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Hidden London : Statue of Charles I at Charing Cross

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Thousands of visitors to London make their way to Trafalgar Square to enjoy the public space, but very few will notice the statue on a small island before Trafalgar Square. Many would be surprised that the location of the statue is one of the most important in London being for centuries the official centre of London and being the place that all distances from London are measured. The location and the statue have a long and fascinating history which is often overlooked by Londoners and visitors.

The small traffic island on which the statue stands was the site of Charing Cross which was where Edward I in the 13th century erected the most elaborate of the Eleanor crosses which marked the funeral route of Eleanor, the Queen of Edward I who died in 1290 in Lincoln. The embalmed body of the Queen travelled from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey, where her body was laid to rest. Along the route were erected a series of twelve crosses that indicating the different stages of the journey.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The cross at Charing was by far the most expensive and elaborate of the twelve being the closest to Westminster. Eleanor’s Cross in Charing stood in the same spot for three and a half centuries until 1647. Although the original cross disappeared, in 1863, a replica of the ancient cross was erected in the courtyard of Charing Cross station, about 200 yards from the original site.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The equestrian statue of Charles I at Charing Cross, London is by the French sculptor Hubert Le Sueur and was probably cast in 1633. It is considered the first Renaissance-style equestrian statue in England and was commissioned by Charles’s Lord High Treasurer Richard Weston for the garden of his country house in Roehampton.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

However the English Civil War put these plans to one side and when Charles I was executed at Whitehall in 1649, the statue was sold to a metalsmith to be broken down. The metalsmith named John Rivet from Holborn received instructions from Parliament to break down the statue, he produced some broken pieces of brass as evidence that he had followed these orders and even sold pieces of cutlery, which he claimed was made from the remains of the statue.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

But for whatever reason and it was a dangerous course of action, Rivet buried the statue intact on his premises. After the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the statue was purchased by the King Charles II and in 1675 was placed in its current location. A pedestal was made of Portland stone with a carved coat of arms for the statue by Joshua Marshall, mason to Charles II.

The site has been used for less noble purposes, after the Restoration, eight people involved in Charles I’s death were executed on the spot and in the 18th century, a pillory, was set close by the statue. An etching by Thomas Rowlandson from 1809 shows the scene of the pillory with the person in the stocks surrounded by a large crowd.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

So if you are looking for the centre of London, make your way to the statue and the site which is now dwarfed by Trafalgar Square but for centuries was one of the most important places in London.

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