Friday, December 4, 2009

Charing Cross - Heart of the City

I became interested in Charing Cross, in the heart of London, when I started to write my latest book "The Harmless Deception" (to be published by Uncial Press in May 2010). My heroine owns a millinery shop, and I wanted it to be a shop in an area not generally visited by the ultra-fashionable ton. So I invented a fictional street and placed it east of Charing Cross somewhere off the Strand.

I used good authority for the location--George 'Beau' Brummell reportedly never liked to be seen east of Charing Cross. At a chance encounter at Charing Cross with playwright Sheridan he apparently said, "Sherry, my dear boy, don't mention that you saw me in this filthy part of town, though perhaps, I am rather severe, for his Grace of Northumberland resides somewhere about this spot. if I don't mistake. The fact is, my dear boy, I have been in the d--d City, to the Bank. I wish they would remove it to the West End, for re-all-y it is quite a bore to go to such a place; more particularly as one cannot be seen in one's own equipage beyond Somerset House,..."

Mr. Brummell was being rather severe, as he said, for there was much of interest and importance of course east of Charing Cross. But there was no doubt that during the Regency, the West End and Mayfair was the fashionable area of town.

Charing was originally a nondescript hamlet, but an Eleanor Cross erected there in 1291-94. The cross was one of twelve memorial crosses constructed by Edward I in memory of his Queen. The word Charing may come from the French 'chere reine' but there are many possibilities for the word's origin. The cross was replaced in the 1600s by a statue of Charles I. The statue was joined in the 1600s by a major pillory, and the open space around it was often used for public entertainment.

Charing Cross is truly the heart of the city at the junction of the Strand, Whitehall, and Cockspur Street. Although its reputation was less than sterling during the Regency shortly thereafter it began to be used as a central point to define the geographical scope of the City of London. In 1829 it was used to set up police districts; parishes within twelve miles were part of the Metropolitan Police Act. In 1831 the London Hackney Carriage Act used Charing Cross to 'set the radius within which cab drivers were obliged to take a fare'. But in 1832 Charing Cross changed as there was mass demolition to accommodate the construction of Trafalgar Square.

Charing Cross has become quite a favourite place of mine since doing this research--my heroine knew it well. Do you have a favourite place in London, or its environs?

'Til next time,


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