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The Charing Cross, London, UK

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Charing Cross, London has a fascinating history. As well as being a major train and underground station at the end of the Strand (and home to a hospital), it is also where Eleanor of Castile's body rested for the final time, on its last sad journey from Lincoln to London in 1290, where it was eventually buried in Westminster Abbey.

The Eleanor Crosses

The Charing Cross was just one of 12 'Eleanor Crosses' erected by Edward I. He was the King of England at the time and husband to Eleanor. When Eleanor died at Harby, near Lincoln in the east of England, Edward was so grief-stricken, that he marked each occasion where his wife's dead body, in sombre procession, had to rest for the night on its journey from Lincoln to London, by building a cross. The body and funeral procession rested 12 times, and so 12 crosses were built, in Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Northampton, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St Albans, Waltham, West Cheap and, of course, at Charing Cross.

The only original crosses that survive today are at Waltham (Essex), Geddington, and Hardingstone (both Northamptonshire), and the cross at Charing Cross Station1 is a replica, built in 1863 and designed by AS Barry, all at a cost of £1800. But how did it get its name? Well, one interesting theory (and some historians do dispute this), is that the final resting place of the body at the site we know today as Charing Cross, was originally named by Edward Chère Reine or 'my beloved Queen' (French being the courtly language at the time). Chère Reine eventually became 'Chereine' which finally became 'Charing'2.

Charing Cross Road

London's Charing Cross Road which runs northwards from Trafalgar Square to Tottenham Court Road, is world-famous for hosting a plethora of bookshops that specialise in all sorts of reading matter. The road stretches from Charing Cross Railway and Underground Stations (see above) at Trafalgar Square, passing Leicester Square tube and Cambridge Circus (where it meets Shaftesbury Avenue) up to Centre Point, a tall modern block by Tottenham Court Road Station, where it ends and becomes Tottenham Court Road. This point is where Oxford Street and New Oxford Street intersect, left and right.

Charing Cross Road was immortalised itself in book form (and later in film) by Helene Hanff's much-loved 84 Charing Cross Road. A real bookshop actually existed at number 84, but, at the time of writing, you'll now only find a pub there called All Bar One. The road also features Foyle's bookshop, which has been described as 'possibly the largest and worst organised bookshop in the world'. Depending on your point of view, Foyle's is either a hopeless anachronism where you've got no chance of finding the book you want, or it's a charming, characterful antidote to the anodyne, squeaky-clean boring modern bookstore. It's best to make your own mind up and visit the place, wading through its gargantuan seven million titles as you do so.

Undoubtedly, Charing Cross Road is a great place to buy books, both new and second-hand (although the number of second-hand book shops has decreased over the last few years) and it's definitely a place that's well worth a visit. Among the book shops you can find are:

  • Foyle's
  • Blackwell's
  • Books Etc
  • Waterstone's
  • Zwemmer's
  • Zeno
  • Dover Bookshop
  • Murder One

However, there are many more bookshops than the ones listed above. To find out more about these (especially art book shops) and other places on Charing Cross Road click here.

And Finally...

Daniel Defoe, the great English novelist, pamphleteer, journalist, and author of Robinson Crusoe (also born in Stoke Newington) was once held in the stocks for writing a pamphlet that upset the Anglican Church. The stocks used to sit where Charing Cross Station is today. Anyway, his family were Dissenters and Protestants and therefore not part of the Anglican Church. Defoe wrote his pamphlet entitled The Shortest Way with the Dissenters which basically outlined how non-Anglicans could gain positions of office by cleverly circumventing the problem that officially only Anglicans could hold office in England. Unsurprisingly, the pamphlet was unpopular with establishment. But not with the public. Instead of being pelted by rotten fruit (or even stones) as was the norm for criminals in stocks, the pro-Defoe crowd hurled flowers at the poor chap instead.

1Charing Cross Station is considered by Black Taxi drivers as the centre of London.2Interestingly enough, modern-day Elephant and Castle, the much-maligned south London tube station, which boasts a great, garish 'Pepto-Bismol' pink shopping centre outside, was originally called La Infanta de Castile, the 'Princess of Castile'. It is not known whether or not this 'infanta' was the very same Eleanor of Castile, but speculation exists that it may be so.

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