Eleanor Cross, Hardingstone, Northants, on the A50, one mile south of Northampton. The earliest one, carved in 1291 by John Battle.”  Please note there is an error by the author: it should read Harby, Nottinghamshire, not Hardby, Lincolnshire. 

The HE (Historic England) List No is:- 1236708. See the Link, below.

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Fox-Davies, Mary, London — Shown To The Children, T. C. & E. C. Jack, Ltd., London And Edinburgh, 1910.

Hogg, Garry, Odd Aspects of England, David & Charles (Publishers) Limited., Newton Abbot, Devon, 1968.

Mee, Arthur, The King’s England — London, Hodder And Stoughton Limited, London E.C.4., 1949.

More info here:

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.

Cleopatra’s Needle, Victoria Embankment, London W.C.2

The Obelisk.

OS Grid Reference: TQ 30545 80518. Located at the edge of the Victoria Embankment, overlooking the River Thames, in London WC2, stands the famous landmark known as ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’, which is actually an Egyptian obelisk (column) that dates back nearly 3,500 years. At either side of this 21 metre-high column, two Bronze sphinxes guard the column, but ‘they’ are Victorian replicas. This curious carved obelisk made of Aswan granite was originally set-up at Heliopolis in Egypt by the Pharoah Thuthmose III (1450 B.C.) but, after much wrangling over the cost of having it transported to Britain, it was erected at its present location beside the Thames in 1878, though this was only after an arduous and eventful sea journey from Alexandria. There were originally two of these giant columns but its twin went to America to be erected in New York City. Apparently the obelisk has nothing to do with Queen Cleopatra! There are many panels with hieroglyphs on the obelisk, some dating back to Thuthmose III of the 18th Dynasty (1479-25 BC), but others to Rameses II (1250 B.C.). The monument’s location is just south of Waterloo Bridge and just east of Charing Cross underground Station. It can’t really be missed! 

From Heliopolis, Egypt, the obelisks were moved to Alexandria and set up in the Caesareum – a temple built by Cleopatra in honour of Mark Antony or Julius Caesar – by the Romans in 12 BC, during the reign of Augustus, but were toppled some time later. This had the fortuitous effect of burying their faces and so preserving most of the hieroglyphs from the effects of weathering, according to Wikipedia. 

Arthur Mee (1949), says of Cleopatra’s Needle that: “This great column is 35 centuries old. It stands 70 feet high and is 8 feet wide at the bottom and 5 at the top, then ending in a pyramid 7 feet high. It weighs 166 tons, being ten times as heavy as the biggest stone at Stonehenge.

“It was first set up about 1450 BC by Thothmes the Third, who introduced war chariots and horses into Egypt’s army, took Nineveh from the tribes of Syria, and laid waste to Mesopotamia. It was floated down the Nile to the sacred city of Heliopolis, the On of the Bible, where Moses was found in the bulrushes. It was taken down by Augustus and sent to Alexandria where it was set up outside Cleopatra’s palace after her death, standing there for 15 centuries. In 1867 the Khedive, wishing it out of the way, offered it to England, and in 1875 Sir Erasmus Wilson gave £10,000 to bring it home. After half a century it was on its way, cased in an iron cylinder 100 feet long and towed by a steam tug.

Arthur Mee goes on to say: “Alas for the plans of mice and men, it was wrecked in the Bay of Biscay, and on one side of it as it stands today are the names of six seamen who perished in a bold attempt to succor the crew of the obelisk ship Cleopatra during a storm. In the end it came home and all was well, and under its foundation as it stands by the Thames are buried a Bible and the coins and the papers of the day. The bronze sphinxes are by Vulliamy. The damaged patches at the base are the marks of a German bomb. The hundreds of hieroglyphics on its four sides make up two separate inscriptions, for Cleo-patra’s Needle is a witness to the habit of Rameses the Great of putting his name on other people’s monuments. Thothmes set up his inscriptions in the centre of the four sides, and in 200 years, when Rameses came that way, he set up eight columns of inscriptions of his own on each side of the existing ones. The inscription of Thothmes declares that he  has set up two obelisks (the other one stands in New York), capped with gold, as monuments to his divine father Horus the Rising Sun, and on the next two sides he continues to claim his divine origin with due homage to the gods. On the fourth side he makes offerings for a sound life of thirty years. The eight columns added by Rameses express similar homage to the gods, and glorify the rule of Rameses over his country, referring to his chastisement of foreign nations. It is here that we find for the first time known the phrase King of Kings. 

(Photo by: Donald M’Leish).

Mary Fox-Davies (1910 ) tells of the monument in her own friendly style, saying: “You will see this curious column on the Embankment, and wonder perhaps how it came here, and what its history is. It is said to have been one of a pair hewn in Egypt, and erected at Heliopolis near three thousand years ago. Many hundred years later the twin needles were removed to Alexandria, and here they stood until about three hundred years ago. Cleopatra’s Needle was presented to England early in the nineteenth century, but, as you can imagine, much difficulty arose over the question of bringing it the long journey by sea, and it was not removed for many years. Eventually, in 1876, it was enclosed in a huge iron cylinder, which, fitted with sails and rudder, and with a crew of twenty-six men, was taken in tow by a steamer. But in a storm in the Bay of Biscay this queer craft overturned, and was cut adrift from the steamer and abandoned. However, it was found by another vessel, and shortly afterwards brought safely to England and erected on the Embankment.

“An interesting fact about Cleopatra’s Needle is that inside the pedestal on which it stands are several great jars which contain a collection of coins, clothes, newspapers, and many other things typical of England in the nineteenth century. These were placed here when the monument was erected, in imitation of the old Egyptian custom.”

Mary Fox-Davies tells more, saying: “You will notice near the base of the monument some holes and scars in the stone. These were caused during the Great War by a German bomb which exploded near to it, and, had it fallen just a little nearer, would have destroyed for ever this wonderful relic.” 

At either side of Cleopatra’s Needle are two beautifully made cast-bronze sphinxes that were erected here in 1878 to guard and protect the obelisk, though they don’t look directly at it. They were designed by the English architect George John Vulliamy (1817-86). He also designed the iron benches and other Egyptian-style statuary, close by. The two ‘slightly smiling’ sphinxes are replicas of the Great Sphinx which stands beside Khufu’s Pyramid at Giza in Egypt; and they each have hieroglyphs saying: “The good god, Thuthmosis III, given Life”. 

Fox-Davies, Mary, London — Shown To The Children, T. C. & E. C. Jack, Ltd., London & Edinburgh, 1910.

Mee, Arthur, The King’s England — London — Heart of the Empire and Wonder of the World, Hodder & Stoughton Limited, London, 1949.,_London

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.